Doctor’s Note: Hey NerdLovers! It’s a new year and I want to help start 2021 off on a positive note. So I want to hear from you: what are some of your relationship wins? How have you improved your personal life, your friendships or your romantic relationships? What are some of the ways you’ve made your life better recently? Let’s share some hope, some positivity and success to help inspire folks to achieve their own victories.
Send your success stories to email@example.com with the subject header “relationship wins”; maybe you’ll see your success story in a future column.
Lately, I’ve had these recurring thoughts, that maybe the only reasons I want to seek romantic relationships with women is a combination of curiosity, fear of missing out and a sort of jealousy towards happy couples I’ve known.
Some background: I’m in my late 30s, and have basically zero experience when it comes to relationships. Never kissed, been on an actual date or had sex. The reasons as I’ve seen them are ones you’ve probably heard a bunch of times: Low confidence, social anxiety, difficulty expressing myself, a general lack of assertivity, the works.
Over the years, I’ve become aware of these shortcomings. As you might imagine, they’ve had an impact on my life beyond my (lack of) dating life. Up until relatively recently, I couldn’t hold a job beyond a few months. I got into this awful cycle of starting out optimistically, but my lack of communication and reluctance to ask for help were seen as apathy and incompetence, and I’d inevitably reach a point where I just didn’t make the cut and lost my job. This happened at least 3 or 4 times, before I resolved to look for help on my issues.
Now, with a combination of some rounds of therapy, reading self-help books and blogs, and support from close friends and family, I’ve managed to regain a bit of control over my life. I’m in a pretty good position in my current job, and I’ve had some victories in dealing with my anxiety (Phone calls no longer terrify me the way they used to). Obviously, I’ve still faced some situations that make me freeze in panic and indecision, but progress has been visible at least.
However, one aspect where I have not been able to see progress is in interpersonal relationships. I have some small groups of friends, some pretty close, but pretty much all of them revolving around my hobbies. Most of the time I have to interact one on one with someone (and specially with women), I’ll either blank out on what to talk about or do the nerd-ranting thing when a familiar topic pops up. Not to say that all I’ve had is bad experiences, but here’s the thing: Even in the occasions where I’ve had positive social experiences, I can’t seem to enjoy myself, and that brings me to the original premise.
I’m not sure if it’s the more avoidant parts of my personality that cause a lack of trying in regards to dating because it’s “not worth the hassle”, but I can’t help but think it might be something else. I mean, I do feel attracted to women and as far as I can tell I’m not asexual. However, I just can’t see myself in a relationship and find it hard to find motivation to pursue one.
Owner of An Indecisive Heart
Hey man, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice here. You’ve made a lot of progress, in what seems like a relatively short amount of time. I mean, look at what you’ve accomplished. You’ve gotten help, you’ve been proactive in making your life better, building your social skills, working on your communication and building up your confidence and emotional resilience. That’s pretty damn huge. You should be proud of what you’ve achieved! You’ve come a long, long damn way, and that’s incredible. I’m really proud of you for that.
I think part of the problem that you’re running into is that you’re pushing yourself pretty hard and it’s making you stall out a little. One of the things that people often don’t think about as they’re working on themselves is that self-improvement, especially when it comes to things like overcoming social anxiety, takes time and energy. The problem is that sometimes you can get caught up in the excitement of your progress and push yourself a little too hard. Much like when you’re starting an exercise program or beginning to train for a sport, you can overtrain and overexert yourself and end up hitting a wall. It’s not that you aren’t ready or that you haven’t progressed to this point, but that you’ve basically exhausted yourself and drained your reserves. As a result, you actually end up running the risk of injuring yourself or losing a little ground because you have nothing left in the tank.
… ok, this metaphor may have gotten away from me a little.
The point is that you’ve made a lot of progress, and that’s taken time and energy. And while I totally get the desire to keep pushing forward and get to that next level in your development, I think you may need to take a moment to breath and recoup your energy. It’s hard to enjoy yourself when it feels like you have to give everything you’ve got to being present and social AND focus on all the other things you’ve learned.
