DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I recently realized (well, “accepted” would be more accurate) that I qualify as someone who is a toxic friend. A couple of months ago, my friends pointed out I would not behave in the same way depending if I was with one of them alone or if I was with a larger group. At the time, I didn’t thought about it, the very idea that I may be an asshole to them didn’t even occur to me.
However, it finally hit me. See, when I’m with a large group, I start making “jokes” (and I mean very very stupid jokes) and passive-aggressive comments, mostly at the expense of one of my friends. These get to the point that…I don’t know how she can still agree to talk to me. Almost everything turns into a weapon I use. The only reason I say “almost” is because there is still a line that I didn’t cross with those “jokes”, and that I’m very afraid of crossing one day.
(There is also one last important information regarding our friendship; I do have a crush on her, which wasn’t the case when we met and started to hang out. Honestly, as I’m typing that, I don’t even know anymore if I can call myself a friend of her.)
I’m ashamed of this. I don’t want to be that kind of person. I don’t want to hurt those who are close to me, and I don’t want to drive them away. I don’t have any excuses. I mean, I think I know why I act like that in front of a large group (lack of social skills, stupidly high level of anxiety) but I’m fully aware that it’s wrong. I need to get rid of that behavior, otherwise, sooner or later, I will lose my friends.
So, I’m asking you: can you give me some advice on where to begin? Is apologizing to her a first step? How can I work on stopping to act like an asshole? Feel free to bring the Chair Leg of Truth, Doc. I need your help, I want to be able to be a good friend and if you think the best medicine is a harsh medicine, then don’t spare me.
Heel Face Turn
DEAR HEEL FACE TURN: t’s good that you’re recognizing what you’ve done wrong, HFT. Yeah, you’re kind of the cruel, toxic friend that people complain about, and that’s a problem. But before we get into how to fix it, let’s talk a little about just what’s going on here.
Part of why toxic friends are so damaging to us is because they’re people who we’ve let in. We’ve let ourselves be vulnerable around them, lowered our defenses and given them access to our deepest and most fragile selves. We trusted them with the sides of ourselves that could hurt us the most.
And they turn right around and use them for sh*ts and giggles. Every moment of trust, every moment of openness becomes ammo. Our secrets, our anxieties and our fears are now like refined plutonium in the hands of a criminal syndicate; we know they’re out there, we know who has them but we don’t know when or if they’ll use them. So now we live with the anxiety that our supposed “friend” is going to drop a dirty bomb of our intimate details for the lulz. And worse, we’re not “allowed” to be upset about it! If we complain about that toxic friend targeting us, making our existence the butt of their jokes, we’re told to “lighten up”. To “not take it so seriously”. To grow a thicker skin because it’s just pranks and jokes, yo. We get cast in the role of the funwrecker, the killjoy, the wittle snowfwake who can’t take some teasing. Now we have two choices: grin and bear it as we get roasted, or complain and get hit even harder.
It’s a lose/lose scenario and one that acts like sandpaper on the soul. It may not seem like much at any one time, but it grinds you down bit by bit.
This is what you’re doing to your friend. You have been sanding away at her self-esteem, her self-image, even her ability to relax and enjoy herself among her friends. When she wants to see her friends, she has to stay braced for every second that she’s there, wondering what you’re going to throw at her, how much it’s going to hurt and just how much her friends are either going to laugh at her or cringe with her.
And then there’s that last little bit about “the line you haven’t crossed… yet”. She knows that line is there. She knows that you know that line is there. And you and she both know that it’s just a matter of time until you say the words. This is what she lives with every. SINGLE. TIME. she’s out with her friends.
So y’know. Congratulations on not being as big of an assh
e as you could be? I guess?
Here’s the thing: the WHY you’re doing this crap isn’t as important as you KNOW this hurts her and you do it anyway. Is it because you’re trying to get the approval of your friends and the easy laugh and you’ve chosen the only target you know isn’t going to hit you back? Is it because you have a crush on her and instead of trying to handle it like a goddamn adult, you revert to this kindergarten “pull-her-pigtails” crap? Ultimately, your reasons for it don’t matter. Your intent isn’t magic, nor does it excuse the choice. And this is a choice that you make. It isn’t a neurological issue that forces you to say things that you don’t actually mean. You’re not under a psychological compulsion to insult her that you’re powerless to resist. Every single time you make those comments or make those jokes you are making a choice to hurt her.
