DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m really curious what advice you may have for me here, just because I think this may simply be an issue where I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it. Nevertheless, I think you’ll ‘get’ it and if nothing else I’m going to use this as an opportunity to get something off my chest.
So first things first. I’m 29, and I just got married. I completely adore my wife, what we have is as real as it gets, and our relationship just ‘works’ for so many reasons. We’re on the same page about not wanting children, and I’m just really happy and proud about the life we’re building together.
A bit of background… we were close friends throughout college. She had several boyfriends and I was obsessing over other girls and doing nothing about it, and we really just never thought of each other in that way until right before graduation when we fell in love and have been together ever since. Another piece of the puzzle here is I was completely celibate during college, not by choice haha. I had a girlfriend for the last 6 months of high school, so I wasn’t a virgin going into college but I just didn’t have my life together… nerdy before I knew how to make nerdy work for me, massive crushes that I was too scared to act on because I was putting them on such a pedestal and just generally too focused on finding the magic fairytale love story when I should’ve been more go with the flow and open to fun experiences.
Hey, I get it. We all have to live with some regrets, obviously. I can’t change the past. But I have to say, it’s been challenging at times over the last decade seeing things like the rise of swiping dating apps that would’ve made things SO MUCH easier for shy guys like me in college to at least initiate contact, or even just the rise of nerd culture and nerdy things becoming way more socially acceptable. It is hard for my mind not to sometimes ponder how successful I’d be if I were single today. I feel like I’m infinitely more dateable at 30 than I was at 20. I have a stable career, I know how to dress, I think I’m reasonably attractive, I’m not terrified of women anymore and have more sexual confidence– simply put I just have more mileage, better self-worth and am way more comfortable in my own skin than I was in college.
I think it’s probably very normal for married guys to think about the good ol’ days of being single, but I guess my issue is I regret not doing anything with those good ol’ days and sometimes I get a bit freaked out that I will never experience another first kiss or see what my sexual chemistry with someone else might be, or experience the thrill of the chase– no matter how much I love my wife (and I do, and I believe our sex life is healthy). It’s just the curiosity that gnaws at me. I’m not saying I have any plans to do anything, because I really have it great now and definitely don’t want to screw it all up for something I’d instantly regret. I don’t believe I could ever cheat. I just worry that if I’m feeling this now, will it ever get any better, years down the road? Or will it turn into more of an obsession that eats away at me? I really don’t want to feel resentment about my marriage. I try to stay focused on all the positives. I know for a fact that a lot of my married friends have similar regrets, and I wonder about how common of an issue this is overall.
I’ve done research into open relationships and “hall passes” and honestly…while I love the idea in theory of getting a small window of time try and sew a few wild oats and get that out of my system (I’d be be willing to reciprocate that)…at the same time, I know all those paths have significant risks and downfalls, and based on comments she’s made in the past I don’t think she’s open to that. So me even trying to broach that subject would probably just be hurtful and pointless. She’s not a jealous type, we have a lot of trust in our relationship, but I think her hearing that I’m even daydreaming in those terms may be a shock to her and I really don’t want to hurt her just because I’m having a quarter life crisis. And it’s not only about wanting some strange (although that certainly factors in). I’ve thought a lot about it, and honestly I think I just also just craving the validation that yes, I can be desirable to other women too and to see if I’d have any ‘game’ now, because I had 0 before…I’ve literally never asked a girl out on a date in my life. I’ve never been on a first date with someone who I wasn’t previously friends with. It’s not that it’s a bad thing, but I guess it just feels like there’s this whole side of myself and the dating world that I never got a chance to explore.
It’s quite possible there is nothing to be done here except for me to just suck it up, be grateful that I have something that most singles are looking for, and move on. But these thoughts have gotten frequent enough that I wanted to take the first step of acknowledging that there may be a problem here.
Fear of Missing Out
DEAR FEAR OF MISSING OUT: You’re not wrong that this is an incredibly common issue, FOMO. Lots of people – men and women both – have moments of wondering what might be if they were single right now instead of in a relationship. The fact that you’re in a monogamous relationship with someone doesn’t mean that you won’t be interested in other people. You agreed that you weren’t going to sleep with other people; that doesn’t mean that you won’t want to. This is true of pretty much everyone; welcome to being a primate with a sex-drive.
Similarly, the fact that you’re fantasizing about being single again doesn’t mean that you don’t love your partner, or that something’s wrong with your relationship. This is also something a lot of partnered people experience, for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes it’s the desire for novelty; that first kiss or the excitement of the initial courtship and getting to know somebody new. Other times it’s simple boredom; even the hottest and most passionate relationship will cool over time, especially as the day-to-day responsibilities of a life together pile up. Still other times, it’s the idea of “what did I miss out on” and still other times it’s that the person in question entered into a monogamous commitment that they weren’t actually suited for.
