DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a gay male graduate student, so dating isn’t something that I get a lot of time to do. And ignoring the fact that dating within your own department can be treading on thin ice, there are only 3 other dudes in my department none of whom are gay so I’d be outta luck anyway. As if meeting people in grad school wasn’t hard enough! So I made online dating profiles on OKCupid and Plenty of Fish.
I mostly ignore it because it’s mostly solicitations for casual sex or just a barrage of pictures of dudes’ junk. Every couple of weeks I’ll go through a messages and reply and send a few messages out to interesting profiles. Mostly they end with solicitations for casual sex or more pics. Or it just kind of falls off… my theory is that some people start to feel awkward when sex isn’t broached and we have polite conversation for too long… or I’m just boring because I’m a graduate student and talking about my work probably doesn’t interest many people.
A few weeks ago I had a particularly great conversation. We traded numbers and I thought for sure I’d start getting raunchy text messages but we just talked on the phone. And I love talking on the phone with him. Things moved rather fast, our first date was a camping trip (despite the online dating world’s warnings to only go on public dates) and I really like him… but now I’m out of my element… he’s a trucker. And I mean, I suppose it’s kind of a blessing because when I’m working ~13 hours a day for a week he’s on the road all week so we call each other at the end of the day. He puts up with me complaining about classes, TA-ing, my advisor, and the fruitlessness of my research even if he can’t relate and I listen to him talk about his frustrations. So we at least relate on the level that we both are doing what we love but can have really shitty days. I feel that is enough for me. But as we start getting more serious and our relationship keeps going I’m getting nervous. I come from an educated family (both my parents and my older brother and his wife all have PhD’s and I’m working on mine) and I’m dating somebody with just a high school diploma. And it doesn’t bother me, but the prospect of how my family will react gives me so much anxiety. And I don’t want to bring it up with him because I don’t want him to feel like he’s not good enough because he’s great, he’s probably too good because I’m the one having second thoughts on something so trivial. I don’t know.
He hasn’t met many people in my department yet or my friends. We mostly just call each other and maybe plan a camping trip every couple of weekends. But I wouldn’t be ashamed if he met them. Many of the people in my department date others that don’t pursue higher education. It seems to keep them grounded and stem some of the insanity that academia generates… maybe I’ll talk to them after I send this question in. But in the meantime…
What do I do?
Outta My Element
DEAR OUTTA MY ELEMENT: Never let it be said that life can’t imitate art, especially when it starts to imitate a Nicholas Sparks novel. Here we’ve got the upscale (sorta… I know what grad school does to your finances) educated, classy young man falling for the blue-collar worker. How could they possibly work out! Will their differences in class and life experiences drive them apart? What will the family think?
Here’s what I think: it sounds like he makes you happy. That really should be the end of things.
Now I know I talk about how opposites don’t attract and we tend to prefer people who are similar to us, but that doesn’t mean you’re restricted to only dating near-clones. From the sound of things, if you leave out the white collar/blue collar divide, you’re insanely compatible. You have complimentary work-schedules, which means you both understand the pressures that your jobs put you under. You respect each others’ careers and interests even if you don’t necessarily share them, you provide each other with emotional support, you’ve got shared interests in common and clearly you’ve got enough chemistry to start your own Pollos Hermanos franchise… wait, what’s the problem again?
The thing to keep in mind is that an education doesn’t necessarily equate to intelligence or ambition or culture or even future financial success. Yes, there’re all the stereotypes about truckers being anti-intellectual, uncultured meatheads… but like all stereotypes, they tend to dissolve when you actually get to know somebody. If he’s shown you what an awesome guy he is, then let him show your family as well. The key in this case is to not treat his being a trucker or only having a high-school diploma like it’s something shameful. It’s part of who he is and – let’s face it – right now, having an advanced degree mostly means that you’re eyeballs deep in debt.
Instead of putting the focus on his career, let the focus be on him. Tell your family about how much you’re crazy about him, why he’s awesome and how he makes you feel. Let him impress them with his personality, his intelligence, his charm and ambition. His job is a detail, not the whole person. Let them get to know him and hopefully they’ll understand just what makes him so special… and the fact that he makes you happy. And let’s be honest: that’s the most important part.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve got a question for you! I’m a nerd (in the sense that I’m unabashedly enthusiastic about the things I like!) girl with a few previous relationships under my belt, but nothing serious (other than a fling that ended in sexual assault) during my past few years in college. So I’m a little inexperienced in the ambiguity of the university dating scene.
