DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My first girlfriend was white. Brown hair, super kind person, amazing person, we dated for 2 years and had to end it because I couldn’t handle her low self esteem anymore, it was becoming too much of a mental burden to always be the one to give her strength.
After that, I dated a few more people of different races, until recently I’ve begun to date a very lovely Desi woman. She is an amazing person too, kindness outta this world, and I’m incredibly attracted to her.
The problem I experience is (and keep experiencing), I keep having these ideas that I should be with a white girl, someone with skin more like mine, in addition to a body type more like mine and more in line with societal norms (trust me I love it when women have curves, and the woman I’m with now is quite curvy).
Sometimes, I just can’t stop the thoughts from entering my head that I should be pursuing this beauty standard of “a girl that everyone will desire and covet”. I’m not sure where it comes from, but I suspect it could be from watching too much porn for years combined with growing up with these societal norms of what women are perceived as beautiful.
Dr. NerdLove, how do I get wrong ideas about women out of my head?
Social Messaging Sucks
DEAR SOCIAL MESSAGING SUCKS: Here’s what’s going on, SMS. You’ve spent a lifetime soaking in an ocean of messaging and advertising telling you that this specific type of woman – white, blonde, skinny and curvy – is the ideal and that a “real” man has a girlfriend that all his buddies want to bang. Your girlfriend is the external personification of your worth, so if you’re not banging someone who’s a traditional 10, you just ain’t squat.
And this messaging hits people across all spectrums. Women of various sizes are taught that they’re too heavy, too curvy, too tall, too muscular, too flat, too big. Their skin isn’t light enough, their hair is the wrong texture, their noses the wrong shape and their faces have the wrong structure. Their personalities are wrong – too brash, too brassy, too loud, too angry, too assertive, too confident. And even if they come closer to the ideal, women of color still not going to be as socially valuable as a white woman. And of course, they need to give any man a chance because women shouldn’t be shallow in who they choose to date, while dudes are encouraged to be shallow. There may be a bunch of articles celebrating how women love the DadBod but far fewer about men who like zaftig women. Your first girlfriend may not be perfect brah, but you better trade up as you improve your own social value.
Now when people are left to their own devices, we on the whole like a wide spectrum of body types, skin colors and types of hair and faces. There’re guys out there – fit, jacked dudes – who love them some big, beautiful women. There’re women who love dudes with hairy musclemen and thiccboys. There’re people who like folks of other races, non-binaries, trans men and women and people whose gender presentation is all over the map. But the number of people who can admit to liking people outside of the model that’s been marketed to us are damned few – and that’s when we filter out the people who fetishize specific races.
You see this in awful “jokes” like “how’s a fat girl like a moped”. You see this in people who’re willing to sleep with trans women but not openly date them, in people who’ll hit on people of different races like they’re paying them a compliment and get pissy if they have the temerity to say “go away”.
Their junk may want what it wants, but their brain isn’t going to let them live their truth; not when they’re valuing what society taught them to desire over who they actually connect with.
That’s why you’re having these thoughts, SMS. Cultural programming is a rat bastard. It digs in deep and it’s really hard to root out, even among the best intentioned. It can creep into your thoughts and make you question things. Like a concern-troll on Twitter it can sound perfectly reasonable on the surface: “are you suuuuuure you should be dating her? What will your friends say? Isn’t it unfair of you to inflict their judgement on her? What about those cultural differences? Are you sure you’re into her and not just fetishizing her?”
And in fairness: it’s good to interrogate your desires and ask yourself why you’re drawn to the people you like. Do you like your “type” because it’s what you’ve always been attracted to? Or is there something else about it? Are you into, say, large girls, because you like them big or because you think they’re going to be “grateful” and let you get away with more? Are you into people of other races or who’re gender non-conforming because you find them attractive, or because you like flaunting social mores and shocking people?
But a lot of the time… you’re going to find you just like them. And even in this theoretically more enlightened, cosmopolitan era, loving someone who isn’t the “right” type is an act of rebellion. So here’s what you do about those thoughts that bubble up: defang them. Label them and note them – “Hey, there’s that weird bit of social programming again, that’s annoying” – and them let them pass. If you’re happy with your sweet, curvy girlfriend, then screw what people think and what society tells you to want. Happiness is is too precious to give up over bulls
t ideas about what you’re “supposed” to want. Love whom you love and everything else can go hang.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been reading your articles on and off for about a year or so now, I guess, with increasing consistency for the past half a year or so in particular and have had a fairly regular presence in the comments. I’ve picked up a lot of useful, interesting and at times irrationally infuriating information from your work over that time. However, I had something of a sticking point the other night that I thought you might help me suss out.
