DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve got a neediness problem.
Let me start from the beginning; things are going great! I’ve gotten more confident about myself and less reserved about expressing my interest in women, and that’s led to dates with really cool, attractive people. Although I still at times struggle with my insecurities, I’m laid back enough in public that they don’t stop me from getting attention from people I’m interested in.
The problem starts when sex and intimacy arrive on the scene. Once I’ve seen somebody naked enough times, I can’t help but get invested in them, and once I’m invested in someone, my insecurities kick into high gear. You see, I have a long-standing and deep-seated fear that the people who like me will just suddenly… stop liking me. So things that were innocuous before I started to get invested, like cancelling dates or going radio silent for short periods, start to feel really concerning. I start to wonder “is this person losing interest in me?” and it makes me really, really anxious.
I’m a huge believer in the power of communication, so I try to channel that discomfort into honest conversation in the format of “It’s not your fault but I’m feeling a little insecure because of X, is everything alright with us?” The problem is that my rather transparent need to be validated turns the perceived problems into actual problems, and often directly causes people to lose interest in me. They get the sense that “oh, this guy is way more invested in this than I am” and all of a sudden that girl I was so excited about is telling me she’s “too busy to see me”.
My question is, how do I deal with these insecurities or channel them in ways that don’t damage my relationships? Because at this point the feelings themselves have become a source of dread; I worry that when I start to falter I’ll say something needy-sounding and bugger things up, and thinking thoughts like that makes me even more insecure.
Trying To Play It Cool
DEAR TRYING TO PLAY IT COOL: The thing about neediness is that it’s all about your self-worth. One of the causes of neediness is that you don’t value your own opinion and put too much stock into somebody else’s. How they act, how they behave, how they treat you becomes a critical part of your self-identity because you see them as being the alpha and omega of your own worth. If they ghost you, it’s a referendum on all your failures and flaws as a human being.
But the only reason they have this power is because you’ve given it to them. And in your case, TTPIC, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Most of the time I will tell people that you can’t logic your way out of a problem. But in this case… you kinda can. Here’s the thing, TTPIC: the only thing that has changed between when you were confident and able to overlook minor issues is the context. Before, this person was a stranger; if they suddenly quit calling or texting you back, then it didn’t matter. You knew there were more people out there. Since you weren’t tying your self-worth into their behavior, you’re able to be more rational and realize that some people are kinda flakey or sometimes they may not be as quick to return a text as you might like. You can honestly tell yourself “well, they’re probably busy” or “enh, we’ll get together later” because their presence isn’t your end-all, be-all.
But as soon as sex enters the equation… well now it’s about you and your self-esteem. Attracting them isn’t the validating part for you; it’s the actual sex. And if you’ve sunk that much into “well they like me enough to want to see me naked”, then any hints that they might not want to see you naked any more is potentially devastating. Hence, the over-investing. Hence, the panic. Hence, pushing too hard for validation.
You need to get better at finding your internal validation, so that you’re not relying on other people’s interest to define your worth. The fact that you’re sleeping with someone doesn’t make you a better or more worthy person; it just means that you’re someone they wanted to have sex with. That’s ultimately neutral; women aren’t Mjolnir. They don’t have “Whomsoever should part these thighs, should they be worthy, will be granted the power of SCORE” embroidered on their underwear. By gifting someone you are only just starting to know with such monumental importance, you’re going to freak them out. When you’re asking someone “is everything alright with us” when there’s barely an “us”, you’re telling them that you’ve leapt a little too far ahead.
So here’s what you need to do: you need to slow your roll and learn to not be quite so giving with your power. It’s good to let your partner validate you, but first they need to actually be your partner. When your jerkbrain starts kicking into high gear like that, take a step back. Ask yourself “ok, if I wasn’t sleeping with this person, what would I think?” Remind yourself of how you would think if this were someone else and not your hopeful snugglebunny. Alternately, treat it as though you were giving advice to someone else. What would you tell your best friend if they came to you with this exact scenario.
And then let yourself believe it. Look at their behavior before you got this invested and afterwards. Is it any different? Then there’s nothing to worry about and you can relax because their reasons are likely the same as they were before you started sleeping together.
