Hey Dr Nerdlove,
Brief context: I (28 F) have been in a 2.5 year relationship, 1.25 years of which has now been long distance (12+ hour flight, long distance). Currently coming out of a non-Covid rough patch, newly thrown for a loop.
Ever since I moved away, I have been encouraging him to cultivate friendships because all of his friends are here in the States. In combination with coaxing him into therapy for the past 2 years (which I would say has been moderately successful as he now has 4 consecutive months under his belt after scattershot attempts) I have tried to assist him as best I could in various personal matters (family dynamics, culture shock, opening up emotionally, etc).
While in general very willing to improve, he always found a way to avoid cultivating friendships. He has a mix of friends of both genders from college who he chats with, and we called 2 a day with video calls on weekends as well.
He’s a huge romantic and called me his best friend and that he didn’t need anyone besides me. As the complete opposite of him, I affirmed that I know he loves me and appreciate the sentiment but that all people need someone you can physically meet up with and be in the same time zone with and that no one person can be all things.
We’ve been meeting up for 2-3 weeks every 6 months and we hit a rough patch this January (ironically just before COVID dominated everywhere) While we were working things out (which involved some radio silence for a week or two while we cooled off) he magically gained a “squad” (his words) in February of a college acquaintance who moved to the country he lives in and a high school friend who also moved back.
The college friend is a girl. I’m very chill, but my boyfriend proceeded to tell me multiple times that he thinks she is into him. As he has the social flirting fluency of a statue and had so few friends to start with, I encouraged him to have an awkward conversation or just keep treating her as a friend.
Then he tells me they get drunk together at her place after he helped her run some errands (he is fluent in the local language) and she admits to feelings but she respects what we have.
Given that we were still hashing out our unrelated issues I honestly wondered why he was telling me this. Then he says he feels disconnected from me and our relationship and since he is talking to her for more than an hour everyday about things we used to talk about and meeting up 2-3 times a week, he wanted to know how our relationship is different than a friendship.
I was, needless to say, floored. I asked him if he is no longer in love with me or interested in marriage (aka one of our issues) and he says no. I ask if he has feelings for her and he says he doesn’t think so. I ask if he is attracted to her and he says he can find something attractive about anyone really.
He repeats that everything he used to talk about with me (which was everything under the sun and involved emotional vulnerability a great deal of the time and was apparently a first for him) he now talks about with her. I personally view that as a positive thing as he had a turbulent childhood and consequently great difficulty trusting people enough to converse like that. I’m also not apologetic about not fulfilling his conversational needs because 1) we were in a bad place and needed space 2) he should have people he trusts to talk to and 3) I’m in a COVID epicenter under lockdown—the highlight of my month is finally doing laundry.
Having been a longtime reader, I know you have covered that how men manage emotional intimacy in a relationships other than a romantic partner. Is that related to this or was he never really in love with me—was I just the first person he trusted and decided it was love?
-Lost and Confused
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I am a straight man in my mid-twenties who had had absolutely zero dating experience until relatively recently. In part thanks to inspiration from your blog, I started working towards self-improvement and tried putting myself out there more, and I finally began to get a few dates. Eventually, I had my first (and so far only) sexual experience involving another person, which ended badly. I brought a woman back to my place after a second date, and she said yes to sex (I had never done more than make out). I started going down on her, which she seemed to enjoy, but I threw up on her. Quite understandably, she asked me to stop and drive her home. I sent her a text the next day apologizing again for what had happened, but unsurprisingly I never heard from her again.
This incident was a stumbling block in the path of the confidence and momentum I’d been building up, and I haven’t been able to get a date since. Given that I only have this one experience to draw from, I have no idea whether this was a one-time reaction or something likely to recur. On the one hand, it’s possible I simply ate something that didn’t agree with me (I don’t think alcohol is the culprit, by the way, as I’d only had a single drink with dinner). On the other hand, this could easily be something that happens again. I am a picky eater who sometimes gets nauseous from food with off-putting tastes, smells, or textures, so that could be the reason. Her vulva smelled pretty bad to me, and I kept getting pubes stuck on my tongue. Since I have nothing to compare it to, however, I have no idea whether most women would be similar or if I was simply dealing with a case of unusually bad hygiene.
Also, I feel bad saying this, another possible factor is that she was… I wouldn’t say unattractive, but approaching the limit of what I would find physically attractive. She was a nice person, and I try to keep an open mind and not have too high standards for physical appearance, just as I would hope others would do for me. Still, I wonder whether I would have had the same reaction if it were with someone I were more strongly attracted to. Finally, a contributing factor was probably the fact that I was nervous. It was my first time getting naked with someone else, and I had thought I was about to lose my virginity. The irony is not lost on me that if nerves were playing a major role, then that makes me nervous it could happen again, which in turn makes it more likely.
I’m at a loss for how to approach this the next time I find myself about to get sexual with a woman. Presumably, saying “I’ve only done this once before and I puked on her” would send most people running for the hills. However, it also feels unfair to a potential partner to not warn her that I’m concerned that I could vomit on her, since I don’t know which of the aforementioned factors were involved and which ones could arise again. I feel really bad for the last woman and wouldn’t want to put someone else through that. How should I handle this going forward?
