DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: This past week, I went to a very popular vacation spot and ended up running into a minor internet celebrity. He was there with another guy I recognized from his videos and his girlfriend. I tweeted afterward thanking them, and the next day, Minor Internet Celebrity DM’d me.
At first, he simply said he’d like to hang out more and that the next time we’re in each other’s part of the state (about 6 hours by car, 1 by plane), we should hang out. I didn’t have time yet to respond when he clarified that he and his girlfriend are in an open relationship, and would I be interested in going on a date with him sometime?
I said I would, and that I’d let him know when we are in the same area. His Twitter and videos are super feminist, and I am fond of the academic and non-pretentious quality of his work.
That said, I have three questions for you:
1. What are the rules of being the “other person” in an open relationship? I know it’s just one date (heck, he didn’t even say that he wants to sleep with me or anything like that), but while I’m a big fan of his, I want his girlfriend to be very much ok with everything.
2. Do you have any advice for a fan going on a date with someone they personally consider to be a celebrity? He seems super feminist, but also, but stories like with Aziz Ansari are still very much on my mind, and if this doesn’t go well (not necessarily sexual assault), I don’t want to hate him.
3. Although it’s the thing that’s not allowed to be said, I am a very conventionally attractive young woman. It’s rare that I don’t get some kind of comment about it when I’m in public. He is less conventionally attractive, however, I find his personality very attractive. If I did not already know who he was, I probably would not have agreed to go on a date with him, however, I’m trying to branch out and give people a chance this year. Do you have any advice for someone in this position?
I’ll add that although I look the way I do and am in my mid-20s, I’ve never really had a relationship before. I went to a famously mostly-girls college, and have been told that I come off as very intimidating to most men (I guess fangirling kinda removes the intimidation factor), and when they approach me, relationships are just SO not on my mind that I usually turn them down. I know I’m probably over thinking all of this, but I’m something of a perfectionist and really want to make sure this (if/when it even happens) goes well.
Third Person Singular
DEAR THIRD PERSON SINGULAR: There’re a few things I would suggest as best practices, TPS.
First is that I’d suggest a little due diligence. A lot of folks in open relationships are socially monogamous – that is, they don’t talk about about being open, publicly – for a number of reasons. These can range from things like avoiding familial or social conflict to just preferring to keep their business private… especially if they’re in the public eye. But there’re also people who’ll put themselves out there as being open when they actually aren’t. And while every couple has their own arrangements, from sharing of every single detail to a don’t ask, don’t tell policy, it may not be a bad idea to at least inquire if you can double-check with his girlfriend that this is on the up and up. And while they may have a DADT thing going on, the way he reacts to this entirely reasonable request will at least give you some indications as to whether this is legit.
Second: they may be a minor celebrity, but they’re also a person and – as we’ve seen, people are flawed and complicated. It’s good that he’s a positive person and feminist, but even people who know better make mistakes at times.
So while he’s got his bona fides in his videos and Twitter, don’t let those make you second guess how you feel. Be willing to trust your instincts. Even if you’re feeling a bit fan-girl-y, take things at the pace that you’re comfortable with. Remember: for whatever level of Internet fame he may have, he’s a regular person too; you may admire him but that doesn’t mean that you need to prioritize his approval over your own sense of security. You’re allowed to set your limits and boundaries where you choose and to enforce them as you choose. And if things start to set off your Spidey-sense, don’t feel as though you can’t say “Hey, listen, I’m gonna peace out now.”
Also, you may also want to consider doing a pre-date date as well – a short meetup for coffee or frozen yogurt, where you can decide whether you’re feeling enough chemistry and interest to make it worth going on a full date with him. Think of it as a date test run; if you enjoy yourself enough on this quick meet-up, then plan for a second, more formal occasion for the next time. This also helps mitigate the feeling of “he’s only in town for X amount of time,” which can create this artificial sense of urgency. Yeah, dude may be across the state from you, but if he’s going to be there for longer than 24 hours, he can invest the initial half-hour before you commit to something longer and more involved next time.
Third: You’re already doing what I would suggest – giving someone you found intriguing a chance, even if they weren’t necessarily your physical type. And while his fame – for whatever value of fame there is in being a minor internet celebrity – can be attractive to people, the thing to consider is that you’ve had the opportunity to get to know him… even if it’s at a certain distance removed. Studies have found that while looks help initially, ultimately, somebody’s personality tends to make them more attractive to you in the long run. So if you dig him for his brain, then you may well realize you also want him for his ass because of it.
(And incidentally, gentlemen: this applies to you too.)
And if not, then you’re really not out too much beyond the time and cost of your meal. You gave a dude a chance, it just wasn’t meant to be as it so often can be with dating. And if things do go well, then you may find it worth your time to go out on a date with someone less Internet famous but equally as appealing, personality-wise.
But more than anything else: trust your instincts. The fact that you haven’t had relationships before doesn’t mean that you can’t tell when a situation feels weird to you. Otherwise, enjoy yourself and may this be the first of however many awesome dating adventures you have to look forward to.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a teenager, and I have a very close friend of mine (let’s call him Jack) in a relationship with someone that some aspects of which seemed… off to me. They’re mid teens as well, so maybe that discounts much of this just because of the inherent confusion, anger, and other issues that come with, well, BEING A TEENAGER. Regardless I thought I’d send this in.
The two of them have been dating for pushing on 6 months now, and they knew each other as friends for about 6 months before they started dating. They’re semi long-distance, so most of the way they communicate is through text and video-calling.
