Recently I got a message from a friend saying she was back in town for the foreseeable future, working just along from me, and wanted to meet up for friendly drinks.
What she doesn’t know is that about 4 years prior, at a low point when I was struggling (and losing, badly) against debilitating depression, shame and self-loathing, I developed a terrible, terrible case of oneitis for her after some awkward, post-night-out kissing. That was all it took to prompt me into an obsession that kept on for nearly two years. On the surface I was her awkward grumpy friend she once had a slip-up with, who she liked getting drunk and being weird with. But underneath, I was deeply unhappy, lonely, neurotic, having suicidal thoughts and obsessing over her every day. Oh, and we were work colleagues!
It was fucked, but thankfully things changed. She moved away, I started therapy, my life got a little better, slowly. I didn’t see her for a long time. I still thought about her sometimes, but when I heard she had started a serious relationship I was happy to have another reason to put her out of my mind. When a mutual friend tried to tell me they’d broken up, I just didn’t want to know. I just kept making progress, getting better at making the most of the ups and recovering from the downs. I still having a nonexistent love life and a shitty job, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made, because I’ve started learning how to value my own feelings and enjoy being me, in spite of everything.
But now that she’s back and I’m staring down the idea of seeing her again, I’m realising that I never fully cured my oneitis, and I still feel inadequate when I think about seeing her. My mental health has taken a bit of a dive as a result. I know I don’t want to be with her but I’m still really attracted to her. I feel like I couldn’t possibly be myself around her. I feel like her opinion of me matters more than my own, like I need to please her but never could. Which is insane, because I haven’t felt this subservient to anyone else I’ve had feelings for, and because she was always a loving, supportive friend to me. It almost feels like I’m getting dragged backwards to that darker time in my life, just as I was learning how to trust myself.
What I want most is to stop worrying and just be as honest as possible with a view towards getting out of each other’s lives so I can let go of how I feel about her once and for all. After all that time apart it hardly feels like much of a loss. But I feel like a part of me is worried about hurting someone who was always just a kind, supportive friend, while another is scared of being judged by her. I’m also worried I won’t be able to properly explain this to her, or that it won’t give me the closure I’m hoping for, or that I’ll just be making the wrong move entirely.
The added kicker is that she isn’t to blame for any of this, and has no idea I ever felt this way. Every day we saw each other, I was lying about how I felt. I’m definitely ashamed of it, and kind of scared of making it all real by talking about it.
I suppose what I’m asking is, what’s the best way for me to resolve this thing and put old obsession behind me?
Link to The Past
My question for you, LTTP, is “what does this woman represent to you?”
One of the reasons why we get stuck with a case of Oneitis – getting hung up on one person who has no interest in dating us – is because we invest that person with meaning and importance that goes beyond who they are as a person. They aren’t just a human being to us any more; they’re the avatar of some specific belief or need that we feel is lacking in our lives. Many times it’s because we’ve invested so much in them emotionally that we can’t imagine life without them; we have made them so important that we treat them as our last and only hope for love. There may be millions of other women out there in the world, but there’re none like her, nobody who could possibly mean what she means or do what she does. She is the only person we could love or who could love us back.
Other times it’s because of what their presence in our lives means. She represents validation, especially if she’s socially desirable. Whether it’s her looks, her status, her fame, fortune or some other quality, the fact that she wants to date us means that we must be something special. It’s a way of saying “look at how awesome I am, because I can get a woman of this caliber.”
But the problem is that as much as people may want to round that feeling up to love… that ain’t it at all. It’s never about her as a person, it’s about what she represents. It’s about what’s lacking in your life.
So the first step to curing your Oneitis is to figure out what you are missing, LTTP. It sounds to me like what your friend represents is love, affection and support at a time when you desperately needed it. Throw in some sloppy make-outs, and it’s not hard to see why you link those feelings with her specifically. She was, in a way, a guardian angel for you, coming to you in your darkest hour. And because you invested so much importance and glorious purpose, you feel like you have to live up to a certain ideal for her. You feel as though you have to have this over-the-top life in order to be “worthy” of her, this woman who gripped you tight and pulled you from perdition. And so you’re in this double-bind. On the one hand, you want her because she represents that moment of passion. On the other, you fear that you aren’t good enough. So here you are, torn in two directions: obsessed with her but scared of disappointing her. Since she’s become this divine figure, her judgement is all-important. If she were to see you, measure you and find you wanting… well, wouldn’t that just be reaffirming that you’re nothing but scum who doesn’t deserve to crawl on this planet?
Here’s the thing though, LTTP: all of that isn’t true. It’s your own cosmology, this view that only exists in your head. It has nothing to do with reality or all the work that you’ve put in. And let’s make no mistake: you’ve put in a lot of work. Which, to be quite honest, makes your obsession and fear somewhat frustrating. You’re invalidating all the hard work you have done, the way that you have dragged yourself out of the muck because you don’t see that as being at all equivalent to one make-out session after a few too many drinks.
And just as importantly is that you need to recognize that this version of her you have in your mind right now doesn’t actually exist. You’ve put her on this pedestal and, in a way, invalidated her humanity. You’ve created this supernatural being in the place of a woman who farts, stubs her toe and gets zits, just like you do.
Hopefully, you’re still talking to your therapist. One of the best things you can do is talk about your friend with them and these complicated feelings that your friend’s return has brought up. That might get you some clarity and help resolve a little of the anxiety you’re feeling. Just as importantly, since they’re in a better position to judge where your head’s at, they’d be better able to tell you whether meeting up with your friend would be a good idea or not.