Small wonder that you don’t have much motivation to try to pursue a relationship; you’re still working on not exhausting yourself while you practice your newfound social skills.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you should want a relationship. It may well be that it’s just not your thing. There’s such a thing as being aromantic; you can be attracted to people and interested in sex, but not interested in romantic relationships. But I think it’s just as likely that you don’t have the bandwidth for pursuing one yet. What I think you should do right now is focus on what you’ve already accomplished. There’re four stages to developing a skill set:
- Unconscious incompetence (you don’t know anything about it at all, including how unskilled you are)
- Conscious incompetence (you’re aware of what you don’t know)
- Conscious competence (you can do it, but you have to think about it as you do it)
- Unconscious competence (you can do it without thinking)
Right now, you’re at stage 3; you’re aware of what you’re doing, you know how to do it, but it requires that you pay attention. That takes up a fair amount of mental RAM, so it’s not surprising there’re other areas where you still go blank or feel like you’re struggling. Taking a little time to develop those skills you’ve already learned into metaphorical muscle memory so that you reach stage 4 will go a long way towards freeing up that RAM so that you’re ready to start applying it to talking to people and enjoying social situations. When you don’t feel like you’re struggling, you’ll be in a better position to enjoy things. When you get to that point, it’ll be a lot easier for you to gauge just what it is you want when it comes to companionship and relationships.
And hey, you may well realize that while you like sex and friendship… you just aren’t looking for romance. And that’s fine. That’s a perfectly valid option if that’s where you decide you fall on that spectrum.
But for now: take a victory lap and a victory nap, my dude. You’ve earned both. Take some time practicing your newfound skills and then move on to the next stage. Despite what you may be feeling, there really is no rush. You aren’t on anyone’s schedule but your own and there is no deadline that you have to meet. Love and relationships — if that’s what you want — will be waiting for you when you’re ready.
I am a big fan of yours. You have helped me get through my feelings of inadequacy of being a virgin in my late 20s (By the way, where are all my virgins at? *laughs*), and my feelings of being morally bankrupt for watching porn and masturbating. For that you will alway have my gratitude.
My question is probably a little different from what is usually sent in for Ask Dr. NerdLove, because it is based on creating a social media account. Let me give you some context before I give you my question. I am a 27M who has never really had social media (I do have a YouTube account, but from everyone I have talked to about social media they don’t really consider it to be, especially because I “don’t upload my own videos”). I mean, I didn’t even have a MySpace when that was cool.
To be completely honest this didn’t start as a “fuck you” to Mark Zuckerberg, because I was trying to transcend the need for social media, or thinking I’m better than people who use social media to communicate. I just wasn’t that interested when I was younger.
As I got older, however, I did start to catch backlash for not having social media, whether it was from girls that I would ask out feeling really uncomfortable that I don’t have it (when they would try to give me their Facebook or Instagram instead of their number or asked for my social media), or the really weird question I would inevitably get asked from someone who finds out I don’t have any: “Do you believe in social media?” Like it’s a religion or something.
Only after talking to my close guy friends (a lot), and getting rejected by a girl that is in my bubble and a new friend, did I come to realize it was because I decided to make my life harder and my dating pool smaller on purpose. I realized for some reason I decided that I wanted to prove to myself and (I guess) others, that I could have a successful love life and social life without it, because of my feelings of being worthy of sex and love. I know it is still possible, but as each year goes by and I get older, I become more serious about getting a relationship (whether sexual or romantic), and more miserable I don’t have one.
So my question is: What is the most well rounded social media application to stay in contact with people I’m close with, and meet the largest amount of girls out of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (I’m only really planning to get one)? And, while we’re at it, what are their distinctive differences and audiences they attract? As I said before, I literally have no fucking idea, I know they exist, but I have really never even seen my friends use them.
I know starting social media is not a cure all for, admittedly, unwanted celibacy, and I have a steep learning curve. But, and this is a big but, I really don’t want to limit myself anymore. Any advice you have will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Social Media Saved My Life
So there’re a couple things here, SMSML. First of all: yes, you can date and meet people without social media. I mean, I realize as a Gen X-er I’m officially one of the Olds but hey, we successfully got by without Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok or what-have-you. Having an Instagram account isn’t going to be the thing that tilts “do I want to bang him (y/n)?” to the “y” side of things, in and of itself. Plenty of folks get by without it.
