Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’m starting to believe I’m not actually capable of dating someone and I’m becoming afraid of dying alone.
I was bullied most of my school life, I probably didn’t help myself much at the time but now I realise the experience left me socially isolated/awkward, lacking in confidence and self-belief and believing I had little to offer in life. I’m now 24 and all in all I really cannot complain: I have my health, I’m financially stable and I have the career I always aspired to which offers a fantastic work/life balance. I’ve always been somewhat introverted but I have my friends I see (as and when work schedules allow) I do socialise more now and have become a bit more self-aware and hopefully less awkward. I’m certainly no party animal and I choose not to drink. I prefer to spend my time away from work with outdoor adventure activities, exploring different countries, keeping fit, generally seeking to learn and develop in and out of work and charity/volunteer work.
However, my dating/love life has not had the same success, in fact much the polar opposite. I think this stems from a bad dose of what you’d probably call oneitis I had in school: in hindsight we were opposing ends of the social spectrum so it was an impossibility really. She was perfectly polite and respectful in her rejection but unfortunately once word got around it all fed more ammunition to my childhood tormentors and as is the way in school the majority sided with the socially dominant bullies. This has left me with crippling approach anxiety for fear not so much of the polite ‘No, thank you’ but more the nuclear explosion of abuse and psychological torture that historically followed. So I’ve hit 25 and not managed a meaningful romantic relationship. Not one.
Of the odd, irregular night out I enjoy bars and pubs but clubs are really not my scene. I suppose this limits the number of women I meet but I also think it’s probably better to meet them doing what I enjoy. I have many female colleagues as well (I realise work isn’t necessarily the best or even appropriate time to approach anyone).
My trouble is, if I meet a girl who I find attractive (personality, physically etc) the fear starts brewing. I automatically assume they’re already spoken for, wouldn’t be interested or could do better and I get tongue tied: either I end up saying something stupid or blanking them. Even worse, sometimes I manage a pleasant but platonic conversation when it’s just one-on-one, but cross paths with her with other people present, I panic and blank them. Probably as creepy as it is offensive and I don’t mean to be that way.
I have friends and colleagues who really have made a great effort to help. I regularly hear: “You’re not exactly ugly, impressive physique, you have a great career which involves helping people and you really can say you’ve saved more than one life, you’re passionate about your job and hobbies, well-travelled ambitious, intelligent, honest, well-meaning, pretty funny when you want to be AND you can cook! That’s quite the package to offer”
I go away feeling better about things but as soon as I’m faced with the pretty girl it all crashes back: Nope. I’ve got nothing to offer her. She’s out my league.
I’d love to follow the advice of just ask, nothing to lose, ask straight away before you’ve become over invested in the answer but, being a bit socially awkward, it takes a while for me to become comfortable talking with someone and by then I have overthought everything and convinced myself not to bother. On the incredibly rare occasion I’m seriously thinking of asking I don’t know how to, I can’t work out how to make the conversation more than just platonic chat or professional courtesy. On the even rarer occasion I’ve actually asked (unimpressively, timidly and stammering) it’s always a no. A polite and thoughtfully worded no (mostly) but still a no.
I’ve managed a few (we’re talking less than 5) dates in recent years. None successful. To be honest, none of them have even been enjoyable. She may be very beautiful with a great personality and I may have wanted to see her again but the pressure I seem to put on myself believing that I have to try and act like someone else because they clearly won’t like me just leaves me feeling deflated, defeated and exhausted. They never want to meet a second time. The reality is, I don’t enjoy the process of meeting someone or getting to know them (mainly due to my lack of self belief) but I don’t want to grow up and die alone. Unfortunately, in my work I see this happen scarily regularly and with every partially decomposed body that was only found cos the neighbour hasn’t seen them for a while it hits me every time that I’m possibly seeing my own future.
The internet is full of warped and contradictory “…treat em mean keep em keen…” advice filled with “infallible techniques and pick up mind tricks” and I’m buried under a belief that you need to be a psychological genius to work it out.
I guess my question is what do I do? Where do I start?