What I don’t think you need to do is explain any of this to her. Like you said: none of this is her fault, and dumping this on her is only going to cause unnecessary pain and confusion. That’s a cruel thing to do to someone who’s been trying to be a good and supportive friend to you. Instead, I think what you should do is work on accepting her as a person. A kind person, someone who clearly cares for you and has been a source of support… but just a person. Not somebody who’s opinion is more important than yours, not somebody who you need to impress or who has life-or-death power over your self-esteem. The more you can take her down from this pedestal you’ve erected and see her for who she really is, the less of an awesome and terrible figure she’ll be.
And at that point, you’ll be in a better position to know what happens next. Maybe you’ll be able to have a more honest friendship with her, free from the stresses of your Oneitis. Maybe the two of you will drift out of one another’s lives again, as sometimes happens.
But regardless of how your relationship evolves or changes, you’ll be free. You’ll have been able to let go of your oneitis and feel the strength and confidence you need to move forwards and find your own worth and validation.
Hey Doc, so I got a question. How do you get women to respond and move from online dating to communicating on non-online dating means? I say this as I always read bios and use puns (not name related, bio related) and fill it with relevant information, but t never seems to do much good.
Each message is tailored towards the individual, I suppose I need a better approach. Now the big problem I have is by letting the conversation (when I get a reply) go waaaay too long and not getting the conversation off the dating site via a phone number or a Facebook account or something.
It couldn’t hurt to hit the gym, update my pictures and show off a little by getting some nice photos done in a scenic locale with a drone, just adding set dressing to the profile picture too.
Also I think I’ve gotten a little bored with online dating, it’s so disconnected from actual interaction that it’s difficult for me to care at all about it.
In addition, what are some good hobbies to make me more interesting to women, as so far, videogames, tabletop roleplaying games, reading, movies and old TV shows from the 70’s to early 2000’s aren’t exactly hot button topics as half the people I talk to haven’t even heard of the stuff that I like. This isn’t even obscure anime neither (although I love me my anime), it’s mainstream stuff…although I would be a very happy man If I could meet someone who liked the Viewtiful Joe or Chibi-Robo series…or even knew what they were as even my roleplaying buddies haven’t heard of either.
I could have more success when convention season rolls around again, potentially. This isn’t even really an aversion to getting absolutely shit faced drunk, as thats fun as hell! It’s about being able to connect with people when sober, be it over a computer screen or face-to-face.
I think part of my reasons for not being able to get dates is I’m actually fairly boring. I go to work, play my tabletop rpgs, play video games, write some source material for a book I’m writing, go to sleep, go to work etc.
Now I’m comfortable in the life I have, no complaints there but it sure could do with some excitement, and that would be more likely to draw women to me. Strange as it may seem, I should get into sewing, knitting, DIY, something practical as there’s nothing better than a freshly painted wall or some newly repaired socks.
Or I could go skydiving, deep sea diving or NASCAR driving (or at least stock car racing or something). Maybe a good mix of the dangerous and non-dangerous would be a good idea.
Anyway, if you have got any ideas for interesting hobbies then please let me know!
OK OG, you’ve conflated about four different issues into one casserole of a dating crisis. The problem with this approach is that by mixing things all together like this, you’ve ended up obscuring the actual problems and ended up inventing new ones for yourself.
I mean, you basically answered your own question in your second paragraph. Your biggest problem is that you don’t actually make your move when you have a chance. Now, in fairness, this is a problem a lot of guys have: they play it entirely too safe. They want to be 110% sure that there’s a connection and that the person they’re talking to is going to say “yes” when he asks her on a date. But not only is this never assured, it ends up working against them. Emotions follow their own laws of physics, just like physical objects do. Call it NerdLove’s First Law of Emotional Dynamics: Attraction is an object in motion… and like an object in motion, it’s going to lose momentum if there’s nothing propelling it forward. Just as friction bleeds the momentum away from a physical object, time bleeds away the emotional momentum of attraction. If you aren’t driving that attraction forward, then that attraction is going to fade on its own.
That’s why it’s important to move things off the app and into the physical world as quickly as possible The longer you take to ask someone on a dating app for an actual date, the more likely it is that their attraction is going to fade and they’re going to end up going out with someone else. If you’ve had some solid back-and-forth conversations with someone you met on Tinder or OKCupid, then there’s no reason to not propose meeting up. The worst that happens is that they say no, and then you’ve saved time and emotional energy that you would’ve squandered by waiting longer.
Your other questions are an indicator that either you’re approaching the wrong women or you’re having some issues with your own identity. One of the mistakes that a lot of guys make is that they think they have to live a specific lifestyle or have particular hobbies or achievements in order to date. The problem with this outlook is that it encourages guys to live inauthentic lives and pursue women that they’re not actually compatible with. It doesn’t do you any good to take up hobbies that you don’t actually like in order to meet women; even if you do start having more social success and meeting more women, you’re not necessarily meeting the right women for you. And trust me when I tell you from experience: there’s nothing more frustrating than when you’re meeting tons of people and none of them are actually people you can connect with.
You need to make a point of trying to find women that you’re actually compatible with, who you share commonalities and values with. One of the best ways to do this is to find ways of exploring your hobbies and interests in ways that brings you in contact with other people who share those interests. There are, after all, plenty of women out there who loves anime and video games and video games about anime. And if you like crafting or making things with your hands, then sure, knitting or sewing could be useful. You could even combine your interests and start getting into cosplay or constructing costumes and props for cosplayers.
