My first attempt to get into online dating perfectly matched one of my biggest fears about online dating: there’s no one around. The most basic search with a wide distance and age range shows that all the single people are at least 60-70 miles away from where I’m at. And I kind of expected that. Businesses have died and/or left, and everyone I see around who isn’t at least my parents’ age is married and raising a family. Might be worth noting that Tinder is one I haven’t tried because I have zero interest in hookups. I want to find a long-term partner and get married, sooner rather than later because my 20’s are over and I’m afraid that if my singleness goes on for too much longer, then I won’t be able to raise a family like I want to.
It seems like the solution is to just move already, but the problem is, I kind of have a really good gig here. Professionally, anyway. I have a good job that pays well, I occupy a unique role in my workplace, and I have good professional relationships. Socially, it’s all gone to crap. I don’t have any close friendships or emotional intimacy with anyone. I haven’t been on a date in nearly a decade. I’ve recently done a really good job losing weight and getting in shape with healthy diet and exercise, but my appearance will still be lacking even if I get a good physique. All this is good for my health and I’m glad I’m doing it, but it won’t fix the problem that I’m still me.
And that’s my big fear of relocating. My job feels like the one good thing that I have going for me. Creatively, no one wants anything I’ve made. My poems do nothing for people. My short stories lack relevance. My novels, like me, lack a worthwhile personality (I don’t care how difficult writing a novel may seem from the outside; all it takes is time and effort, so it’s not so much an accomplishment as a consequence of that effort. Writing a novel isn’t an accomplishment, writing a good one is). I’m not even capable of forming a critique group because no one reads my stuff beyond the first chapter. Socially, I don’t stand out in any distinct way. I don’t draw people in, I don’t have the sheer breadth of experience that most normal people have had by the time they’re 30. And I haven’t been on a date in years; I’m terrified of what someone would think of me if they found that out and were immediately repulsed (I hear the way people around me talk about people they met who don’t get dates, so this fear isn’t 100% irrational). And not to mention, this blog writes about how easy it is for people to detect loneliness and low self-esteem and be repelled by it, so I’m even more self-conscious and anxious because I know the people around me can all sense my already low self-esteem. Unless I’ve read into this incorrectly, it’s like low self-esteem is a permanent “keep away” sign bolted on to me for everyone to see. And yet I’m somehow supposed to feel better about myself even knowing this.
So let’s say I move, and now I’m in an area that has a large amount of single women ranging from mid-late 20s to early 30s. I would still be me underneath, and I would have thrown away the one good thing I had going for me, potentially trading it for a job I might hate, and now I’m just as alone as I was before except I can see that there are people out there dating. I’m afraid that I would have thrown away the best thing about me in exchange for a slightly bigger chance at something that I always had a hard time with. I have a really hard time swallowing that cost.
In short, would relocating right now just end up as a stupid, reckless gamble? Is there a way I could be smart about it and not take such massive risks(some risk is unavoidable, but you don’t throw all your money on one roulette spin)? Do I need to somehow get my personality fixed before I even consider trying to fit in with people socially? Or am I just a coward, and that’s why people aren’t drawn to me in the first place? Externally and on paper, it seems like I’m doing great, but I’m socially empty and it feels like I have to toss out the good I have just for a slight, tiny chance of not being empty.
Running Out of Time to Fix My Life
So let’s get one thing clear off the bat, ROTFML: you’re not running out of time. This is actually a really common theme in the letters I get: this sense that there’s some nebulous clock, somewhere that’s ticking down and when time runs out then… well, nobody’s entirely clear on what happens, honestly. Maybe the Sandmen come to haul you off to the Carousel or something. The implication is that somehow, you get excluded from dating, sex or relationships but, again, nobody is ever able to explain just how that works — perhaps single folks can psionically detect the flashing life crystal. It’s also significant that nobody can agree on just when time will have run out; I’ve seen people who think that the window closes at 40, at 35, at 30… hell, I’ve heard from folks in junior high who seem to think that they’re running out of time.
If it’s not obvious, ROTFML, this isn’t something I take terribly seriously. People meet, fall in love, lose their virginity and get married at every age. The vague sense that you’re somehow running out of time isn’t reality, it’s anxiety brought on by a culture that simultaneously glamorizes youth while infantilizing people at the same time — such as with every “can you BELIEVE Millenials don’t do X?” piece that doesn’t realize that most Millennials are in their mid 30s now. The belief that you need to accomplish all of the milestones of life by an arbitrary date is just that: a belief and an arbitrary date. The sooner you can accept that you are on your own path and your own journey and that you are progressing on your own schedule, the happier you will be.
