Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’m a 28-year-old straight white male. I am a virgin who’s had some minor success with online dating in the past though I still haven’t gotten a full-on relationship. I’m kind of socially isolated: I have plenty of acquaintances but no close friends that I hang out with.
Anyway, after having taken a three-year break from OLD after a few hard rejections online in order to take care of my mental health, I created an OKCupid account three months ago. Initially, I wasn’t taking it that seriously, I just wanted to see who was out there as well as whether or not I could get any likes with new pictures (I’ve had life long body image problems, I was worried that no one would like me since I’ve gained a little weight). To my surprise, I got several likes from girls on the platform. Most of these turned out to be duds: they were either too conservative (anti-trans, for example), not attractive to me, didn’t seem to have anything in common with me, or were bot accounts. However, there was one girl on there, let’s call her C, who seemed like a good match: she was liberal, chubby but cute, and shared my interest in video games and tabletop roleplaying. She mentioned that she wanted to get married and have a child within the next five years. This was alright with me, I wanted a relationship with a girl that could ultimately be my wife if things worked out, I eventually want children, and five years from now seems like a fine time-frame for all of this to possibly happen (I still live with my parents, but I recently finished my Masters and hope to get a job that allows me to live independently soon).
So, after a few weeks of hesitation, I liked and messaged C and we seemed to hit it off. After a few messages, she asked me what I was looking for on the site. I told her that I wanted to find love, eventually, get married, and have children. She seemed happy about that and we continued messaging for a couple of days. I was asking basic get to know you questions about her interests, her spirituality (pagan), and her life. When I ask her about her childhood, she gives a message detailing her life story: her father was a deadbeat who abandoned her and her mother when she was young, she dealt with bullying and depression all throughout middle and high school because of her weight, and she and her mother had to live with their meth-head uncle for several years after her mother lost her job. Now, this set off some alarm bells for me. I’ve had a relatively blessed, middle-class life and, besides some bullying in middle school and generalized anxiety disorder in college, it’s been pretty happy. I started to wonder if we could relate to each other, having had such different lives. I’ve also had bad experiences with girls with difficult pasts, which I’ll talk more about later on. Ultimately I decided to ignore these warning bells and keep messaging her, I couldn’t know how we’d work out in the long run, so there was no reason to give up yet.
We kept messaging, but eventually, her replies started to become shorter and less detailed. I thought maybe it was because she was growing tired of using OkCupid’s messenger and was unsure if I wanted to progress things beyond just talking on a dating site. I decide to message her my cellphone number in case she wants to text, but she says she’d feel more comfortable using snapchat, so we do. We continue messaging and out of nowhere, she asks me if I have any major health problems. I say no and ask why she asked. She replied that she just wanted to know for future children. When I joke about her thinking too far ahead, she says she was just wondering and that she wants to have a child “sooner rather than later”.
Then, she asks me the big question: exactly how sexually experienced was I? I know some girls don’t want to date virgins, and I was hoping to get into this topic later after we’d been on a few dates. However, I decided to be honest and told her I was a virgin. She said she was fine with it and that it was pretty obvious since I was reluctant to flirt, and told me that she feared my conservative parents were to blame for my lack of sexual experience. She was worried that I wasn’t interested or sex or would object to her more taboo sexual interests, so she asked me what the dirtiest sex act I’ve ever wanted to do was.
Now, here was where I made a mistake. On one hand, it was pretty obvious to me at this point that, based on this question and other things she had said while we were messaging, that she wanted to be sexual with me sooner than I’m comfortable. I want to get to know someone and be comfortable with them before I have sex, when I’ve gotten sexual in the past with girls I had just met I left the experience feeling deeply uncomfortable and guilty. I feel I need at least three dates before I’m ready to do sexual acts with a woman. On the other hand, as a virgin with a high sex drive, I’m getting pretty impatient about losing my virginity and sometimes when I feel like a girl might be willing to have sex with me I throw out my doubts, previous experiences, and rationality and immediately try to pursue sex. Unfortunately, my rising sense of discomfort that things were going way too fast, my lust won out and I decided to answer her question.
