DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: 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 BS bro-science stuff from my idiot bro friends.
Insert Foot (a) Into Mouth Slot (b)
DEAR INSERT FOOT (A) INTO MOUTH (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.
All of these strategies work about as well as you might expect. Which is to say, about as well as a Change.org petition to demand that Disney reverse The Last Jedi and tell the story right this time. What they often WILL do is torpedo your relationship like the Lusitania.
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 feelings dump 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 clearly 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
DEAR 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.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)