DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Yo Doc,
I’m a 20 year old straight male university student in the UK whose sexual experience amounts to two one-night-stands (one drunken incident with a friend and one Tinder date). I’ve never had an actual relationship, but not for lack of trying. Over the past couple years I’ve made numerous attempts at getting dates (most admittedly not very competently), but thus far it’s hardly ever worked.
I haven’t let myself get bogged down by this – that’s life, after all. I’m not really lonely; I have an amazing group of friends. But even so, I can’t help but get a feeling of unshakeable frustration.
Because, the thing is, at risk of sounding full of myself, I think I’m hot stuff. I’m smart, I’m funny, I’m interesting, I have passions that I wear on my sleeve, I dress fantastically, and by all accounts I’m great to talk to at parties. I’m not completely happy about my appearance (I’m quite skinny), but at the same time I wouldn’t say I’m ugly.
Which brings me to my question: why is it that I’m still the one who has to make the first move? Why do I have to be the seeker? Why can’t I be the sought? No one’s ever asked me out. I’ve never perceived any woman assertively pursue me, or even just approach me. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, and maybe I am. At parties, I try to be as social as possible, talking to everyone at least once. In the club, I don’t know how to approach people. On Tinder, I get hardly any matches. When I’ve gotten numbers (via Tinder or otherwise) I’ve frequently noticed them not putting in the effort that I am – it’s always me who seems to be beginning conversations.
I know that centuries of social tradition have conditioned us to expect that the man should be the assertive one who makes the first move. I’ve tried, I’ve failed, and now what I really want more than anything is to be the prize. But no one’s chasing me.
How do I deal with this frustration and disheartenment at the fact that, as well as me being seemingly inept at pursuing relationships with people, no one seems interested in pursuing me?
The Good and Bad, but not Ugly
DEAR THE GOOD AND BAD BUT NOT UGLY: I’m gonna be blunt with you, GBNU: the main reason why men have to do the majority of the approaching is because gender roles are still a thing and societies adhering to them so strongly makes it difficult for women who flout those roles. A lot of women would love to be more proactive when it comes to finding a partner, including being the one to make the first move. The problem is that a lot of guys react badly to women who make the first move. Some guys assume far more interest than women actually have because hey, she’s the one making the first move! Women never do that, she must be thirsty as hell. Others get angry because she must be a whore or trying to trick them or just, y’know. Existing.
Either way, this tends to end badly for women since when guys get angry they tend to react with violence.
The other reason why women don’t approach is because they’re dealing with all the same anxieties and fears you are. Sometimes doubly so because guys don’t get hit with the social whammy of being seen as slutty and/or an incipient bunny boiler for being the person to actually make the first move.
If you want a society where women feel freer to be as active in starting relationships, then you should be working to help build a relationship where they feel safer in doing so, both physically and socially.
Now this doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways of making yourself more approachable. One of the mistakes a lot of guys make is that they assume that women are entirely passive when it comes to dating. Not so; women do a lot of work to make it easier for men to approach them. It’s just that men often don’t notice that effort. Women who are interested in a guy will go out of their way to give that guy signals that she’d welcome his coming to talk to her and she’ll create an opportunity for him to do so. It may not be as flashy and obvious as crossing the room to talk to somebody, but it’s still work, even if people don’t acknowledge it as such.
If you want women to approach you, then you need to take a page from their book and give them similar openings. You know how you feel intimidated to approach a woman when she’s surrounded by her friends? She feels the same way about you. When you’re hanging around in a tight, closed group, she’s far less likely to want to come over and say hello. Nobody likes getting rejected and doubly so if it’s in front of an audience. Taking a step or two away to create the illusion of privacy works wonders for letting people feel as though they’re safe to come talk to you now.
Similarly, you can give them approach invitations. When you see someone you’re interested in – especially if she’s giving you the eye – meeting her gaze and giving her a smile or an acknowledgement that you saw her looking and you approve is one way of signaling that it’s cool to come talk to you. You can even give a slight head nod or eyebrow flash that can say “come say hi”.
That all having been said: it sounds to me that your problem is that you’re tired of things not working and you want someone else to validate you by working for your attention. This is an understandable feeling; it sucks when it feels like you’ve got a lot going for you but it’s still not working. However, the answer isn’t to just throw your hands up and say “Screw it, ladies do the work for me!” ‘cuz honestly? You’re not going to be getting any better results. All that’s going to happen is that you’re going to get more bitter and resentful and blaming other people for how you feel.
The things that make you more approachable – warmth, friendliness, social engagement and fun – are the same things that make you more successful when you’re the one doing the approaching.
Don’t get me wrong. Your frustration is understandable. However, I suspect the reason you’re having problems is because of the way you go about things. Clubs may not be your home, as it were. You may be pursuing people you’re not actually compatible with. You may not be giving your Tinder matches enough to work with. Or you may be sending off the Piss Off signal with your expression or body language.
What you may need to do is spend more time working on how you’re coming across. Work on projecting warmth, friendliness and fun. Do a little less pursuit and fewer cold approaches and more connecting with people when you talk to them. These will make you more successful over all, regardless of whether you’re the one making the first move or giving other people the go ahead to approach you.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: ne of my closest male friends, let’s call him F, just recently finished therapy after a major depressive breakdown. He was doing better but still wasn’t a hundred percent there yet.
