Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’ve been an avid reader of work for quite some time, and really tried to incorporate a more open-minded and exploratory approach to meeting others and developing my social skills. I find however that despite my best efforts…my bitterness/frustration isn’t getting better.
I didn’t expect overnight success in dating or in personal outlook (especially when the pandemic has decimated social activity), but I can’t help feeling the things I know are wrong or unproductive. Maybe it’s because I struggle finding people I’m compatible with (lots of sports/country music/mudding/quadding enthusiasts in my area, not my dig), or maybe the demographics aren’t in my favour (lots of single moms in my area, no thanks). I’ve actively sought out social groups before the pandemic and now through digital events, but I just didn’t find a possible relationship.
I know I’m not perfect (overweight, live at home still) and my flaws don’t define me, but they still nag at me and discourage me more often than not. My work schedule doesn’t allow me to go to exercise classes, and I get mad at myself for not working out at home. I want to dress better, but fewer and fewer of my clothes fit. I want to meet new people, but I see nothing on Meetup/Facebook local that interests me. I find my friends talk about grown-up stuff like buying appliances or tending their gardens, but I don’t have much to offer in those conversations. I just feel various things that still remind me I’m not “where I need to be in life” (which of course is a bullshit thing to think).
Ultimately, I’m trying to fight back against the things I don’t like about myself, but I’m starting to feel out of my depth. When does the momentum start working FOR me and not AGAINST me?
Escape From Jerkbrain
Well, EFJ, you’ve already zeroed in on what’s wrong. It’s very much just a case of your jerkbrain fucking with you. The question, of course, is what do you do about all of this?
Yes, observations like this this are why I get paid the tall blogging dollar. Roll with me here.
You’re very in your head right now, and that’s kind of a problem. See, the issue is that you’re getting locked into a very specific thought pattern. You’re looking at your circumstances and, since you aren’t seeing an immediately obvious solution, you’re getting frustrated. Case in point, exercise and clothes. These are fairly solvable problems, if you don’t limit yourself to what feels like a fairly narrow perspective.
The first and most obvious thing is that not looking like a Hemsworth isn’t an automatic disqualifier. There are people who like dudes who look the way hugs feel, after all. But let’s say that you really want to work on your overall fitness, regardless of looks. Your current work schedule doesn’t allow for exercise classes, which is legit; that’s one of the things that can be hard to shift around. But the issue isn’t finding the time to exercise — you could exercise at home — but the will to do so. You’re running into issues of actually motivating yourself to work out at home. The question, then, is what are you doing instead of exercising and why? The why is important, because that gets into the meat of the issue. One of the things that trips people up when it comes to start self-improvement isn’t finding the time, it’s a matter of priorities. If you’re having an an issue fitting something — exercise, in this case — into your schedule, it’s usually because of a question of conflicting priorities; there are things you are unwilling to give up in exchange for the time to exercise. Sometimes that’s things like sleep or food prep. Other times, it’s leisure activities or even just farting around on the Internet. You, for personal reasons, prioritize those activities over working out. And to be clear: I’m not judging you on this. There are reasons why X, Y or Z are a higher priority for you and that’s legit.
However, examining why those are a higher priority can help you figure out where or how you want to shift things around. Maybe you’re doing X at a time when you might otherwise be working out because it’s how you decompress after work. Or Y is part of how you socialize with friends. But Z may be because of force of habit or getting caught in a negative loop (constantly refreshing Facebook, even though you’re bored and don’t actually care). You might feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the idea of starting a workout regimine and you go do something else to relieve that stress instead. Or, hell, you might have issues with executive dysfunction and can’t get the neurons that control the desire to exercise to fire.
Once you understand the reason, you can use that to figure out how to switch exercise in. For example, I have TV shows and podcasts that are specifically for when I work out; I don’t watch them unless I’m on the elliptical or listen to them if I’m not going for a hike. Pairing the two together makes it easier to motivate myself to exercise. If it’s a question of intimidation, then the best thing is to simplify things. Having a structured exercise plan can help; systems like Couch to 5k or Zombies, Run can break the process into easily digestible chunks that build on one another. Or you might simply just take time to go for walks; an hour of walking burns the same calories as a half-hour of jogging, and the recovery period is much faster.