I get that fear, TTPIC. But it’s irrational and it’s self-fulfilling if you push at it. The best thing you can do is continue being the same confident person you were at the beginning and realize that the problem isn’t that they’re suddenly not liking you any more, it’s that you’re rounding things up to “relationship” a little too quickly. Slow things down, let them take their natural course and you’ll be fine.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: have two problems that I suspect are related. The first is fairly mundane: I get friendzoned a lot. I’m not talking about the kind of friendzone where you pretend to be friends with someone because you’re too chicken to make a move. I’m talking about the kind of friendzone where after a date or two they decide they just want to be friends with you. Now I know most of the time it’s a blow off, but in my personal experience a significant fraction of the time they actually do want to be friends, and in fact several of the closest friends in my life currently are women who’ve friendzoned me. This is extremely frustrating for me, not in the least because it’s always a little surprising. I rarely go on bad dates. In fact, on the date itself, I usually have a good time, and I feel like she’s having a good time too, and I go home feeling like it was a successful date, only to have her say when I ask her out on a second or third date that she just wants to be friends. I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a third date in my life, and I’m 35.
The second problem, which I only recently became aware of, is that apparently everyone (erroneously) thinks I’m gay when they first meet me. I had noticed before that people thought I was gay from time to time, which I didn’t think much of, but recently when a date was friendzoning me, she mentioned that she thought I was gay before I asked her out. I was debriefing on this with a friend (a friendship that came out of a friendzoning incidentally) and she laughed and said she had the same reaction when I asked her out too. I polled my friends, and all of them–to a person–said that they assumed I was gay at first. A handful even said that their other friends had made the same mistake and asked them for confirmation. To be clear, I don’t mind this for any homophobic reason. I don’t really care if men or lesbians think I’m gay, but it’s really inconvenient that basically every straight woman I meet thinks I am. For one, it makes it difficult to read and send signals. If a woman I’m trying to flirt with thinks I’m gay, anything but the most overt come on is going to go over her head. Conversely, a woman who’s vibing with a gay man she just met looks very similar to a woman interested in a straight man in terms of things like her receptiveness to physical contact, the strength of his hold on her attention, willingness to share contact information, etc.
I can’t help but think my first and second problems are related. Not to say that the reason I’m constantly friendzoned is that women think I’m gay, exactly. After all, most of them would be tipped off when I asked them out, and the ones I meet on dating apps probably assume I’m straight from the jump. What concerns me is the likelihood that the same vibe I give off that pings people’s gaydar is also a turn off to women I go on dates with–that somehow I’m performing masculinity wrong in some way that renders me unf
kable. I might be amenable to making changes, but I’m not clear where this vibe is coming from. I fit very few of the gay stereotypes. I’m not especially nattily dressed. I’m not into musical theater or fashion. I don’t have a lisp or anything. I don’t know what I could do that wouldn’t read as “closeted gay man trying to overcompensate” or “straight man deeply insecure about his masculinity”. Any advice you could offer in this matter would be welcome.
Your Gaydar Sucks
DEAR YOUR GAYDAR SUCKS: Without seeing you in action, YGS, I can’t tell you much about what’s going on. It would be better for you to ask your friends just what it was that you do that makes them think you’re gay at first. It may be that something in the way you behave strikes people as being a bit campy or femme presenting. This isn’t terribly unusual or uncommon; there’s even a TVTrope about this called “Camp Straight”. It may also be that the way you behave seems flirtier with men than with women. Like I said: I’m not there, so I can’t tell you. It may well end up being something that you don’t want to try to fight; the things that throw up a false ping may well be things you like about yourself; in that case, it’s better to just be comfortable with it than to try to be more performatively butch.
I do, however, notice, that you say it’s straight women who seem to be thinking you’re gay. I’m assuming you’d mention if there were some gay men who thought you were gay too. That suggests to me that it may be the way you behave with people that’s causing them to question things. I actually had issues with that, back in my time. In my early days in the PUA scene, I had a number of women I approached tell me that they thought I was gay at first. This almost always came down to two issues: I would come in to the interaction super high energy, and I was friendlier than I was flirty. So a high-energy guy, who’s not giving off any “I want you” vibe but wants to talk and says things to make people laugh? It came off a bit more like a campy stereotype. Once I toned down the excitement to “good mood” instead of “excitable golden retriever puppy on sugar” and was willing to flirt and demonstrate interest, the confusion disappeared.
Now with all that being said: it’s entirely possible, even likely, that the issues you’re having with first dates (but no second ones) has less to do with whether people think you’re gay or not and more to do with the date itself. The likelier issue is that women think you’re not into them… or that they’re just not into you. If you’re being a little too “respectful” or non-sexual on your first dates, that can also give people the wrong message. They’ll assume that either you’re not interested, or that there’s just no physical spark to go with the emotional one and decide that they aren’t interested. So put some effort into developing that physical chemistry too, even if it’s in a low-key way.
But like I said: start with polling your friends and see what it was that baffled their gaydar. Then decide if those are things you want to try to change or if you would rather work around them instead.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)