DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: First of all, thank you for all your work, it’s really interesting and I’ve been kind of addicted to reading your articles since I found out about them!
I’m a 21 year old Computer Science student from Portugal and I don’t really have a specific question, but my romantic and sex life is pretty null right now, so I tought you could help.
I had my first relationship at my senior year at high-school four years ago and we broke up two years ago, and ever since, I haven’t had any romantic or physical connection with a woman. I still don’t know how it happened, because all the effort of how we got together was made by her, and now I feel like I don’t have any experience in charming a girl. I’m a very social anxious guy and I suffered a lot of rejections meanwhile and I hardly get any dates. I think this is because I can never keep it cool.
Every time I actually engage in an interesting conversation, I end up too attached to the girl to the point of always wanting to start a conversation whenever I’m bored or needy. I also tend to shift the conversation very quickly to be about feelings and personal stuff. This can cause them to see me only as a friend or even worse, stop talking to me, because I was creepy or needy. Either way, I never feel any signs of attraction and this is deepening the problem. This usually leads to me just being straight forward with them and getting rejected every single time. It’s hard for me to find a reason to why I feel like this with women, I consider myself a well rounded person, with hobbies, friends, etc…
Thanks for your time!
DEAR ANXIOUS ANONYMOUS: You have a very common problem, AA, but not quite in the way that you think. Yeah, that anxiety attack you have causes you to lose your cool, but that’s more of a symptom than a cause.
The issue is two-fold. The first is that you – like most socially anxious, awkward people – are empathic. In fact, you’re a little too empathic. You – like your socially anxious brothers and sisters – get really, reallyworried about what people are thinking, if you’re bothering them, etc. On the one hand, this is noble and considerate of you. On the other hand, it gets very awkward for everyone involved because now you’re radiating anxiety in every direction and people pick up on that. You’re busy imagining all those worst-case scenarios that start with your saying “hi” and end up with your face plastered all over social media with an alert about how you’re the creepiest creeper ever to creep.
The other issue is that you’re putting way too much importance on the woman you’re talking to. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m sure she’s amazing. However, she’s not the only amazing woman out there. Hell, she’s probably not the only amazing woman within a 500 ft radius of you. The problem is that you’re treating her as though she were the only chance you have to find a relationship for the remainder of your life. As a result: you get caught up in a cycle where you seriously over-invest in them – both for representing your Last Chance Ever but also for the validation they give you.
So what do you do?
Well to start with, you’re going to learn to calm yourself down in the moment. As I’ve said before: your brain takes it’s cues from your body. If you keep control of your body, you can control your mind. So the first thing you want to do is practice breathing techniques. When you’re feeling anxious, focus on your breath. Breath in slowly, to the count of four. Hold it for the count of three. Then breathe out again for another count of four. Repeat this over and over – just breathing in, holding it, and breathing out again. This will help slow down your nervous system and lower your heart rate; that, in turn, will help you calm down. You may worry that this may make you seem distracted or keep you from responding as quickly as you might feel like you should. It will – it takes practice until you can do this without having to concentrate – but this is actually a bonus. Forcing you to take your time means that you won’t just blurt out whatever comes to mind or make sudden and awkward conversational transitions. Taking time to pause before replying to what the other person has said will also have the bonus of making you seem more considerate and charismatic; you’ll come across as taking time to really think about what they said instead of just waiting for your turn to talk.
But that’s just the physical issues. You also need to work on the mental and emotional side of the issue. And the way you do that is simple: you have to start practicing being outcome independent. Part of why you get so anxious and lose your cool is because you treat each conversation as a sudden-death quicktime event, where if you don’t do everything perfectly, everything in your life will come crashing down around you. As a result: everything is huge. It is vital. You are on the cusp of ruining it all!
So instead of trying to impress this person or win them over, you’re going to take dating or attraction off the table. Your only concern is just having a fun conversation. That’s it. You don’t need to impress them. You don’t need them to like you for more than just the span of 10 to 15 minutes or so. Did you have fun talking to them? Did they have fun talking to you? Cool, mission accomplished. You can walk away with your head held high.