If you legitimately want to find more hobbies to be more interesting, then by all means, do that. Finding new and interesting hobbies is a great way to build a more attractive lifestyle – even if it’s just for your own enjoyment. Just make sure that you’re exploring things that actually speak to you instead of trying to live somebody else’s idea of an attractive lifestyle. You want to present your best self, not somebody else’s.
And just as an aside: I realize you were probably making a joke about getting shit-faced in order to talk with women, but that’s… a bad idea. I speak from personal experience when I tell you that too much alcohol and flirting mix about as well as nitroglycerine and a centrifuge. Yeah, alcohol can be a social lubricant, but it’s really easy to end up with too much lubricant. And then you’ve got an even bigger mess on your hands.
I used to believe that beauty is subjective and different people like different things. But that’s complete bullshit and there are certain features that would make a guy attractive for any girl. It’s just how it is.
Dimples, nice smile, warm eyes etc. I have none of those. My face is an egg, I have a weird look in my eyes, and despite weighing 70kg and being 1.85m tall my face is still chubby and when I smile I look like a disabled person. No girls would ever look at me, and none ever told me I’m good looking, cute etc. Except from my mom and grandmother which doesn’t count. My friends keep telling me I have a great personality but let’s face it, personality is irrelevant if you don’t look good.
And I’m guilty of liking only very pretty, cute, hot, sexy girls who everyone would agree they are good looking. And none of these girls would look at me. Not even average girls don’t. I never saw a girl looking at me. I’m almost 18 and I never ever dated a single girl, never held hands with one and never kissed one. And even if through a miracle a girl I find hot likes me, I’ll probably hardly fail to flirt with her since I HAVE 0 EXPERIENCE and I’ll just look like and idiot. And boom, there it goes.
I’ll find myself at 25 still a virgin unable to find “love”. I’m still trying to accept the idea I’ll die alone but its hard. And no, I’ll not find love at 30 or 22 or whatever, and no I will not pay for escorts. If I don’t find anyone until I’m 18,thats too late. I’ll completely give up searching “love” and I’ll just join some satanic cult and listen to suicidal songs or something. All my friends have had girlfriends and I’m the only one who, whenever people talk about relationships and girls get “You don’t know anything about this” , “just don’t say anything, you’re still a virgin wtf dude” and so on.
I tried improving myself and I still do. The more I try to look good, the uglier I realise I become. When I try becoming good at something, I always fail. I know it because I tried getting new skills and stuff but it’s pointless because no matter how hard I try, I’m useless at everything. I tried dating apps, but even in my best pics, I look bad. I got only a couple of matches from average-ugly girls. The problem is that I’m an useless ugly piece of shit with standards. I’ve got too high standards. I don’t care the least about a girl’s personality unless she looks as good as a Korean model.
To understand how big of a problem it is, I wouldnt be able to walk out on the street or in a mall with an average looking girl. I’ll be ashamed of doing that. I think its the fact that I’m ugly and frustrated and never liked by anybody makes me like that. It’s because I lack looks that I crave only very good looking girls, and I just don’t know what to do and how to deal with being ugly and shit.
Hoo boy. Let’s roll this one from the top, shall we?
Let’s start with the most obvious issue: you’re 18. I realize this sounds dismissive, but I’m being serious here. I remember exactly what it was like to be 18. 18 is a lousy age; you’re theoretically an adult, but you’re at the tail end of the social hell that is high-school, your brain is still bouncing around in a stew of hormones and you have the undeserved certainty in your grasp of how the world works of a college student who discovered Communism and veganism at the same time, despite having next to zero actual life experience. So everything is a crisis, the world is always ending and you’ve got more overwrought drama than three seasons of Riverdale.
So it’s really goddamn easy to declare that it’s the sexual apocalypse and you’re doomed to die a virgin despite being 18. I was absolutely, hands down, knew-it-in-my-bones sure that I was going to be able to drink before I ever had sex. I knew this with the certainty of someone who has hopped in the TARDIS and went forward in time to verify it personally.
I was, incidentally, completely goddamn wrong. I may have sworn up and down that I could see every step of the next five years with perfect clarity, but I was wrong. And you’re not any more prescient than I was.
(But, listen chief, as long as you’re telling the future, could you look up the lottery tickets? Nobody claimed that billion dollar Powerball yet and I’m kind of hoping they’re going to roll it back into the prize pool.)
Now, you’re convinced that you’re going to be a virgin by 25. Let’s see if we can fix that, shall we?
We’ll start by suggesting that you dial back the histrionics. I get that you are feeling things strongly – I refer you back to the whole “18 years old” thing – but the truth is: if I had a nickel for every dude who told me that he made Quasimodo look like a Men’s Health model, Elon Musk and I would be having mecha fights outside of Los Angeles right now. So take a deep breath. Take another. Hold it. Let it out slowly.
Now let’s begin.
Your biggest problem isn’t your looks, it’s your attitude. You’ve thrown your hands up in defeat, despite the fact that, honestly, you don’t know shit about shit. In fact, the way that you’re talking makes me suspect that you’ve been spending time on incel boards. But whether you’re hanging out with the Incels or just asshole-infested sections of Reddit, the best thing you can do right now is log the hell out of them. I realize that it can feel like you’re facing harsh truths, but that’s not what you’re actually doing. You’re engaging in what YouTuber ContraPoints famously calls Masochistic Epistemology: if it hurts, it must be true. But the fact is, that’s bullshit. All that you’re doing is emotional self-harm, the psychological version of cutting. The only difference is that you’re cutting your soul and your self-esteem, not your flesh.
And that needs to stop. If you want to find love and lose your virginity before all-is-lost-woe-and-alack, then the first step is to stop treating self-harm as a path to truth instead of intellectual mutilation.
