Hi Dr. NerdLove,
An almost 28-year old man here with a lot on his mind he’s trying to get sorted out.
I have always been a hopeless romantic with a tendency to fall head-over-heels for women, especially those I feel compatible with and it really feels like it’s something I can’t control. It gets very frustrating thinking like this and then realizing I may never find the right woman for me. It’s a habit I’d really like to break because it’s very painful to want romantic love so bad and realize nobody may ever love you as much as you love them, if they even love you at all.
I am still a virgin who has never been in a mature, adult relationship for a variety of reasons. I never felt like it was the right time after I graduated college and did a series of temp jobs, and I had a serious mental illness that went undiagnosed for over a decade and led to a couple stays in the psychiatric ward before we could get me onto proper medication and treatment that has significantly reduced my symptoms. Even still I had to resign from my last two jobs because my illness interfered with my ability to work as part of a team or meet workplace standards.
As I write this, I am currently unemployed, having just resigned from my last job 5 days prior. I’m taking some time off to try and understand myself better so I’m not in a situation like this again where the symptoms of my illness are aggravated to such a point where I fly off the handle and hurt, scare, or offend my coworkers, even unintentionally. I’m trying to find a therapist to work through a lot of these issues with, but it’s so frustrating because they all seem to have no openings for new clients.
In the meantime, all I can think about is how I’m getting older, how women older than me (who I am open to dating) want someone more mature who is making money and is in a stable place in his life and how women younger than me probably want a man with more experience than I have to offer and may not want to date someone even a couple years older than they are .
I have tried to reframe my situation but I always seem to fall back in the same rut – “no woman I have feelings for will ever have feelings for me”, “I am past my prime/expired goods”, and “if a woman stays in a relationship with me, she will leave at the first sign of trouble/when she realizes how much baggage and trauma I carry”.
When I think about dating someone, thoughts like these fill my mind, and I know that having those thoughts could very well end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy because I might be more likely to date women who do act in those ways, leading to a vicious cycle.
And then, there’s another “issue”. I do not ever want to have children, and I would rather be single for the rest of my life than with a woman who wants kids. But I feel like childfree women are few and far between and likely have a more independent streak and no desire for a relationship. I don’t know very many childfree women, but that’s just the stereotype in my head.
All these things come together to create a lot of mental trouble for me. “You’re too needy”, “Why can’t you quit daydreaming of the perfect woman for you?”, “You’re damaged goods”, “You have too much against you and not enough for you”. And so it goes.
It’s not like I don’t have a good life. I have an amazing and supportive family and close friends. I travel and I am a photographer. I love animals, music (I am an avid vinyl collector and singer), road trips, and sampling as much food & drink as I can get my hands on. I consider myself an intelligent, kind, generous, thoughtful, and relatively mature person who does his best to treat others with dignity, respect, and love.
I have personal and professional goals and ambitions – chief among them to start my Master’s degree next year and eventually get my doctorate and become a college professor and mental health advocate & researcher. Personally, I want to get married, buy a house, build a man cave, and potentially foster and adopt cats and dogs.
It just feels like I’m starting out very late and with the fact I don’t want kids my dating pool is pretty low already, so I am also feeling a lot of pressure to pick the “right one” as quickly as I can.
So, If I had to sum up the main question of my piece that I’d like you to answer, it’s this: How can I reframe my situation and what actions can I take to make things better?
The Virgin Murray
OK TVM, this is going to sound harsh, but this is very much a self-inflicted problem.
There are two things that are contributing to the issues you’re having.
The first is relatively simple: you’re putting far too much importance on what are ultimately transitory crushes on folks and rounding it up to love. What you’re feeling is what’s known as “limerence” — a sort of puppy-love that tends to be incredibly intense and include almost obsessive thoughts and fantasies of starting a relationship and having those feelings returned.
Now this is entirely understandable: you’ve rounded up love and romance to being both of dire importance and to being perpetually out of reach. So now, when you have a momentary infatuation on someone, often someone you know very little about, it becomes symbolic of both your desire and the impossibility of fulfilling it. In a very real way, falling for people you know won’t return your feelings becomes a sort of perverse self-preservation; you don’t feel like you’re worthy of love or that love is possible so you subconsciously choose people who are “safe”. People who won’t return your feelings or who you have minimal contact with.