The same, for that matter, goes for your worries about needing to “fix your personality” or your fear that people can “detect the loneliness on you”. This, again, is anxiety talking. As I said to Resigned, Regretful and Rueful, your attitude and your beliefs are the filter through which you see the world. When you believe something — especially about yourself — your brain will process information through that belief, regardless of accuracy. Case in point: the way people react to finding out someone doesn’t get dates. You latch onto this, not because it’s a dominant attitude or response to someone who doesn’t have much dating experience, but because it conforms to what you already believe. It sticks with you because, to you, it’s just further confirmation of what you already fear. However, this is a classic example of a cognitive bias known as “confirmation bias” — that is, you put extreme emphasis on the things that confirm your existing beliefs and discount the things that go against them. In this case, you zero in on the things you’ve overheard because of how they line up with what you fear, but miss the folks who don’t care how much dating experience someone has.
The same goes for the idea that people can detect and are repelled by loneliness. This, again, is information coming through the filter of your anxieties. The problem isn’t being lonely or wanting to find somebody, it’s neediness that people find unattractive. Similarly, low self-esteem is unattractive because of what it this — like most of your worries — is something that can be overcome.
But let’s talk about your dilemma here. The problem you’re facing is one of demographics. People aren’t exactly distributed evenly through cities and towns across the country, or even the world; as many LGBTQ folks could tell you, sometimes you live in a place where there are simply few to no viable options for you. And while the Internet and dating apps have helped ease that particular strain, that still means that sometimes you’re dealing with a significantly reduced pool of potential partners. For some, this isn’t necessarily a problem; reduced isn’t the same as zero. But for others, it makes dating and romance an impossibility.
There can also be the issue of where you live or grew up is simply the wrong fit. Plenty of folks grow up in areas where their personality or values clash with the region. They may be more liberal than the majority of the populace, have interests that people find suspect or off-putting or have religious beliefs that conflict with the dominant populace. People in small towns and rural areas often want to move to larger and more cosmopolitan areas where greater opportunities exist for them, while there’re folks in large cities who dream of small town life or a rural area with few (if any) folks around for miles.
Can you move for love, or at least more favorable demographics? Of course you can; people do this all the time. Assuming you have the finances to pull up stakes and move somewhere else, there’s really no reason why you can’t. Moving to a better area where you can start over or have a better chance at making a life for yourself is a grand American tradition. In fact, for a lot of LGBTQ people this is so common as to be a virtual rite of passage: getting out of their conservative, homophobic home town and finding a place where they can thrive.
However, a better question for you would be: what reasons do you have to stay? You have a good job, yes, and right now that’s not something to sneeze at. I imagine the cost of living where you are is fairly reasonable as well. However, it’s pretty clear that you have nothing keeping you there. You have few to no social ties, you don’t feel a connection to the area and the town itself seems to be on a downward, and possibly irreversible swing. Yeah, you’ve got your job, but, dude… you’re not a hive insect. There’s far more important things in life than productivity and contributing to somebody else’s bottom line. There’s a vast difference between living and having a life.
I mean, even if we just look at everything you’ve written… you’re not happy there. You’re not a good fit for the town, the demographics don’t work for you socially and honestly, it seems like your biggest reason to stay is the sense that you don’t deserve to be happy.
While I don’t think moving in and of itself is going to cure all your ills, it’s certainly going to open up significant opportunities for you to at least address them. OK, so your writing isn’t great. Even allowing for maybe you won’t end up being a writer (not in and of itself a bad thing; I didn’t make it as an artist, after all…) moving to a university town would mean that you could take some creative writing courses. Moving to a new city would mean an opportunity to expand your social horizons, explore new interests and meet people you might not have met otherwise. The odds are better that you’d be able to find someone to help you address your anxieties and fears. And — assuming you actually put in the work — you could build the sort of life you can’t have where you live now.
But that “assuming” is the important part. As I said: just moving isn’t going to do it. You don’t get handed a cadre of new friends and love interests and interesting hobbies along with your apartment keys and updated driver’s license. You have to be willing to take an active role in shaping your life. That means being proactive about meeting people and making new friends, getting out of your comfort zone and taking full advantage of the opportunities your new home gives you. Otherwise, the only things that’ll have changed are your rent and the scenery.
Are there ways of lessening the risk of a big move? Of course there are. The more things you can take care of in advance, the less of a risk it becomes. Consider the most common problems people face when moving: having a place to live, finding a job that pays a living wage and being able to afford living there. Making sure you have a job offer before you move, or making sure you can work remotely from your current job, for example, would cut down the risk significantly. So too would doing your due diligence in researching the demographics, the cost of living, occupancy rate (Austin, f’rex, is quite literally full) and locking down a place to live. You might also consider what things you’re willing to be flexible on and what you might be willing to accept in exchange. A lot of people like living in exurbs or bedroom communities because of available housing and accept a commute as the price of entry. Others will accept a smaller living space at an equal cost for the convenience of living in the center of the action. You may decide that a medium-sized university town like Savannah is more your speed than Atlanta, or Syracuse rather than Manhattan. You may decide that Kansas City or St. Louis is a viable option, even if it means living in a very red state with significant vaccination hesitancy.
But there’s always going to be trade-offs no matter where you go. It’s just a matter of deciding that those trade-offs are worth it in exchange for what you get. And, of course, being willing to put in the work to build the life you want.
It’s up to you.
