Dear Dr. NerdLove:
To start, I’m not the best at socializing; I seem to normally skew more towards listening and observing, and while I’ve gotten better at being social over the years, it’s still something that doesn’t come naturally.
My closest friend, on the other hand, is very extroverted and generally socializes as easily as one breathes, and needless to say, he’s very successful when it comes to befriending people, hooking up, going on dates, etc. Logically, I know it shouldn’t bother me, and I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but it still stings to see him do all this with such apparent ease, and it ends up making me feel very invisible.
I know these feelings aren’t healthy, and I don’t want to risk damaging what is otherwise one of the best friendships I’ve ever had, so how can I manage or overcome my feelings of jealousy?
What I Do In The Shadows
Hoooo man, WIDITS, I could’ve written this letter back in my teens and 20s. I have, quite literally, been there, done that and built a career out of it.
Growing up, I was very much in the same position you were. While it certainly didn’t help that I was dealing with undiagnosed ADHD, I was a very unsocial person. While I could connect with folks — I had lots of friends — I was awful at meeting girls, worse at flirting and dating was a crapshoot at best.
(I’d say I was on the bleeding edge of online dating with the girls I met and “dated” off what were functionally glorified BBS systems but that would imply that those relationships lasted longer than a week and a half in person. Also, quite frankly, the way they both went down and the way I acted over the course of both of them is still embarrassing…)
Now to make matters worse, my good friend Miles (not his real name) was always in the picture. Miles is one of those guys who radiates charisma like a social Chernobyl. It wasn’t enough that he was naturally charming and delightful and stupidly talented and good looking, he was also one of the genuinely nicest and sweetest guys you could ever meet. So you honestly couldn’t even hate him, he was just that good. But it was certainly possible to resent him because, when it came to girls, he was almost supernaturally gifted in all the areas where I sucked. He was so magnetic that he was a danger to electronics and VHS tapes, whereas I was… not. And, like you, when he was around, I may as well have been invisible.
This, needless to say, did not do good things for my self-esteem when I was younger. But then again, in a very real way, it was Miles who put me on the path to where I am today. Like… literally. A woman I was flirting with at a wedding hooked up with him instead, which lead to my discovering Neil Strauss’ The Game, joining the PUA community and eventually leaving the community. So I have Miles to thank for a lot of my current life… even if, at the time, I really resented him.
All that having been said, time and perspective has changed my view of those days and I wince a lot at myself from back then. Granted, I was working with the best information I had at the time, but it’s still kind of cringe. However, it also means that I’m probably the best person you could have turned to with this question because you get to benefit from my experience without having to, y’know, live through it all first.
So I’m going to give you what I’ve learned over the years. It’s important that you take this all in, in no small part because it all ties together. It may seem like I’m giving you feel-good bullshit, the empty calories of dating advice, but I promise you: internalize these lessons and you will not only learn to not resent your friend, but you’ll improve your own life in the process.
Here’s the first thing to take in: life isn’t a zero sum game. Your friend’s success and social ease doesn’t take away from you or your opportunities. It certainly feels like it, don’t get me wrong. It’s hard not to think “well, if you weren’t here, I’d have a shot.” Except there’s the part that we keep forgetting: that the women that he’s talking to are people too, with agency and preferences and interests… and those are all part of what attract them to him. It’s not just that he’s extroverted and charismatic, it’s that he’s him, specifically. It’s not that they would’ve been into anyone but he was the best choice in the room; it’s that they like things about him.
And while that seems like a comment on you, it isn’t. Think about it; how many women do you see on a daily basis that you just aren’t attracted to, especially when one you are attracted to is around? It’s not that you’re repulsed by the others or you think they’re lesser or subhuman, it’s just that you don’t feel anything for them. That doesn’t make them less or worse than the person you’re into, nor does your not being attracted to them make you shallow or less of a good person. It’s just that they don’t have the je ne sais quois that draws you to the other woman.
So turn that around for a second; it’s not that you’re lesser than your friend or that his success somehow takes away from you. It’s just that he’s very good at meeting and hooking up with the folks who are into him… people who aren’t into you, for reasons that often have nothing to do with you, any more than your not being into those other women is a judgement on them.