After telling her all my sexual fantasies, I asked her what hers was. She mentioned that one of her sexual fantasies was “breeding” (being full of cum, as she put it) and this again set off some alarm bells since she mentioned wanting a child so much. I told her I was fine with her fantasy so long as she used birth control when we were having sex until we married and were ready to have a child. She replied that she didn’t use birth control, and finally I realized what was happening: she didn’t want to get married and have a child in a few years, she wanted to do that now. This was not something I wanted: I wanted a date a girl, see if we were compatible, be boyfriend and girlfriend for a few years and THEN get married and have children. Ultimately I decided to end things there, saying that it was nice to talk to her and that, while she was a cool person, I didn’t feel we were compatible. I then proceeded to block her on Snapchat & OKCupid, feeling guilty that I had led her on and then rejected her so suddenly and feeling dirty since I had was stupid and shared my sexual fantasies way before I had even met a girl physically.
This was a deeply uncomfortable experience and unfortunately its emblematic of several similar experiences I’ve had since I started dating four years ago. Many of the women who’ve been attracted to me over the years have wanted to move way too fast, wanting me to have sex with them and become their boyfriend or husband before we’ve had more than one date (or, in some cases, before we’ve even met in-person). Most of them a similar to C, having had rough childhoods and trauma. I seem to attract these kinds of people and I don’t know why. Is it because I get too personal in messages? Is it because I have a babyface and am not experienced, so people see me as innocent? Are these just the kinds of people that use OkCupid and other OLD sites?
So that’s my first question: How do I stop attracting people like this? How do I identify these types of people so I can avoid this in the future? What do I need to change about my behavior so I don’t lead on people and make the desire a relationship too quickly?
My second question is about what C said about it being obvious that I was a virgin since I was reluctant to flirt. This is not the first time I’ve been told this from people I’ve messaged on OLD sites. Now, I try to be playful and fun in my messages, and I try to compliment the people I message so that they know I’m attracted to them. Is this not flirting? I try to avoid sexual compliments and discussion when messaging on OkCupid to avoid being creepy, is this wrong? How do I message women without sounding like a virgin?
Alright, MS&S, I’m going to get to your questions in a minute but before I do… well, I hate to say this, but you’re asking the wrong questions. This is a very significant case of “the problem you’re asking about isn’t the problem you have” because, frankly, I’m pretty sure you got catfished.
There’re a few key points here that set my Spidey-sense tingling. First is her origin story, for lack of a better term. While God knows plenty of people have really shitty upbringings and deal with abuse, family trauma and living in dire circumstances, a lot of catfishers will give a long detailed list of all their trauma and horrible background both to engender sympathy in dudes — especially ones who have White Knight Syndrome — and to provide convenient reasons for why they “can’t” or won’t do certain things that would confirm their identity. The second was waving off your wanting to communicate via text for Snapchat instead. While God knows there’re plenty of ways to avoid giving a real number, services like Snapchat make it very easy to create and throw away accounts with relative ease. The third sign was the very weird ways that the conversation would go — from asking about your health to insisting on talking about your dirtiest fantasies with virtually no preamble, to going on about having a breeding fetish.
Any one of these, in and of itself would be explainable. Some of it — insisting on talking about your health and/or dirtiest fantasies, for example — would raise a few eyebrows but it wouldn’t be that far out of the norm; God knows I’ve had some conversations with folks I’d met on dating apps that would set your hair on fire, long before we met. But it’s the combination of all three that makes me suspect you were dealing with someone who was getting their jollies by screwing around with you and seeing how far they could take this.
The thing about catfishing is that it’s not always a Monte Te’o situation, where someone is creating an entire relationship for shits and giggles or pretending to be someone else because they don’t feel like they could be themselves with someone they’re attracted to. Nor, for that matter, is it always about scamming people who love not too wisely but too well. Sometimes you’ll get folks who get bored and want to see how far they can push things and some who get their rocks off by having dirty chats with strangers.