My other friends and me did our very best to be a strong support system for him. Like we made regular plans, checked in on him at least every second day via text and tried to do what’s best for all of us as a group because what happened to him affected us all.
Now while F was in therapy, my best friend got a girlfriend who brought some of her friends into our group. We all got along very well and they integrated in seamlessly. One of those friends is M. She is in her early thirties and a bit older than all of us (early to mid-twenties) but that never bothered us. Another important information is that M is married and although we were introduced to her husband at a party she hosted, he isn’t part of “the regular gang”.
When F got out of therapy we introduced him to our new friends and everything seemed fine at first. We had our friendly get-togethers, got to know each other better and F seemed to feel better and better each time we met. F and M bonded over many common interests and one thing lead to another and they ended up in bed together despite her being married (and I know that she isn’t in an open relationship because we once had a discussion about polygamy in which she stated to be a monogamist).
A one-night-mistake turned into a fling and that fling soon turned into a full-blown affair. They are also very bad at hiding it because she gives him hickeys, scratch marks and what have you. He would do that to her too if she wasn’t hiding the affair from her husband, whom she has no interest in leaving because she’s from a conservative family where divorce isn’t an option and she apparently still cares about her husband.
We talked to F about our concerns that she was maybe just using him and that it probably wasn’t the best thing to be with a married woman in the first place. He assured us that all was well because the sex is great, there were no feelings involved and he pretty much denied that there would be consequences.
We had that talk two weeks ago and we stopped addressing their relationship after that. After all, they are both consenting adults who made a conscious decision. Things went as usual up until this Saturday when we celebrated M’s birthday.
F gifted her a very expensive necklace that she had her eyes on for a while and she accepted the gift with little to no hesitation (well in my book squealing “Your crazy!” and then kissing him isn’t anything near hesitation, but I’m trying to give her the benefit of the doubt…).
That night we all had our fair amount of booze and while I handled myself quite well, F got wasted! We shared a taxi home and there he confessed to me that M is his dream girl and that he loves her and that she always complained to him about her husband and how much better he would treat her.
I tried to talk to him the next day but he did not take my calls and when we met yesterday with some other friends he ignored me.
I saw now how miserable this affair made him and knowing about how fragile his mental state still is I am worried sick. I don’t want to be pushy or make him uncomfortable but I feel like I have to do something to get him out of this misery. Should I talk to M? Should I keep trying to confront F? Should I talk to a therapist about this? Should I just resign and try to accept that I can’t do anything to help my friend?
I hope you can help. Thank you so much in advance.
– To Move Or Not To Move
DEAR TO MOVE OR NOT TO MOVE: This is a question I get surprisingly often, TMoNTM. It’s really frustrating to see one our friends who seems to be determined to go down on the HMS Douchebag all the way to the bottom of the Atlantic. The problem is that, as I’ve said before, love isn’t just blind, it also sticks its fingers in its ears and yells “LALALALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” There are many times when people in awful relationships will actively fight to stay in them, deliberately choosing to turn a blind eye to the screamingly obvious stake-lined pits and bear traps around them. Worse, the harder you push them, the more they dig in their heels. This relationship is core to who they are and challenging this just invokes the Backfire Effect. They don’t want to admit that things are bad, so they’ll just double-down instead even in the face of contradictory evidence.
This is a lousy situation because there’s no win condition here. There really is no way to Kobiyashi Maru your way out of this. M isn’t going to listen to reason. She knows what she’s doing. She’s flaunting her affair with F in her husband’s face. Maybe he’s getting off on being cuckolded, maybe it’s an incredibly toxic relationship, but she’s being increasingly blatant about things and that’s not a mindset that lends itself well to being receptive to someone saying “listen, you’re hurting my friend.”
Plus: all that’s going to happen is that she’s going to tell F what you said and that’s going to cause drama.
Talking to F isn’t going to be much better because… well, dude’s sexdrunk. He’s getting laid, he’s getting the crazy new-relationship-energy high from this even as he knows that she’s not going to leave her husband. Pushing him to leave her is just going to make him dig in harder.
And this is frustrating because you and your crew have been really good friends to F. You’ve been there when he needed you consistently and supporting him as best as you can. But you can’t save a dude who doesn’t want to be saved. As much as you may want to yank him back from the volcano’s edge, dude is just gonna keep tap-dancing on the rim until either he falls in or turns around and walks away.
So here’s what you do, TMoNTM: you have one last convo with F about this. And make it clear: this is the last time you are going to have this conversation. When you do, you don’t tell him that he’s screwing up or that this is going to hurt him. You lead him to it. You reaffirm his feelings and that yes, he loves her. But… is she treating him well? After all, doesn’t it seem like she’s taunting her husband by carrying on so openly? Doesn’t it seem a little mean to be doing that? Is that the behavior of someone who’s kind and respectful? And how would he feel if that happened to him? What does he think may happen when her husband gets tired of the game?
Maybe he’ll get the point, maybe he won’t. But you can at least let him know that you’re concerned about him and how this is affecting him and that you’ll be there for him when – not if, when – this blows up. And then you let it go. As frustrating as it may be, you have to let him be a grown-ass adult to make his own mistakes.
And when it blows up and he needs you all again? Don’t – I repeat, don’t – say “I told you so”. He’s going to feel awful enough as it is. Rubbing it in will just make things worse.
You’re a good person, TMoNTM. You and your crew are the friends that F needs. Keep being awesome, because the world needs more awesome people.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)