Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I am a 35 year old cis gendered male (He/Him/His) and I live in Chicago. 5 years ago I saw a live taping of a podcast that has since become a favorite of mine. At that taping I immediately had a crush on the co host. Like, I was just watching her smile and laughing when she laughed, all while having no idea what she was saying. I would smile at her smiling. So, crushing pretty hard (Lydia Loveless lyrics that fit the bill: ‘European’ “I just want to watch your lips move till I don’t know what the words mean…”)
Sadly, at that time I was in a deep depression and was too chicken shit to take an opportunity to flirt with her after the taping. Now, 5 years later and I still have a crush on her. It is not as intense as before but I am still finding her incredibly attractive, not just looks (but damn she fine like a ticket on the dash) but her sense of humor, how she laughs, her nerdiness, and how she carries herself. I mean, she mad good at being funny and charming on twitter I dig her, she cool. Aaaannddd, after having an opportunity to talk with her after she was interviewing a famous person at a local event, I was again chicken shit and bailed…
So, my quandary is that I don’t know what to do with this? Just leave it as “oh, it’s fun to have a crush, now move on dear boy” or maybe I am just not enough of a romantic, and I should go for it? I hear stories of other people that see someone and are floored by them and then they meet and date and marry… but I can’t imagine that happening to me. Either to chickenshit-ness or me not being a romantic. If I try to find ways to be around her more or to communicate with her over social media I am worried about being a creeper. (I am now much too scared of ‘sliding into dm’s’)
So, when is a crush worth pursuing and when is it a harmless flight of fancy? If it is worth pursuing, how to go about it? Is it weird to try and find ways to be around her? She has a podcast and they have frequent live tapings and she frequently is used as a host for interviewing fun and interesting guest at various functions around the city. So the opportunities exist…
Help me Dr NerdLove, you’re my only hope…
Languishing Excitement In Another
This… actually puts me in an interesting position. I’m someone whose entire career came about because I started hanging out at the bar where one of the hosts of a favorite podcast of mine worked as a bartender; we became friends, he eventually invited me onto the podcast and over time I became one of the regulars (instead of a frequent guest and friend of the pod). That ultimately lead to my starting Paging Dr. NerdLove. And honestly, since then, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and make friends with a number of people whose work I’ve long admired.
So trust me when I tell you this, LEIA: You need to let this go.
What you’re dealing with here is a parasocial relationship; it’s what’s ultimately a one-sided relationship that feels like a deep and abiding friendship or connection with someone — usually a media figure of some sort, but always someone who has a very public presence. In the day and age of social media, this frequently includes authors, podcast hosts, Instagram models, YouTubers and more. There’s a feeling of intimacy and familiarity that’s unreciprocated and, honestly, almost always unearned. But because we have so much exposure to these people, especially as social media encourages us to share more about ourselves, we feel like we know them on a personal level. We feel connected to them in a very real and significant way.
And to be perfectly blunt: a lot of folks encourage this. Parasocial relationships are often a part of creating a devoted fanbase. Whether we’re talking about Nerdfighters (no relation), Spillios, the LoGang, Critters, Murderinos, Little Monsters or what-have-you, the sense of being part of a community that has this connection to their idol is can make people feel like they’re closer to the object of their affection than they actually are.
Most of the time, this is just a fandom thing. But sometimes feelings get involved. And that’s where things get awkward. Because those feelings are based around an intimacy that isn’t actually there and a sense of access and entitlement that’s been artificially constructed. It’s based around the illusion of access, the illusion of knowledge and the sense of familiarity that comes with exposure. The more you listen to your favorite podcast, the more you start to feel like you really know the hosts because, well, they’re always around.
(Which gets all kinds of interesting when you actually do know the podcasters in question, let me tell you.)
But while that is a great feeling, it’s also entirely one-sided.
Look, I get it. I’ve got a whole lot of various celebrities ranging from intellectual crushes of the “I find you fascinating, witty and I’m crazy about your brain and I just want to hang around you and listen to you be smart” to the more common “Well if the stars happen to align”, to the “well look Ms. Hendricks, the order doesn’t TECHNICALLY say I can’t be here…” So I understand the feelings you’re feeling.