Feeling Like Failure
I flat out refuse to go out with anyone who is really attractive because in my own personal experience, they are shallow, manipulative, entitled, and morally bankrupt.
That being said, even if I can’t trust them enough to give them the time of day, I till am attracted to them because I just am. Ideally I could find myself someone who is not attractive but at the same time is not ugly, just somewhere in between. But that doesn’t seem to be working.
I figure ether I’m going to have to settle for less, treat my bias, or wind up alone with just a dog and a house. I’m 23, make 60k a year stand 5 foot 10 inches any advice on this issue.
Hey Doc, first off I’m a big fan of your site and really appreciate all the healthy dating advice you give. I’m a 26 year old straight male and I’ve basically had intense shame about my sexuality for my entire adult life. It’s really held me back and makes it extremely difficult/impossible for me to seek out relationships.
Some background, and apologies if this is a bit long. I got my first girlfriend back in college when I was 17. We dated for about 10 months and I didn’t realize it at the time but it was an INCREDIBLY unhealthy relationship (possibly abusive? I’m not sure what qualifies). I’m now fairly sure she had something like borderline personality disorder, but being naive I mostly just took it upon myself to change to make her happy. She was extremely jealous and passive-aggressive, would accuse me of cheating if I so much as talked to another girl, would constantly explode at me over the tiniest things, made me basically cut most of my friends out of my life, etc. She also very early on (within a few months) started to frequently pressure me to agree to marry her, which I was extremely uncomfortable with but eventually gave in to and said I would consider it. But the worst of the problems revolved around sex.
Initially she seemed very interested in sex (she was not a virgin) and would talk about some kinkier stuff she wanted to eventually try. To my surprise, she said that she didn’t want to have sex until 6 months into the relationship, which I fully respected. However, she would somewhat frequently perform oral sex on me (never on my request, it was always her initiating) but would always turn down my offers to reciprocate. After 6 months we did start having sex, though it was very infrequent (I think maybe 4 times total). She always acted into it before/during, but afterward she would immediately call her mom and talk in front of me in Chinese (no idea what she was saying but it was very uncomfortable), and would seem upset/passive-aggressive for a while.
She had some really nasty sex-negative views which we would frequently disagree about. For instance she believed that a woman should only have sex with a man who was willing to marry her, otherwise she would be “devalued”, and that sex was a thing that women did for men to keep them happy. She would also slut-shame girls who dressed in revealing clothes.
Eventually, near the end of our relationship, she revealed that she apparently hated sex, thought kissing me was disgusting, and didn’t even like hugging me. Rather than being flattered/happy that I found her attractive, she basically took it as an insult. I said that we didn’t have to have sex or kiss anymore if she didn’t like it, so we stopped.
I should also note that during this time, my dad dumped my mom after 20 years of marriage for a woman 20 years his junior. It had devastating effects on my family, particularly my mom, and I hated my dad more than anyone in the world. I promised to myself that I would never be anything like him.
Finally after maybe a month or so of no sex, my girlfriend and I broke up, and she said some of the most hurtful things I’ve ever heard in my entire life: that I didn’t love her and that I only used her for sex, and that I was “just like my dad”.
Honestly, hearing this was my worst nightmare come true. Here’s why:
- If a woman says no, I will absolutely 100% stop whatever it is I’m doing, and won’t push it.
- If a woman seems hesitant but doesn’t say no, I will absolutely 100% stop whatever it is I’m doing and ask her if she wants to continue.
- If a woman says yes/seems enthusiastic then I can trust that as a great sign to continue, right? … except I can’t.
Apparently for all those months, my ex-girlfriend hated sex and felt used/forced into doing it but said nothing. This is so incredibly horrifying to me. I was basically… forced to rape someone for months without realizing it.
On top of this, what my dad did, and the accusation that I was “just like him”, have caused me an incredible amount of shame over the mere fact that I’m sexually attracted to women in general.
After breaking up with my ex-girlfriend, I didn’t date or have sex or any relationships for over 5 years. I went into a pretty terrible depression and eventually got therapy for over a year.
I finally managed to find a girlfriend via online dating and we dated for a bit over a year and it was a MUCH healthier relationship.
