DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 23 years old student, and I was pretty much the stereotypical, socially very awkward, shy guy back in high-school. Some bad familial stuff was messing with me since, well, forever, and my only true friend was my awesome little brother. I just wanted to get the hell out, to leave all this behind me. And I tried when I graduated and went to college.
Long story short, reality slapped me in the face, and my studies where halted for nearly two years. When I got back to college, I briefly considered suicide, spoke about it to my brother, and my mother and they basically dragged me out of this pit.
In the last three years, many things happened: I’ve stumbled upon your blog, and began to try to improve myself, to correct my views about relationships in particular and life in general, I finally returned to a theatre class, I started hitting the gym and I even had my first relationship! It was short-lived (like, two months), I made some mistakes (I’m quite ashamed of it but one of my reason for the break-up was the lack of physical intimacy) and I understood what you meant by “find someone right for you, not because you’re alone”. This was 2 years ago.
Today I’m still celibate and a virgin, but not alone anymore. I’ve a good circle of friends (awesome people), I’ve came to terms with my envy of my little brother’s achievements, and I’m not anymore obsessed with finding someone, anyone. I’m happy, truly happy, for the first time in my life
And here is the problem Doc : 99 % of my friends told me that the first time we met, before we even talked to each other, they thought I was cold and full of disdain. Many of them even told I looked constantly sad, and it became kind of a private joke. And as ridiculous as it sounds, it upsets me. I’ve always considered myself as a warm person. Introvert? Yes. Not so talkative when not joking Sure. Easily “disconnected”? I can’t deny it. My “sad” face? It’s my neutral expression!
Hell, I’ve been convinced for a very long time that there was something wrong with me (as a person), a “stain” in my personality that drove people away, but how can I correct my neutral expression?
I know it’s kind of ridiculous, but I don’t want to make people feel that way in my presence, Doc. I don’t want to be the guy-who-looks-so-sad-god-if-approach-him-I’m-gonna-fall-in-depression. I don’t want to be perceived as someone who is going to shut you down and humiliate you if you approach me, because it’s the opposite. Want to make my day? Approach me, talk to me.
So here is my question Doc: what can I do? Despite all my work, all my efforts, I’m still (inadvertently) driving off other people. Now, to be fair, I know I’m making a big deal of it, but every time I’m told this, I hear “All your efforts don’t matter, all your work doesn’t matter, you’re still a person that nobody wants to know or be with. You upset other people.”
Stressed About Descriptions
DEAR STRESSED ABOUT DESCRIPTIONS: First of all, SAD, I want to congratulate you on all the work you’ve been doing. You’ve been in a deep pit and clawing your way out of it isn’t easy. You’ve put in a lot of effort, you’ve worked incredibly hard and you should be proud of how much you’ve accomplished. You’ve even had your first relationship! Don’t downplay that dude, that’s huge!
So here’s what’s going on right now: all that work you’ve been putting in, has been paying off and you’ve leveled up. But reaching that new level comes with new challenges – challenges that you weren’t ready for previously. But now with all that work you’ve put in, you’re stronger, more resilient and – critically – emotionally healthier than you were before. So while it can seem daunting, it’s not insurmountable.
Now to break down what is going on here: your presentation is telling a specific story about you. It’s not necessarily any one thing, so much as a combination of things. From what you’re describing, it’s a combination of behavior and presentation that’s combining to send a particular vibe to the people around who don’t know you. And in all likelihood, it’s a matter of habits and presentation rather than anything inherently “set” about you. You’re quiet, you’re solitary, you’re serious and you have what would be described as a “melancholic temperament” in gothic romance novels. Which works great if you’re out on the moors, less so in major urban areas.
Besides, Heathcliff was a dick and Wuthering Heights was awful. THAT’S RIGHT. I SAID IT.
So what you want to do is focus on how to be more approachable and not give off that “sad boy” vibe. And to start with: consider how you’re presenting yourself outwardly. How are you dressing? Are you wearing clothes that you can hide in – hoodies, caps and sunglasses? Are you doing the Mr. Robot and folding yourself up into your hoodie?