Learning to become outcome independent and letting a conversation just be a conversation is important because it turns off that fear of failure and any catastrophe that may come with it. By getting in the habit of just relaxing and enjoying a conversation, things will flow more effortlessly. You won’t be as worried about impressing her because you’ll be able to focus on just connecting with her as a person. You won’t be as panicked because the worst that happens is that you excuse yourself and move on; all that you’ve lost was 15 minutes that you would’ve otherwise spent browsing Reddit or Facebook or what-have-you.
So learn to calm yourself down and just let things be what they are. Don’t get hung up on needing everyone to like you or to impress every person you meet. Enjoy some pleasant conversation, maybe make a new friend or two and just let things be. This will help that well-rounded, appealing person in you to shine forth.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So there’s this girl I’ve known for about 2 months, but have been talking to daily for over a month. The first date we went on, she asked me out.
We haven’t seen each other for over a month, because I’m a homebody and haven’t gotten around to thinking of a good date to go on with her. We still talk pretty much every day, and she even initiates conversations a lot of the time.
This past Friday, I messaged her on Facebook asking her what she was doing after work tonight. She said a friend of her’s was picking her up. I told her that I wanted to hang out with her because it’s been a while. She then replies back saying that she doesn’t know what she was going to get into with said friend, and would let me know. We kept on talking Friday night until her friend picked her up. She randomly messaged me at 3AM Saturday morning saying “My phone died.” I replied later that afternoon saying “That sucks. What are you up to?” – She didn’t reply until SUNDAY saying “Just working, what about you?”. I replied back saying “Same here. Working on this project.” Then I never got a response.
I really do like her. I felt like I could have put in more effort to hang out with her. It wasn’t like I was blowing her off, I was still talking to her, I just never really got around to asking her out. Well, I did invite her to a social group event Friday before last, that she said yes to, but that event had to cancel.
What’s strange is we were talking a lot up until this past weekend, now I feel like she completely wrote me off and I don’t know why. I really do like her, and I’d like to at least attempt to salvage what is left.
Initiate Recovery Mode
DEAR INITIATE RECOVERY MODE: Ok, couple of things.
First of all, for future reference: you don’t need to put a lot of effort into putting together “good dates”. Most dates are fairly simple affairs – you’re going and doing things that are fun together. Maybe that’s going to the zoo. Maybe that’s getting coffee and playing board games. Maybe it’s playing pool or seeing a comedy show or racing go-karts. Maybe it’s just a walk on a gorgeous day. Don’t let trying to find something “perfect” become the enemy of the “pretty good”.
Now as for what’s going on:
She’s not that interested in you, romantically. She clearly still digs you as a friend – and that speaks volumes to your connection together – but at the moment she’s not feeling it when it comes to going on a date. You can see it pretty clearly in her responses to you. As a general rule, when people are interested in someone, we tend to make definite plans with them. If we already have plans for a specific day, we’ll tend to try to find another time when we can get together. A “Well, I’ll have plans but we’ll see” is a pretty textbook example of a “soft no”; it’s a way of saying “nah, thanks” without being direct and risking hurting the other person’s feelings.
(It also doesn’t help when, during a conversation, you don’t give the other person anything to work with. “Same here, working on a project” doesn’t really spur a response, especially if the other person isn’t really motivated to keep up her end of things. Even a little humorous exaggeration -“trying to keep myself from dying of boredom as I pound this project into shape” – is more likely to prompt a response.)
The why of it is harder to discern. It certainly doesn’t help that you never asked her out on a second date; to most people, never suggesting another date is a pretty good indication that no, you’re not interested. As a result, she may well have assumed that you didn’t like her enough to ask her out again and ratcheted her interest down to “friend” instead of “potential snuggle-bunny”.
It could also be that she just wasn’t feeling it after the first date, so she wasn’t going to pound on your metaphorical door for a second.
Now, the question remains: can you salvage things with her?
Well… you can try. At this point, it’s more of a Hail Mary pass, than anything else; you’ll basically be throwing something out there against the odds and hoping that you’ll get lucky. Making it clear that you want to go on a date – not “hanging out” or “getting together” but a date – might make her realize that you’re actually interested in her. You might even explain that you took so long in getting back to her because you were trying to come up with a “good” date and just kind of got hung up on ideas instead of just asking her out.
But like I said: you’re probably just out of luck here. In the long run, it’s a better bet to chalk this up to a learning experience and not make the same mistakes next time.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)