Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Stay Social During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: First off, thanks for the great work you do! Without you, nerds would probably be a dying breed.

I’m a 37 year old cis man, who recently turned his life around. I have a mild form of autism and have never been very outgoing or socially savvy. After briefly living on my own during college, I moved back in with my parents. I was bullied at school when I was young, and I think this left deep scars, I have always had feelings inferiority somehow.

I led a mostly solitary life with few friends (with my circle of friends dwindling as the years went by) and no hobbies to speak of besides tinkering on my computer and the usual things like watching movies and series. I’d never even so much as kissed a girl. Expressing my interest in a girl was something I thought was scary as hell. In retrospect, there had been a few opportunities but I was either too scared to act on them, or too oblivious to even RECOGNISE them. All in all, I was a lonely virgin loser. All the while I was employed and saved quite a bit of money. I wasn’t overweight, had decent personal hygiene and dressed fairly well. I’m also highly intelligent. This made no sense to me at all and I felt rather raw about it. In retrospect it’s obvious: if you keep to yourself, you won’t find a partner. As I grew older, I often despaired that I would die alone and unloved, and I spent way too much time feeling sorry for myself. I think I might have been depressed without realising it… 

Then one day, I got a colleague who acted friendly towards me. This made me realise that I could actually MAYBE get a girlfriend. I decided I wanted to attract her, but I was completely out of my depth and totally blew it due to my fear, neediness and overall lack of experience. I couldn’t even get her on a date.

It took a year to get over her, or rather the sting of not being able to attract her. However, this colleague was the kick in the ass that I needed to improve my life. I bought a house of my own, started working out, took up meditation and martial arts, and read a lot about “game” and body language. I stopped watching porn cold turkey. Occasionally I’ve attended Meetup groups. I started seeing a psychologist to help me work on understanding how attraction and social relations work, and try to improve my life overall. People noticed and said they don’t recognise me anymore (in a good way).

I’ve stepped way out of my comfort zone and tried cold approach through day game a few times. Overall, I found it pretty grueling. Nine times out of ten, the reactions are positive but I’ve noticed that most of the women I seem to like are already taken. The few numbers of single women I got never got back to me. It seems like a lot of effort for very little gain. But the idea does appeal to me, the fantasy of becoming a player and beating the odds. But deep down I really just want to find one woman who likes me for me and lead a quiet life. I went on a handful of blind dates through a local agency which organizes these, none of which went anywhere, and also one through a friend. To be honest, I didn’t feel anything at all for most of these women.

But I’m super proud that I finally had sex for the first time last year, which I had not expected ever to happen anymore! This was with a woman from my martial arts class. She was married, and it only lasted a few months. To be honest I did not find her beautiful at all, but she was very much into me. She was truly amazed and honored that I would consider loving her, and she always initiated sex a few minutes after meeting up with me, which I found incredibly hot. I think she saw me as the hottest guy she’s ever known. This has restored some of my fragile self esteem.

But then COVID-19 hit, and I feel like I am back to where I was two years ago, with almost no social contact because everything has shut down. I can’t go to martial arts class or meetups anymore and I feel myself falling back on old patterns and thoughts. It looks like the lockdown will last at least until September in my country, by which time I’ll probably have lost all my gains so far if I can’t practice my social skills and do things that bring me joy. I can literally feel myself backsliding.

I thought about trying day game again, but I decided against it because of social distancing (but it might also be an excuse I tell myself to chicken out). How could one attract a woman now without even being able to offer a basic hand shake? Also, dating is hard with all the social gatherings being closed off. Walking in the park is something you can only do so often before it gets old, and inviting a woman over to come cook with you might be too eager if you do it too soon. I find remote conversations impersonal and you can’t have any physical intimacy this way either (and my soul aches for more sexual experiences).

So, to sum up: how can I regain my momentum and avoid sliding back into a depression? I’m again starting to believe that there’s no hope and I loathe the idea of going back after this hard-won victory.

All the best,

Stuck in Neutral

DEAR STUCK IN NEUTRAL: To start with SIN, congratulations on the progress you’ve been making. You’ve come a long way and you should be proud of everything you’ve achieved.