I’ve started seeing someone (that I met in the library!) over the past month or so and it’s great. He’s intelligent and motivated, a genuinely good person and gosh do I find him attractive. I’ve really enjoyed our conversations and physical chemistry, but here’s the thing—a week or so ago we stumbled into the “defining the relationship” talk and I found out that he doesn’t want a serious relationship. He stressed how much he cares about me and my happiness, but as he’s spent most of his college years in a long-term relationship and he doesn’t currently have the time for a serious relationship, he just wants to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re both incredibly over-committed between classes, multiple jobs, and service work, so I’m completely fine with just seeing him around the library and on the weekends.
But I’ve always been told that if a guy wants to be with you, he will, and excuses just mean he doesn’t care that much. I feel like I’m supposed to be indignant and end it for some (future, unnamed) person that would want to actually date me. I’ve never had a problem with confidence but I’m terrible at being the proud, cares-less-than-you person in any kind of romantic entanglement. I like being straightforward, unashamedly expressing my feelings, and I know I won’t be able to compartmentalize and not care about this guy. Is that okay? Or is it a recipe for disaster? I’m a little nervous that I’ll get crushed, but I think the risk might be worth it for the life experience.
Oh and sex currently isn’t involved because I love my faith and I’m not sure yet whether sleeping with him would violate that…but when we discussed it, he’s said it’s something he’ll want eventually and I think I might too. Do you think there’s any way this could turn out okay? Or will I be the sad cliché of the girl who gets emotionally invested in a murky pseudo-relationship situation? He really does seem to care about me (and handled my wanting to take it slowly because of the assault thing fabulously) but in my little binary dating world, that seems incompatible with not wanting a serious relationship. Help?
Confused College Student
DEAR CONFUSED COLLEGE STUDENT: So he doesn’t want a serious relationship. Considering what you’ve described about both of your schedules, I’m not surprised. Relationships take work and from the sounds of things, both of you are insanely busy. Trying to maintain a relationship on top of your coursework, jobs and so forth is going to be one more added level of stress that could drive both of you nuts and end up killing what was an otherwise satisfying and happy relationship.
I think part of the problem here is the use of the word “serious” that’s tripping you up and getting you hung up on the idea of a dating binary of “you are or you aren’t”. Being in a casual relationship doesn’t mean that you don’t care about one another or that you’re not concerned with the other person’s happiness, it just means that there isn’t an inherent expectation of commitment or exclusivity. You’re two people who like going out on dates, enjoying each other’s company and fooling around a little without any assumptions that this is leading towards something more committed – moving in together, getting married, etc.
Think about it: he’s recently out of a long term relationship and is also insanely busy. It’s understandable that he doesn’t necessarily want to be in something that feels more meaningful than just two people having fun together.
Now, you’ve talked about how he feels about your relationship and what you’ve been told… but you’re not saying how you feel about things. It sounds to me like you feel like you’re supposed to want a serious-with-a-capital-R Relationship… but you’re not sure that’s what you actually want. After all, you’re enjoying things as they are now and you’re just as overloaded in terms of work as he is.
Are you getting anxious because you’re hoping for something super-serious and committed? Or because you’ve been taught that this is what you’re supposed to be driving for at all times?
I mean, by all signs, he’s shown that he cares. He’s been conscientious of your boundaries and your experiences and he’s been up front about what he wants and what he’s hoping for. These are all signs that he’s a genuinely good guy, not somebody who’s just stringing you along because he’s hoping to get his dick wet and to drop you like a bad habit as soon as he does. And like I said: not necessarily wanting a serious relationship at this point in his life doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like you or that he’s not into you.
Here’s what I suggest: have another “defining the relationship” talk but instead of assuming that you both know what you mean by “serious relationship”, start defining terms. Does he mean that he wants to be non-exclusive? That he doesn’t want to feel like the relationship is leading to something more permanent? That he doesn’t have the time to handle anything more than “getting together as schedules permit”? All of the above? What do you see as a “serious” relationship? You both may be coming at this from completely different angles and getting caught up in misunderstandings. Taking the time to hash things out and making sure you’re both on the same page will go a long way towards helping to ease your concerns and giving you more certainty about just where you stand. And who knows: things may change down the road. You don’t have just one defining the relationship talk and then you’re locked into whatever you’ve agreed to or else. People change and evolve over time; he may come to a point that yes, he wants something more committed with you. Or you might decide you don’t want something serious either and would rather play the field more. Don’t let yourself get locked into a dating binary that doesn’t actually exist.
And remember: all relationships end until one doesn’t. Just because a relationship didn’t conclude with one or the both of you dying doesn’t mean that it was a failure, it just means that this particular relationship has run it’s course.
Have the conversation. Make sure you’re both talking about the same things. And honestly: if you’re happy with the relationship as it has been, if you two care for one another and you’re ok with the understanding that you’re not headed towards a more long-term commitment, then just relax and let yourself enjoy it for what it is rather than stressing out about what it isn’t.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)