DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m 23 and looking for love in the Big Apple. I recently stumbled onto your blog, and I’ve really enjoyed it/found it helpful. I would like some advice. My problem isn’t actually getting girls. I’ve had a couple of girlfriends and can get a date. My problem is pushing them away because I come on too strong.
Here is my most recent “failure.” I met this girl at a bar about a month ago. She was very good looking and we bonded over singing “Jessie’s Girl,” being nerdy, and similar experiences with Greek Life in college, among other things. We talked for a long time, and I was smitten. I got her number and asked her out the next day, and she responded positively. We texted just about every day for two weeks until we actually went on the date (she was busy the weekend after we met so we had to wait). She told me she was really looking forward to it. I was too.
The date started out really well. We took an hour to order food because we couldn’t stop talking to each other long enough to look at the menu, and never ran out of things to say throughout the meal. We had similar interests and personality quirks, so there was obviously chemistry. She told me she was having a really great time near the end of dinner. She offered to pay for part of dinner, but I picked up the check and said, “Maybe if we do this again…” and she cut me off immediately and said, “When we do this again.” And after dinner, I took her to a romantic spot and we kissed, and it was mutually wanted (we both leaned in for it). And I think it was a fine kiss too, before you ask. So all good signs.
And then…I held her hand for like 30 seconds and said I was glad I had met her. And I asked if I could put my arm around her and she said she was okay with it, but I could tell it was awkward. In fact, the whole mood of the date had changed after the kiss and she just seemed more out of place. So when I asked her out again, she told me no because I had come on too strong and it made her freak out.
A month later, I’m still kind of bummed about it. She seemed so into me, and now, I have nothing to show for it. And she was really great, and she was the first girl since my last girlfriend a year ago that I really felt this strong a connection with (and I’ve gone on other dates, but not one this good in a while). So yeah, I was really into her, and I guess that’s my problem: I had fallen head-over-heels for this girl who I had only met twice. And I think even if my acts were relatively tame (I mean, some people have sex on the first date, holding hands shouldn’t be such a big deal), my feelings had shown through.
It’s a common thread too. It’s why online dating is hard for me because I get attached so easily. I’ve said “I love you” fairly quickly in my previous relationships, and my aforementioned last girlfriend had a problem with me doing too much in the relationship, or making too big romantic gestures. That’s not a humble brag, by the way, it’s real problem. I fall for girls very quickly, I give too much or come on too strong too soon, and I end up getting hurt. And it seems the longer I’m single, and even though I have other pursuits in my life to make that time more fulfilling, it becomes harder to reign those feelings in because I just get more excited each time about the prospect of meeting someone.
So I guess my question is this: how do I keep my feelings in check? How do I not get so attached to someone I’ve just met, even if I think they’re an amazing person? How do I care less? Thanks for your advice.
DEAR WANNABE LOVERBOY: It’s not about the act, WTM, it’s the signals behind it.
We’re just gonna go to the tape, because you’ve shown us exactly where you screwed up: “And then…I held her hand for like 30 seconds and said I was glad I had met her. And I asked if I could put my arm around her and she said she was okay with it, but I could tell it was awkward.”
You were doing pretty well… right up to this point. This was a classy date that was going well for everyone involved. But when you got to the “I’m glad I met you” part, it almost certainly sounded to her like you were already treating things like you guys were five or six dates in. That’s the sort of thing you tend to say when you’ve been together for a while, not on a first date.
Here’s your problem: you’re needy as hell. You overcommit too far, too fast and your behavior shows that you seem more interested in locking them down before they can get away than in pursuing a relationship with someone like a grown-ass adult. I get that meeting new people is exciting, but it seems as though you’re mistaking “excitement” for “a love for the ages” – especially if it corresponds with how long you’ve been single. All of that says to me that you have some self-esteem issues that’re getting in the way of your dating. Giving “too much” and making those big, romantic gestures (which only work in movies) suggests that you fear that you don’t have anything about you that would make women want to stay. Instead, you end up trying to bowl them over with these grand declarations of love that just make them incredibly uncomfortable and worrying that you have low emotional intelligence.
The thing you have to realize is that hiding how you feel isn’t going to solve the problem. You (like 99% of the population) are not that good of an actor and it’ll bleed into everything you do. But even if you do successfully hide it, all that’s happening is that you’re masking symptoms, not actually treating the problem. And the problem isn’t falling in love so easily, it’s why you fall that quickly.
You, my friend, desperately need to develop some chill. The biggest thing you need to do is work on your validation – finding the things about you that make you awesome – so that you aren’t so afraid that others are going to leave. This is one of those times when it may help to talk to a counselor in your area; they may be best suited to help you work on identifying and fixing those problem areas.
But overall, the more comfortable you get with your own value and your own self-worth, the more you’ll be able to enjoy that initial limerence for what it is – the thrill of the new – and not confusing it with a grand passion that must be acted upon.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: A few years ago at age 20 I was in a sexually coercive relationship. I only recently found out that that’s even a thing (like a few weeks ago) and that it’s supposed to be equivalent to some sort of assault. Initially I was relieved because it meant I could finally stop feeling guilty and disgusted with myself but then I started realizing what a huge lie I have been living for years.
Side note: I still find it very hard to accept that the sexual coercion thing wasn’t my own fault. I sincerely believed for years that it’s my own responsibility to say no clearly. If I never said no and established my own limits, then how is he supposed to know? Even though I can see why he was an asshole, I still can’t really forgive myself. I feel incredibly guilty and disgusted with myself when I think about my time with him.