I strongly suspect that you were dealing someone (or a few someones) who were somewhere around the latter. Whether it was just to see how hard you’d bite, or if they got a thrill from sexting under false pretenses, I think that in this case, it’s not an issue of attracting the wrong people so much as falling for someone’s bullshit profile. And to be clear: I don’t think you’re gullible, naive or stupid. I think that someone took advantage of your eagerness and frustration and your inexperience.
Now, I’ve written about best practices when it comes to spotting catfish and fake profiles before — check their social media presence, use Google to confirm particularly outlandish claims, reverse image-search their pics, and meet up in person as soon as feasible. Failing that, Skype, Facetime, Zoom and other video chats are your friend. But it’s also important to refine and trust your instincts, especially if something seems too good to be true or it’s coming at a time when you’re particularly hornt up. Horniness makes even the smartest of people make poor decisions; a little dickful thinking can override a lot of warning bells.
(Seriously, asking about health issues should’ve been the first clue that this was about to go south, regardless of whether this was a catfish or not…)
So on the one hand, I don’t think you need to really worry about why you attract folks like C, here, because I think C isn’t actually C. But on the other, you also mention that you’ve run into similar issues before, with people who were on a different timeline than you, sexually or relationship-wise. How do you deal with this?
This one is simple: boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
It’s less about “what can you do to make sure that only the right people are drawn to you” and more about “why are you letting the wrong people stay?” If someone is pushing for a relationship before you’re ready — especially before you’ve even met — then that’s a sign that they’re not someone you want to date and to look elsewhere. Making it clear that you take things slow and want to get to know someone before you get serious or physically intimate is drawing a line in the sand; people who push against that or want you to let go of your boundaries are making it clear that they’re not right for you. Maintaining those boundaries means that the wrong people won’t stay in your life. Having strong boundaries, even in the messaging stages, helps keep the drama llamas and line-steppers out of your life before they ever get any sort of traction.
There’re a number of points where you should’ve paid more attention to your boundaries and to those warning bells. The health question alone should’ve been enough to make you say “I’m not sure this is relevant to anything”. However, her asking you out of the clear blue sky about being a virgin and pushing the conversation towards sex, fetishes and sex acts are another area where you should’ve been ready to push back or say that you didn’t want to talk about this with someone you hadn’t even met yet. I get that being horny and turned on can make folks overlook big honkin’ red flags, but there really is a point where you’re better off to rub one out and tell her that it’s a little too soon than to let the conversation go in directions it doesn’t seem you were comfortable with.
Now with all that having been said, there’re a few areas where it seems like you’re contributing to your own issues. You drop the occasional clue that there’re things you need to work on, such as a tendency to get too personal, too quickly in the messaging stages. That’s definitely a thing to dial back; if you’re giving a lot of personal shit right off the bat, that tends to be an indicator of poor emotional and social intelligence; while being open and vulnerable is good, getting really personal really quickly tends to be a red flag for folks on the receiving end. And if someone is cool with that… well, that’s often a red flag in and of itself.
But without more details, it’s really hard to say. As a general rule, boundaries and being choosy about who you match with and message is going to be more important than worrying about leading people on. While there’re things that could be sending the wrong message in your profile — especially if you’re mentioning wanting kids or a family — you also can’t control who does or doesn’t respond to you. Even if you avoid every possible hint or clue that would make people think you want something that you don’t, there are still people who will be looking for things you aren’t. I mean, ask women about the guys who message them for same night hook-ups, even if they explicitly say that’s not what they want.
But that having been said, you mention that not only is this a recurring issue, but you tend to connect with people who’ve had trauma or rough childhoods and that they’re the ones who tend to push the line past what you’re comfortable with. I think that you need to take a step back and examine just why you seem to zero in on women who have — or claim to have — troubled backgrounds. I think part of the reason why this keeps happening is because you keep going for the same type of women and, frankly, that can be an issue.