But hey, you want hard truths, I’ll give ’em to you. And here’s a hard truth for you: most of the issues you’re complaining about aren’t things something that are actually happening to you. You’re drawing conclusions based on things that you assume, at best. No girl besides your family has told you that you’re handsome? I’m not surprised. Not because you’re ugly but because for the most part women don’t tell random dudes they’re handsome; not unless they’re already in a relationship with them. In fact I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times a woman I wasn’t dating spontaneously told me I looked good.
You want to know why they aren’t telling you that you’re hot on toast? Because we live in a culture that actively discourages it. We live in a culture that teaches us that male sexuality is aggressive, even predatory. Men are supposed to be the ones who make the advances and who take the lead when wooing women. Women are supposed to be passive and receptive, not to act but to be acted on. When women flout gender roles, guys get uncomfortable. Men almost immediately assume far more interest than actually exists, or presume that it’s a trick or a trap. I mean, if a woman were to tell you that you were actually attractive, would you believe her? Or would you immediately assume that she’s setting you up for an especially cruel joke?
So no, most women aren’t going to tell you that you’re hot. That has nothing to do with your looks and everything to do with the world we live in. We live in a world where male beauty was valued but hardly a priority and where men are discouraged from validating one another about how they look. Women, on the other hand are incredibly vocal and supportive of their friends, even strangers, in no small part because they don’t have the specter of “fag” looming over their heads. So you’re left without validation, without reassurance or comfort; your guy friends can’t provide it because guys are uncomfortable with expressing emotion or appreciation and women can’t provide it because guys freak out at them when they do.
Here’s another truth: your looks are incredibly malleable.
While you can’t do anything about your bone structure or your overall frame, it is almost mind boggling at how much minor changes can affect how you look. You talk about your chubby, egg-like face. This is less of an issue than you realize. At 18, you almost certainly aren’t done changing. The odds that the chub you still have on your face will melt away as you hit your 20s is rather astoundingly high, especially with your height and current weight. But even if it doesn’t, it’s incredibly easy to change the way that you look with even minor changes. If you’re upset about the way that your face and head is shaped, simply changing your hair style can work wonders; anyone who’s been watching Queer Eye can tell you to never underestimate the transformative power of a hair cut. Letting the hair on top keep some length and allowing for some volume on the sides goes a long way towards adjusting the shape of your head and balancing things out. Similarly, some square or rectangular eyeglasses can give structure to a face that might need a bit more width towards the top. If you’re worried about a narrow jaw-line, consider a well-trimmed beard to fill things out.
But what about your ability to flirt? You have no experience to draw from! Well no shit. Neither did I, chief. I had no game whatsoever growing up. I was awkward and uncomfortable and I didn’t find relationships so much as stumble into them. And that first one… well, I’ve written about that toxic situation at length before. Hell, even after my Long Dark Night of the Soul, my Batman moment when I fell into the PUA scene didn’t immediately fix things for me. The fact that I now had a script to work from didn’t magically give me the gift of gab. In order to get better at flirting I had to go out and practice flirting. That meant doing a lot of experimenting, trying to find the flirting style that worked best for me and, yes, being willing to make mistakes and look like an idiot. Nobody gets good at something, whether it’s sport or social skills, without puting in the work. If you want to get better at flirting, then you’re going to have to go out there and risk looking like a fool. It may be uncomfortable, but the question remains: are you willing to endure that discomfort in order to get better?
I mean, William H. Macy is married with kids and he looks like Droopy Dawg. Steve Buscemi, he of the disturbing eyes, is married, with kids. Patrick Fischler, a man whose entire career is “that creepy looking dude” is married, with children. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the guy that Christina Hendricks married but let’s be real: Mr. Olympia he ain’t.
Looks can make a difference for immediate attraction… but the truth is that the vast majority of people out there don’t start dating someone they only just met. Most people don’t meet their partners at bars or even on dating apps: they meet them through friends, through their jobs and their hobbies. They don’t meet and start dating immediately; most people date people after having gotten to know them. And that’s where the issue of personality comes in. See, one of the interesting things about the human psyche is that we can get used to anything. Including how people look. No matter how hot someone is, we get used to it pretty quickly. The same as when people are average or less symmetrically blessed. But personality… that we don’t get used to. And it’s personality that keeps people coming around. See, part of what builds attraction is repetition, exposure and familiarity. The more you get to know someone, the more attractive they become to you because you’re seeing more than just that initial impression. You’re seeing how they behave, whether they’re kind or cruel, generous or selfish, warm or stand-offish. This makes a great difference when it comes to attraction; hot-but-an-asshole loses appeal and mate-value incredibly quickly. But a guy who’s warm, comforting and supportive? That guy’s stock goes up. That’s somebody people would rather spend their time around. And with that time together… well, it’s amazing how that can inspire someone to see them in a new light.
Except your personality? Kinda sucks, my dude. I mean, I get it. You’re 18. That’s an age that’s gonna exhaust people because you have that combination of energy, time and self-generated drama. But the way that you go about is going to turn people off, no matter how much your face changes. You’re complaining about your looks and your lack of love, but you’re immediately turning around and insisting that women who aren’t the hottest of the hot aren’t worth your time. As much as you are longing for love and acceptance and possibly someone to look beyond your appearance – and let’s not forget that you’re not the most reliable judge here – you’re being as cruel and judgemental as the women you imagine rejecting you. You’re not willing to extend the compassion and caring to others that you wish people would extend to you. And while I’m not saying that you need to lower your standards, the way you go about expressing them tells women everything they need to know about you as a person.
