DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My brother seems to be going through a rough cycle in the dating world, and I’m not sure how I can best help him, or at least support him.
So, to start with, my brother is probably one of the smartest people I know. He’s an undergrad doing grad work & research at one of Texas’s best universities, and keeps himself well read on a variety of topics outside his specialty. Personality-wise, he has his jerk
s moments, but is mostly a pretty good guy, and people really seem to love him. If that wasn’t enough, he’s absurdly face-pretty, which, not gonna lie, kinda makes me hate him some days (lol, but that’s another column). So he really has no trouble attracting the attention of both men or women (he’s bi/gay-but-makes-exceptions/doesn’t like labels).
Now, to hear him tell it, he’s not even that invested in the idea of dating anyone. He’s “If it happens, cool, but I got a lot going on otherwise”. And I honestly believe that, or at least believe that he believes that.
This issue is that he pretty regularly does get approached by someone, and they start dating, and he starts to get invested, and open to the idea of moving into something serious, and then they always seem to shoot him a text asking if they can keep it casual, or just be friends.
He’s told me he feels like he starts to bore people after a while, because (while I mentioned he’s well versed in multiple areas), he’s really only passionate about math and one or two other things, and even when the other person is, for instance, someone he met in class, who shares at least that interest, he’ll feel like he doesn’t have anything to contribute elsewhere. To add to it, his time is so full of homework/research work, that even if he had the interest cultivate more “frivolous hobbies” (his words, and he doesn’t really have the interest to do so), he definitely doesn’t have the time.
I’ve told him that right there is probably going to be his biggest problem, and he recognizes that, and admits it’s true, but he falls back on the, “I’m okay not dating anyone” excuse as to why it’s not a priority to change.
Then he still seems frustrated when the cycle happens again. Lately it seems to be getting worse, especially, with two women who were both driven, intelligent, and he could make math jokes with, but still ended up eventually giving him the “not ready for a relationship” line.
To make it more awkward to even talk about this, he’s one of those people who HATES showing vulnerability and that he’s been hurt, so he tends to shut down and just try to act like it doesn’t bother him when this happens instead of actually talking it out. (Just for the records, this isn’t so much a toxic masculinity issue as it is a symptom of childhood abuse, again, a whole other column on that conversation. We’ve both done therapy, both are working on it).
So, after it’s all said and done, I’d really like to know if there’s anything I can do besides let him vent when he works himself up to letting that side of himself open up to me.
Part of me thinks I need to do the tough love thing, and just tell him to stop dating, or stop being boring if he thinks that’s his issue, or to grow up and actually have an argument with the people he dates instead of withdrawing and let it simmer under the surface. Admit he does want to someone in his life, and figure out what he can change to make that happen, especially considering he’s already 85% there just by having his life together so much that people keep seeing him as someone to start dating.
DEAR SYMPATHETIC BRO: It’s admirable how much you want to help your bro, SB. But here’s my question: are you sure he really wants help right now? Because from the way you’ve been describing him, it sounds like he might be telling you straight that he really is ok being single. For some people, dating and relationships are something you can take or leave. It may be frustrating when an otherwise fun relationship falls apart, but hey, it happens, life goes on and there’ll be someone else later on.
But everything you’ve described – from the way that women are approaching him, to his behavior – suggests that he really doesn’t give that much of a damn. It kinda sounds like he’s cool with other people doing all the heavy lifting but isn’t investing much of himself in these relationships. And I’m willing to bet that if you were to do a sort of exit interview with his exes, you’d find that this is exactly the problem: he doesn’t give an indication that he has a damn left to give about them or their relationship.
Now, yeah, he may be one of those guys who shuts down and pretends he’s not hurt. But is it honestly possible that he’s just not that broken up about things?
But let’s assume for a second that he is actually hurt by all this. The biggest impediment to change is going to be, well, him. Unless he’s ready and willing to actually change, nothing is going to happen, whether you yell at him or be as supportive as a memory foam mattress. As frustrating as it may be to see someone who could be doing better, and as much as you may want to help him, there’s really nothing you can do if he doesn’t want to do anything yet. You can badger him and push him and he might make some token gestures to get you off his back. But if his heart isn’t in it… not much is going to change. He’s going to revert back to the status quo pretty damn fast.
Take it from someone who does this for a living: until folks decide they want things to be different badly enough, you can talk until you’re blue in the face but nothing’s gonna be different.
Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t be supportive. It certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t apply the Clue By Four of Loving Correction and hope that it opens his eyes. By all means, lay things out for him. Go ahead and sit down with him and tell him your side and how frustrating it can be considering how much he has going for him. And once you’ve said your peace… step back. It’s in his court now.