Yes, it’s certainly possible that people who’ve got trauma or rough personal histories have their own issues going on that may influence their relationship patterns. Some may have an anxious attachment style and may rush into relationships or sex; others may sense an opportunity of one sort or another and want to lock that down. But there’re plenty of folks who have a history of trauma or went through awful shit growing up and aren’t clingy, needy or jump the gun on relationships or sex. The fact that this keeps happening is an indication that it may be an issue on your end, rather than your dating app profile.
As the saying goes, sometimes the most important common denominator in your relationships is you. If you’re consistently having these issues and they seem to coincide with women with this particular background or history, then that makes it much more likely about what’s drawing you to them.
Remember what I said about having White Knight Syndrome? One of the reasons why some men will be drawn to women who they think they need to “save” is because they don’t believe in their own value or desirability. They feel that by “saving” someone or “healing” them or otherwise “fixing” them, they will have “earned” the right to be in a relationship. This is problematic for a lot of reasons. To start with: women aren’t your project; they aren’t there waiting to be fixed by someone, they’re out there trying to live their lives. Having Studly Goodnight swoop in to “save” them tends to mean that they end up with a dude — even a well-meaning one — who has ZERO understanding of what they’re going through trying to save the day and generally making a mess of things. Dudes with White Knight Syndrome tend to not see the women they want to “save” as people with wants and desires and agency, so much as both the puzzle to solve AND the reward for solving it.
Worse, guys who do get involved with women who have severe issues — emotional, health, financial or physical — often have no idea what they’re in for or what a relationship with them would mean. They end up in over their heads very, very quickly and tend to either burn out or split. And of course, there’re the ones who are happy to let those White Knights into their lives. A lot of those types tend to be bad news — frequently because they’re deeply co-dependent, incredibly toxic or occasionally both.
So, while you work on your boundaries, I think it’s going to be a good idea for you to take a step back and do some deep exploration into just what it is about these women that draws you to them. There seems to be some unexplored issue that is making these women especially appealing to you, even though they almost always prove to be wrong for you. It sounds to me like you should sort that side of the equation out first. Once you’re able to address whatever aspect means that you respond to that particular commonality, you’ll be in a better position to choose women who are right for you, instead of having to constantly fend off all the wrong ones… and the ones who likely aren’t who they say they are.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
My partner and I have been together four years now. I have been going to her family reunion every year since we have been together. We bring our two girls every year to spend time with family, most of whom we see just once a year.
This year she told me she invited her friend to the reunion. I don’t mind spending time with her friend, but our reunion is a weekend long event where we all enjoy camping, hiking, relaxing and spending time with family.
I feel like having her friend there would take away her time to spend with the family. Is it wrong to say she should not invite her friend?
How should someone go about it without hurting anyone’s feelings and seemingly feel like a jerk?
Three’s a Crowd
I’m not entirely sure this is a fight you need to be having, TaC. This is a family reunion for her side of the family; it seems to me that this means that she would be in a better position to decide what would or wouldn’t be appropriate, including whether she invites a friend or not.
In fairness, it strikes me as a little odd, but honestly, different families have different dynamics. You leave out a lot of potentially relevant information: who is this friend, how long has your partner known them, what kind of friends are they, etc. If this is one of her oldest and dearest friends — someone who’s family in all but blood — then that’s one thing. If it’s a co-worker that she hangs out with on occasion, that’s another.
I’d be curious to know just why she wants to invite her friend along and how her friend would be fitting into the dynamic. Would the friend be staying with you all, or would they have their own place? Is she thinking that this would be a good place to play matchmaker with another family member? Or is it more of a case of “well, I think %FRIEND would really enjoy the event”?
Those are questions you’d have to ask your partner. But as I said: ultimately, it’s her family and her family’s events. I think that gives her the final say in who comes or doesn’t to the family reunion.