You’re capable of having your own successes and your own romances. You may well even find success with folks that your friend might be into. His existence and presence in your life doesn’t take away from yours. You’re on parallel but distinctly different paths.
That actually brings us to point number two, which is ties into this: you will never have his success because you aren’t living his life. You are living your own, and this means that you aren’t going to be subject to the same forces and changes that made him who he is and who you are. If you were to replicate every move he made and tried to do things exactly like he did, you would have entirely different results. Just as nobody has been able to replicate the success of World of Warcraft — no matter how hard they tried — you won’t be able replicate his success, because you’re unique, just as he is. In order to have his success, you would have to live his exact life from birth with every single experience and choice he made, at the time when he made them. All of those ephemeral influences that only existed in that very precise time and place are part of what made him who he is — influences that nobody could track or plan for. You were just as influenced by infinite circumstances that you were never aware of nor could control, and those made you you, unique in all the universe.
So rather than envy him and resenting him for what he has that you don’t, recognize that his circumstances are different from yours and his journey is also different. You don’t need to be him; you need to be you and find your success in the ways that are in alignment with your personality, your values and your interests. Those will be different from his and that’s fine. The issue here isn’t that you’re bad for wanting what he has, it’s that you’re treating him as the thing you need to be measured by. And he isn’t. His success isn’t your yardstick; it’s not even necessarily what you want or need. It feels like it now, but only because you haven’t found your path and your success yet.
But he can help you get there. The third thing to learn is, rather than resenting him, let him inspire you. Because here’s something I learned over the years: social skills are skills. Your friend didn’t come out of the womb as a perfectly charismatic being, any more than Miles did. He learned those skills, same as everyone does. He may have had gifts that made learning those skills easier for him and circumstances that meant he picked them up earlier than you… but he still had to learn them. Does your learning them later than he did mean that there’s something wrong with you? No; this implies that there’s a universal standard and there isn’t. You’re on your own path and your own timeline; looking at anyone else’s as anything other than a general guide is a mistake.
What this means is that what your friend can do, you can learn how to do as well, because it’s a skill. It’s a matter of learning and practice, putting that knowledge to work, making mistakes and learning from them. For years, I believed in the dating binary; either you were good with women or you weren’t, and there was nothing that you can do about it. For all the toxic shit I found myself swimming in when I joined the PUA community, I gotta give them credit: they taught me that this was bullshit. The most important thing I learned was that could learn to do better with women. I learned how to be more social, how to talk to women and flirt and present myself in the most flattering way possible. Miles may have learned it earlier than I did, and he may have had some starting bonuses that I didn’t… but I still learned. And once I realized that these were skills, not inborn qualities, I realized that Miles wasn’t my competition, he was someone to look up to. If Miles had to learn how to do all of this, then I could to. Would I ever be as good as him? No idea, but it also didn’t matter, because “good” is a bullshit metric in this case. What’s “good” for Miles is different for me, because I’m not Miles and he’s not me. My wants and needs are different from his and that’s ok.
The same goes for you, WIDITS. Your friend had to learn the skills he has. You can learn them as well. The only difference is when you learn them vs. when he did… and that’s just part of your personal journey. Your picking up a skill later than someone else doesn’t make you worse than them, it just means that you learned it later than they did. It does mean that he’s had more practice than you… but that’s not relevant, because you don’t need to be perfect. You, quite literally, just need to be good enough. You can make all kinds of mistakes and still succeed. I have quite literally choked when talking to women and still pulled it back from the brink because I was good enough.
The whole thing to remember is that this isn’t a competition. I refer you back to the part about this not being a zero-sum game. You and he aren’t competing. Even if you the two of you were interested in the same woman, you’re not actually competing because women don’t come to every interaction perfectly neutral and pick the guy with the most points in Charm. They all have their own preferences, their own compatibilities and the things that draw them to one person, not the other. Someone who’s into you isn’t going to pick your buddy because he’s got the gift of gab or whatever; your success or failure (such as it is) with her is entirely about you and her. It’s a choice between you and him, it’s a choice between you and not you.