A quick note on background: I am not a bar-goer. Generally speaking, I don’t like the noise, the press of bodies when it gets crowded and I’m not a drinker (alcohol tends to either make me sick or sleepy with very little in between). That said, I befriended the members of a band that has a steady gig at a local bar and grill; I enjoy their music enough to get over my intrinsic distaste for the bar scene. As a result, I’ve sort of developed a callous over my intrinsic distaste for going to bars, at least in so far as this particular one is concerned.
So, the last time I was out catching my friends play, I was paying a little more attention to the crowd than usual (usually I’m so wrapped up in the music, I don’t give the people aside from my friends a second thought) and I found myself noting a number of attractive women in the crowd.
I thought about all the stuff I’d learned from your site, podcast, videos…and eventually did absolutely nothing. A couple of quick glances across the bar and I just let it end at that.
Now, I don’t have to do a lot of introspection to determine why I didn’t make any moves. While I’ve been making progress in mapping out my personal peculiarities, between spending time critically reviewing my past actions based on the concepts laid out in your articles and getting professional guidance from a therapist…there’s still a massive stumbling block to my approach to women I don’t know.
That stumbling block is “A reason to approach them”. Ultimately, in my mind, “Hey, you’re attractive and I’d like to get to you know you better” doesn’t constitute sufficient reason to insert myself into someone else’s social evening. Even given your guidelines of “bars are a safe place to approach people”, my aversion to insinuating myself into somebody else’s good time tells me that I have no logical impetus to do so. I find it easy enough to slip into other people’s conversation with a quick comment or observation, but usually only when there’s really nothing at stake. And of course, that would mean being in proximity to hear what they were talking about in the first place and when I’m out at the bar, I usually spend my time on my own because I’m trying to get the most out of the performance rather than engaging the other people there (since most of them are NOT there for the music like I am). I suppose I give off a “buzz off, I’m listening to the music” vibe that only the most inebriated of patrons are immune to.
Maybe there’s still too big an issue of rejection avoidance; maybe it’s a result of poor self image; maybe I’m just intrinsically ill suited to cold approaches of this nature (that would be a cold approach, right?). It’s a pretty good bet I’m going to be in this position again in the future, as this is a regular monthly gig I make a point to attend, so I wonder if you have any suggestions on how to proceed. This is one of the few social engagements I regularly attend (I work at night, so my options tend to be a bit limited), so it feels kinda like a waste when I don’t make the most of it.
But, in the end, I’m not sure how to do that.
No Approach Vector
DEAR NO APPROACH VECTOR: You’ve answered your own question here, man. You’re getting in your own way.
Here’s the thing about conversations: it’s not that hard to join them, especially in social situations. It’s one thing if, say, you slide a chair up to somebody’s table at a restaurant; that goes against the social contract of the situation and people would rightly be weirded out by it. On the other hand when you’re in spaces that are explicitly social – like parties, like bars and performances – it’s generally accepted that people are going to mingle and introduce themselves to one another. The dynamics of approaching someone and talking with them at a bar aren’t that different from the ones at a networking event or a cocktail party.
You know this. You’ve already said that you’re experienced in joining conversations when there’s nothing at stake.
Here’s the thing: there’s nothing at stake here either. All you’re doing is starting a conversation. That’s it. This isn’t prelude to getting married. This isn’t even the first step to getting a date. All you’re doing is talking to someone to find out if you are even interested in them. Yeah they’re cute… but anyone can tell you that being cute doesn’t make for actual chemistry so what do they have going for them besides their looks?
And here’s the thing: “You seem interesting and I wanted to get to know you” is a perfectly legitimate reason to talk to someone. Hell, one of my go-to lines for starting a conversation is simply a declaration of intent and explanation as to why I’m approaching them: “Hey my friends are being kind of boring/ I’m bored and I’m looking for good conversation and you seem like you’re really interesting. My name is…”
Meeting people, making friends and getting dates has nothing to do with logic or having a sufficient “reason” to talk to someone. To quote the sage: “Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will.” The idea that you need a “logical” reason to approach someone is just an excuse to not approach. It’s just you not accepting that your interest in other people is legitimate. You’re dressing up the middle-school fear of “I can’t let someone know I like them” in rationality drag. And if that’s the issue, then that is something you should be going over with your therapist.
But, fun fact: you can’t know if someone would like you or find you interesting without taking your shot. You’re inventing excuses to pre-reject yourself and never giving someone else the chance to make up their mind.
Yeah, I get it. You’re afraid of being rejected and the shame having the temerity to approach someone following you everywhere you go. Trust me: unless you stick around and ignore their interest, then you aren’t going to screw up their good time. People are far too wrapped up in their own crap to worry about – or even remember – someone who said “hi” and then peaced-out when they ignored him.
The only thing you can do is learn to shut up that over-thinking part of your brain and take your chances. There is no success without risk, no matter how slight.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)