What about your body language? When you walk, is your spine straight and your shoulders relaxed? Or are you hunched over and folded in on yourself? Do you tend to have your arms crossed, or are you letting your chest expand? If you’re sitting, are you bent over whatever you’re doing, or do you spread out and take up more space? The more you pull in on yourself, taking up as little space as possible and hiding in your clothes, the more you give off the “Don’t talk to me” vibe.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about your expression and your head. Are you making eye-contact with people, or are you trying to avoid people’s gaze? What are you doing with your face? You say that you’ve got resting sad face, which hey, happens. I can look overly serious if I’m thinking about things and that can make people worry if I’m upset. But if you’re both avoiding looking at people and you have a sad or upset look on your face, then people are going to think that you’re upset and give you a wide berth. Even the natural caretakers and nurturers aren’t going to necessarily want to step up to someone who seems like they’re determined to be alone with their demons.
Another big issue: are you putting barriers between you and the people you’re talking to? If you have a tendency to, say, put your backpack or messenger bag on the table in front of you, between you and the rest of the world, you’ve put up a literal wall. If you’re curled up around a book, your phone or your laptop, that’s another barrier.
And for that matter: are you out in the open where people can find you, or are you back in a corner somewhere? The more you’re out of the flow of traffic, as it were, the less people are even going to see you, never mind necessarily want to come over.
All of these things are part of how you signal that you don’t want to talk to people or that you’d rather be alone. Don’t want that? Then you need to start focusing on how to send the right signals. You know you’re a warm person, so you need to project that warmth.
Start with your expression. You don’t need to smile all the time – some cultures actually find that off-putting – but a lot of how we signal our mood and confidence comes from how we use our face. Keeping your eyes up and your eyebrows relaxed is a start. So is being willing to make eye-contact. You don’t need to stare people down, but not avoiding people’s eyes or looking away quickly if you do make eye-contact shows that you’re confident and outwardly focused. Look around you, acknowledge that other people are there. Give people a slight smile (one that reaches your eyes) and a nod when you see them.
While you’re at it, work on that confident, open body language. As you walk or sit, imagine that there’s an invisible thread attached to the crown of your skull, pulling ever so slightly upward. Let that pull your head up and straighten your spine, while your shoulders relax and your arms swing at your sides. If you’re sitting, don’t lean forward or hunch over. Lean back, even sprawl a little.
And be more expressive and responsive. You don’t need to be a chatterbox, but at the same time, you don’t want to be a statue either. Smiling, nodding and giving encouragers like “uh-huh” all show that you’re engaged and paying attention to the people you’re with. And openly smiling, snickering, laughing, shaking your head and what-not over things all send the sign that you may be quiet, but you’re not sullen or closed off.
Just as importantly though: if you want people to approach youBut giving some signals that it’s cool to come say “hi”?, you have to give them the signal that it’s ok to do so. Most people don’t want to intrude where they’re not welcome. That’s going to up the odds that somebody will take you up on your non-verbal invitation
Oh and one more thing: it’s a bit woo-woo-mind-hacky, but start cultivating the attitude that people already like you. This will utterly change how you behave around people and put you more at ease. And your being more at ease will make other people more at ease too.
This can all sound like a lot, I know SAD. But most of it is just a matter of habit – breaking out of old patterns and building new ones. Spend time consciously adopting these behaviors, especially when you realize you’re falling back into old habits, and soon it’ll be worked into your muscle memory.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I know you are not a “real doctor” but I don’t know if this is a medical, mental, or relationship problem and would like some outside perspective. This is my problem- my sex drive has cratered and I don’t know why and I want it back.
When I was in high school, I wanted all the sex all the time but abstained for a variety of reasons. When I got to college, I wanted sex all the time and frequently got it. I met my then-boyfriend, now husband, and we had a near- matching sex drive (if anything, I wanted it more frequently than his).