And one last thing: being happy for his success helps you. I get that this makes little sense, but it ties firmly into a truth: our outlook and our attitude defines our world. The things we think and the attitude we bring to everything affects how we see the world, how we respond to it and — importantly — how other people respond to us. Part of what held me back for so long was my resentment of Miles’ success. I was bitter because I thought that Miles was somehow taking things that would have been mine if he wasn’t around. Part of my journey was recognizing that my bitterness, resentment and entitlement were getting in the way. It made me a less pleasant person to be around. I blamed my failures on not being as good as him and my negative attitude meant that I didn’t try as hard — why should I, if I had failed before I even started? I didn’t bounce back from my failures because I thought that there wasn’t any point to making more than a token effort. When those failed, then I took that as “proof” that I was stupid for even bothering to try. And of course, my bitterness radiated out of me; everyone could see it and it drove people away. Who wants to be around someone who grumps and complains about how much better his friend has it?
It even took time after I started to improve before I realized how stupid I was being and how unfair I was being to Miles — who, I need to emphasize, has always been wonderful to me. Recognizing that my issues were my own and he had nothing to do with them helped me realize that it wasn’t about winning or losing. It was about being happy for him because he’s my friend and deserves good things and I’m thrilled when he gets those good things. Making that mental shift made me happier over all and it improved my success. Why? Because now I wasn’t treating this as a competition because we weren’t competing. His success and happiness took nothing from me; if anything it made things better, because happiness isn’t a zero-sum game either.
So it is with you and your friend. His living an awesome life and his successes are something to be happy about because he’s your friend and his having a great life means the two of you have an even better time when you hang out. And being happy for other people makes you happy, just as being grateful for what your friends bring to your life makes your life better. It can be positive motivation for you, something that helps you strive further and work harder.
Oh, and if he’s as good of a friend as you say? Then he wants you to be happy and successful too.
So take his desire for you to be happy and successful and use that as encouragement. Look at his life and say to yourself “hey, I can learn how to do this too! I want to find my version of this!” and let that help push you forward when things are hard and everything looks bleak. You will find your path, rather than being hung up about not being on his. It’ll look different than his, and that’s ok!
But most importantly: it’ll help you and him be closer, better friends, because you won’t have this unnecessary barrier between you two.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’m 50 yr old female with some serious issues revolving around sex. When I was 25, I was raped by a man I was dating. The mental toll that took on me me made me repress all of that for 10 years and turned me into a different person, almost like a multiple personality disorder. I became gay at age 26 then dated only women for the next 12 years.
The first woman I met, I had an all consuming sexual obsession with to the extent I thought I was in love with her. Then four years later, I ended up watching my best friend and her run away to be together. I came back to being with men at age 38, but the first man I was with was, once again, an all consuming sexual romance where I felt I took our sexual chemistry as a sign of fate. I could not let him go even after I saw him hook up with his best friend’s ex. I was so into him I had to leave the state we both lived in, because I was still going to their place asking him to talk to me and explain what was right in my face.
I reconnected with him 5 years later. I didn’t have the same romantic feelings for him, but my memory of our sex made me go right back to that as a reason to keep him in my life. He’s still a friend I’ll go see every year or so just for a memory lane hookup. I just got out of my most recent relationship that started as only a sexual thing, but I tried to stop that early on after I realized I had a pattern. I didn’t want to have just sex between us. But he stayed with me because he said he liked me, so we stayed in touch as friends. We actually did become close and fall in love and we stayed together in a truly unconditional love for 8 years but here’s the thing: as soon as he proposed, which was 3 years ago, the sex we barely had stopped. He was supportive of me to the point of codependency, and I needed all of the communication he brought out of me, but I felt no sexual desire for him after we realized we were in love.
He didn’t go further than giving the ring to me, so I didn’t get to plan the wedding. I moved out in June of this year and started seeing someone who, I will admit (like the others) is the best sex I’ve ever had in my life. He isn’t available all the time, so I think I feel more attracted to the elusiveness and fly by night side of things. He isn’t sharing himself and I don’t know who he’s with or where he is when he isn’t here. I don’t even talk to him on the phone. He will just call me up and say he needs me to pick him up and I will. I don’t think about anything all day except for that call and the last time he was here. I feel like a sex addict.