The crux of the matter is, however, that the person who my friend is dating (I’ll call her Jill) is a girl who has mental health problems. She has anxiety and depression, and maybe more, but it boils down to her being extremely self conscious and very worried about what other people think. And to the best of my knowledge, my friend is there for her as much as he feasibly can be, to reassure her and help her and do all he can. This relationship, to my admittedly small understanding of how this sort of thing works, is a good one… most of the time.
Sometimes, Jill will have a bad day. For whatever reason (it’s often something like someone at school was nasty to her or she just feels bad for some reason) she’ll become hypersensitive, and lash out. On several occasions, Jill will decide that by some action Jack has slighted her, doesn’t want to be around her, or doesn’t like her and she unloads on him. This ends up forcing Jack to drop whatever he was annoyed about- which is almost always a legitimate complaint- and focus everything on comforting her. However, this is complicated by the fact that, for that moment, Jill likely DOES believe that he is trying to hurt her, or really DOES believe that he thinks she’s a sh*t girlfriend. And so it’s a lot harder to hold her responsible for these things, none the least because criticizing her could trigger another panic-induced tide of self doubt or loathing.
This can manifest itself in several ways. For example, Jack might complain about how someone might say something rude or insensitive about him and Jill will replies with “true (laughing emoji)”. She’ll explain why it’s accurate, Jack will say that he doesn’t appreciate her insulting him, she apologizes, and he reminds her that she doesn’t stop saying these things, even when she’s sorry. Then, Jill stops talking for a few hours, coming back on to say “wait to talk until I’m home and can cry”.
Then Jack will explain why what she said hurt him and Jill will say he shouldn’t be reminding her that she’s a jerk, that it hurts that he says her apology means nothing, that she’s crying now and he shouldn’t be making her cry. There are several more times, times where he wanted to go to sleep and she was mad because he wouldn’t stay up, times where he said she wasn’t fat and said she shouldn’t say that about herself and got accused of calling her an attention whore.
As far as I know she actually thinks this, at least for the limited time these conversations take place in. But that doesn’t make it any more fair to Jack. It doesn’t seem like he can voice any criticism of her or anything she’s doing for fear of both making her feel bad and her feeling bad turning the discussion on its head.
And, I feel I should stress, this DOES NOT happen very often, I cannot emphasize enough how most of the time things are great between them and how happy they are. But the times when there is trouble…
Maybe this is too long, too much writing. But I think this is not good for Jack when this does happen. I’m asking what you think on the matter, is this abuse or just the complications of someone with anxiety, if it is abuse what could or should be done? Does it matter because they are so happy together so much of the time?
Thanks for your time,
A Concerned Friend
DEAR A CONCERNED FRIEND:I wouldn’t call it abuse necessarily, but it’s certainly sh
ty behavior, bordering on being toxic. Now to be sure: some of this is the nature of being teens; you’re in a messed up transition period in life where you’re not quite adults but everyone expects you to act like one. You’re not quite kids, but everyone treats you like one. And then to add insult to injury, your brains and bodies are flooded with hormones and chemicals as you start reaching your maturity, you’re not getting enough sleep and you’ve got six billion different kinds of anxiety and no goddamn idea how to process any of it.
But while that may help explain why teenagers are walking drama generators, it doesn’t excuse some of the behavior you’re describing here. Neither, for that matter, does whatever mental health issues Jill may have. The fact that she’s dealing with depression or anxiety – which, as someone who suffers from depression himself, I have a lot of sympathy for – doesn’t give her license to be an a
hole. And things like refusing to take responsibility for insulting her boyfriend or making his not-unreasonable request that she do more than just apologize are a
There are a lot of people out there who will turn any criticism about their behavior into a diatribe about how mean everyone is. It’s a way of deflecting blame and responsibility and trying to force people into having to disregard their own complaints in order to now comfort and reassure the “injured” party. It can be infuriating, especially when somebody has a legitimate reason to be upset; now they’re left feeling like the a
hole… even when they know what’s going on. And for someone who’s young and not necessarily secure in themselves? It’s one that leave them feeling like they have no out or no way to be heard.
Which is where you come in ACF. It sounds like Jack could use somebody in his corner and point out that, while it’s good that things are happy most of the time, when they’re not, it’s really not. He could use someone he could talk to, someone who can tell him when his problems are legit and be willing to listen to him when he needs to vent.
And, importantly, someone who’s willing to tell him when his girlfriend is being an a
hole to him and that it’s ok to be upset when someone treats him this way.
Now I’m not saying that you need to be pushing Jack to dump Jill. Mostly because it probably wouldn’t work; there’s no better way to get two teenagers to stick together like lovesick barnacles than to try to pull them apart. But also because, honestly, this tends to be a self-correcting problem; the relationships you have in your teen years are like a Zack Snyder film: exciting on the surface, full of sturm and drang and fall apart if you even look at it cross-eyed. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be painful, or that it can’t create a precedent for the future.
So the best thing you can do is be both a sounding board and a reality check for Jack. Let him know when his complaints are real and when the way that Jill treats him is bad. Back him up when he feels ready to confront her and be his support when he wavers. And when it seems like she’s manipulating him, be the guy to call it out so he can stand firm.
And if he starts to have doubts about things with Jill… well, you can be there to give him your two cents about it all.
Be his friend, ACF, because that’s what he’s going to really need down the line.
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