Clothing is a similar issue. You want to dress better, but your clothes don’t fit well right now. The answer is obvious: new clothes. But if you’re hoping to lose weight, wouldn’t you want to wait until you’re at the weight you want to go clothes shopping? The truth is… not really, no. One of the mistakes people make is that they are putting off feeling good about themselves and assigning it to their Future Self. But that Future Self is never going to manifest; you end up finding reasons to kick that Future Self further and further down the road. You’ll want to wait until you’ve dropped X pounds… but then you’ll want to wait until you’ve built up Y muscle… and then develop your social skills. And it’s hard to stay motivated to do any of that when you feel like a big sack of crap otherwise. Dressing well now, even when you want to be in different shape, is important because it makes you feel better. How you dress is an external display of how you feel about yourself; dress like crap and you show that you feel like crap. But this works both ways; if you dress up sharp, you start feeling better about yourself. It’s a trick called “enclothed cognition”, where the symbolism and associations of the clothes affect your behavior, emotional state and performance. So getting some nice clothes now can help spur you to work harder to get to where you want to be. And starting off with, say, a vest and dress shirts from a vintage clothing store and getting them tailored to fit (which is cheaper than you’d think) goes a long way for less money. This gives you some clothes to wear that are sharp, distinct and a step up from your basic t-shirt and jeans combo.
(Plus, the vest/shirt combo helps break up the lines of your body and creates a visual slimming effect. So it’s win/win/win).
This narrow perspective also affects how you’re taking the way your friends talk about their interests. You’re seeing your lack of experience or facility with those topics as proof that you have nothing to offer or that you are insufficiently “grown up”. But the thing is: contributing to the conversation doesn’t mean that you need to have stunning insights or clever observations. You don’t have to be “on the same level” as everyone else to take part. Contributing to the conversation can also be asking questions and showing interest. Asking your buds about things like, say, starting a garden is a way of contributing to the conversation and developing a new hobby or interest. And that, in turn, can help you find interest groups that would make it easier to meet people with like-minded interests.
Taking that same approach — coming at the issue from a different angle — helps with meeting people (including potential partners) or finding groups you want to take part in. Trying groups that aren’t directly related to your interests, but seem like worth exploring can help you explore your passions and become a more interesting and well-rounded person. By that same token, going to those groups doesn’t mean you’re going to meet potential partners. You’re going to meet people in general. But by meeting those people and making new friends, you’re increasing your social circle, which, in turn, means you’re likely to meet more of their friends. You may not meet the love of your life at a weekend Meetup… but you may meet the folks who will introduce you to them.
And don’t forget: people contain multitudes. They may be into sports, but that doesn’t mean they’re not also into tabletop RPGs or Fellini movies or what-have you. Hell, fantasy sports league isn’t that far from a lot of RPG systems or strategy games. If you can follow the DOTA or League of Legends meta, you can run a fantasy football team.
Now let’s say that you do all of this and, by this time next year, you haven’t found a partner yet. Well, the worst case scenario is that you’ve made your life more vibrant and interesting and put yourself in a better position to find someone. At that point, if you decide to pull up stakes and try moving to a place where the demographics are more to your liking — a very legitimate reason to move, by the way — then you’ve laid down a foundation that will make it much easier for you to hit the ground running in that new town. You’ll have made yourself a more compelling person, developed the habits and skills that will enable you to build a new social circle and make new friends, and you’ll have built up your confidence and self-assurance that is so incredibly attractive.
So, really, it’s a can’t-lose proposition. Take a little time, do some self-examination to figure out what precisely is causing you to hold off on starting some of those changes and then make a plan. Keep it simple to avoid overload and burnout, take it at a measured pace and focus on feeling as good about yourself in the now as you will in the future. Build that interesting and varied life and you’ll find that the rest will come far, far easier.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I have a question about a situation that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere. I have appreciated all of your great advice in the past, and as soon as I began wondering about this “problem”, I knew you were the person to ask.
I have begun a relationship with a man who is polyamorous. When our relationship started, I was fairly involved in the local poly community (or in the case of the past year, as much as you can be during COVID times), and I’ve spent most of my adult life identifying as an ethical slut who is solo poly. I’m in my early 40’s and pansexual, so I’ve had plenty of time being involved in a variety of poly and ethically non-monogamous relationships. Basically, I’m saying this is not new to me, and this has been how I have strongly identified and operated for at least 25 years.