Only a few weeks after my coercive relationship ended, I found a new boyfriend who I’m married to now. The problem was that sex felt icky. It made me feel angry, resentful and not turned on at all. I always just ignored that feeling and pretended everything was fine. I didn’t want to tell my new boyfriend I wasn’t in the mood, after all (and feed into the worst cliches about mooching, boring girlfriends). I just read today that there is something called internalized coercion, and that girls are brought up learning that sex is an obligation in a relationship, not a choice. I didn’t realize it at the time but looking back I think this is the way I subconsciously perceived it. I felt guilty when I wasn’t in the mood – and I was never in the mood, so what was I supposed to do? Deny him sex forever?
I’m a good actor. I would let him believe I really really wanted sex when in reality I was creeped out by it. I thought something was wrong with me for not wanting it. I thought that I needed to “just get over it” and stop being such a prude. Sex is a vital part of any relationship, everybody says so. Without it, the relationship dies. There is this saying: Men will use love to get sex and women will use sex to get love.
I thought that was the natural state of things. It was just the way it was.
I love my (now) husband. He is my best friend and I don’t think it’s his fault that he didn’t pick up on my weird relationship to sex. After all, I did absolutely everything I could so he wouldn’t find out. I really acted well. I told him about the things I liked and what I wanted him to do (all lies).
Since I stumbled on the term sexual coercion three weeks ago, I have been cutting back on a lot of the acting. I revealed the lie to myself, so it’s harder to still pretend. I don’t want to. I just want to hug and kiss and never have to deal with his penis again, if I can help it. We don’t have a lot of sex anymore anyway which suits me just fine (he says he is ok with it too when I ask him). I still can’t shed the icky feeling of sex and I don’t want to act like I want it anymore.
I’m not really sure he means it when he says he is fine with less sex or if he just finds me sexually boring now. It sounds genuine enough and I don’t want to keep asking him. I have asked him like 3 times already recently.
Do you think I should tell my husband about my experience? Does he have a right to know or can we go on just fine as it is? It makes me a bit sad that I’m not enjoying sex anymore as I used to have quite a big libido before. How do I tell him now that I feel uncomfortable with sex? Won’t he feel deceived?
By the way, this does not apply to all sex. Once we masturbated together and I really liked that. It’s just not something we do a lot. If the choice is between masturbating together or no sex at all, my husband will usually pick no sex at all. I also really enjoy the heat and the getting turned on when we make out but it’s just still weird for me going further.
It’s just all the normal penetrative stuff that makes me feel weird, especially when it reminds me of my old relationship. My husband for example gets turned on by holding me down and I have successfully acted for 3,5 years now that I liked it (because I didn’t like anything, so why not just go all in), so it’s pretty overwhelming suddenly having to explain to him how I was just lying to him the whole time and I’m actually not ok with a lot of things we do in bed.
I don’t know what to do. Maybe you can help me see the situation more clearly. I appreciate any insight or advice. I do realize you are not a psychologist – I guess I’m looking for advice on how to not kill my relationship with my husband at this point. Thanks for any insight you might have.
Gone On Too Long
DEAR GONE ON TOO LONG: ’m so sorry to hear about what happened to you, GOTL. It’s awful that you went through all of that, and I’m glad that you’ve found a measure of comfort in realizing what has happened to you.
But now that you’ve had that revelation, there are three things I want you to do. And I’m going to warn you now: none of them are going to be easy. In fact, almost all of it is going to suck in ways things haven’t sucked before. But it’s still necessary.
First: I want you to talk to a therapist or counselor about what happened to you. You have a lot of internal conflict bound up in what happened to you and most of that is far outside the remit of a loudmouth with a blog, like me. Talking with a mental health professional will help you untangle a lot of the whammy that was put on you about female sexuality as you grew up and help you realize that your abuse was not your fault. The American Association of Sexual Educators Counselors and Therapists has a referral directorythat can help you find a counselor in your area.
Second: You need to talk to your husband. He has a right to know what’s going on – especially since right now, he has no clue why you’re suddenly not interested in penetrative sex. As far as he knows, everything was fine and then suddenly it wasn’t. That can be confusing, even painful for someone. For all they know, it was their fault and they don’t know how to make it right.
But more importantly: letting him know what’s up with you is important because, well, you’ve been tricking him, and in ways that aren’t fair to him. As far as he knew, you enjoyed your power-exchange as he was holding you down. I suspect that if he knew that you were dying a little inside every time, he would never have asked to do it. Letting that secret go on for so long now means that when he does find out, it’s going to really hurt him. That’s pain you could’ve avoided earlier on if you’d been straightforward with him.
The other thing to consider is that, by being honest with him and telling him everything, you empower your relationship to actually change. Right now, he feels like he’s being offered not-sex or no sex. And while yes, there’s more to sex than penetration, he’s seeing this as you losing interest in him. Realizing that the problem isn’t him but the penetration might make him more open to other forms of sex – including that mutual masturbation you found so hot.
Being honest means that you can also have open discussion about other ways he can get his needs met. His going behind your back and having an affair is more likely to damage the relationship than it would be for you two to be honest and let him be honestly non-monogamous instead. That openness can release the tension of his love for you but his desire for sex, instead of being told that he’s now stuck being celibate.
Will this save your relationship with your husband? Maybe. Maybe not. But continuing to keep this from him will destroy it.
Third: you need to forgive yourself. You were abused. The fault wasn’t that you let yourself be abused, the fault was with the person who abused you. End of story. And – remember, Doctor NerdLove isn’t a real doctor, so take this with suitable amounts of salt – I kind of suspect that some of your willingness to fake an interest in sex with your husband may be some form of self-punishment. You “let” yourself be abused, so you “deserve” to have this happen to you. That’s bulls
The sooner you learn to forgive yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to heal. And talking with a counselor will be the first step on that path.
Good luck, GOTL. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)