Ask Dr. Nerdlove

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Since I graduated high school I came into my looks and as a result during college. I was quite popular with women even though I was really shy, however after college I started to bald severely nearly losing all the hair on the top of my head, gained some weight from 145-175 at 5’10 which gave me a gut and also started receiving wrinkles on my forehead and under my eyes. During this time period of about 2 years I went from getting constant attention to being practically invisible.

I can understand this because people have standards and what they define as attractive, however a lot of the time if I so much as made eye contact with a woman even on accident I would get nothing but the coldest stares back at me.

Sometimes I would even overhear them talk to their friends about that ‘creepy guy’ referring to me as there was no one else there that it could be. Now however I have been working out and getting in good shape, have had a lot of my hair restored through medication and have gotten rid of the wrinkles through a skin care regiment. As a result I seem to have gotten a lot of attention and just treated better overall from people. If I make eye contact now for example I get nothing but smiles so it is a bit embittering.

I would like advice on how to not let that get to me as I feel a tad bitter over the fact that I was treated so harshly and now that I have improved myself I am all of the sudden good enough for them. It definitely has created trust issues for me and not wanting to truly put myself out there seeing how shallow individuals can be.

– Second Time Around

DEAR SECOND TIME AROUND: There’s a phrase from Hamlet that I like: “There is nothing either good or bad but that thinking makes it so”.  Your circumstances haven’t changed so much as your perception of them have.

There’s a tendency for people who come into their own later than others to feel as though they’ve finally gotten their due. After years or even decades of being awkward/ignored/ugly/whatever, they’ve finally gotten what they feel they deserve. The problem is that in a lot of ways it’s not that they’ve actually changed so much as gotten their hands on Dumbo’s magic feather. It’s less that they’ve been changed so much as they’ve changed the way they feel about themselves. That change in their self-perception affects how they act and – importantly – how they choose to see the world. As cliche as it was, the power was in them the whole time.

That’s in no small part what happened to you. You came into your looks later and celebrated it… but then this one thing changed and suddenly your whole life did too. This was in no small part because how you saw yourself changed.

Bald guys, after all, do get dates and girlfriends. So do chubby guys. So too do guys with wrinkles. But you felt as though you’d become ugly and undesirable and so… you had.

Now don’t get me wrong: the frustration and emotional pain you felt was real. But what you perceivedfrom others… was less so. The thing you have to remember is that we are all unreliable narrators in our own lives. We filter our reality through the lens of our attitude and our expectations. When we think we’re too bald, too fat, too wrinkly for anyone to love us or find us attractive, we look for evidence that we’re right. And of course, we find it… whether it’s actually there or not. What we’re doing, more often than not, is a lot of mental story telling. We’re telling ourselves the story of what the other person is thinking when they look at us, even when we have no basis for it. Are they giving you cold stares because how dare Quasimodo think he has a chance with Esmerelda? Or are they dealing with things that has absolutely nothing to do with you and you just happen to be there?

The same with the whispered “what a creep” conversations. Did you actually hear your name or a description of you? Or did you hear them talking about a creepy guy and assume that they had to be talking about you because who else could it possibly be?

You went in expecting a negative response and you got one. And to be fair: there likely isn’t anything that people could say that you, in the mindset you had at that time, wouldn’t see as a negative response. Even someone being polite and positive would almost certainly have been interpreted as being pitying or a trick.

The thing to remember is: this filter works both ways. 

When you were feeling your best – then and now – you expected a more positive response from women and you were getting them. You paid attention to the responses you expected to see and disregarded the ones you didn’t. You were able to ignore negative responses from women because you were able to de-personalize it. Yeah, she may have looked right through you or rolled her eyes, but that had nothing to do with you…

The more you recognize how much our cognitive biases and our attitudes shape our lives, the more you can consciously use it. Choosing to be positive means that you’ll see more of what you hope for from others. Focusing on the things that make you feel good about yourself makes it easier to project that same good feeling onto others, which makes you feel more confident. Even when you don’t have the face of a model and the body of a Greek god, feeling like you’re the sexiest bastard and people dig you changes how you behave and how you see the world. So even when you don’t look the picture of perfection: treat yourself like you are. Dress sharp. Carry yourself with confidence. Pay attention to your grooming and your presentation.

These will all help maintain that “I’m sexy and I know it” attitude that in turn, will change how you see the world.

To be sure: there are shallow people in the world. There always will be. And I’m sure there were people who saw you and wondered how you had the balls to drag yourself out from under your bridge to inflict yourself on others. But not only are those people far less common than you’d think, those people are assholes. The last thing you need is to let the opinion of assholes define your worth or sense of self. The best thing you can do is simply disregard them. Let their glares and judgement slide off of you and resign them to the dustbin of irrelevancy.

