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