The problem, of course, is that this sort of “protection” only tends to make the person being “protected” more miserable. But then again, our brains don’t care about our happiness; they only care about safety, predictability and reliability.
The second problem is that you — like so many others — are making assumptions about other folks based on your beliefs, not on reality. You’ve invented women in your head who reject you because you’ve convinced yourself that nobody could want you. And so, rather than actually talking to women or finding out what they want, you’re reacting to what you think they want.
It’s a trap entirely of your own making and one that only serves to reinforce your current status quo. And part of what makes this so difficult to escape is that these beliefs prioritize inaction. You aren’t putting yourself out there, talking to women, making connections and trying to find folks you might be compatible with. You’re creating scenarios — again, entirely in your mind — that are giving you reasons to not make progress. And as I’m so often saying: if you want things to be different, then you have to do things differently.
However, it sounds like part of the issue here is getting yourself in a place where you can date. If you’re currently dealing with symptoms that make it difficult to hold down a job, then treatment and management needs to be your top priority. It doesn’t do you any good to try to date if you’re dealing with severe emotional dysregulation on top of everything else.
You already know that. The difficulty you’re having is that rather than seeing this as “I’m getting myself into emotional shape” or “setting myself up for future success”, you’re framing this as “this is why I don’t deserve to be happy” and “I’m running out of time.” And neither of these are true. All of that is just the voice of anxiety speaking, your jerk-brain dripping lies and poison in your ear.
Because the truth is that no, you’re not running out of time. People fall in love and find relationships — even lose their virginity — late in life all the time. You don’t have a life crystal embedded in your hand that’s going to start flashing when you’re out of time, nor are you going to end up in a place where you’ll be excluded from dating because you didn’t have enough parters by age X. Trying to rush things or force the issue, however will screw you over, because it’ll exacerbate the problems you’re already having.
Instead I want you to think of it this way: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Taking things carefully, getting yourself taken care of and in a good place may feel slow… but slow means that you’re doing things carefully and methodically, which will smooth out your way. And if you smooth out your path, then you’ll have fewer hang-ups, make fewer mistakes and create more opportunities for success, than you would if you try to bulldoze your way through in order to “beat the clock” as it were.
So rather than engaging your confirmation bias by looking up (inaccurate) numbers of women who are child-free or making up people to be rejected by, focus on yourself. You aren’t losing time, you’re making sure that you’re ready and in position to find love and affection. You are clearing away obstacles, setting yourself up for success and making sure you know what you want and what you aren’t willing to accept in a relationship.
Now, I get the frustration of trying to find a therapist and a psychiatrist, especially at a time where not only is the population at large dealing with PTSD and anxiety from COVID, but therapists are also dealing with PTSD and burnout. But frustrating isn’t the same as impossible; it just means that you may have to look a little further afield or think outside the box. You could, for example, find ways of dealing with those obsessive thoughts through some self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy, guided via apps like MoodGym. There are also a number of therapists and counselors who work with clients via Zoom, Skype or other forms of telehealth. Even organizations like Hims have started offering remote talk therapy, which can help give you structure and direction to getting your condition under control.
But again, the important thing to remember is that this isn’t “losing time” or “wasting time”, it’s “getting set up for success”. If you were to find the woman of your dreams today, you wouldn’t be in a good place to pursue things. But by making sure that you’re in mental and emotional shape, you’ll be putting yourself in a place where, when the opportunity arises, you’ll be ready, willing and able to take full advantage.
And trust me: it’s much better to wait to pursue something when you are actually in a position to do so than to try to force something when you aren’t ready. That’s how you end up in relationships that seem ok at first and quickly turn to something far less acceptable down the line.
So taking time to focus on yourself and your mental health is the best thing you can do for yourself. You’re doing the right thing and it’ll work out far better for you in the long run. Take care of yourself; love will be ready and waiting for you when you’re ready. There is, in fact, time enough for love.
You’ll be ok, TVM. I promise.
All will be well.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’m a 33 year old male from the Midwest. Just your average nerdy white guy who works in healthcare. Don’t have a particular interest in travel and have your typical nerdy interests like books, games and the like. I’m making myself sound dull but I present it better on my profile of course.
