Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

I’m Tired of One Night Stands. How Do I Start Finding Relationships?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: 3 and a half years ago, I used to suck at relationships. I was not the nicest person to be around, being selfish, entitled, needy… the whole package. My relationships, if any, never lasted more than 3 months and almost always ended up in the other person ghosting me, and since I apparently never got the message, breaking up in the worst terms possible. So I got coaching. Yes, this did terrible things to my life, but that’s another topic.

Anyway. after this coaching thing was over I met who I then thought was the perfect woman. She made me want to feel better, she was always fun to hang with, I never was tired when she was around, she had a crazy sex drive (which meant we almost never slept), she got me into art and movies, she wasn’t afraid of calling me sexy and hot, something that had never happened to me before… it was a wonderful year.

But then things changed for both of us. She started her own business and I was jobless, so seeing each other was hard. I had no reliable source of income, so I couldn’t afford the 2-and-a-half hours ride to her place that often, and she suddenly had way less time for me since she had to devote everything to other things. She ended things up, seeing how it was complicated to make it work.

And I fell hard.

I had to go to therapy. I cried many nights. I gained a lot of weight. I sabotaged a couple of relationships after her, just because they weren’t her.

Eventually, things got a bit better. I now know that what I longed for (still do, sometimes) was the “her” of that time, that was so compatible with the “me” back then. And we’re not the same persons we were.

But since being lonely after getting used to having sex almost everywhere, every day, is not a nice feeling, I somehow got good at the “one night stands” game. It’s not hard for me to get someone to spend the night with, but it always ends there. No second dates, no “stay for breakfast”… nothing. And I’m beginning to fear that I’m too afraid to open up again, just because nobody can measure up to the one relationship I had that did not suck. So, is there anything I can do? Am I past the point of no return? In other words, how do I get a relationship?

Thanks in advance.

Stray Cat Strut

DEAR STRAY CAT STRUT: There are a couple things to think about here, SCS.

The first is that you’re creating an artificial divide between one-night stands and potential relationships. I can’t count the number of people I know — both in my personal life and clients that I’ve worked with — who’s long-term relationships started off as one-night stands that just… didn’t end, really. The skills that help you find someone who is interested in a casual hook-up are the same skills that help you find someone who wants things that are more committed and more long-term. The only real difference is in how you apply them.

In fact, as odd as it may sound, the bigger issue people have is keeping things casual; more people try to create and maintain a casual, no-strings attached relationship and find themselves catching feelings by mistake.

So it’s not as though you can’t make the leap, if that’s what you want.

On a purely skill-based, mechanical level, making the transition from “casual” to “committed” depends on the expectations you set and the way you behave with your partners. One of the reasons why one-night stands tend to stay one-night stands is because the people involved aren’t that invested in the person they’re sleeping with. It’s less about connecting with a person and more about getting their rocks off, which means that they come to it treating the other person like a human-shaped masturbation toy. Focusing on connecting,  treating your partner like a person with needs and desires from the get-go and getting to know them on more than a “let’s make squishy-noises” level all help make the leap from “Ok this was nice now get out” to “You know, I might like to see you again.”

Problem is, more people tend to just get off, wipe their metaphorical dick on the curtains and head out the door before the sweat’s started to dry. Small wonder a lot of folks either don’t like one-night stands or aren’t interested in seeing the other person again.

But I think the bigger issue for you is who you’re pursuing. I’m wondering if you’re actually interested in the people you’re sleeping with for more than just sex. It sounds to me like you’re not actively looking for someone who might be as awesome as your ex; you may have decided there’s no point, so why bother trying. And that could be equal parts Oneitis and feeling like you don’t deserve someone as good.

And if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m wondering if all those one-night stands are part of why you feel like you couldn’t find someone like her again. That you’re “not good enough” to date, so you only let yourself look for quickies instead… and since you’re the sort of person who only gets one-night stands, you’re not “worthy” of getting a “real” relationship.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been where you are. There was a point where I thought I had the perfect girlfriend, the perfect job and the perfect life. And then in short order, I got fired from the perfect job and dumped by my perfect girlfriend. And while it sucked worse than anything had sucked before… when I gave myself time to heal and recover and get some perspective, I realized just how wrong I was. The job wasn’t actually right for me — it was what I thought I wanted, but not something I actually enjoyed or found fulfilling. My “perfect” girlfriend was a great person — and we’re still friends today — but the relationship wasn’t one that actually met my needs; in fact, I was always terrified about it all falling apart. I wasn’t in the right place to be dating at all, never mind her.

With time, experience and distance, not only was I able to come to terms with all of this, but I started getting to know myself better. And despite losing all those “perfect” parts of my life… I was able to find a new career and new relationships that were actually right for me.

But a lot of it involved my being willing to forgive myself for “losing” all of that.

I think that’s what you need more than anything else. You need to forgive yourself for not being able to hold onto that “perfect” relationship, for the mess you found yourself in afterwards and the strings of hook-ups you’ve had since. Your relationship with your ex didn’t fail; it simply reached it’s natural end-point and you had to move on to the next stage of your story. And while she was amazing and you had some great times… there are many, many women out there who are just as amazing, and who are right for who you are now.

The key is that you have to be willing to give yourself permission to find them.

You don’t need to change up your game, as it were; you just need to start changing how you play it. You have the skills to find your next adventure; you just have to apply them differently. Instead of looking for folks who are just up for sex that night, prioritize meeting people who are just awesome. People who yeah, may be down to bang… but people you’d want to see again. And when you do find them… focus on connecting and commonalities more than the sex. The more you can build that sense of connection, the more likely it’ll be that hooking up that night will lead to breakfast the next day… and then dinner the following night.

You’ll find someone just as great as your ex. You just have to let yourself be open to it.

Good luck.

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