However, it’s been about 9 months since we broke up and this deep-rooted shame is still really holding me back. I occasionally work up the courage to introduce myself to women and I’ve managed to go on a few dates via Tinder, but I’m absolutely incapable of making any sort of romantic/sexual moves, so the dates all just go nowhere.
In my mind, making a move = creepy, sexual assault, unwanted sexual objectification, irremediably insulting. I know it’s not rational or true, but it’s what I’ve been conditioned to believe. (It probably doesn’t really help that in an attempt to learn how approach dating/sex in ways which are respectful toward women, I spent years reading radfem-esque dating “advice” articles which were basically just big lists of all the ways men should stop being horrible, but no actual advice on what is desired/considered okay.)
Honestly at this point I don’t know how to move past this. I know that it’s unhealthy to focus on the worst possible outcome, and besides, as everyone seems to say, what’s the worst that could happen? You try to make a move but get rejected and it’s a bit awkward, right? Nope, the worst is FAR worse, and I know because it was my experience. I take rejection incredibly well. In fact, I almost prefer being rejected because at least I know that “no means no”, which is way better than “yes but secretly I feel violated/used/raped and I won’t tell you until after/possibly ever”. To make a move on someone means risking that they may feel violated, even briefly, and after my experience with my ex-girlfriend, taking this risk just seems completely incompatible with my drive to be a good person.
At the same time, the fact that I feel this way makes me feel like a nasty sexist asshole because it implies that women are fragile flowers who are incapable of handling a moment of discomfort. Obviously I don’t believe this on a rational level, but it’s the logical conclusion of my deep-rooted fear, and this also makes me feel like a bad person, because I do not want to be sexist.
In the words of Andy from The 40-Year-Old Virgin: “You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much I completely stay away from them!”
As I mentioned before, I did therapy for a while and it helped me sort out the reasons why I have all these hang-ups, but ultimately I can’t seem to move past the fact that my worst fears were actually proven true, and could happen again.
Do you have any words of advice to offer?
A Guy With Issues
What’s up doc?
I’m a heterosexual male who is about to turn 26 in a few days. I’m an average guy on good days (I don’t pass the Grimes Test with flying colors) who has never been in a relationship. I consider my social skills to be below par than a lot of people, especially when you consider the fact that I haven’t even had a single friend from the opposite sex in my entire life.
Up until this point, this might sound like any other letter that you receive but this is where it gets interesting.
I have had type-1 diabetes for over a decade and a half now. To add to that, just before I turned 20, I was diagnosed with AIDS (not sexually transmitted).
I know that you repeatedly mention that you are not an actual doctor and I acknowledge and completely respect that. Moreover, you have covered some extremely complex issues, including stuff like living with STDs and chronic illnesses in some of your articles. But this letter is about something else. This is about the practicality of pursuing a relationship while living with such issues.
As I mentioned before, I am an average guy living with 2 chronic illnesses (3, if you consider the psychological issues that come with them). Whenever I look online for advice on whether someone with chronic illnesses should pursue love, relationships, a social life and all of that, the standard answer is that we deserve to be as happy as anyone else and therefore, we should go for it. But the fact that you have a tendency to delve deeper into such issues beyond the obvious, here is what I’d like to know from you:
How fair is it for the person living with something like AIDS to pursue a relationship with a person who may not have it? Consider the number of single guys out there who are looking to be in a relationship with any given girl (I know about oneitis but generally speaking). Out of all those guys, there must be some who are at least comparable to what I am and what I can provide in the relationship. But they do not come with the 2 chronic illnesses, one of which can threaten the life and well-being of the partner. So, why should a girl choose me over someone else who does not have my illnesses, considering that I do not bring anything special to the table? Now, add to that the issues like stigma that the disease brings with it, the other person will be made to go through troubles that they will never know when being with a healthy person.
More importantly, how right is it for someone like me, morally speaking, to even try to look for someone to be in a relationship with when I cannot ensure the health and well-being of myself, let alone my partner?
So in a nutshell, is it even practical for me to try to pursue a relationship?
Thank you for all your help,