DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: You’ve mentioned you once lost a relationship with someone you thought was the perfect match and the love of you life. This just happened to me, and it is absolutely soul-crushing. On the one hand, it’s reassuring to know it happens and people can come out on the other side. And I know about the things I should be doing right now, like taking care of myself and trying to focus on things I enjoy and healing.
But it’s been a month and a half and while I am doing a little better than a month ago when I was an absolute wreck, it still hurts badly and constantly. I am still angry and confused and hurt and heartbroken and it is so hard to move on with my life and let it go. These things take time, but is there any way to not feel so broken in the meantime? I’m glad I cared about something so much and was vulnerable, but the pain is sometimes unbearable. And now not only do I have some trust issues due to some of the things she said to me that turned out to not be true, but I’ve lost all my confidence. I know I have a lot to offer, but my dating experience has not been a fruitful one and it really sucks to feel unwanted and undesirable.
How do I get my confidence back? How can I find the REAL love of my life without this forever hanging over my head and my heart? Please help.
Dumped, Dejected and Dismayed
DEAR DUMPED, DEJECTED AND DISMAYED: Man, I’m sorry this happened to you 3D. It’s always rough when a relationship falls apart, especially one that you thought was The One. It’s like getting kicked in your soul’s crotch. It hits you on a deep and personal level, feeling like you’ve just been weighed and measured and found wanting. Now you’re left questioning everything. Was any of it real? Did they mean anything they said? Was this whole thing just one horrifying performance, a WestWorld-esque fraud where the reality is just a bunch of people telling you what you want to hear.
But here’s the thing, 3D: the fact that it feels like this doesn’t mean it’s true. I hate to trot out the phrase but feelz aren’t always realz, my dude. You’re dealing with the fact that a major part of your life has come to a sudden and unexpected halt. When you’re in a relationship, you’re no longer just 3D, you’re 3D+TheirPartner. The longer you’re together, the more that’s part of who you are; you start to reorder your life around being in that relationship, with that person. When the relationship comes to an end – especially one you didn’t anticipate – that identity and that life is suddenly gone. Now after having spent months or years getting into a particular groove, you’re suddenly finding that you’re 3D again and what does this all mean?
In a real way, you’re like someone who’s lost a limb. Your brain has carved a groove around your life with your ex. Now you have to relearn life without them and that’s hard. But no matter what it may feel like “hard” isn’t the same thing as “impossible”.
Well, the answer of “how do I get back to NOT feeling like hammered crap” is in relearning who 3D is. This means taking time to get familiar with you you are. Not who you were, who you are, now that you’ve gone through this. And if you don’t know… well, then this is your opportunity to decide who you are and shape your life accordingly. It’s time to start working on yourself, doing things that are good for you. Not just that make you feel good in the moment (or just numb the pain) but that have measurable, positive effects on your life. This is one of the reasons why I always recommend hitting the gym in the wake of a break-up; not only can the treadmill or the elliptical runner or lifting weights be a sort of moving meditation, but they’re things that you can do that are good for you. You’re working on your health and getting and shape instead sitting around and feeling like a gross lump.
While you’re at it: lean on your friends. Rebuild the connections that you let slide while you were with your partner and strengthen the ones that are already there. Your friends are a source of support in this time and it’s good to remind yourself that you’re still loved and appreciated.
This is also the time to throw yourself into a new hobby or interest. Maybe you’ve always had the idea that you wanted to learn a new language or start playing guitar. Now is the time to start. It gives you something to occupy your brain instead of playing endless games of “what if”. Plus: it makes you a more interesting, more well-rounded person… which helps you find new relationships down the line.
But the most important thing you can do, 3D, is give yourself time. It’s only been a month and a half. That’s not a long time in the scheme of things, and it’s unreasonable to expect that you’re going to be magically all better virtually no time at all. You need to let yourself heal, 3D and you can’t do that if you keep picking at the scab. It’s going to hurt while your heart knits itself back together and your wounds close. You will grieve. That’s fine. That’s natural. But it will fade over time. It will be gradual, sure. But one day you’re going to realize that you don’t feel so bad. Yeah you may not be at 100% yet… but it doesn’t suck as much either. It’s like when you’ve had a headache because you had it for so long that you only realize it by it’s absence.
