Hi Dr. NerdLove,
I turned my life around, but still can’t find a date. I suppose I’m your typical young adult geek. I live in a small apartment with collectible toys on shelves. I play video games, gossip on pop culture websites and don’t sleep well unless I’ve watched an episode of Star Trek to make me comfortable in bed. I’m also short, pudgy and often feel quite unattractive. I’ve had a single long-term relationship a few years ago, but things have been quiet since.
I felt my life was going in a direction I didn’t like — so I made a drastic move. I went to law school to become a lawyer. I learned how to network and how to build up my self-confidence. I started a busy career. I face professionals who have a lot more experience than me — and I win. It makes me proud to say that I’m good at what I do.
On the one hand, I want my story to inspire other geeks who lack self-confidence. We can use our inherent smarts to take go wherever we want to go. However, I’m somewhat more abject to admit that my dating world hasn’t changed.
I’m still the same old toy collecting Trekkie despite my “new” life. Heck, I once wrote an article in law school about how Federation captains can legally analyze their duties under the Prime Directive.
I thought a new career would make me more appealing to women. I’m a really kind person (like most geeks), and hoped that women would see me for my personality and my success. So much has changed for the better, but I’m still alone and left wondering what else society expects me to do. I like who I am — and I don’t want to change, but at the same time it hurts. I feel that no matter what, women are going to see me as a pudgy geek until the day I either get lucky — or throw my toys out and watch a football game.
Thanks for your guidance,
First of all, congratulations on what you’ve accomplished GE. Changing up your life is no small feat; making a hard pivot to law school and changing your career is an impressive achievement. You should be proud of yourself and what you’ve accomplished, as well as the good it’s done for you.
I understand how frustrating it can be to have made such significant changes and still feel like you’re missing something. That’s why I want to zero in, not on what has changed, but hasn’t changed.
Let’s start with the most obvious. You say a lot about what you’re doing differently with your job… but you don’t tell me about anything you’re doing differently with women. And that, I think, is one of the problems. Now, maybe there’ve been changes there too that you didn’t mention. But from what you’ve written, it sounds like you haven’t done anything differently in your social life, and that’s going to be an issue.
This was the first thing that leapt out at me: “I thought a new career would make me more appealing to women. I’m a really kind person (like most geeks), and hoped that women would see me for my personality and my success.” Again, maybe you’ve phrased things awkwardly here, but it sounds like you were hoping that just getting your law degree and starting your new career would make all the difference without having to change anything else. The thing is: that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of it works. It’s great that you have an awesome new career, that you’re having excellent success and it’s done good things for your self-esteem. But if you haven’t taken your ability to change and grow, as well as your newfound self-esteem, and applied it to your social life… well, nothing is going to change. It’s not as though women are going to hear you’re a lawyer and start sliding you their phone numbers. Nor, for that matter, are they gonna smell the success on you and do the work for you. Changing your career isn’t the end of this process; if anything, it’s just part of it.
It doesn’t do any good for you to change that aspect of your life and leave everything else the same. If you want things to be different, then you have to do things differently.
And, man, you already know this. You did this with your career. So, apply that to your social life. How much are you talking to people, making connections and building relationships with them? Not romantic relationships, but just friendships and social connections? How many times have you hung out and talked with folks just for the joy of having a conversation with a fascinating stranger? You’ve gotten better at networking… have you applied those skills at meeting folks just because they seem cool? The more you cultivate your social skills and focus on meeting people in general, the better you get at connecting with people you’re attracted to. The skills that help you make new friends are the exact same skills that help you meet potential lovers; the only difference is how you apply them.
If you haven’t started… well, hey, now you know what your next steps are. You can apply that intellect and drive that got you through law school to boosting your charisma and connecting with folks, building your social circle and helping further build out your awesome new life.
And of course, working on your social circle means that you have more opportunities to meet amazing women — either by bringing them in directly or meeting them through your friends.