You say that you could care less about a woman’s personality unless she’s a 9 or a 10. You’d be ashamed to be seen with a woman who’s “merely” average. Why would any woman, regardless of her beauty, want to date someone who’s that casually cruel? That’s the ugliness you should be concerning yourself with, not the shape of your face or the way that you smile.
But here’s the most important truth: you can change all of this. Like Ebenezer Scrooge pleading in his grave, you are not, in fact, out of time. You can take steps today that will change the trajectory of your life and help you become not just the man you want to be, but find the love and experience you’re looking for. But if you want to find love before you’re 25? Then you need to commit to making some changes. Not to your looks, but to your heart and your soul and your life.
Start with where you’re spending your time. Get the ever-loving fuck off whatever boards you’re reading that’ve been dripping poison in your ear and encouraging you to slice up your self-esteem and spend some time around people who actually love and care about you. If your friends are the ones telling you to STFU because you’re a virgin? Then get a better class of friend, because those guys sound like assholes. You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. So ask yourself: what kind of person do you want to be? One who has love to give, who supports and cares for others? Or who casually dismisses people for bullshit reasons? The people you surround yourself with, the places where you spend your time… these all directly affect who you are as a person. If you want to be a quality, high-value man, then you need to put some serious thought into where you invest your time and your friendship.
Next, get thee to a therapist. You’re drowning in self-loathing my dude and it’s poisoning everything about you. You need to spend some time talking about these feelings and these issues with an actual, honest-to-God mental and emotional health professional. One of the most important qualities to have in order to date is to be in good working order, emotionally and the fact is: you ain’t there. The sooner you start talking to a counselor or therapist, the sooner you can unpack these feels, dig into the source and learn how to let go of all that pain.
After you’ve spent time with a therapist and working on your mind, then you can start to work on your dating skills. And the only way you can do that is to go out into the field. Now, there are some best practices to follow; I’ve written literal books on the subject. But at the end of the day, there is no way to grind out those levels in social skills without actually using them. So you’re going to need to take risks, make mistakes, collect some scars and just put yourself out there. It’ll be hard. It’ll be uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, it will be worth it.
Things aren’t as bad as you think they are, HF. You’re not doomed by genetics or cursed by a twist of fate. You’re just young, with a bad attitude and a heart full of pain. The sooner you fix those, the sooner you’ll be in a good place to start finding the love you’re looking for.
Let's Talk About Toxic Femininity | Paging Dr. NerdLove - YouTube
One of the subjects I come back to fairly often is the idea of toxic masculinity. It’s something that I personally feel is important to talk about because of how much it directly affects men and makes our lives that much harder and that much worse. However, whenever we talk about masculinity in any form, there is such a regular response from people, in the comments and on twitter and elsewhere, that you can practically set your watch by it: “when are you going to talk about toxic femininity?”
And you know what? Fine. Buckle up folks, ‘cuz we’re doing this.
Why nobody can agree on a definition of “toxic femininity”
What we don’t understand about toxic masculinity… and how that affects how we see femininity
Who gets to define what is or isn’t toxic behavior
What are the differences between “toxic” forms of manhood vs. womenhood
I got out of my one and only relationship (of seven years) four years ago. It left me really damaged and it took both a physical and mental toll on me. I’ve been spending the past three years building my confidence back up. I’ve been working with a therapist for a while and last year I got bariatric surgery to lose some of the weight I put on. I’ve improved a lot, but I realize that it is time to take off the training wheels, so to speak, and I’m rather nervous about that.
One of my biggest problems has been putting myself out there. I’ve recently decided to join a recreational sports program to try and give it a go. I ended up meeting a guy there who was really funny and sweet and he got me out of my shell pretty quickly. We had about an hour of downtime between games and he hung out with me and had a great conversation. It was animated and perhaps even a little flirty. At one point he said that he wanted to give me his number so I could send him a video we were talking about, but we were called to play a match so he never did end up giving me his number. After the event was over, a bunch of us went to an after party at a bar. The whole group hung out there for a while until people started to leave little by little. The guy came up to me to say goodbye and he gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and left.
This guy left such a good impression with me that I felt compelled to track him down. I found his work email and his Facebook pretty easily, but now that I have this information, I question if I should reach out to him at all. I know men are not used to being approached by women and I don’t want to come off as creepy or stalkerish because I tracked down his contact information. I also keep questioning if I had read the situation correctly to begin with. I have a bad track record of misinterpreting friendliness for flirting, and the last thing I want to do is create a reputation of being “that desperate creepy girl” at a rec league that I enjoy and very much want to keep attending. So Doc, am I misinterpreting this guys interest, as I always do? And if I did get it right, would it be creepy for me to reach out to him?
Sincerely, Forever Confused
First of all, FC, congratulations on the work you’ve been doing to get yourself into emotional shape. That can be a serious challenge for anyone, and it’s great that you’ve been taking the time to take care of yourself and get yourself into good working order. That says a lot about your strength, your emotional intelligence and your persistence and you should be justly proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Now, let’s talk a little about tracking down strangers on social media.
My general rule of thumb when it comes to things like Facebook-stalking is simple: don’t. In fact, I’ve been on the record a number of times about why this is a very bad, no good, rotten idea. However, it’s also important to note that, as with many things in life, context can be important. After all, as we live more and more of our lives online, we’re starting to see a blurring of our private and public selves. More and more often, we’re connecting with – and even forming relationships with – people we’ve first gotten to know via social media. And, hell, I’ve literally written a book about how to connect with people via Instagram, Snapchat and more. But if it’s going to be done, then it needs to be done with thought and care… something a lot of people apparently just don’t want to do.
