Hi Dr. NerdLove,
I’m a 21 year old guy just about to finish college. During my freshman year, I met this wonderful girl (call her Alpha) – beautiful, smart, funny, everything one could hope for. She was in a relationship when we met, but it ended soon after. She was available, we got along swimmingly, and I found signs she might even be interested romantically. I just wanted to give her a couple weeks of space for her to get through her previous breakup first. So I did, and when I felt ready to ask her out, she was…with someone else.
This completely and totally crushed my self esteem. As someone who hadn’t really had much experience with dating in high school due to extremely restrictive parents and just general lack of self esteem, I felt amazing that finally, someone I was so attracted to seemed really interested in me. But when Alpha got with another guy, I felt totally opposite – how is it possible that we could have connected so well, yet she didn’t want to be with me? Clearly, the answer must be that I was ugly or otherwise unattractive, which spurred lots of positive life changes like fitness that eventually changed my life.
…Now, I know this reaction was highly disproportionate to what happened. Certainly, the problem was my lack of self-worth and inexperience, and the unhealthy extent to which I sought her approval. Since then, even though I haven’t been in a full fledged relationship, I’ve had a bit more experience and really good people have been into me (it hasn’t worked out purely for timing reasons but that’s a question for another day). No situation with another girl has affected me so badly since, and no situation will ever again.
But for some reason, the Alpha situation still does. Alpha and I have been good friends on and off throughout college, and she was in a relationship for the bulk of this time. Every time I’d see her around with her boyfriend or when she even mentioned him, I’d get these involuntary feelings of stress and anxiety and just general bad-feelingness.
Since September or so, Alpha has been newly single and has decided not to jump into a new relationship. I’ve since lost feelings for her after learning about some particularly negative qualities of hers throughout the years (even though I still think she’s hot as ever). We hung out a few days ago at her place and this hangout was…a bit more intimate than we’ve ever been before. We didn’t explicitly do anything sexual, but there was a lot more touching and cuddling than normal. This isn’t me being hopeful that she’d want to do something serious – again, no interest in dating her – but something casual seemed on the table. Then a couple days later, she tells me she made a Tinder and matched with my old roommate – one of those, tall, lanky, unreasonably confident types who literally stole everyone’s girl in high school. All of a sudden, the exact same feelings of stress and anxiety came flooding back, to the point where it hurts my head cause I’m constantly on edge.
So how can I understand why I still feel this way, Dr. NerdLove? I don’t have strong positive feelings for her, but I do experience strong negative feelings of jealousy, stress, and low self-esteem when I see any implication that she might be interested in or doing things with other people. I can’t really escape her because we have lots of common friends and are in the same major. But even if I could, I’d much rather diagnose why I have these feelings, why they cause me so much visceral stress, and how I can face them head-on to get rid of them instead of escaping or bottling them up.
I still struggle with self-esteem from time to time, but I definitely have a much higher opinion of myself now than I did back then. This is due both to external validation at times from other women and a better internal sense of worth and confidence. So I really feel like I’ve taken all the steps one would to get rid of these feelings, but they haven’t changed at all over the course of these four years. If I could get rid of these feelings, I think my self-esteem would skyrocket and I’d be 100% ready to enter the next phase of my life. I would be forever indebted to you if you could help me get there.
Prisoner of Love