What am I ever going to be besides a side piece or fill in until the next girlfriend shows up? Why am I not girlfriend material?
Girl On the Side
Oh man, GOTS, I’m so sorry that you went through that. It sounds like you’ve put a lot of time and effort into surviving and getting through that trauma, and it’s fairly clear how much it’s affected you in the aftermath.
I think the thing to focus on right now is that I believe you’re asking the wrong question here. I think the issue at hand isn’t whether or not you’re girlfriend material; it’s about how you see yourself. The commonality I see in the relationships and experiences that you’ve shared are how much sex and sexual connection have driven things, even when the relationships themselves weren’t the healthiest. In each of the relationships, you mention how intense the sexual connection was and how that lead you to stay in relationships that either no longer met your needs or were starting to become harmful.
Now, focusing on sex, sexuality and sexual connection isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. However, it seems like sex for you isn’t necessarily something that brings joy and connection right now so much as it’s the glue that’s keeping you in relationships that aren’t good for you. That’s why I think you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about whether you’re “good enough” to be more than a hook-up for your current beau, it’s about why do you stick with him at all?
It would be one thing if a no-strings, fuck-buddy relationship is what you wanted… but it seems pretty clear to me that you want more than that. So that alone would say to me that this isn’t a guy that you should be dating. The most generous interpretation of the situation would suggest that, while this dude may be a great lay, he isn’t boyfriend material for you. And if you’re looking for more than just bed-rocking, neighbor-annoying sex, that would make him a poor choice for a romantic or committed relationship. But that’s the generous interpretation.
The less generous interpretation is that he sees this casual relationship as a reason to treat you casually… and that’s deeply shitty of him. Even if both parties are going into this wanting something strictly casual, it’s still important for everyone to treat each other with respect and dignity. From what you describe, it sounds like he’s treating you like he’s ordering a pizza, and you’re finding that dehumanizing and painful. That’s bad enough even if this were a mutually agreed-upon NSA arrangement. It’s worse if you’re in this hoping for love and romance… and worse still if he knows that.
So no, this isn’t about some fault in you that means you’re not girlfriend material. The fault is in him for treating you like a human-shaped Fleshlight, when that’s emphatically not what you want. So my question for you is: why keep someone around who treats you like this? You deserve better than that, and you should treat yourself like someone who deserves better than this.
I wouldn’t worry about why you’re not girlfriend material, GOTS. I think the first thing you need to do is dropkick this dude to the curb. Yeah, the sex is great, but great sex isn’t gonna make up for how much he shreds your soul in the process. Dump him with the quickness and your life will immediately improve, I guarantee it. There’re folks out there who’re amazing lays who also don’t treat their partners like shit, and I would recommend looking for them instead.
Now with all that in mind… I think you may want to talk to a counselor or therapist who specializes in issues surrounding sex and sexuality. Like I said, it seems like you’re letting the sexual connection keep you in relationships that either don’t meet your needs or that become harmful to you, and that’s not good for your heart, your soul or your self-esteem. Talking with a sex-positive therapist could go a long way towards helping you understand why you’ve been following this pattern and — importantly — help you break it. That doesn’t mean that prioritizing sex is bad, far from it; I wish more people would prioritize sex and sexual connection in their relationships, especially at the beginning. However, when it seems that your prioritizing it in ways that lead you to stay in bad relationships… well, that’s a point where it’s best to talk to an actual doctor and not a loudmouth with an advice column.
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has an excellent directory that can help you find a sex-positive counselor in your area, which can help you process your feelings around sex and relationships and work towards getting your physical and emotional needs met in a healthy way, by people who actually are worth fucking and/or dating. Because, let’s be honest: what benefit are those mindblowing orgasms if they’re coming with a heaping helping of “but why am I not good enough for him”… especially when the real issue is why is he not good enough for you?
Ditch this guy and find someone who’s worth your time and your bed, GITS. And talk to a counselor; it’ll make you feel better over all.
You’ve got this.
All will be well.