I also have a number of friends in varying shades of “celebrity” or “public figure” and I can tell you for a fact that what you have a crush on is their “public face”. This is the version of themselves that they’re presenting to the world. It’s their mask, their persona, their false front that serves as the side of themselves that they want to project. Even folks who are incredibly open or upfront about their lives are still putting on their public persona; it’s the most polished version of themselves, the version that feels authentic, but has still been cleaned up for public consumption. It’s the shiniest version of themselves.
So part of what you need to acknowledge and understand is that your crush is coming from a place where you feel like you know more than you actually do, where you have the illusion of knowledge. Your crush is real, but the person you’re crushing on is less so.
That’s the first problem.
The second problem is that you’re a fan. And while I get the fantasy of a fan making friends or forming a relationship with someone they admire… it’s really goddamn awkward and uncomfortable for the people who’re on the receiving end of that fantasy. Hell, it’s awkward enough when a fan recognizes you on a dating app; when it’s a case of actually tried to engineer a “coincidental” meetup, it verges into nightmare territory. That’s where we start throwing around words like “creepy” or “stalker”. This is the sort of thing that really only works in movies (if you don’t think about it terribly hard) because in movies, everything is benign; we know the person’s motivations are pure-ish and it all will work out ok because the script said so. In reality, it’s disturbing as hell. It’s even more distressing to be put on the spot by someone, especially at a public event. Even if you don’t intend to, there’s now a lot of pressure on the person to respond in a way that they likely don’t want to because it’s all going down in public and folks love seeing the fantasy of a fan getting with his crush.
(This, incidentally, is why I intensely dislike the various “publically ask a celebrity to go on a date” stories that crop up every year.)
Now just for full disclosure’s sake: all of the folks whose work I love who I connected with? All of that came about organically. None of it was a case of my trying to arrange a meet or something I actively pursued. It all happened in the most banal of ways; we met at cons because we tabled next to one another or were on the same panels. We were guests at the same events or have friends in common who introduced us. We met before either of us were “names” and just happened to come up around the same time. We commented on each other’s Twitter posts and became mutuals. Occasionally, I contacted them — or they contacted me — for professional reasons and we just clicked.
But every time, I wasn’t trying to chase down a relationship — outside of basic networking in some cases. It was simply opportunities that came up because of the vagaries of life. And it would be really uncomfortable if they thought I had ulterior motives in meeting them — or that I’d somehow arranged an opportunity to meet them under false pretenses.
So, yeah. This fantasy you have? It needs to stay a fantasy. It’s something fun to think about, but not every dream is something that you need to act on. It’s fun to have a crush, but the fact that you have one doesn’t mean that you need to do something with it; sometimes the point of a crush is just to enjoy it.
So let it go.
Going to dive right in here – I fear I’m a female incel and I don’t know how to fix it.
I’ve been single for a couple of years now and looking back at my dating history I’m noticing a toxic pattern. I’ve been in three long term relationships, all over 5 years long, and all three followed the same basic plot. I’m close friends with a guy, I develop feelings, he doesn’t reciprocate, but I persist until he succumbs. Gifts, late night chats, “cool girl cred”, until BAM we sleep together. And then a few years later he leaves me for someone else (two of them cheated for years). All three, same plot.
Probably worth noting that I’m usually the alpha in these relationships. I’m better educated, I make more money, all their friends end up becoming my friends. But it’s always me pursuing the guy, and never being courted. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I don’t remember ever being pursued, or even just hearing that someone has a crush on me.
I worry this pattern has made me bitter and entitled. I want to be able to accept that someone is not into me and just move on instead of treating it like an achievement to unlock. And, worse yet, when I can’t, become depressed and cynical and feel like I failed.
(And for once I’d like advice other than “Lose weight, dress sluttier, and lower your expectations”)
Fear the Fincelle
So I get your frustration, FTF but I think a lot of it is of your own making. Just not necessarily in the way that you think.
The first part of your problem is perceptual; you’ve had three long-term relationships, which lasted for around five years or so before they ended. That’s actually a pretty good record, if I’m being honest. The fact that they end the same way is an issue — one I’ll get to in a second — but all the relationships you’ll ever have will end, eventually. The only way you end up beating that particular cycle is if you die in the saddle before your partner does or at the same time. And honestly, five years is a respectable length for a relationship; in fact it’s slightly above average for millenials. One recent study of British 20-somethings found that the average relationship length is around 4 years or so, which means that you’re actually on the slightly further end of the bell curve.