You can’t force him to do things differently or force him to change. The best thing you can do to support him is to encourage him to be willing to open up to you, and let him know that you’re there to help him out. And if and when he’s ready, you’ll be there to guide him and advise him as best you can.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I thought I would send a message to you since your articles have been so helpful to me. I have taken a lot of your advice to heart and it has made me a better person.
I just ended another date with another dude that indicated that their only goal was to get me into bed and that was it. Now before you become enraged you should know that it might not be entirely their fault.
I have reached a point in my life where I enjoy being single and doing my own thing. I was married for too long a tyrant that controlled my every move. Its been years since I left him, I am over it and have moved on. That being said, I enjoy my freedom but I miss the intimacy.
I have come to realize that a friends with benefits situation works best for me. Perhaps that sounds like I have an advantage, but I don’t. After my last FWB relationship ended (amicably) I went back the dating site to find another one. On the dating site what I say is “I am looking for an FWB” but what they read is I am easy and asking for a hookup. I like to be honest and upfront about who I am and what I am looking for. I am afraid if I don’t mention it in some way that I will break some nice guy’s heart. That ambiguity stresses me out, which I understand is probably due to the trauma from my marriage.
I am not a young, slender beautiful woman. I don’t have anything to offer that a younger, more beautiful woman could. When someone does show interest I really struggle to identify their motive. I am nice, smart, entertaining but quite often not worth sticking around for. I am perhaps their last choice. Their regard for me is often in terms you have described before as lucky to have someone interested and what not. I keep an open mind, and not everyone has been a jerk but that voice of doubt is always there.
I am tired of being used like a kleenex. I am tired of being pursued like a sex worker. I am losing my mind from the lack of intimacy. I just don’t want a committed relationship. I won’t back down, give in and sleep with who ever comes around. I just want someone I can rely on for sex. That is not a terrible thing and I am not a terrible person for wanting it. Please help me, give me some of your good advice to help me find someone.
DEAR SALACIOUS GAMER: You are indeed correct, SG: you’ve got every right to want sex on your terms and you are not a terrible person for wanting it that way.
And it wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it weren’t for the would-be players and habitual line-steppers.
The problem with online dating is all the other people, SG – especially the guys who are on autopilot. You can have the most carefully set up profile, which spells out exactly what you want, what you’re looking for and what you will and won’t do and you’ll still get dudes who will ignore literally all of it in hopes of some quick action.
And it certainly doesn’t help that a lot of people mistake “being interested in casual sex” as “willing to take on all comers” rather than “I don’t want to date, I just want a reliable connection for intimacy”.
So what do you do about all of this?
Well, to start with, I would consider the applications and dating sites you’re using, SG. Different apps and sites have different cultures attached to them. Tinder tends to be a bit faster paced and still more focused on easy sex (even if it’s becoming more and more relationship oriented), while Match has more serial monogamists. Something like Bumble – where women are the initiators – or Hinge — which is more relationship-focused — may be more speed.
The other thing I would suggest is that you take “looking for an FWB” out of your profile for now. While yes, that’s what you’re looking for, it’s also causing you a lot of frustration with dudes who see that and assume that all they have to do is show up. You can still say that you’re not looking for anything serious – in fact, you may phrase it like that – but the words “casual” and “friends with benefits” are probably throwing a lot of noise in with your signal.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you can tell people in person what you’re looking for. After taking the indication of “I just want something casual” out of your profile, take a date or two with dudes who pass your filter, see how you feel about them and then tell them “hey, just FYI: I’m not looking for commitment or strings. I just want a friend, with occasional banging”. If they’re still interested: cool, now you can start discussing terms and seeing if the two of you can work on that level. If they aren’t… well, it was just a date or two. Not a huge loss of your time, nor have you inadvertently broken a dude’s heart.
And one last possibility: you could check among your single guy friends who might be up for adding some benefits to their friendship with you. If you already have that trust and emotional intimacy from your friendship and there’s any physical attraction to go with it… well, there’s no reason not to at least float the possibility, no? The fact that you’re friends already doesn’t have to preclude a little action, nor does it automatically mean that you’re risking the friendship.
So change up your profile a little, SG, check some other apps to see if a different audience may work better for you and see if maybe you have some options in your life already.
It can be a frustrating slog, and sometimes the problem isn’t even you. Sometimes you’ve just got lousy luck. I’ve got several female friends who have similar issues with dating and a lot of the time… nobody’s doing anything wrong. It’s just there’s a lot of incompatible people out there and a staggering number of bastards. Sometimes the best thing you can do is spit in your hands, grit your teeth and keep making the climb until you get to the summit.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)