However, that’s not the only thing that’s leapt out at me — nor does it sound like this is the only thing that hasn’t changed. This part is also pretty significant: “I feel that no matter what, women are going to see me as a pudgy geek until the day I either get lucky — or throw my toys out and watch a football game.”
That, quite frankly, screams to me that you feel like your being a geek is shameful or holding you back. And… well, yes, of course it is. I mean, when you’re framing this as something that you need to apologize for, or that you see as being a dealbreaker to women, it’s absolutely going to salt your game. Nobody is going to be drawn to someone who feels like the things he loves are things that nobody else could like. That sort of mindset is going to poison everything you do. It’s going to sabotage your confidence when you’re talking to people, it’s going to cut your legs out from under you when you try to talk about what you’re into, and it’s absolutely going to send up red flags to people you want to date… because you are treating it like a red flag.
Now part of the problem could well be who you’re trying to date. If you’re trying to meet and date women who just don’t like geek guys, then as the sage says: “Well there’s your problem.” The obvious answer is to put more effort into meeting women who, if they don’t share your interests, are at least able to understand and appreciate them. People who think that Star Trek is stupid or that toys are for children are demonstrably not compatible with you. You and they have conflicting values and interests; even if the two of you had steaming chemistry, the fundamental disconnect in your passions would kill that relationship deader than disco. You can’t maintain a relationship with someone who can’t at least respect your passions.
But at the same time: part of that confidence — and vulnerability, for that matter — means loving who you are and what you love without apology. When you use “geek” to describe yourself in a derogatory way, that’s a pretty strong indicator that you feel like this is something you need to compensate for, not something you’re proud of. You need to cultivate an attitude of “Damn right I’m a geek and it’s awesome,” rather than looking at it like some childish thing that needs to be put aside. If they don’t vibe with that or think that it’s something shameful then hey, that’s a them problem, not a you problem. As far as you’re concerned, they’ve self-selected out of your dating pool and the only thing you’ve missed out on is a match that would never have worked anyway.
It also sounds like you’ve got a pretty narrow idea of what a geek is or can be. That may also be part of your problem. A lot of geeky folks tend to see geekdom as being essentialist and limiting, rather than expansive. While I get that a lot of us grew up with an aversion to sports because of the jerks we met who were into them — or the popular kids at school leaning more towards athletics, for that matter — the fact is that being a geek should be a “yes, and” situation, not an “instead of”. I mean, you can binge the hell out of Deep Space Nine and Lower Decks and still enjoy sports. A good friend of mine is a giant nerd who’s also a huge sports and pro-wrestling fan. These aren’t two diametrically opposed interests; they’re just the things he loves.
If you’re dismissing folks because of their more mainstream interests, then you’re kinda making the same mistake that folks make when they dismiss you for being a geek. If you’re talking smack about someone who’s excited for the Bills take on the Saints, then you’re doing the same thing that people do if they mock you for loving video games or collecting toys. It’s important to remember that just as you want people who can at least respect your interests, you want to give them the same respect. You want to model the behavior you want to see from others in your own life.
So do yourself a favor. Do a little introspection and self-appraisal. How much have you changed your behavior towards meeting people and building your social circle? How much are you feeling as though you need to apologize for being a geek or for loving the things you love? Are you meeting folks who share or respect your interests? Just as importantly: are you respecting theirs, even if you don’t share or understand them?
Spend some time focusing on those questions, and I think you’ll start finding the areas that you need to work on. Then you should take that intellect and drive that’s brought you so far and apply it to finding some answers. When you do, I think you’ll find that your love life makes the same awesome improvements that your professional life has. –
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I was reading this article (https://www.doctornerdlove.com/why-wont-my-husband-treat-his-mental-illness/) and some points you made, hit too close to home and wanted to get your opinion.
The gist of my question is: Do I have an undiagnosed ADHD in my mid 50’s ?