(But seriously, not Austin. The market’s a nightmare thanks to the tech boom we’re going through. I hear Houston’s nice…)
Hello Doc, I am a 21 year old girl with severe self esteem issues. I have a full face that is extremely plain and my smile is hideous. My hair is nice, except for the color, it’s a clingy orange/yellow color. I can’t bear to look in the mirror or see pictures. I almost cry every day. So now that you know a little bit about me, here’s my problem.
For the past three months, a really good friend of about 3 years and I have started texting regularly. And texting a lot…. first thing in the morning and sometimes all the way to night. I’ve liked him for a while – he does not know this. Sometimes I feel like he is flirting with me but I don’t know. I refuse to admit he likes me because why would he? I am not attractive and I don’t really have anything going for me. I need to tell him I like him, I can’t be just friends anymore. I have what I’m going to say all worked out.
But I don’t know if I can bring myself to do it. I don’t think he could ever like someone who looks like me…..
What should I do?
Too Much To Hope For
If I’m being honest, TMTHF, I think your first step should be talking to a counselor. I fully acknowledge that’s something I say a lot around here, but there’s only so much a loudmouth with an advice column can do — especially, as I’m always saying: Dr. NerdLove is NOT a real doctor. If you literally can’t stand to look in the mirror and you’re crying every single day… that’s honestly the issue you should focus on. Even if we’re strictly cold-blooded about this, the ratio of effort-to-outcome and the knock-on effects of dealing with your feelings of low self-esteem and emotional despair far outweigh telling your crush that you’re into him.
I mean, pretty much everything about how you describe yourself and your feelings in your letter screams depression to me. But even if it’s not, having a professional to help you unpack these feelings, pick them apart and figure out ways of addressing them is going to do you a world of good. And if you’re currently a college or university student — and your age certainly makes that more likely — you have the advantage of having your school’s health center and attendant resources. That makes it a lot easier (and cheaper!) to find a counselor than if you have to start from scratch or with a referral from your GP.
Now as for your friend… sometimes you have to be willing to accept “yes” as, if not an answer, than at least a possibility. As I’ve told ROTFML and many, many others: just because you feel a particular way, especially about yourself, that doesn’t mean that it’s true, or even accurate. You are convinced that you’re plain with a hideous smile and weird not-quite-ginger hair. That doesn’t mean that’s the case, nor does it mean that people don’t or couldn’t find you attractive. It’s more about letting yourself believe it, especially when an opportunity drops into your lap and starts to wiggle.
Is he into you? Is he flirting? Would he respond positively if you told him you have a crush on him? I couldn’t say. What I can say is that, as a general rule, people don’t text all day, every day, from dawn until dusk, with folks they don’t like. Maybe you and he are just really tight friends with a strong connection. Or maybe he’s caught some feels. After all, science has found that people become more attractive to us as we get to know them better. It’s certainly well within the realm of possibility.
Now, my personal philosophy is that I’m not a huge fan of declarations of feelings… not, at least, in isolation. While it makes for great dramatic moments in shoujo manga or CW shows, I find that in practice, it tends to come across as “Here are my feelings, now you need to do something with them.” That can often put a lot of pressure on someone to decide right then and there what kind of relationship they want to have, possibly before they’ve thought beyond “Well, I’m interested in trying something with them.” I’ve found that what works better is to ask someone on a date — not to hang out, not to get together some time, but a proper date. This tends to be a much easier ask; all they’re agreeing to is an evening, not to try to figure out the entire relationship. Plus: the romantic and/or sexual interest is implied; people don’t generally ask folks they don’t like out on dates.
There’re a lot of ways to frame this, especially considering you and he have been friends for a while. Personally, I prefer to do what’s known as “inviting the ‘no'”. That is: you make it clear when you ask them out on a date that it’s totally ok for them to say “no, thank you”. This helps dial back both the potential “feelings out of nowhere, what do I do??” overflow error and the fear that saying anything other than yes would ruin the friendship or make things awkward. So in your case, what you could do is say “Look, maybe I’m completely misreading things but I feel like there’s kind of a flirty vibe going on between us and I’m into it. I really like our friendship and what we have and I would never want to lose that, but I’m interested in seeing if maybe there’s more. It’s totally ok if the answer is no, but would you be interested in going on a date and seeing how things go? If not, that’s totally ok, and maybe it’ll be a bit awkward for a little but we can resolve to power through the awkward. What do you think?”
And then the ball’s in his court.
But, regardless of whether he is interested in you or not, I think one thing you don’t have to worry about as much is ruining what you have now. A long-standing friendship that seems to have gotten closer and more intense is generally not the sort of thing that falls apart after one speedbump (or, in this case, one invitation on a date). I also think that the risks of not asking him mean living with the pain of uncertainty, ambiguity and wondering “what if”. Getting an answer, even if the answer is no — and I’m definitely not saying that it would be — is almost always better.
But seriously. Prioritize talking to a counselor above everything else. You deserve to feel better about yourself and to treat yourself better than you are right now.