One of the reasons why I come down hard on the side of “don’t do this” is because much of my advice is directed towards men who want to date women. Within that context comes the fact that women and men don’t navigate the same world or face the same risks. For all that people like to think that we’ve reached a mythical equality of the sexes – generally demarcated as any time after September 20, 1973 – the truth of the matter is that women have far more to fear from men, then men do from women. Women face threats and casual harassment that men simply don’t experience, and this includes how they’re treated on the Internet. Many, many women can tell you stories about strangers who’ve slid into their DMs in order to hit on them or drop dick pics like a cat dropping a dead mouse at their feet. Just as many can tell you about men who’ve creeped on them, stalked them or turned threatening, even if they seemed pleasant or harmless enough at first. This treatment is part of what forms the background radiation of many women’s online experiences, which is why it’s generally a bad idea for guys to appear out of the clear blue sky into someone’s social media accounts, especially someone they’d only met briefly before. Even though it may not be what the guy intended, there’s an unspoken message of “look how easy it was for me to find you,” that comes with this action.
However, the same can’t be said for men’s experiences online or in person. While yes, female stalkers do exist and men can be hurt or abused by women, the risk posed to men by women simply isn’t proportionate. The numbers of men physically threatened or harmed by women are dwarfed by the number of women threatened or harmed by men. Similarly, while stalkerish behavior from a man is seen as sinister and threatening, much of the same behavior from a woman is often seen as comical or somewhat sad. It tends to be played off as “someone who’s simply not attractive shooting out of her league” than Fatal Attraction territory. A woman messaging a man she barely knows or has only just met doesn’t carry the same potential for danger that would exist if the roles were reversed. In many ways, the risk is still greater for her – such as, as you mentioned, the possible social stigma of being known as the “desperate stalker girl”. More often than not, however, the effect would be potentially coming across as more interested in the other person than you actually are. After all, if you were willing to flout social convention in such an audacious manner… well, you must really want that d.
So your reaching out to him via Facebook is less likely to be as offputting or disturbing as it would be if a guy were to do the same thing to a woman he’d met at a bar the night previous. This doesn’t mean that your reaching out would automatically be welcomed… but it likely wouldn’t weird him out the way it would be if you were a man and he were a woman.
Now with that in mind, let’s examine the situation. You met a guy at the game who spent significant time hanging out with you, who offered to give you his number, who came with you to a party at a bar and then went out of his way to say goodbye to you specifically and was physically affectionate to you.
I’m gonna go on a limb here and suggest that maybe, just maybe… he was kind of into you. So, if your friend request were to suddenly materialize in his inbox, I don’t think that he would recoil with horror. I suspect he’d probably be glad, even a little flattered.
But that’s not a sure thing. We tend to see our Facebook profiles differently than we see our Twitter or Instagram accounts; the latter tend to be more public and outward facing, while there’s still a certain assumption of personal privacy with Facebook. It’s more acceptable to follow a near-stranger on IG than it is on Facebook. There would be more socially plausible reasons to friend him if the two of you have friends in common or if you were part of the same groups – then there’s more context for your sending him a friend request and it would grease the metaphorical wheels a bit more.
So while I wouldn’t rule it out entirely, I wouldn’t necessarily reach out over Facebook. If he’s got an Instagram account, then following him there and sending him a message might be more within bounds.
There is, however, a better option. You met him through the sports program that you joined. The odds are that, if he’s a regular, you’re going to see him again. So I’d suggest that you go back to the games and keep an eye out for him. Then, next time you see him you can let him know that he completely forgot to give you his number and you’ve decided to rectify this by making sure that he has yours.
I have an unusual problem. I can do cold approaches of women, I’m fine with that, however, it’s warm approaches I’m afraid of. The reason being here is that there is little to no social circle at risk when it comes to cold approaching. If she doesn’t like me, then that’s fine. We’re unlikely to see each other again, and even then, while it’s unlikely I know anyone she knows, it’s even less likely that on the off-chance that we have any mutual friends, that our mutual friend would know that it’s me who was awkward or in worse cases, creepy to her. However, warm approaching scares me, because if she’s a friend of a friend or part of a similar group as me, my friends or the rest of my group could know about this. It could cause our mutual friends to be less trustful of me, I could get a bad reputation among the group, or I could make things awkward whenever me and her are in the group together. How do I break out of this mindset, or not damage pre-existing relations between my social circle and me?
Running Warm and Cold
The key to meeting people via your social circle is to not treat it like your personal sex ATM, RWC. The risk is less about your being awkward – most people will forgive the occasional awkwardness – and far more about giving the impression that you’re just there to hit on any or all of the women who’re part of it. That’s going to damage your relationship and your reputation far more than accidentally saying the wrong thing or not being as smooth as Prince working at the 5 and Dime for Mr. Magee. Your best option is to keep things low key and casual. Talk with people, maybe extend a feeler of sorts with some very light flirting. If she responds positively and the two of you have good chemistry, then ask her out on a date. If she turns you down, then treat it as though it were no big deal and continue on as though nothing had happened – “Oh, ok, cool. So anyway, like I was saying earlier…”
As I’ve said many times before: people will tend to respond based on how you act. If you respect her no and handle her turning you down with grace and even a little humor, then nobody is going to think you’re weird, creepy or otherwise want you out of the group. Moreover, the fact that you’ve shown that you’re actually a cool guy who isn’t going lose his mind over someone turning you down means that she’s more likely to introduce you to someone who would be into you.