Let me explain where I am coming from. I was raised as an only child, mainly by a grandmother, an aunt and dad. Mom, was not much of a mom and was not in the picture while I was very young. She used to disappear and go live with her family for months, before showing up again for a short time and this cycle repeated it self over and again. While she was around, she was not a lovey-dovey kind. As a matter of fact, I still clearly remember actions of hostility towards me 50 years later.
My grandma and my aunt, doted over me on the other hand and I never felt lack of parental love. My dad loved me too, no questions asked. He never married in order not to put me in an environment with a stepmother and my aunt, dad’s sister, never married just to take care of me in my mother’s absence. My mother left the family picture, for good when I was 11 and since then, I saw her for a day or two every year, when her brother came to our city for taking care of some business contract.
As much as this sounds like a dysfunctional family picture, I was a happy child and was happy to see my mother leave for good. I was a little more than usual reclusive person as a child and did not make friends with everybody in the grade school easily but I had a few very good friends.
I was an exemplary student throughout my K-12 education. I sailed through those years with no problem and got admitted to a reputable engineering program at the local (to our city) university. This is where I started to make friends with people and came out of my self-proclaimed, introvert shell. Even though I struggled in my first two years in college, I graduated without any loss of years or even a semester. If you haven’t figured out yet, I became ad engineer. A problem solver if you will.
Now, I need to point out something in my life. My family held education ahead of everything and this notion was instilled to me all my life. I also saw people who start dating early in their lives, faltering through school years. So,I did not have girlfriend while I were in school, till I graduated from the masters program. I had female friends and I had no problem talking to them, but having a girlfriend has never happened. And I need to take a big part of responsibility on that.
Let me dig into that a little deeper. I was never a small frame child. I started first grade as a 4 ft 5 inches tall kid who weighed 84 lbs. When I graduated from High school, I was 5’10 and 240 lbs. An obese person. This did a lot on me. I was not confident and always had a fear of rejection on the back of my mind. So, I did not even try to have a girlfriend. In the hindsight, I now realize, I was totally oblivious to some signs of interest from few “female friends” but, let’s say it like that, past is past and no need to dwell on that.
I had my first girlfriend when I was 35. Relationship started great. She was also obese but were doing great on losing the bulge battle. So was I. Our relationship blossomed and we had some troubles we got back together and we finally got married 3 years down the road. Marriage lasted almost 9 years. But our cultural differences caused the demise of that marriage.
2 years after we have been legally separated, I met my current wife. We lived in “sin” for about 4 years and I resisted the idea of marriage, probably because I have never seen a successful one, but since it was important to her, I gave in and we got married 4 years ago.
Sorry for the long preamble but, I thought you might see something that I might have missed. My wife is a good person in the core, but our marriage is not a match made in heaven.
My wife loves to talk. I do not. I try to listen to her but when she starts going into too many tangents of a subject matter, I start to lose concentration and she gets upset. If you remember, I am an engineer, a problem solver. Tell me your problem and I will fix it or tell you it is beyond me and you need to seek help from a person, who is qualified better than I am. She tells me stuff that happened between her and another coworker of hers. Yes it is interesting if there is something that can be done about it but most of the time there is not or she doesn’t accept my suggested solution and keeps talking my ear off. So, your comment about the “going in one ear and out the other” on the referenced article applies to me very well. And there are other instances of finding myself not listening to her as she talks.
She also loves to say the same thing many times, over and over again until it turns into a full blown fight. And once it is over (which is never quick, takes hours) she is fine and expects me to be fine with that. I am not. It festers in my mind for days. I try to let it go but some small snide remark she makes abut something, which is not rare, brings everything back up. And back to the rabbit hole I go, of not listening. And this is getting worse.
Also, The comment about, “you know you have to write that book report, but you can not bring yourself up to it and do other things with fervor instead” comment. Yeah that is so me.
I have never been diagnosed with ADHD or any other mental issue so far. But in its day, when I was growing up, you did not hear ADHD every day. But I was never that hyperactive kid who couldn’t concentrate on one thing. My parents never had a reason to take me to a child psychiatrist or similar. So, I am quite confused.
