Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Get Over My Fear of Fixing Myself?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been following your page for a while now, at least sporadically and would at first like to thank you for the work you are doing to help others.

Unfortunately, I have utterly failed thus far at managing to fulfill any of your advice and after some introspection I believe the reason for that is that I am utterly terrified to look at my dating (nonexistent) dating life.

I am a 26 year old university student and a virgin. Never had sex, never been on a date, never kissed someone, never flirted with anyone. A lot of the time, even thinking about this can be paralyzing. Like, I have wasted an entire DECADE of my live and the decade other people use to explore themselves and their sexuality, that is supposed to function as the basis for following healthy relationships no less. It’s to the point where even thinking about it feels like staring into an abyss.

What is worse is the fact that it feels a lot like I am on a deadline. I will graduate med school in two years and then enter into an incredibly stressful and time intensive career. If I have already failed to solve my problems in university, with plenty of time and ease of social interactions, how can I possibly hope to have any success when trying to find relationships as a resident doctor with a 60 hour work week?

In addition, it often feels like my not really working on the problem is a way to give myself a cop-out. Like “yes you never had a relationship but you never REALLY tried”. Paradoxically, this KEEPS me from trying. Because the idea of a woman even being attracted to me is basically inconceivable to me. And if I DO try to work on myself and follow all the tips and nothing changes, I would have to admit that I really have lost too much time and just f

ked up my life.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Love,

Tried Nothing and All Out of Ideas

DEAR TRIED NOTHING AND ALL OUT OF IDEAS: This is a topic that comes up a lot, TNAOI: late bloomers who feel that they’ve missed some nebulous window of opportunity to cram in all of the education, experiences, adventures and other miscellania that they’re supposed to achieve in order to be awarded their Functioning Adult Certificate. And what’s kind of fascinating is how wide the range of ages can be; I’ve heard from teenagers as often as I’ve heard from literal 40-year old virgins, all of whom think that they missed their shot and now they’re afraid that there’s nothing left to be done.

What’s equally as fascinating is how many of them feel the way you do; they’ve done nothing to fix the problem and they’re fresh out of ideas. Worse, they’re actively afraid of trying to do better.

On its face, you’d think this was absurd. How could you possibly be afraid of… checking my notes here… making your life better? Oh no, I might have a robust social life full of friends and people who care about me! Can you imagine the terror of having a loving relationship and a satisfying life with a worthwhile career, engaging hobbies and physical fitness? The horror, the horror…

But in reality, that fear is very common and very understandable. One of the things that folks often don’t realize is that while the fear of rejection can be bad, the fear of success can almost be worse. Rejection, after all, means a return to the current status-quo. Yes, it’s painful… but it’s a familiar pain and one that just serves to reinforce the worldview you already have. The possibility of success, however, can often be almost pants-s

ttingly terrifying. Right now, the relationships you dream about are just that: dreams. They’re fantasies that you can control to the most minute detail. You know exactly how every second will go because it’s all in your head and you’re controlling the actions of everybody involved. That date, that kiss, that first time having sex can all be exactly as perfect as you want it to be. If you get rejected — or if you do nothing, for that matter — then nothing changes. Those fantasies stay fantasies and remain entirely under your control.

But if you were to try to realize those fantasies… well, now things are different. If you were to ask somebody out on a date and they said yes, now you have to actually go on that date. You’re in a place where you have no control, where mistakes are real and have consequences. And while rejection may sting and doing nothing may leave you feeling despair, at least you can cling to those fantasies. Dating someone in real world means facing the possibility of having hope and having it snatched away.

Worse: it means facing the possibility of being right: that you are a hopeless case and you’ve wasted all that time and there’s nothing left for you to do.

Thing is: all of that? It’s bulls

t. It’s just your jerkbrain dripping poison in your ear, telling you that you’re worthless and that there’s no hope for you. It’s your own mind playing tricks on you, repeating your worst fears to you in your own voice, so they feel so much more real.