So take your time, 3D. Work on yourself, connect with your friends and occupy your brain. These will all help ease the pain so that you can let time and perspective do their work. Because it will get better. I promise.
All will be well.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Love the column! It’s given me a lot of food for thought over recent months as I begin to seriously consider dating as a fun, healthy thing to do rather than a way to fill a hole in my life.
I’ve made a lot of positive changes lately in my life in general as well as my attitude towards dating. I try to adopt an abundance mentality. I’m beginning to feel that the only chances you’re guaranteed to blow are the ones you don’t take. If I’m out and feeling anxious or sad about my prospects, I’ll turn my phone off and engage with humans rather than hide in a corner checking Twitter and cursing my genetics (which I imagine wasn’t particularly attractive behaviour). I have trouble believing that someone with my face has ever been sent signals, but I’ve actually done okay historically with people out-right telling me they like me or having friends say ‘do you remember that time I hit on you?’ years later which I was oblivious to due to my self-esteem, so it’s a reasonable assumption that perhaps at least some strangers see something attractive about me for reasons I wish I knew and believed.
I guess my concern is this: despite believing in abundance and taking chances, what if I still screw up every opportunity? Trying my best is no guarantee that I won’t die lonely and bitter and it’s crippling to think I won’t be intimate with another ever again. I do think my confidence is growing, but I’m not sure it could stand repeated rejections and therefore the confirmation of every negative thing I believe about myself, despite knowing on an intellectual level that it’s not necessarily a value judgement about me or my appearance and working on ways to improve my own self-validation. I do think I’m good at accepting rejection and have formed good genuine friendships with people things haven’t worked out romantically with.
I’ve come off of dating apps because I started to believe that quiet spells are confirmations that I’m ugly and/or boring/weird (although I swipe on very few people, I don’t find myself particularly interested on many people on them) and I become depressed. How do I build resilience when my self-esteem demons are being roused? Is it possible that some of us just don’t ‘qualify’ for dating?
– Not Quite Human Yet
DEAR NOT QUITE HUMAN YET:Here’s my answer to what-if questions NQHY: what if a meteorite fell out of the sky and the resulting impact triggered the caldera under Yellowstone Park? Now not only is most of middle-America wiped out but the ensuing nuclear winter would cause a mini ice-age even greater than the Year Without a Summer that was caused by Mount Tambora exploding.
I bring this up because, honestly, What-If’ing is a pointless exercise. You can what-if yourself into literally any scenario because you’re not being realistic. You’re being pessimistic and assuming the worst; it only feels like you’re being realistic because our brains have an inherent negativity bias. All you’re doing is playing self-destructive fantasies that sound right to you because they conform to the beliefs you already have.
And folks who play these What-If games never really stop to ask themselves: “what if I’m wrong?”
I mean, let’s circle back around to something you said in your letter, NQHY:
“…but I’ve actually done okay historically with people out-right telling me they like me or having friends say ‘do you remember that time I hit on you?’ years later…”
You’ve got evidence right there that folks think you’re hot piece of prime beef. And I get it: it can be hard to accept that people think you’re attractive. You want to dismiss it when your friends say it because they have to, don’t they? Trust me: I’ve been there, done that and the best compliment I may have ever gotten came from someone who was pissed I was telling incels they had hope.
There’re a lot of ways to build emotional strength, NQHY, but part of what you need to do is stop looking for bulls
t excuses to undercut your self-esteem. Part of the reason you’re getting radio silence on dating apps is because that’s standard operating procedure; there’s a lot of noise and many people – women especially – get overwhelmed. As a result, you’re going to send a lot of messages out into the void. But the other reason is you aren’t doing anything either. From your own letter:
“…although I swipe on very few people, I don’t find myself particularly interested on many people on them)…”
The lack of action is coming from inside the house, man.
You’ve made a lot of progress, NQHY and you should be proud of it. So quit letting BS ideas undercut all the hard work you’ve been doing. You’ve got a lot going for you, if you’d just let yourself believe it. Start recognizing all those times that you’ve been sabotaging your own worth and build yourself up. Be the friend that you need, man. You deserve better than what you’re allowing yourself to have.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)