Doctor’s Note: This week, I’ll be having a live seminar and Q&A on Facebook Live instead of the usual podcast and YouTube episode. If you’re interested in taking part, follow me on Facebook and join the NerdLove Academy Facebook Group; the stream will start at 3 PM CST on Tuesday, March 24th.
Good morning Doc,
I wanted to know what you thought and would advise regarding how to recover from a break up during this COVID-19 pandemic (or other scenarios where you’re not able to go out and meet new people). A few day ago I had to cut things with a girl I was seeing since November. I didn’t want to, but there was a lack of effort to communicate and I was putting in all the effort. After having it met with the equivalent of banging one’s head against the wall, I was left with no choice but to do what’s best for me. As productive as that sounds it’s still hard because as of now we’re in a curfew state with business and activity areas to meet new people are shutdown so now I’m stuck missing what I lost but don’t have a way to get past it. Yes I’m working on myself with studying more, picking up guitar again, and practicing new art skills but being solo doesn’t take my head off it.
I know there’s probably a video you have on the breakup and there’s a video on what you can do during the pandemic but I wondered if there was a new type of thought process for when it’s both out together.
Thanks for listening and having an awesome channel and podcast,
Life Under Quarantine
I do, in fact, have a video about getting over your break up over on my YouTube channel, LUQ and I think it would be helpful for you to watch it. It’ll explain a little about what’s going on and why you’re having a difficult time getting your mind off of your ex.
Part of the reason why people — guys, especially — have a hard time getting over break ups is because love isn’t just emotional; it’s also chemical. When we’re with our partner, our brains are generating large amounts of dopamine and oxytocin — the “cuddle” chemical that encourages things like social bonding, sexual arousal and romantic connections. Those chemicals hit the pleasure centers of your brain just so and make you crave more. This is part of why, for example, we want to spend all of our time with a new partner; we are, literally, addicted to them because we’re getting huge doses of feel-good brain drugs.
When we break up with someone, we’re suddenly cut off from that source, and our brains want it back… badly. This is why it can often be so hard to stop thinking about our exes or wanting them back, even if we know that the relationship was toxic or that there were very good reasons why the relationship had to end.
This is why part of the key to getting over someone is to find a new source or sources of oxytocin. This is part of why we have the old saw of “get over someone by getting under someone else”; since oxytocin is most readily generated through sex and physical touch, sex with someone new is a quick and easy way to find new sources of oxytocin, as well as validation that yes other people desire you and that there are other people out there.
Of course, sex isn’t the only way of finding new sources of oxytocin, it’s simply the most socially acceptable for guys. Part of the reason why women often have an easier time getting over an ex then men do is because men as a gender are incredibly touch-deprived. It’s socially acceptable for women to seek reassurance — including physical contact, like hugging — from their friends in times of need. Men are cut off from that source of reassurance because we equate physical contact with sexual contact, just as we associate emotional intimacy with sexual intimacy. It’s a classic case of toxic masculinity ruining the party once again.
But there are ways around this and getting the need for physical touch met, even without sexual contact. Massage, for example, is a great way to soothe the body, ease the cortisol that comes from emotional stress and gain a source of oxytocin by having one’s touch needs met. So too are various forms of social dancing, particularly Latin and ballroom dancing.
However, we’re all also under quarantine thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic… which has made it difficult to access those forms of physical contact and the associated generation of oxytocin.
But “difficult” isn’t the same as “impossible”.
The key is that you need to start getting creative and working with the tools that you have available to you.
Start by connecting with your friends. While physical touch and sex are the most obvious sources for oxytocin, we also generate oxytocin through laughter and conversation. Reaching out to your friends, having virtual hang-outs and happy-hours not only helps you feel less alone, but also encourages sharing, socializing and laughter — all of which help generate oxytocin in the brain. Get your buddies together and use an extension like NetflixParty, TwoSeven or apps like Zoom to watch movies — especially dumb action flicks or your favorite comedies.
And while you may not be able to touch another person right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t find other sources of touch and comfort. If you have the space, the finances and your lease allows it, now is a great time to foster a cat or dog. The shelters in your area need to find foster homes during the shut-down, especially if your state or city has a shelter-in-place order. Having a new furry friend in your life not only gives you company and cuddles, it also gives you purpose, direction and allows you to do some much-needed good for others. Not only will this help distract you from missing your ex, it’ll give you something concrete that you can point to and say “by doing this, I’m doing something to make the world a little better.”
And you should also date.
Yes, I know. We’re all under lockdown. But you may have noticed that the dating apps aren’t shut down. People are still talking, swiping and matching. Since you can’t be with each other physically right now, talking, Skype and texting — all opportunities for laughter and good conversation — are going to be of much higher importance. And if things go well, sex is still on the table. Phone sex, sexting, cam sessions via Skype or Facetime… these are all ways that you can connect with others sexually, even if you can’t be there in the flesh. It’s not quite the same as an old-fashioned in-person hook-up, but it will have much the same effect. That validation of your desirability as a partner, the sexual connection with others and the reminder that your ex wasn’t the only woman in the world are all still available to you. You may have to be creative about it… but what’s a quarantine good for if not learning how to try new and different things?