There are amazing, caring and trustworthy people out there. You just have to let yourself see them.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a polyamorous hetero man. I have one partner that I’ve been with for a few years. We have a fantastic relationship.

I’ve also been trying to meet someone else in about that many years, but I’ve not been fruitful at all so far. “Date within your kind” they say, and so I agree that dating only poly people makes for less complications, but the community in my city (just like in almost all cities I bet) is still nascent, and so does not make for a very large pool of people. You can add that to the dozen poly people on OkCupid – not very good for an abundance mentality.

I’m quite open myself to date outside that circle, but that presents some issues: many people being closed to having anything to do with someone poly (especially someone with a partner – and that’s their choice even though it’s unfortunate); and the others, well, are harder to deal with. It’s kind of hard to come out to someone as poly, given that there’s no clear line when I should tell someone that I am (saying that out of the blue just after hi to anyone would be pretty weird and takes a lot of energy), and often it’s not something that comes up on the topic.

Emotionally it can be hard too as I’ve had the standard non-mono disclaimer on my Tinder profile, and it felt like girls were avoiding me like the pest. Add that to the remaining others who mostly treated me like garbage, and… yeah I’ve deleted the app.

That said, I’ve had a few short liaisons where I kept it to myself and it made me a little… uneasy, so I don’t necessarily like hiding things either. I don’t want the person to be losing their time if it’s a deal breaker either and since my partner and I are going to live together soon, that makes the logistics awkward.

My question is two-fold: how do I meet people who are compatible with me (either on the short or longer term), and how/when/to whom should I say I’m polyamorous? For instance, if I meet someone who’s down for something casual, how do I make that viable? What information do I owe the people that I meet? How do I make it easy on both myself and the person?

When Poly Means One

DEAR WHEN POLY MEANS ONE: Dating when you’re poly or even in an open relationship comes with its challenges, WPMO. Well… for men, anyway. Poly women have very different challenges, but they rarely involve the issue of potential suitors.

As you said: you’re limiting your dating pool. You’re filtering out all the people who prefer more common relationship styles. And while yes, it’s best to date within your tribe or species (i.e. people who’re already open to or familiar with polyamory) that can be a smaller pool of potential candidates.

(This, incidentally, is similar to a lot of the issues that comes with dating while being LGBTQ – the people who you’re compatible with is going to be a small percentage of the overall population.)

So what do you do?

Well, there’re a number of options. The first is to start looking towards partners who are already outside of the mainstream. Within the kink community, for example, people are more likely to have an understanding of how poly relationships work, which may mean they’re more open to dating someone who’s poly. This doesn’t mean treating Fetlife like OKCupid per-se, but getting to know people in your area can open up possibilities.

You’re also more likely to meet people who are up for non-traditional relationships in nerd settings. I can’t count the number of people I’ve met at cons who are either open, poly or cool with non-monongamous relationships. Geekery tends to go hand in hand with kink and non-traditional relationships.

When it comes to disclosure… well, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I’m a big believer in informed consent and letting people opt-in. However, this comes at a cost. Online dating, for example tends to make people a little less flexible; because we can pre-screen potential candidates (as it were) we tend to stick to what we think we want. We are less open to serendipity or discovering that maybe we’d be willing to give someone a shot even if they don’t line up perfectly to our checklists.

As a result, an argument can be made that not mentioning being poly in your dating profile is an allowable lie as long as disclosure comes sooner (i.e. before sex or commitment) rather than later. This lets a potential partner get to know you as you, not as the stereotype of WPMO-The-Polyamorous they may have in their head. And if you’re just meeting someone off Tinder for NSA sex… well, a lot of people may choose not ask or want to know in the first place.

But this approach comes with its own risks; many people will feel tricked and that’s going to really upset them. So you have to weigh the risk/reward ratio to this.

As a general rule, I’d disclose earlier rather than later; if not during the heavy flirting stage then definitely before pants start coming off.

Unfortunately there aren’t any easy answers, WPMO. The challenges in finding compatible partners is part of the price of entry when it comes to an open/polyamorous relationship, especially when it’s still in the early stages of cultural acceptance. There will have to be compromises to necessity; you may have to look further afield than normal and be open to something long-distance if you don’t have much luck in your area.

Regardless of the approach you take, you’re going to have to spend some time finding what best practices work for you, in your community.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com)

More like Ask Dr. Nerdlove