Do I have ADHD that I don’t know about or what ?
Looking Around Confused
OK, LAC, the first thing I have to remind you is that Dr. NerdLove is not a real doctor; I’m a real fake doctor, with the best doctorate in metaphysics that twenty bucks could buy. But even if I were, I couldn’t diagnose you via a letter. That’s something that you would need to actually discuss with a medical professional, especially someone who specializes in psychological testing. They’re going to be in a much better position to tell you whether you have ADHD or other mental health conditions than I ever would be. And hey, if some of what folks have shared about their experiences sounds familiar, that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to look into getting tested. My own journey to getting diagnosed started when memes on Facebook and Twitter just started getting far too relatable.
All of that having been said: nothing you’ve described in your letter — either in your preamble or in your current relationship — sounds like ADHD to me. Going by what you’ve written, it sounds like you had a contentious relationship with your family, issues with body image and acceptance and self-esteem. Now, to be absolutely clear: this isn’t a declaration that you do or don’t have ADHD, just that what you describe doesn’t match my experience with my condition. This is why I recommend talking to a mental health professional. The fact that my experience was different doesn’t mean anything; a lot of what I recognize as symptoms now were because of how much having this was an underlying factor. But like I said: it doesn’t sound like ADHD as I’ve experienced it.
Similarly, what you describe about your current marriage sounds like issues of compatibility and communication, more than anything else. Take, for example, the tangents issue and the idea that you’re a problem solver. This can cause conflicts, because you’re likely missing what your wife is getting at. The odds are that she’s not asking you to solve things; she’s just sharing this aspect of her life with you. To the extent that she wants anything from you in those moments, it’s likely that she wants a sympathetic ear and some commiseration. More often than not, she knows what the answer is or what she needs to do, she’s just venting.
This, incidentally, is an issue a lot of guys have. They look for things to solve or fix — active solutions that they can contribute to. What they often don’t realize is that listening is an active solution; you’re providing the sounding board that lets your partner sort things out. Letting things go “in one ear and out the other” is going to come off as incredibly disrespectful to her because she’s trying her best to connect with you. Since you don’t see a “problem” to be fixed, you tune out… and thus you’re effectively telling her that you don’t care.
I’m not exactly surprised that this leads to conflict. It also sounds like either you and your wife have different fighting “styles”, or that things aren’t actually getting resolved. Some folks blow up and things get very loud and dramatic, but when they’re done, they’re done; the moment’s passed, the fight’s over, everything should be ok again now that everyone’s aired their grievances via volume. Others need to process and chew on things until they get to a reasonable conclusion, and that can take time. When you have a person who expects things to be resolved, while the other is still dwelling on it… well, there’s gonna be ugliness if they don’t find a way to come to a resolution.
And if she’s needling you until you blow up again… well, from what you’ve described, it could either be that she’s just picking fights, or she’s teasing you over something she legitimately thinks is resolved and doesn’t realize its’ still an issue for you. And considering you go back to not listening, it seems pretty clear that shit isn’t getting resolved, no matter what.
So while I’d recommend getting tested if you want to get an answer to the ADHD question, that should probably take a back seat to getting your ass into couple’s counseling right the fuck now. It sounds like you and your wife have major communication issues and frankly, the way you seem to be acting towards her is incredibly disrespectful at best. If you want this marriage to work, counseling is going to have to be the start, so that you and she can see if there are ways to get around this fundamental disconnect. And even if you don’t decide that this is something you want to save, working with a couple’s counselor might help you recognize why you two are having compatibility issues, so you don’t make the same mistakes next time.
TL;DR: it doesn’t sound like you have ADHD, but talk to a real doctor, not a loudmouth with an advice column to get that answer. But whether you do or don’t have it, you need to make couple’s counseling a priority — and it needs to be a higher priority than getting tested.