Don’t, however, immediately pivot and go hit on someone else. That’ll get you an unwelcome rep so fast that your head will spin. The loveable horndog is a trope that only works in sitcoms and 80s romcoms, not real life.
A small preface about me and my dating history: I am a 27 year old male who has never been in a serious relationship, though have had a few flings last about a month. I am a reasonably handsome and pretty fit guy. I’ve never felt the need to necessarily ‘chase’ women – I’m okay with being alone. If I’m out with my buddies and I talk to a lady, great. If I don’t, great. That being said, for a long time my self-esteem and opinion of myself was pretty low, as well as dealing with a self sustained injury to my genitals left me feeling indifferent to the whole dating scene, until recently (thanks in large part to reading your work). I’ve taken steps like upgrading my wardrobe and taking better care of my body/health (everything works as it should).
A few months ago I asked a girl I work with if she wanted to grab some drinks – it was totally platonic, I had the night off and wanted to get out of the house, and she was game. We continued to casually hang and grab drinks every so often, whenever schedules allowed – we are both bartenders working at the same pub. I knew she had been dating a girl for almost a decade (she identifies as bisexual), and didn’t think anything would necessarily happen – until it did. One night as we were hanging out, we got into a little tickling/roughhousing fight, I picked up some serious signs, and made a move. Again, I was under the impression she was still with her girl at this time, although in the moment she did inform me that they were on a break. Great, I thought. A little fun for me!
Afterwards, working with her continued to be great, no issues, business as usual. We hung out and hooked up again, and at that point she explained what she was looking for: nothing serious, just exploring herself as she figures things out. Here is exactly when I caught some serious feelings.
We continued to go out on dates, having fun, always talking for hours and sharing a lot of laughs. She never checks her phone even though I know it’s being blown up, and always looks great and arrives on time.
One day at work I couldn’t help but notice a fella at the bar took quite the shine to her, and I couldn’t help but notice myself getting very jealous. I felt like it was written on my face and made work awkward, so the next time we went out I felt like I had to apologize. Then the floodgates opened: I basically did everything but propose, venting all my frustrations and unrequited love for her. At the time, it felt like a great weight was lifted. Now, I can’t believe how selfish I was: she’s going through something I can’t imagine, her phone is probably being blown up by her ex, all her girlfriends telling her what she should do, checking in on her, on top of whatever other messages she gets from Tinder or Bumble. My feelings and my problems are my own, not hers. My job should simply be her friend – she’s going through something I can’t imagine and the least I can do is just make her laugh and all.
Working with her continued to be great – no lingering awkwardness, still playfully punching/tickling/poking each other, still with the inside jokes about certain annoying patrons. She texted me that night after the date explaining that she was glad to have had that conversation as adults, and stressed nothing would change.
I let things mellow out for a couple weeks, until last week when I asked her to go bowling. Went great, lots of laughs, grabbed drinks afterwards and hung out all night. Said goodbye with one of my patented big ol’ hugs – the kind where I pick you up with a big bear hug. She always giggles and wraps her legs around me as I squeeze a liiiiiitle bit longer than usual. I felt good after that night, so naturally I had to think and ruin my mood. I notice of late she has been lending her car to a manager of ours who I know doesn’t have one, and is going through a rough patch with his own girlfriend. Obviously I began to think the two of them were an item, which again I felt is/was written all over my face.
I suppose my question is, what do I do? Should I let things calm down for a while/no more dates, and accept the fact I’m back to square one? Should I continue asking her out on dates/hanging when we can? Our schedules make it so that we would only have maybe one day/night off together a week, something she would also know. I should also mention I’ve begun using apps like Youper and Headspace to help process my emotions and have felt much better since starting that.
I feel like I know what answer is right, though hearing it from you would mean a lot more than some bullshit bro-science stuff from my idiot bro friends.
You do incredible work. Any response is greatly appreciated, and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to read this.
Insert Foot (a) Into Mouth Slot (b)
Yeah, you kinda screwed up there, chief. You did so in an understandable way, but you still did it.
But before I get into what you should do about it, let’s talk about jealousy for a second. Jealousy is an emotion that, at its core, is based around insecurity. When you’re jealous of someone (as opposed to when you’re envious of them), you’re worried that that someone is going to take what you have. You feel as though that you just aren’t enough , that you don’t have enough inherent worth or value to hold on to whatever it is you’re afraid of losing… especially when it’s another person. So when you encounter someone that you perceive as horning in on your territory – whether they actually are or aren’t – then you feel those sour emotions bubble up inside you. You start to envision scenarios where your special someone is going to be distracted by the new shiny object and leave you in their rear-view mirror. And because the brain can’t tell the difference between the imaginary and the real, you react to that imagined scenario instead of the real one. So, despite the fact that nothing has actually happened, you’re responding as though you’ve already been dumped.
And so you panic. You flail about. You get angry over this once-and-future betrayal. You latch onto any strategy that you think will give you a last minute reprieve, like a drowning man clinging to a twig. You pick fights to make the break-up finally happen because the anticipation of it is driving you crazy. You cling to the relationship with your fingernails and become defensive and clingy. Or you feelings-vomit all over the place in hopes that maybe the depth of your emotion will sway her to stay.
Now there are a lot of keys to dealing with jealousy, but the most effective is simply understanding that what you feel isn’t always accurate. It’s as much about your mindset and your own sense of self worth as it is about what’s actually going on. This doesn’t mean that believing in yourself makes you immune to jealousy; it just means that you’re better prepared to not overreact. Having faith in your on worth, your value and your attractiveness helps give you the tools that you need to talk yourself down off the ledge; you’re able to take a step back and take an objective look at what’s going on instead of taking the silver in the Olympic long jumping to conclusions. And, if that isn’t enough, that sense of self-worth and value means that you’re able to actually talk it out with your partner.