I have over a hundred matches on OKCupid and I’m not having much luck finding who they are blindly swiping. I didn’t want to spend money but I’ve spent forty bucks on dumber stuff. I said to myself: “Hey, maybe I’ll find someone relatively close among a hundred people!”
The vast majority of my matches were international, predominantly from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. There were very few people from my state among my matches, and they weren’t people I was interested in or attracted to. I think there were maybe six Americans.
I’ve noticed before that I tend to match a lot with people from overseas, particularly the Philippines. It isn’t that I dislike the attention per se, it’s just I find the lack of enthusiasm and interest from people in my home country… disheartening. I’ve met some lovely people from overseas don’t get me wrong, but while I’m open to some distance I’m thinking like maybe a hundred miles not three thousand! But very few people that I’m actually interested in here show me any interest.
Is this an odd problem to have? Should I just…get a passport and roll with it or what? I am really not sure what to make of it.
Unlucky in the States
As much as I hate to say it, UITS, most of those aren’t real profiles or real matches. While I’m sure some of these have actual people behind them, very few of them are lonely women overseas looking for love. Some are scammers and grifters, some are folks looking for matches to get them a form of financial security and many are going to be shady “check out my webcam” bait-and-switch profiles.
Plus the occasional genuine person.
First thing you need to do, UITS, is change your profile settings. It sounds like you’ve set things to look for matches in a massive search area, and that means you’re going to be getting matches from bots, fake accounts and overseas profiles. While keeping your search radius to, say, a 25-50 mile region isn’t going to keep bots and scams from matching with you, it will cut down the number immensely. It’ll also mean that you’ll feel much better about nixing the folks who’re overseas; their swiping on you will be an indication that they didn’t actually read your profile. That would imply either someone who doesn’t care what you said, or that it’s not a real match.
The next thing to do is consider whether OKCupid is the right site for you. One of the reasons why folks will often struggle with online dating is that, quite frankly, they’re on the wrong apps. Different apps have different user bases and cater towards different relationship types. OKCupid is very much the “anything goes” app, the 500 lb gorilla that gets by in part on being the app that everyone uses. That massive user base means you’re likely to find folks on there, but it also means it’s going to have the highest per-capita bot/fake account ratio — possibly only exceeded by Tinder. You may find that you get better results off Hinge or Bumble, especially since Bumble mandates that women initiate messaging after matching.
Now, the next thing to do, regardless of whether you stay on OKC or move elsewhere, is to delete your profile and start over. I realize this sounds harsh, but part of what you’re going to be doing is functionally resetting the algorithm and changing who your profile gets placed in front of. By rebooting your account, you get the “new profile” algorithmic boost, which will help put you in front of more potential matches in your (very carefully chosen) area. It’s also a good time to do some polishing on your account and a little A/B testing on photos, questions, etc.
The third thing to do is, paradoxically, use online dating less. While dating apps are very much a boon to meeting folks, they’re still not a replacement for meeting people in person, especially when the ways men and women use swiping apps can work at cross purposes. Dating apps are best used as a supplement to meeting women, not a replacement; something that you do when you have a few minutes of downtime, rather than something you devote hours of each day towards. By deprioritizing the apps, you don’t invest your self-esteem as heavily in the results you do or don’t get; it’s a bonus, not the sum totality of dating. And by de-prioritizing how important the apps are, you won’t find yourself focusing so much on any one match, especially when you don’t know anything about them other than what’s in their profile. The people you meet on OKCupid may awesome… but they’re not the only people in the world.
Just as importantly: consider the power of your social network. Even in 2021, most people meet their partners through friends and shared activities, not dating apps. Telling your friends that you’re single and looking and to let you know if they know someone they think you’d click with can help you meet far more eligible (and compatible) folks, more efficiently than hoping that this random person from Kiev is, in fact, a real woman and not a camsite honey trap.
And don’t worry if your friends only know married women or folks who are coupled up. Making friends, especially female friends, regardless of their marital or relationship status increases your chances of meeting the singles you’re hoping to find. After all, folks tend to run in packs and the cute women you befriend also have single friends who are as cute as they are. Making new (genuine)friends means that you up the number of folks who can introduce you to the people who may well end up being the match of your dreams.