Doctor’s Note: I’ll be hosting a FREE, live workshop about sex, dating and relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic on the Dr. NerdLove YouTube channel on Tuesday, 4/7 at 3 PM CST. Come join me and learn about how to date and manage your relationships during the era of self-isolation and social distancing!
I have been following your page for a while now, at least sporadically and would at first like to thank you for the work you are doing to help others.
Unfortunately, I have utterly failed to far at managing to fulfill any of your advice and after some introspection I believe the reason for that is that I am utterly terrified to look at my dating (nonexistent) dating life.
I am a 26 year old university student and a virgin. Never had sex, never been on a date, never kissed someone, never flirted with anyone. A lot of the time, even thinking about this can be paralyzing. Like, I have wasted an entire DECADE of my live and the decade other people use to explore themselves and their sexuality, that is supposed to function as the basis for following healthy relationships no less. It’s to the point where even thinking about it feels like staring into an abyss.
What is worse is the fact that it feels a lot like I am on a deadline. I will graduate med school in two years and then enter into an incredibly stressful and time intensive career. If I have already failed to solve my problems in university, with plenty of time and ease of social interactions, how can I possibly hope to have any success when trying to find relationships as a resident doctor with a 60 hour work week?
In addition, it often feels like my not really working on the problem is a way to give myself a cop-out. Like “yes you never had a relationship but you never REALLY tried”. Paradoxically, this KEEPS me from trying. Because the idea of a woman even being attracted to me is basically inconceivable to me. And if I DO try to work on myself and follow all the tips and nothing changes, I would have to admit that I really have lost too much time and just fucked up my life.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Tried Nothing and All Out of Ideas
This is a topic that comes up a lot, TNAOI: late bloomers who feel that they’ve missed some nebulous window of opportunity to cram in all of the education, experiences, adventures and other miscellania that they’re supposed to achieve in order to be awarded their Functioning Adult Certificate. And what’s kind of fascinating is how wide the range of ages can be; I’ve heard from teenagers as often as I’ve heard from literal 40-year old virgins, all of whom think that they missed their shot and now they’re afraid that there’s nothing left to be done.
What’s equally as fascinating is how many of them feel the way you do; they’ve done nothing to fix the problem and they’re fresh out of ideas. Worse, they’re actively afraid of trying to do better.
On its face, you’d think this was absurd. How could you possibly be afraid of… checking my notes here… making your life better? Oh no, I might have a robust social life full of friends and people who care about me! Can you imagine the terror of having a loving relationship and a satisfying life with a worthwhile career, engaging hobbies and physical fitness? The horror, the horror…
But in reality, that fear is very common and very understandable. One of the things that folks often don’t realize is that while the fear of rejection can be bad, the fear of success can almost be worse. Rejection, after all, means a return to the current status-quo. Yes, it’s painful… but it’s a familiar pain and one that just serves to reinforce the worldview you already have. The possibility of success, however, can often be almost pants-shittingly terrifying. Right now, the relationships you dream about are just that: dreams. They’re fantasies that you can control to the most minute detail. You know exactly how every second will go because it’s all in your head and you’re controlling the actions of everybody involved. That date, that kiss, that first time having sex can all be exactly as perfect as you want it to be. If you get rejected — or if you do nothing, for that matter — then nothing changes. Those fantasies stay fantasies and remain entirely under your control.
But if you were to try to realize those fantasies… well, now things are different. If you were to ask somebody out on a date and they said yes, now you have to actually go on that date. You’re in a place where you have no control, where mistakes are real and have consequences. And while rejection may sting and doing nothing may leave you feeling despair, at least you can cling to those fantasies. Dating someone in real world means facing the possibility of having hope and having it snatched away.
Worse: it means facing the possibility of being right: that you are a hopeless case and you’ve wasted all that time and there’s nothing left for you to do.
Thing is: all of that? It’s bullshit. It’s just your jerkbrain dripping poison in your ear, telling you that you’re worthless and that there’s no hope for you. It’s your own mind playing tricks on you, repeating your worst fears to you in your own voice, so they feel so much more real.
Because here’s a truth: there is no window. There is no time limit. There’s no point in time when you were “supposed” to accomplish everything. The idea that there’s some Universal Standard Narrative that every guy, gal and non-binary pal is supposed to follow is beyond ridiculous, an artificial construct so flimsy that it falls apart if you so much as stare at it too hard. Everybody’s life is different, shaped by forces and circumstances that are entirely outside of anybody’s control, and as unique as a fingerprint. The young man from Kentucky who joins the military at age 18 is going to live an entirely different life than the young man in Surrey who had to drop out of high-school in order to help support his family. The child of privilege from Los Angeles is going to have an entirely different life than someone living in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro or in Harlem or Rotterdam. None of them are going to have the same experiences, the same social development or the same milestones. Trying to measure your life by somebody else’s is the definition of madness; you’ll make yourself miserable trying to contort yourself to fit into the silhouette of someone else’s existence.