So let’s get back to your situation, IFIMS. You made two mistakes here.
The first is that you let jealousy get out of control. You’ve been making strides – and you should be justly proud of the progress you’ve made – but you still have those weak spots, those areas where you don’t feel like you’re deserving of love. That’s entirely understandable; everyone has them. The problem is that you let things rage out of control at the first sign of trouble. You saw somebody else liked your FWB and leapt to conclusions so quickly that Barry Allen would’ve told you to slow down, chief. You could stop and examine how she acts when she’s with you – giving you her full attention, dressing up for your your dates, making sure to be absolutely punctual, having a great time with you. You could recognize your own value: you’re a good looking, fit individual who’s put a lot of effort into himself. You could look at all the dates the two of you have been on. But you didn’t. You let things bubble up and then vomited things up over her out of a misplaced sense of guilt.
Being jealous isn’t something to be ashamed of, my dude. It’s just something to manage. Hell, it’s even something you can admit to – in that “yeah I know it’s a little absurd but I feel this twinge of jealousy ‘cuz I like you.” sort of way. But the feelings-dump you made? Not the best.
But it’s the reasons behind the feelingsdump that are the real problem. And it’s where you made your major mistake: you didn’t listen to what she told you. She told you up front that she wants something casual, because she’s in a transitory state and wants to just explore her own feelings for a bit. It would be one thing to try to define terms – what does casual mean to her, what should you two expect – but you didn’t. You heard “I don’t want anything serious” and responded with “challenge accepted”.
Now this is a common enough reaction. God knows I’ve done this in my time. But what she was telling you was to adjust your expectations accordingly. If you were going to treat this as a potential committed relationship and get ugly feels over the idea of her possibly dating other folks too, then the best thing you could do would be to bow out. This doesn’t mean that there’s something weak or unmanly about you, it just means that this is a style of relationship that is right for you. But since you went in hoping for something serious, you took that statement as a warning instead. So now instead of being able to just enjoy what you had, you’ve got the germ that would eventually grow and spread into that case of jealousy you’re dealing with.
Which brings us back to where we are now. What do you do now? Well, to start with, I’d suggest figuring out where your head’s at. Taking some time to recognize your value and build up your confidence is important. But just as important is understanding your feelings for her and what they may mean for the two of you.
Knowing that she’s not looking for anything serious – and you cleary want that seriousness – are you going to be able to date her with the understanding that this isn’t heading towards commitment and monogamy? Are you going to be able to enjoy the relationship you have instead of the one that you’re hoping for? If so, then the next step is to talk with your friend. Tell her that you want to figure out where the two of you stand, because you really dig her. Is she still down for casual dates and hook-ups? What does casual mean for her? Does she see this as potentially going somewhere more serious, or is that still off the table for her?
Then, listen to her. Not just “physically hear the words” but actually internalize them, so that you aren’t acting on false or invented hope. If what she has to offer is something you can live with, then hey, awesome. Enjoy your time with her.
But if it isn’t? Then the best thing you can do is enjoy being her friend, even having a flirty friendship, but look for the kind of relationship you need elsewhere.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I just read your column about the reader who wanted to know how to friend-zone his wife, and the bit about “you’re falling victim to a lot of confirmation bias here, all based around the idea that you’re inherently unattractive and that your interest in someone is an unwanted burden that you’re dropping on them like a cat presenting them with a dead mouse” resonated with me. And I think, “Hey, yeah! Why should expressing my interest in a woman be a giant imposition on her?”
But then I thought a little more. Obviously it’s great if she reciprocates, and it’s fine if she’s comfortable giving a kind “Thanks but no thanks.” But then what about the ones who just aren’t comfortable handing out rejection? And that’s without getting into her fear that I might turn aggressive.
How should a guy navigate that minefield? I mean, I understand about not approaching a woman on a bus and so forth, but what about that party scenario? Is it just something I have to live with, that some women will be unhappy that I spoke to them?
– Where’s The Line
It’s admirable to be concerned about not making women uncomfortable, WTL, but you need to be careful. It’s one thing to want to make sure that you aren’t creeping on someone or that the person you’re flirting with is actually into flirting with you. It’s another entirely to let the fear of “but what if she’s afraid to say no?” become an excuse for paralysis or inaction.
The key to making sure that you’re not an unwelcome presence when you’re talking to someone you’re interested in is to pay attention to them and be mindful of their comfort. Are you up in their personal space, or are you keeping a respectful distance? Are they giving you open, relaxed body language or are they crossing their arms or holding an object across their body like a shield? Are they giving you their full attention, or are they constantly looking at their watch or glancing about the room? Do they seem engaged in the conversation – participating fully and with enthusiasm – or are they giving short, brusque answers? These are all ways of gauging how into you they are and how comfortable they feel.
Similarly, if you ask them out on a date, do they give you a reason why they can’t, without suggesting another, specific time or place? Generally, if someone is interested in you but has a reason why they can’t see you on that particular day, they’ll suggest a time when they would be available. If they just give you the reason – she’s busy, she’s not ready to date, she has another event planned that day – without suggesting an alternative, then she’s trying to turn you down. These are what’s known as a “soft no” – a polite way of turning somebody down without outright saying “no, not interested”. Accepting these as the gentle refusal they’re intended to be means that you won’t be upsetting her or making her feel uncomfortable.
Just pay attention and be mindful, WTL and you’ll be fine.