Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Stop Feeling Awkward Around My Boyfriend’s Friends?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a woman dating a man, I need help and you seem to be good at this stuff.

For context: I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and a half now, we’ve met each others families and some friends before and we’re the process of moving in together. So far so good. He moved in already but for reasons (long story) I can’t do it properly right now but I’m staying with him this week.

Last night two of his tight knit group of friends came over for beers, including one friend I hadn’t seen before. I stayed in the other room, working on a project, while they were cooking. I was giving them time for themselves, but the plan was that I would join them to eat. Anyway, once I did join I don’t think any of them said anything to me for maybe 3 hours, one of them asked if I also cook once and that’s it.

They spent almost the entire time talking about an online game they play, Dungeons and Dragons, and statistics. I don’t play any of those, nor am I at the level of math to be apart of that conversation, but my boyfriend is the DM and I usually enjoy hearing  about the adventures he’s planning. I work with theatre sometimes, and am a big film buff so stories is a common interest for us I guess. But with his friends I just sat there, feeling dumb and weird. I tried to chime in the few minutes the topic was politics or pets but couldn’t really get through and I gave up. It was horrible and I don’t know how to handle these kinds of situations in the future.

It feels sad if I have to just plan on never being home when his friends are coming over.  It’s not like I disliked them, I just don’t know what to do or say. I’m not super socially savvy, and it’s not that I don’t understand having specific interests and wanting to talk about them. I have my geeky interests too, like the Whedonverse and Doctor Who and silent films and some historic textile things they wouldn’t know or care about probably. I just don’t want to just sit there like a piece of furniture while they talk. One of them lives super close too and I think my boyfriend wants us to have like double dates with him and his wife. Judging from tonight, I’m afraid it’ll be the guys talking all night and expecting us women to bond with each other, because we’re both women I guess. And that dynamic is such a crappy thing. Maybe she’s awesome but I just feel super weird about it now.

Any tips on what to do?

Left Out In The Cold

DEAR LEFT OUT IN THE COLD: There’re few feelings more awkward and uncomfortable when you’re with your partner’s friends and you’re quickly realizing that you have virtually nothing in common with them. That sense of awkward silence and desperately wanting to flail around until you find some common ground leaves you wishing that you could drop a smoke bomb and ninja-vanish out the window.

But one uncomfortable evening doesn’t necessarily mean this is your future from now on, nor does it mean that you’ll have to dip out everytime your boyfriend has his buddies over. And, honestly, it sounds like you’re reacting in part to facts that aren’t in evidence yet. You’re working under the assumption that his friends couldn’t possibly think that Doctor Who or Firefly are interesting, despite there being a rather staggeringly large crossover between those fandoms. Similarly, you seem to be anticipating your boyfriend looking for double dates with his friend and his wife and the expectation that you and she will bond because hey, you’re both women, right? But right now that sounds more like a reaction to an (understandably) uncomfortable evening, not some destiny that’s already been carved into stone.

Let’s start with his friends. I doubt that you were the only person sitting there feeling weird and uncomfortable. I imagine they felt a little strange trying to connect with you as well, but with three folks who are in the same campaign or on the same server… well, it’s not unexpected that they’re going to fall to talking shop and not realize that they’ve left you sitting there with a very visible question mark hanging over your head. It’s inconsiderate, don’t get me wrong, just not unheard of, especially in nerd circles. This was also the first time you’ve met at least one of them, which adds its’ own layer of “don’t know you/not quite comfortable yet” which can add to the awkwardness. It’s also not impossible that they’re a little on the oblivious side themselves and aren’t sure how to connect with you.

The x-factor here could well be the number, not the friends. Having all three of them together can create a different vibe than if it were just you, your boyfriend and one of them. In that case, it may be much easier to talk to him and get to know him without feeling like you’re getting left behind by the conversation. And — assuming that the theoretical double date does come to pass — the dynamic of two women and two guys can change things as well; the odds that it’s just going to be guys talking about their geeky stuff and you and the wife talking about your geeky stuff is… relatively low. More often than not, the conversation tends to be more all-encompassing and less likely to leave people feeling excluded.

At the same time: don’t assume that they couldn’t like what you’re into. It may not be a 1-to-1 ratio of “yes, they ALSO like Buffy and Angel”, but just as you may not be into D&D but enjoy the storytelling aspect of it, they may well dig on some aspects of your geeky passions. Hell, some of the aspects of historic textile work may well be right up their alley, especially if any of it touches on the eras that D&D borrows from rather liberally.

(And hey, you could always check out Critical Role for the storytelling, as well as a way of connecting with them. Or just because it’s fun. I don’t really have a point here, I just really need to get caught up on the Mighty Nein. I’m so damn behind on the podcast…)

The other thing to do is mention this to your boyfriend. You don’t need to say “hey, make sure your friends include me in the conversation” or “could you talk about things BESIDES gaming?” but giving him a heads up that you felt a little shut out when the guys were over the other night might spur him to realize that you were being left out. If he realizes that you’re feeling a little alienated by the conversation, he can help steer things towards topics that you could take part in as well. It’s the considerate thing for him to do, especially if you’re feeling uncomfortable or awkward about things. He could also help by taking a moment in the conversation to give you a quick refresher or idea about what they’re talking about so you can at least partially follow along… even if you don’t get all the nuances of it all.

But again: I think you’re drawing a lot of conclusions off one awkward interaction. And yeah, it was a little uncomfortable, but I don’t think they’re doomed to be that way. Give them (and yourself) a little time to warm up to each other, see how they are under different circumstances and give them a chance to hear about some of the stuff you enjoy. They don’t have to be your new BFF’s, but you don’t need to feel awkward around them, or like you have to avoid them entirely.

Good luck.

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