So I think you’re doing better than you think.
But I think the bigger issue you’re having — the one that’s leading to having three boyfriends who eventually leave you for someone else — are the guys you’re pursuing and the way you’re pursuing them. The issue isn’t that you’re the more aggressive or dominant partner, either in the courtship beforehand or in the resulting relationship, it’s that you’re pursuing guys who don’t seem that into you. I mean, by your own words, after you’ve caught feelings for a guy, you basically run them to the ground until they finally agree to date you. That… isn’t really the basis for a great relationship. In fact, if we reversed the genders, the dynamic of the interaction would be more than a little creepy.
(Granted, the dynamic would be wildly different because of the differences in the worlds that men navigate through vs. the ones women navigate through, levels of implied or implicit threat, etc. But it ain’t a great look, regardless.)
The problem here is that, even if we allow for a certain amount of hyperbole, the guys you’re interested in aren’t really into you and only start dating you after you’ve given them the full-court press. The problem with this is that while you two may well legitimately be friends and compatible on an emotional level, that doesn’t translate to “compatible for a relationship”. I’ve got a number of friends who I get along famously with, but if we tried to date, someone would almost certainly end up on fire before our second anniversary. Even when they’ve decided they’re cool with hooking up with you, “you know what, a blowjob would be nice tonight” doesn’t necessarily mean that you two have what it takes for a successful relationship. And if they’re someone who’s conflict averse, doesn’t have as strong of a personality or isn’t good at enforcing their boundaries, then it’s entirely possible to end up running roughshod over them.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you somehow forced them into a relationship with you. I think what’s far more likely is they felt more carried away by events and didn’t feel like they could call the question by ending a relationship they may not have wanted to be in. Finding someone new may have been the thing that gave them the extra oomf they needed to finally quit prolonging the relationship beyond it’s natural lifespan.
I want to be clear: the issue here isn’t that you’re aggressive or dominant or the more successful partner in the relationship. There’re a lot of guys out there who are into that. Very into that, in fact. The problem is that you’re not pursuing the guys who are into you; you’re letting the crush dictate your actions, rather than pursuing folks who you have mutual chemistry with.
Part of the issue is as you said: you’re treating someone’s lack of interest as a challenge. This isn’t a great look on anyone, but part of the problem is that you take this personally. You see it as someone being unattracted at you, as opposed to simply lacking interest. I can understand how that could happen, especially when you don’t feel like you’ve been pursued or desired by others. The problem is that grinding down someone’s resistance isn’t the same thing as attraction, it’s resignation. It’s asking someone to define down their happiness and desire, and that’s ultimately going to rot the relationship from the inside.
Now that feeling is something that you’re going to need to work on, ideally with a therapist. It’s pretty clear that you have a sense of a lack of worth, possibly because you perform your gender role in a non-traditional manner; society tells us that women’s value is in being pursued, not the pursuer. It’s bullshit, but social conditioning is a motherfucker to shake off. Working with a counselor can help you develop the toolset that’ll help you feel able to connect with your genuine self and feel empowered to be the kind of person you actually are.
But as for relationships, what you need to do, more than anything else, is start looking for the guys who want the dominant, alpha girlfriend, rather than acting on your crushes on your friends. Finding those guys means that you’re gonna find folks who want what you have to offer… and it’s also going to help with your feeling of wanting to be wooed and appreciated. While you still may be the one who takes the initiative or directs the courtship, someone enticing or asking you to chase them is, in its way, being pursued. They’re not trying to get away, they’re trying to tempt you, specifically, into going after them. The dynamic of the interaction may be different than the traditional “trying to sweep the lady off her feet”, but the intent behind it is the same. It’s just one that works better with your personality and the personality of the guys you seem to be the most interested in.
Finding these guys may be tricky. More submissive men can be hard to spot, especially if they’re a little shy; they may not know quite how to signal to you that they want to be chased, rather than doing the chasing. But putting out some feelers and seeing who responds positively to your interest in them — rather than necessitating your trying to invest time and energy into making them want you — will go a long way towards finding guys who are looking for your exact energy and relationship style.