After much introspection regarding this current relationship and my past relationships/partners, I have come to realize that I do not think that I am necessarily poly. I feel now that I had thought I was poly because I had been searching for something in a partner that I wasn’t ever getting from anyone. Now with this man, I feel very fulfilled and satisfied, and I have no desire to be with anyone else. He truly is exactly the kind of person I want for a partner in every way, and I’m very happy and content to just be with him.
We are both great at being very open and communicating with each other, so we have, of course, discussed this. I have told him the truth about my feelings and thoughts, and he is fine with me only having him for a partner, and also very supportive if things stay that way or if they would ever change. I am on board with whatever he wants out of his life and his relationships, including staying with his wife, having other partners, etc. I have no desire to control or define anything for him – I am just happy with what we have and feel good with just that. He knows that I don’t expect anything more from him, or for him to change anything because I feel that I have changed. This whole paragraph is a long-winded way of saying I am not trying to fuck anything up for him or make him be something he’s not.
So far things have been very good for both of us, we are both very happy with our relationship, and both very much in love. So what’s the problem? Well, I guess it’s that I haven’t been able to find any other stories like this online or in the many books I’ve read about the ENM or poly lifestyle. I’m feeling very alone in thinking and feeling like this. Is this something that’s okay? I feel like it is, but I also feel like it must be fairly rare considering the lack of information or others’ stories about a relationship like ours. For the most part, I think that it’s obvious that if we’re both happy with our arrangement that of course it’s fine! This shouldn’t even be a question or a concern. But there is still this small nagging worry there for me. Can a relationship like this work? Am I really not poly like I thought I was? Am I still poly and just taking a break, or maybe just getting older and retiring the slut label? It’s obviously been very confusing and somewhat frustrating for me even though I know how I feel, I know what I want, and I am happy.
So, I’m writing because I know you will give it to me straight, and I sincerely hope you will be able to answer my “non-question” in some way!
This is one of those times that, if I’m perfectly honest, it sounds like you’re inventing a problem where there isn’t one.
One of the things that draws people to various forms of open relationships or non-monogamy is that it means that they don’t feel like their relationships have to be narrowly defined or restrictive. It allows for a wider variety of friendships and romantic relationships, which also means that you aren’t necessarily looking to have all of your needs fulfilled by one person. You can have different kinds of connections, which takes the pressure off each individual relationship. This actually helps make those relationships stronger, because they aren’t buckling under the need to be all things to each partner.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t find a partner who does fulfill your needs — if not all of them, then at least enough of them that you don’t feel the lack or the need to look elsewhere. And that may be for now, or it may be for a long damn time.
What it doesn’t automatically mean is that you’re not still poly or non-monogamous.
Forgive me for an inelegant comparison, but back in 2014, Anna Paquin — who is openly bisexual — was being interviewed by Larry King. King asked her whether, now that she was married to her True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer, that meant that she was no longer bi. Her response was that just being married and monogamous doesn’t mean that she’s not bisexual; it just means that she’s married to someone and isn’t dating or sleeping with anyone else. Her relationship status doesn’t change something that’s part of who she is.
The same goes with folks who are non-monogamous or polyamorous. Being poly doesn’t mean that you need to be constantly juggling relationships or on the look out for more partners. Sometimes you’re in a place where you’re happy with what you have and don’t feel the need to go looking for more. That doesn’t mean that the label no longer applies or that you need to find another partner within a certain number of days in order to keep your credentials. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re “doing poly wrong” somehow. It just means that you’re happy and fulfilled, that’s all.
Can this relationship work? Sure! You basically have a poly vee relationship. This is one of the more common non-monogamous relationship dynamics out there.
Does this mean you’re no longer polyamorous? Frankly, I don’t see how. Without getting into definitional debates about whether poly means everyone in a poly relationship wants a partner, or whether it not requiring monogamy from your partner, not wanting or needing more doesn’t mean that you’re no longer capable of more than one romantic connection of a time. It’s certainly possible that things have changed and you’re monogamous now… but honestly I suspect it’s more you’re monogamous for now. Will this change? Who knows, and honestly, who cares? This works for you, this works for him and everyone’s happy and that’s what really matters. There may come a point where you meet someone awesome and have feelings for them, or you may not. But that’s for the future, a future that may never come. Why borrow trouble from a future that may or may not come to pass? Enjoy what you have and don’t worry about the labels.