And to be perfectly blunt, you’re not winning any points for asking for me to be harsh. This is the same performative self-flagellation bulls
t that guys pull all THE GODDAMN TIME. This isn’t “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”, it’s “look at how much I’m suffering, I’m punishing myself, I’m hurting myself because I suck so much”. It’s a performance of penance that isn’t to demonstrate how sorry you are but shifts the burden from you to the girl that you’ve been torturing with your jokey-jokes by doing it visibly and publicly. It carries the message of “you can’t e mad at me now, look at how much I’m suffering over this” that shifts the burden of the apology from you to her. Now there’s the social pressure for her to forgive you because look at how so very very sorry you are.
You already know what you need to do. You said so in your own letter. The fact that you haven’t apologized to her already – in private, demonstrating you understand why what you did is wrong and with the full understanding that she’s under no obligation to forgive you – is damning. So too is the fact that you haven’t chosen to stop. You’re waiting for me to provide your penance in hopes that you won’t suffer worse and more meaningful consequences from her.
You don’t need explanations as to why you’re doing this. You don’t need a 10 step recovery plan. You need to apologize to her. And you need to choose to stop.
The rest is up to her.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a situation that I don’t think I’ve seen discussed here and my friends don’t seem to know what I should do either.
Here are the base stats. I’m 31. I’ve had exactly one girlfriend who broke up with me after 3 months. Since then I’ve successfully hooked up twice and that is literally the full extent of my dating history.
I’ve been trying online dating for about 8 months with little success. The thing is, I had a vasectomy and have no intention of reversing it, I don’t want to get married and I don’t want to ever move in with anyone I’m dating. I don’t want kids and I also don’t like the idea of getting screwed over financially or having to constantly account for my whereabouts. I still want to have a long term relationship but most women my age don’t appear to be looking for the kind of setup I’d like. Just by selecting for women who don’t want kids narrows my online dating pool into the single digits for my area and most of their profiles don’t appeal to me. Women who are still open to shopping around so to speak seem to be much younger than I’m comfortable with.
Maybe I’m just not cut out for relationships and what I want just isn’t out there. I’d be fine with that if I could say for sure or at least have some idea of what my odds are.
Is trying to find this a fool’s errand or is there something else I can do to better find something suitable?
Forever (Living) Alone
DEAR FOREVER (LIVING) ALONE: The number of women who are opting to not have children – not “can’t”, but “won’t” – is increasing, just as the birthrate in America is declining. So the odds of finding women who aren’t interested in procreating are fairly decent and improving on a monthly basis. That’s not going to be the issue you think it is.
You’re going to have a harder time, however, finding someone who’s up for the kind of relationship you want. While there are people out there who are ok with a long-term relationship that isn’t leading toward marriage and there are people who prefer relationships where they both maintain separate residences, trying to find all three is going to be a challenge. You have two choices: you can either relax your standards and be willing to be flexible and thus widen your pool of potential partners, or you can accept that what you want is going to severely limit the number of compatible matches.
Now that having been said, you might be able to thread this particular needle by looking for a long-distance relationship. By expanding your search parameters and looking further and further afield, you might be able to finesse the kind of relationship you want by dating someone in another city or state. This has the benefit of both expanding your dating pool and increasing the odds of dating someone who doesn’t expect you to move in. Living in a different city, after all, makes it hard to cohabitate. But even then, the odds are that you’ll still have to be flexible on what you want; a long-distance relationship with no end-point isn’t likely to be a long-term one.
But to be perfectly honest, even if you find that okapi1, I don’t think you’re going to be finding the non-connubial bliss you’re looking for. You seem to have a very odd, even Red-Pill-tinged idea about how relationships work. Most relationships aren’t like being on parole, where you have to check in with your PO regularly. In fact, the strongest relationships are the ones where both partners not only maintain their independence but also have active lives outside of each other. Someone who expects you to constantly check in with them is, as a general rule, someone you don’t want to be in a relationship with in the first place.
Nor, for that matter, are you destined to get “screwed over financially”. It makes for great MRA talking points and swear-y rants on Twitter and Reddit, but this is not only unlikely but also avoidable. Beyond not dating someone who’s looking for Mr. Goodbar – which is easier than it sounds, especially if you’re not rolling in dough yourself – you can protect yourself financially. Simple things like “not commingling assets” and even writing out a financial plan – think of it as a prenup, without the nup – help keep a clear line between between “your assets” and “their assets”. If you’re especially worried, talk to a lawyer and keep strict records of who pays for what out of which account, making sure that you don’t cross the streams.
But a better option would be to talk with someone about these beliefs and anxieties. I’m not sure what you’re basing these negative expectations on, but it sure as hell isn’t an extensive dating history. The less you’re constantly on the defensive against some Reddit boogieman and more able to engage with women on an individual level, the better able you’ll be to find someone who may check all the boxes on your particular list of must-haves. If you even decide to keep them.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)