The thing is: the younger you are, the more you’re going to stand out for not having a social media presence. This isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s just unusual, because social media use is pretty ubiquitous, especially when you start getting to the digital natives in the Millennial and Zoomer generations. Social media has, in many ways, become the place where folks interact with their social circles. It’s how folks stay in contact with each other, it’s where we share our lives and it’s become part of the overall fabric of society. This is especially true during the pandemic; since we can’t be with our friends in person, social media has been a critical part of how people have stayed connected with friends, colleagues and loved ones, especially those who may be spread all over the country or planet. Social media sites and apps have become central to the lives of millions.
(Now whether this is a good thing is a hotly debated subject… especially after the spread of QAnon, anti-vaxx communities, the radicalization effects of Facebook and YouTube and events of January 6th. Not to mention basic issues of privacy.)
So the fact that you don’t have a social media presence will, in fact, make you stand out as being unusual. How people respond to that is going to vary from individual to individual. To some, it’s going to seem like you’re trying to position yourself as a type of snob, hipster or holier-than-thou type; the 2021 version of “I don’t even have a TV”. To others it’s going to seem suspect. After all, when more and more people live their lives online, not having an online presence can seem to some as though you have something to hide. And on a practical level, it can be inconvenient; plenty of folks plan events and get togethers via social media, and that makes it easier to keep everyone in the loop and updated in the event of any changes. When someone isn’t on social media, that makes it harder to keep them connected and involved. Past a point, that difficulty can lead to the outliner not being included — not out of malice or dislike, but simply because it’s easy to forget that you need to take those extra steps.
Now all of that doesn’t mean that you need to develop a social media presence. Those are inconveniences, yes, but not necessarily deal-breakers. If that’s something you’re ok with putting up with, then hey, there you go. But it sounds like you’re looking to actually break this particular seal and get on… somewhere.
So if you were to choose just one… I’d say choose the one that most of your friends use. That will give you an immediate network of people to follow and interact with and who can help you get a quicker grasp of various customs, memes and the unspoken rules that so often crop up like mushrooms after a rain. That being said, you should familiarize yourself with the options that are out there. Facebook is ubiquitous and has the much larger overall user base, but it also tends to trend older. Instagram is a little more unidirectional; you’re broadcasting more than conversing. There’re plenty of conversations that happen in the comments, but it wasn’t designed with an eye towards communities the way that Facebook was. Twitter is closer to being somewhere between the town square or a large restaurant; some folks are speaking to the crowd, others are having conversations with their friends that you’re just able to overhear. And of course there’re always apps like Snapchat, Tumblr, TikTok… all of them are going to be different, and all of them are going to have their different user bases. Figuring out which is best for you will be a matter of trial and error, ultimately.
Now that being said: while you can meet and date folks from Facebook, Instagram and so on, it’s important to remember that for most folks on there, those aren’t dating apps. That doesn’t mean that dates, hook-ups and relationships don’t start there — hell, I can’t count the number of real-life relationships that started on Final Fantasy XIV or World of Warcraft — that’s not what they’re intended for and that’s not what most folks are looking for or expecting.
(Well… kinda. Facebook did add Facebook Dating, but that’s another discussion entirely.)
When you start off, think of your social media presence as being an insight into who you are as a person. You’re sharing part of your life — what you’re into, what you do, etc. The key to meeting people on social media is that you treat it like meeting people through your social circles. You don’t want to cruise through Facebook pages like a horny shark, hitting on everyone who catches your eye; you simply get to know people. Sometimes you and another person will catch a vibe; you can take the conversation to DMs and see where things go. But if you go through Facebook or Insta or what-have-you like it’s a singles bar, you’re gonna be seen as just another free-floating offer of dick, like so many others. You don’t want that. And frankly, neither do the folks you’re going to be talking to.
To be sure: the pandemic means that social media and dating apps are how we’re connecting with folks right now, simply because it’s not safe to do so otherwise. But overall, my recommendation is that you see social media as an accessory to how you meet folks you want to date. It’s a way of staying in contact, expanding your network and giving folks some insight into who you are as a person. The more you focus on your in-person social skills, the easier it is to meet people on social media… and turn those connections into in-person dates.