But as we’ve gotten older, both of us seemed to have slowed down, but mine has gone to “practically nonexistent”. I don’t think it’s a relationship problem- my spouse is still supportive, loving, game to try things, compliments me all the time and never pressures me to have sex. He does a pretty solid amount of chores (we’re both pretty suck at it, but he always does the dishes). He’s still sexy as hell. I am still deeply in love with him. But I just don’t find myself interested- and not just in my spouse. No guy seems to get me going, and I don’t spend time fantasizing about celebrities or enjoying idle crushes. We’re polyamorous, but I haven’t slept with another person for years nor wanted to. If I see an attractive person, it is more like appreciating them artistically rather than having any sort of heart palpitations or pants feelings. Self-exploration isn’t really on the agenda either. Now, sex just seems like too much effort to get involved in — it’s too much time to get in the mood and it’s too hard to stay in the mood during the moment. I find myself thinking of all the stuff I haven’t done and need to do. I find myself stuck on stuff I’ve watched or a news article in my head.
I’m fairly certain it isn’t medical- my last gynecological examine didn’t turn up anything unusual and I’m not on any hormonal birth control (though oddly, I was in college but I didn’t notice a dip when I went off it). I’m in my 30s, I feel like this is way to early for my sex drive to go away completely. Other than the fact that Trump’s in office, there isn’t anything terribly wrong in my life. We’re doing okay, my job’s okay and I get along with my coworkers. I have hobbies, we travel from time to time, we have friends, we go to events around the city and my routine is more than just work, come home, veg, repeat. And I really miss my college sex drive.
Any thoughts on how to get it back?
-Abstinence All Over Again
DEAR ABSTINENCE ALL OVER AGAIN: There’re a few things that will crater a person’s libido, AAOA, and figuring out the culprit tends to be as much a process of elimination as anything else. My usual suggestions is to start with a trip to the doctor and checking for any potential health or biochemical issues. Hormone levels could throw off your sex drive. So can a number of medications, especially if you’re taking an SSRI.
But the next question I’d ask is… how’s the sex you were having? Was it great? Or just pretty good? Was it exciting and vibrant, or just kinda routine? Did you vary it up, or was it the same thing every time? Because one of the things that will kill your libido deader than the dodo and faster than Barry Allen on a coffee buzz? Is boredom.
This actually happens a lot, particularly with women; the sex is humdrum and the desire to keep having it… just kind of fades away. So it’s not just that the afflicted person doesn’t want to have sex with their spouse, it’s that they don’t want to have sex at all… right up until they get start banging someone new. Suddenly the novelty of it kickstarts the ol’ libido again and suddenly it’s like being 16 all over and having the house to yourself and the pay-per-view’s unscrambled.
So I would suggest changing things up in the bedroom… and since you’re poly, that might mean changing up the person. Going out and pursuing a date or two, even if it’s not necessarily what you want most in the world, may fire things up again. Many women’s arousal patterns are often reciprocal and responsive – being desired arouses your own desire.
If you don’t necessarily want to explore a new partner, than explore new forms of intimacy with your hubby. Make a point of exploring a fantasy that one (or both of you) hold. Try something different – maybe a light kink, maybe something as simple as a quickie during your lunch break. Breaking out of your routine and introducing novelty back into your sex life can bring that passion roaring back.
While you’re at it? Schedule a date night or two. One of the reasons why the passion fades in long-term relationships is that everybody settles in when they settle down. They stop trying quite as hard. But treating a date with your spouse as though it’s your first date and you want to make a great first impression? That can rekindle all kinds of old feelings.
And one last thing: do stuff with your husband that gets your heart pounding and stimulates the central nervous system. Humans are bad at understanding why we feel the way we do; we feel the physical sensations and assign meaning to them after the fact. So when you’re heart is pounding and you’re slightly out of breath and you’re excited because you just got off that roller coaster or because you’ve been out dancing?
Well… that excitement transfers to other areas too.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)