I’m not gonna lie; it’s a rough time right now. But that doesn’t mean that the world has come to a halt. We’re still living, we’re still loving and still moving forward. Take the time to heal and connect with others — platonically as well as romantically.
You’ll be ok. I promise.
All will be well.
Hello Dr. NerdLove,
For the longest time I really didn’t care about love. I’m all sorts of neuroatypical, and it took me a long time to sort out my orientation and gender identity, so all through my teens and early 20s, I was already grateful to have a few friends. Dating was way too complicated given how hard it was for me to even get out of my room. But little by little I became better at all things social, and while I’m still much of a weirdo, I’m no longer a loner. So I started thinking about love.
About five years ago, when I was 21, I met my first love. She was an amazing young woman, and we became close friends. She was also very religious, and going through one shitty boyfriend after another. Those guys would use her commitment, cheat on her, then flung her aside. She was in a really bad place. It brought us even closer since I’m a good listener, I convinced her to give therapy a try and she managed to get better – this was her doing, I was just happy to support her. Eventually I confessed, and she told me very gently that she didn’t reciprocate – she was totally straight. We remained friends of course. A few years ago she finally met someone worthwhile and she’s happy with him. I’m friends with both of them, and she still comes to me when she needs someone to listen to her.
Last year I met another amazing woman. This one was bi – making progress. But she was dating someone and seemed quite happy with him. I would have taken that as a non-starter, except this woman behaved very ambiguously with me, playfully flirting, caressing me, etc. I’m aware I’m bad at reading signals, so I showed our convos to several people who all told me this was 100% flirting. I would have been cool with her being poly or in an open relationship, but the ambiguity of it all was really hurting me; I was falling in love more every day while not knowing if there was a chance. So I decided to ask her point blank if her behaviour meant anything or if this was just her way of being friends – and as I’d suspected, it was the latter. Finally knowing there was no chance of us getting together was preferable to the uncertainty, even though I was disappointed of course. But she seems to be very much in love with her boyfriend, and while I’ve never met him he seems like a good guy. I’m of the opinion that feelings are fluid, and if you think of someone romantically then you can also be their friend. So even though I still get a pang of sadness when I see her, I’m really happy to just be friends with her, and I’m sure my feelings will dull eventually.
But as you see, I seem to have a knack for becoming friends with amazing people… who don’t want to be more than friends with me. That’s logical: when you’re this amazing, people take notice, and so by the time they meet me there’s a good chance they’ve already found the one. I hope I never stop becoming friends with amazing people… But I’d really like, at some point, to find one who actually wants to date me as well. How do I find someone like that ? How do I get to be the one, for once ?
Thank you for your help,
Unsure and bittersweet
There are two things you need to do, UAB. The first is seemingly obvious, but I’m not entirely sure you’ve taken the step yet: you have to put yourself out there. It’s not enough to just decide “hey, I’m ready to fall in love!” and wait for the universe to provide. You have to make sure that folks know that you’re young, single and ready to mingle. Businesses have to advertise, writers and artists have to market themselves and single folks need to make it clear that they’re out, available and actively looking.
That means doing things like getting on the dating apps, especially right now, as we’re in the middle of a pandemic and everyone’s on lockdown. So the first thing you need to do is download the apps (I recommend Hinge, Bumble and OKCupid to start), get some great looking photos, fill out your profile and start swiping. It’ll take a bit of time as you learn how to spot what you’re looking for, but those hot awesome bi or gay singles — or even poly folks — are out there.
But for your next step… have you considered asking your friends if they had some single friends that they could hook you up with?
Here’s the thing: you may have heard the saying “you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with“. This is 100% true. Despite what Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat told us (Google it, kids), opposites don’t attract. With friends, as with romantic partners, we tend to attract — and are attracted to — people who are like us. For your purposes, this means that your awesome friends are much more likely to have friends who are as awesome. Now, whether those awesome friends are a) your type and b) of a compatible sexual orientation is an open question. But just as you need to advertise yourself to other like-minded singles, you need to let your friends know that you’re actively looking and would appreciate if they’d hook a buddy up.
And seeing as we’re all under quarantine at the moment, you’re actually in a position to take the plague lemons that life’s thrown your way and turn them into a quarantini. If your friends do, in fact, have someone who’s awesome, single and leans your direction, setting up a virtual happy-hour (or tea party or whatever suits your fancy) is the perfect way to get to know them in a low-stakes, low-investment way. Rather than the potential awkwardness of your friends throwing you two together in a room and saying “I think you two would click NOW KISS”, you can have a social gathering that lets you meet them in an organic fashion. If you two get along over the course of this virtual hangout, it’ll feel like the most natural thing in the world to say “Hey, I had a great time talking to you; can I add you on Facebook/Snapchat/WhatsApp?”
Once you do that, you’re in a position to get to know each other — and do some low-key flirting — on your own time. And while things didn’t work out with your friends, you’ll be in a position for lightning to strike and love to find a way.