There’re the folks for whom it’s not even a matter of desire, so much as wanting to be desired. It’s a wish for validation, the knowledge that you still (or finally) have it. Sure, your partner may want you and need you… but that’s hardly the same as a stranger thinking that you’re hot sex on toast, is it? Or the knowledge that if you wanted to, you could hook up with that hottie you saw at the gym or Starbucks or what-have-you.
And then, of course, there’s the dawning realization that maybe, just maybe, you made a mistake. You overestimated your feelings and rounded up what would’ve been a happy short-term relationship to a lifetime commitment or just agreed to something that you didn’t realize you didn’t actually want until it was too late.
To answer your question: yes, this is going to be something that you’re going to feel, whether you’re with your wife or any theoretical future partner. Regardless of whether you stay with her or you find yourself free to date again, if you’re pursuing monogamous relationships, there’s always going to be a “no more first kisses” moment. That’s part of the price of entry to the relationships you seem to want.
The key to handling this – especially without making a mistake and detonating your relationship in the process – is to understand exactly what’s at the root of this interest. Is it that you feel like you have something to prove to your past self? Are you someone who just can’t make a long-term monogamous commitment and require sexual novelty? Do you legitimately want out? Or is it just old-fashioned “what-if”ing?
The more you understand just what the problem is, the more you’ll understand how to navigate the issue. There’s nothing wrong, for example, with harmless sport flirting if the opportunity arises. Flirting without intent is one way to get the charge of knowing that other people think you’re hot without actually risking your relationship; plus, you can take that erotic charge and plow it into your relationship with your wife. If it’s a case of missing the early spark in your relationship, then the answer is to remember why those early days were so exciting. Part of what makes the sex so enticing when you’re just starting out is that it’s new and risky. You have to put in work to make it happen and actually seduce your partner – even as the two of you may be determined to rip the clothes off one another. In a long-term relationship, it’s easy to fall into a rut where sex just happens. The more the two of you have to work for it, the more excitement you can bring back to it, the hotter it gets. So start breaking out of the routine and screw like teenagers again. Take some risks – find a quiet place to park and sneak into the back seat of your car, hook up in the bathroom of a bar or a broom closet at work. The novelty and the effort and the low-key risk will give sex a spice and urgency that it doesn’t currently have.
If it’s just a case of wanting new and different… well, that’s what porn and sex-toys are for. Either by yourself or with your wife.
However, I don’t think an open relationship is necessarily what you want right now. While I certainly wouldn’t argue against your studying up on them, I don’t think your issue is that you’re not built for monogamy, I think it’s that you want the validation of being desired by other people and having the game you didn’t have when you were younger. And while I understand the desire to go out and test this, I think the potential cost to your relationship – one that you say you’re otherwise satisfied with – is far greater than the reward.
All things considered, this is a relatively minor itch, FOMO and one that’s easily scratched. It’s not something to get overly concerned about or to risk your relationship over. Focus on the underlying cause rather than the symptom, and you’ll be fine.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a question about “how to handle women with poor social skills”.
While dating and approaching women I have had the problem that some women can’t pick any signal that I give and it is really really frustrating. The lack of response or follow up to a signal makes wondering if the other is interested at all. At some point, I retreat to avoid an awkward situation. However, lack of a signal doesn’t always imply lack of interest (sometimes it does imply lack of interest – especially when the woman is socially skilled and proactive).
I would guess that this problem may be more common that one would guess initially. The reasons for inactivity and lack of response could be shyness, lack of social skills or some level of autism. The woman can be really sweet and interested but her social skills can be really bad. Lack of social skills makes reading the situation and the whole social interaction harder. Could you provide some advice?
DEAR CLUELESS: There’re two possibilities here, Clueless. The first is that they legitimately don’t pick up on your signals, either because you aren’t great at sending them or they just don’t get them. The other is that they know exactly what it is you’re saying and they’re just not interested and they’re hoping that by “missing” your signal, you’ll get the hint and move on.
But as a general rule, if you think they’re not picking up what you’re putting down for whatever reason, then use your words. Don’t give signals, say it explicitly. “Hey, I think you’re awesome and like to take you out on a proper date. How do you feel about $COOL_THING_A and $COOL_THING_B?” “I would love to kiss you right now.” “Want to make out?” “Should we take this to the bedroom?” etc. There are a lot of folks out there who’d appreciate it if people would just straight up say what it is they mean instead of hinting or dropping clues like the Riddler. You may well be dealing with people like that. And if you are? Being the person to just lay it out there without any room for misunderstanding would make you exactly who they’re looking for.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)