Now with that having been said: I worry that you may have taken some of the wrong lessons from your experiences thus far. One of the mistakes a lot of folks make — especially folks who are just starting to get some social success — is that you’re starting to be results oriented. Case in point: the way hooking up with the woman from your martial arts class makes you feel like a million bucks… but without further results, you’re starting to feel like you’re worthless again.

The thing is: you can’t rely on other people for your validation. One of the hardest lessons to learn when it comes to getting better with women — or just improving socially at all — is that your value comes from within. It doesn’t come from the people who think you’re hot, it doesn’t come from the people you’re hooking up with, nor does it come from your job, your car or other external sources. It has to come from recognizing and believing in your own worth. Otherwise you end up giving up your locus of control and letting other people dictate how you feel. After all: even the most skilled seducers don’t go 5 for 5; there will always be people who aren’t going to dig you no matter what. And the thing is: those reasons often have nothing to do with you. Letting those moments wreck your flow will set you back far further than the COVID-19 pandemic. Your successes and your progress are still there, even when you’re having to self-isolate. You’re not losing points just because you can’t go out (and there’s nowhere to go, even if you did). Your achievements are still there. Your value is still there. You’re just having to press pause on certain aspects of your life, same as the rest of us.

But the fact that we all have to stay home and continue flattening the curve doesn’t mean that you can’t be social or work on meeting new and awesome people. Despite the fact that we’re all in isolation, people are still meeting, dating, falling in love and, yes, having sex.  The key is that you’re going to have to accept the current limitations and think outside the box.

The most obvious thing you can do is start hitting the dating apps. The desire to meet and connect is still strong, even in the most trying times… in fact, in many cases, it’s even stronger. Eros and Thanatos go hand in hand after all; many people react to stress and the fear of sickness and death by wanting to reaffirm life in the most obvious and immediate way possible. And in its way, this works to your advantage. Since we can’t go out and hook up, we have to date with intention. We have to put the effort in and rely on our social skills, our wit, charm and charisma to connect with folks. We’re in an era where courtship reigns because hey, we can’t just hit up the bars and hope to run into someone with an itch that needs to be scratched.

This means you have many, many opportunities to keep developing your skills, even as you try to make connections that will last well past the quarantine and into the new, post-COVID world.

You can keep your social skills sharp in other ways as well. Since we can’t gather in person, now’s the time to get your friends together for some virtual social gatherings. Organizing and scheduling regular get-togethers means that you don’t have to let your social skills get rusty. You can also join virtual MeetUps; more and more groups are having Zoom events and finding ways to make things work in video conference software instead of in person. Arranging and orchestrating these events have positive effects on your social life over all. To start with, it helps you keep and maintain those social networks you’ve spent so much time building up. But just as importantly: they give you things to invite potential partners to take part in, which lets you show off just a little as the guy who makes the cool s

t happen. And once you get used to making these events happen online, it doesn’t take much to make them happen in the physical world too. In fact, being the organizer who gets your friends together for a barbecue, a NERF war in the park, even just out doing cool things once we’re all allowed out and about again will help make you a more interesting and desirable potential partner to the folks you’ve been flirting with on Tinder and Hinge.

But — and I hate to say it — it’s going to have to be over the Internet for a while. Unfortunately, the risks to you and others are just too high to try going out to meet new people. Without widespread, regular testing, it’s impossible to know who’s been exposed, who’s a carrier and who’s infected but asymptomatic. And without a vaccine… well, even if you catch a minor case, other people are still at risk. For now, hooking up or sleeping with folks we’re not currently quarantined with is just too risky. Sorry. It sucks, I know, but it’s the sacrifice we’re all having to make.

However, the fact your interactions aren’t in person doesn’t make them any less valid or useful. Talking to people via Skype is still talking to people. Flirting over FaceTime is still flirting. Telling jokes in your Zoom meeting stretches the same social muscles. And don’t underestimate the potential hotness that can come from a horny Skype session with a new partner or the thrill of sexting with someone you’re getting close to. Some dirty talk, some racy photos back and forth over Snapchat, even some cam sessions together on Skype (maybe with the help of some toys from Tenga or Fleshlight) can be incredibly satisfying… and keep both of you ready for the moment the quarantine is over.

It’s not what you’d prefer, no. I get that. But part of life is rolling with the punches and adapting to what it throws at us. This is just another challenge in your journey. It’s up to you to decide whether this is going to be the thing that throws you back or if you’re ready to level up to meet it.

Good luck.

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