Part of your issue is that you’re looking at all of this as “a problem to be solved” instead of “a life to be lived”. You don’t have a problem, you just have things you haven’t done. Some of them may have been left undone due to circumstance, some due to fear and some due to choice… but they’re just things you haven’t done yet. None of this is a puzzle or a dilemma so much as a call for action.
Take the idea that you had to have “solved this problem” by the time you leave university. Do you seriously believe that, as soon as you have your diploma in hand, you will be rendered incapable of learning? Do you honestly think that the moment you’ve left university that your brain has shut down and you’ll no longer be able to process new experiences, learn new skills, develop new habits? No, of course you don’t; the existence of literally every human on earth disproves that. So it’s not that you’re incapable of growing or changing.
But what about trying to do this when you’re doing your residency? Won’t that make things impossible? Hardly. Residents and interns make friends. Residents and interns date. They have relationships, they have sex, they have social lives. It can be difficult — free time comes at a premium under the best of circumstances in the early days of being a medical professional, and you’re about to graduate as a doctor during one of the worst pandemics in modern history. But difficult isn’t the same as “impossible”. Nailing Jell-o to a tree is impossible; everything else is merely hard.
What about if you do everything and nothing changes? This is a false premise; the fact that you have done anything means that things will have changed. The only way things won’t change is to continue proceeding exactly as you are. What you’re afraid of is trying new things and failing. Except not only is failure not the end, failure is one of the most important ways of learning. Making mistakes doesn’t mean that you’re a failure, it just means that you did something the wrong way. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of success, it shows you what you need to learn in order to succeed.
Part of what’s holding you back isn’t the fear of failure so much as the fear of not succeeding on the first go. But, much like trying to contort your life to fit into somebody else’s narrative, this is an exercise in foolishness. Nobody is a success, right from the start. Even people with all the natural talent in the world had to practice and put in the work. Michael Jordan wasn’t born knowing how to play basketball; he ground out the experience points through constant work. Bill Gates wasn’t born a computer genius; he had to learn and study. Some people may have advantages, some may have disadvantages, but nobody gets to be successful without putting in the effort. The only reason why it seems like some folks are socially successful without even trying is because you didn’t see them when they were learning. You weren’t there to see all the mistakes, all the tears, all the frustration. Yeah, you’re gonna suck at it at first. But as a wise man once said: sucking at something is the first step to being good at something.
You’re worried about actually trying and then finding out that you had wasted your time. Here’s my challenge to you: what if you’re wrong? What if you are utterly, totally and completely wrong about having “wasted” your life? What if all those fears you have about being truly helpless, fucked by the fickle finger of fate were just nothing but your own phobias? What would happen if you let go of all of those fears and discovered that you were capable of so much more than you ever gave yourself credit for?
Which would be worse: taking a chance to discover your true potential or losing even more time to fear and regret.
Because here’s the thing: you already know you can do this. If you’re able to make it to put in all the hours of study to get through pre-med and med school, pass the licensing boards and become a doctor, then you have what it takes to improve your life. You’ve got the will, the drive and the determination to learn the skills it takes to date,
Maybe other folks started earlier than you… but that’s their story, not yours. You can only live your story, and that story starts now. All that it takes is that you have to dare to be all that you can be. For all your introspection, you need to look deeper and find that place in you where your dreams survive; when you do, you’ll understand that it’s calling you on to victory.
The only thing holding you back is the belief that you are destined to fail. And the only thing you can say to that is “but what if I’m wrong?”
Your fears have been holding you back for far too long. It’s time to unburden yourself of all the things that hold you down — the fears, the doubts, the worries. It’s time to let go of your earthly tethers and fly.
You are capable of more than you believe. You have more potential than you give yourself credit for.
You can win if you dare.
Hi Dr. NerdLove:
I have been with my boyfriend for nearly 4 years. We have been so happy and I have not felt any issues in my relationship. If anything, I felt he was more affectionate in our relationship. Sex has been great and regular.
2 weeks ago, we went on a snowboarding holiday. It wasn’t the best holiday (due to weather and place) but we just got on with it. On the last day, I noticed a girl had messaged him asking if he is having a good ski holiday. Obviously I thought it was weird and asked him why a girl is messaging him that. Maybe asked in a angry way, but I felt it was very odd and had never seen her message before.
He replied with she’s a girl from work, trying to make friends with everyone. After a 2 hour cab journey in silence. I got over it and left it. I apologised if I seemed angry and just explained how I saw it was weird. But I don’t think he has gotten over it.
When we come back, out of the blue he now thinks we have nothing in common and he has no feelings for me and can’t be bothered with the relationship anymore?! Unfortunately this happened the day the UK went into lockdown, and we are living together. We sat down and chatted about it, I explained that it is possibly to do with everything going on around the world at the moment. He is insisting that it’s not and it’s the way he feels. He hasn’t kissed me and doesn’t cuddle me in bed anymore. I am giving him as much space as I can, during this time.
How can I get him to see that it just a pissed off stage and that we are actually ok?
Stuck In Limbo