Because here’s a truth: there is no window. There is no time limit. There’s no point in time when you were “supposed” to accomplish everything. The idea that there’s some Universal Standard Narrative that every guy, gal and non-binary pal is supposed to follow is beyond ridiculous, an artificial construct so flimsy that it falls apart if you so much as stare at it too hard. Everybody’s life is different, shaped by forces and circumstances that are entirely outside of anybody’s control, and as unique as a fingerprint. The young man from Kentucky who joins the military at age 18 is going to live an entirely different life than the young man in Surrey who had to drop out of high-school in order to help support his family. The child of privilege from Los Angeles is going to have an entirely different life than someone living in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro or in Harlem or Rotterdam. None of them are going to have the same experiences, the same social development or the same milestones. Trying to measure your life by somebody else’s is the definition of madness; you’ll make yourself miserable trying to contort yourself to fit into the silhouette of someone else’s existence.

Part of your issue is that you’re looking at all of this as “a problem to be solved” instead of “a life to be lived”. You don’t have a problem, you just have things you haven’t done. Some of them may have been left undone due to circumstance, some due to fear and some due to choice… but they’re just things you haven’t done yet. None of this is a puzzle or a dilemma so much as a call for action.

Take the idea that you had to have “solved this problem” by the time you leave university. Do you seriously believe that, as soon as you have your diploma in hand, you will be rendered incapable of learning? Do you honestly think that the moment you’ve left university that your brain has shut down and you’ll no longer be able to process new experiences, learn new skills, develop new habits? No, of course you don’t; the existence of literally every human on earth disproves that. So it’s not that you’re incapable of growing or changing.

But what about trying to do this when you’re doing your residency? Won’t that make things impossible? Hardly. Residents and interns make friends. Residents and interns date. They have relationships, they have sex, they have social lives. It can be difficult — free time comes at a premium under the best of circumstances in the early days of being a medical professional, and you’re about to graduate as a doctor during one of the worst pandemics in modern history. But difficult isn’t the same as “impossible”. Nailing Jell-o to a tree is impossible; everything else is merely hard.

What about if you do everything and nothing changes? This is a false premise; the fact that you have done anything means that things will have changed. The only way things won’t change is to continue proceeding exactly as you are. What you’re afraid of is trying new things and failing. Except not only is failure not the end, failure is one of the most important ways of learning. Making mistakes doesn’t mean that you’re a failure, it just means that you did something the wrong way. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of success, it shows you what you need to learn in order to succeed.

Part of what’s holding you back isn’t the fear of failure so much as the fear of not succeeding on the first go. But, much like trying to contort your life to fit into somebody else’s narrative, this is an exercise in foolishness. Nobody is a success, right from the start. Even people with all the natural talent in the world had to practice and put in the work. Michael Jordan wasn’t born knowing how to play basketball; he ground out the experience points through constant work. Bill Gates wasn’t born a computer genius; he had to learn and study. Some people may have advantages, some may have disadvantages, but nobody gets to be successful without putting in the effort. The only reason why it seems like some folks are socially successful without even trying is because you didn’t see them when they were learning. You weren’t there to see all the mistakes, all the tears, all the frustration. Yeah, you’re gonna suck at it at first. But as a wise man once said: sucking at something is the first step to being good at something.

You’re worried about actually trying and then finding out that you had wasted your time. Here’s my challenge to you: what if you’re wrong? What if you are utterly, totally and completely wrong about having “wasted” your life? What if all those fears you have about being truly helpless, f

ked by the fickle finger of fate were just nothing but your own phobias? What would happen if you let go of all of those fears and discovered that you were capable of so much more than you ever gave yourself credit for?

Which would be worse: taking a chance to discover your true potential or losing even more time to fear and regret.

Because here’s the thing: you already know you can do this. If you’re able to make it to put in all the hours of study to get through pre-med and med school, pass the licensing boards and become a doctor, then you have what it takes to improve your life. You’ve got the will, the drive and the determination to learn the skills it takes to date,

Maybe other folks started earlier than you… but that’s their story, not yours. You can only live your story, and that story starts now. All that it takes is that you have to dare to be all that you can be. For all your introspection, you need to look deeper and find that place in you where your dreams survive; when you do, you’ll understand that it’s calling you on to victory.

The only thing holding you back is the belief that you are destined to fail. And the only thing you can say to that is “but what if I’m wrong?”

Your fears have been holding you back for far too long. It’s time to unburden yourself of all the things that hold you down — the fears, the doubts, the worries. It’s time to let go of your earthly tethers and fly.

You are capable of more than you believe. You have more potential than you give yourself credit for.

You can win if you dare.

Good luck.

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