DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Long time reader of your column, first time submitter. I’ve always found the advice you give your readers to be well thought out and sometimes with the necessary amount of tough love for when it’s needed. Now with that in mind, here is my situation.
A bit over a decade ago, I had met a young lady while on Xbox Live while playing good ol’ Call of Duty. Her combination of skill as well as interesting conversation lead us to form a solid friendship despite the fact that we lived on opposite ends of the country.
At the time, I was working third shift and would get off work early in the morning. I would make my drive home, fire up the xbox and hop in game. Due to the time difference, she would have just woken up for the day and we would start our routine stomping on other players, laughing and chatting. When we would play, I knew that whatever situation I would be walking into, she had my back. Where I went, she went. When I would get myself into a bad situation, I knew a few shots would fly over my shoulder and render the threat no more followed by a “You’re welcome.”
Now at the time, I was engaged to another woman with the wedding less than a year away. She worked a normal 9-5 job and would be on her way out the door as I came home. At first she didn’t have any issues with my online friends and had even on a few occasions played and talked with all of us. But as time grew on, she became further and further jealous of my female sniper support.
At the time I denied that there was anything more between us than just friendship and video games and this remained true until a few months later when my partner told me that she had developed feelings for me, and myself, confessed the same.
Due to us both being in relationships at the time and geographical issues, we agreed that there was nothing we could do at the time to pursue a relationship. We remained friends and tension between my fiancé and I continued to grow over the issue until finally, she called off the engagement.
Fast forward a few years, and by chance, my new girlfriend at the time and I found ourselves moving very near my CoD partner. While her and I still talked and played often, we never got around to actually meeting up. This was due to time off from work as well as once again, both of us being in committed relationships. Now we have known each other for over 12 years, and recently after I had ended my current relationship, we made plans with mutual friends and finally met face to face. She and the meeting was everything I expected. We hit it off, spent loads of time around each other and even got the approval of her best friend. Now here is where the issue is.
She is still not single! The guy she was dating back when my ex-fiancé is still around. Their relationship is on the rocks and despite multiple attempts by her to end it, or her friends telling her she should do the same, they are still an item. Trust me when I say this guy is a gigantic a-hole.
My question for you is how can I go about finally getting my chance here? Tonight I am supposed to be meeting up with her to go out to dinner. I’m sure her boyfriend doesn’t know what her plans are and even our own friends have no idea that I will be in town. It makes me feel like we are sneaking around. I know that I want to have a relationship with her, but I want to do it right. How can I ask her to finally end her current relationship without sounding like a prick?
Shot In The Heart
DEAR SHOT IN THE HEART: You have two issues here, SitH.
The first is that you’ve developed feelings for someone strictly over the Internet.
The second is that you have feelings for someone who’s dating someone else.
Let’s start with the former. One of the things I’m always driving home to people is that if you haven’t met in person, you’re not really dating, and crushes work much the same way. As we spend more and more of our time online, we do more and more of our socializing online as well. We network professionally online, we make friends online and we occasionally fall in love online. And to be fair: I’ve made good friends, long-term friends, with people I’d known online for years (Warren Ellis Forum, what up?!) long before I’d met them in person. Hell, I’ve been writing for Kotaku for over 4 years now and the first time I ever actually talked to my editor (as opposed to email or instant messages) was last year for a podcast. So it’s certainly possible to make long, important and lasting connections online.
But here’s the thing: love for 99% of the population, has a physical component too. As much emotional chemistry as the two of you may have, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to have physical chemistry. You may love someone for their brain, but you want them for their ass. This is why I tell people all the time that until you meet in person, for a significant amount of time, it’s a bad idea to invest romantically in someone you’ve thus far only known as text, a voice or even another face on the other end of the Skype connection. Yeah they may be cute, they may sound like Scarlett Johansson… but you don’t know how they smell. You don’t know how they taste. You don’t see the little gestures that we pick up almost subliminally that help dictate whether or not we’re going to be into somebody. And if those parts don’t line up… well, the heart may want what it wants, but your junk tends to get a say too.
This is why there are so many false positives in online dating. You two may work on paper and you may click when you chat back and forth. But until you meet in person and find out if the rest of them turns your crank, getting hung up on them is an invitation to heartbreak.
Right now, this is where you’re at.=
(And let’s be clear: this has been an ongoing issue with you. The fact that this relationship contributed to breaking up with your fiancé is a pretty good indication where you’ve been at for a while.)
So you have basically set yourself up for trouble right from the jump. Because hey, you may be super into her now that you’ve met in person… but there’s no guarantees that she has been with you. So the first thing you need to do is tap the brakes, Romeo. You know you’re into her, but you need to spend a little time finding out if the feeling is actually mutual or it’s just your gonads trying to convince you that it is. Continuing to make “BUT I LOVE YOU” the centerpiece of your friendship is going to be a great way to not only not date her but to lose the friendship in the process.
Now for your second issue. She has a boyfriend. She has had, if I’m following your narrative here, the same boyfriend for 10+ years. And you’re hoping that she’s going to ditch this guy for you because… well, love, romance and what Dan Savage calls “dickful thinking”.
Let’s start with the obvious: you don’t know everything that’s going on in this relationship. You may be her confidant. She may tell you story after story about this dude. But you don’t know everything. One thing a lot of guys in your situation do is fail to realize that you’re someone she’s venting to. You’re hearing the worst because you’re a safe, non-judgemental space, a pressure valve where she can let off steam and have someone tell her “Oh man, I’m sorry that really sucks”. Because, let’s face it, everyone needs that on occasion. Sometimes we want somebody’s help in fixing something. Other times we want to hear someone say “there there, that’s awful, here have a margarita.”
(And honestly, if you’re going to offer a margarita, let’s also get some chips. And maybe some queso. And also now I’m hungry, dammit)
But the fact that someone is venting their frustrations – and their frustrations may be mighty and plentiful – doesn’t mean that you’re getting the full story. You’re getting part of it. You’re not necessarily hearing about the reasons why she still likes the dude. He may act like a dick – which you get to hear about – but you’re not necessarily hearing about the things he does that make her stick around even though she wants to rip her hair out.
So, once again: tap the brakes. Dude may very well be the epitome of every bad boyfriend in the history of modern courtship and a serial puppy-kicker besides… but you don’t know that.
Now let’s go with the next obvious part: it is really damned hard to end a multi-year relationship, even one that may need to end. When you’ve been dating someone for a long time, you’ve put in a lot of time. You have – to misquote the bard – built your life around them. Ending that life – a life that has been intertwined with someone else’s for over a decade is not something done lightly or easily. The Sunk Cost Fallacy alone makes people want to stick around; after all, if you leave now doesn’t that mean all those years have been a waste? But there are other reasons people stick around too: financial co-dependence, emotional co-dependence, being worried what other people might think, being afraid of being single again… the list goes on and on. All of that is going to give people pause. Hell, it may be as simple and as frustrating as emotional momentum. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest after all, and it’s easier to coast, even in a bad situation, than it is to apply the energy to change it.
And then there’s the possibility that she’s just not ready to leave yet. She’s tried to end things but she keeps going back? That’s generally a sign that she hasn’t reached the point of no return. While I’m not the biggest fan of Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes a person really does have to hit the relationship equivalent of rock bottom before they’re ready to finally jump ship for good.
And then there’s the last thing to consider: you want her to leave him for you… but you don’t know that she wants you the way you want her now that you’ve met in person. Yeah, you both confessed your feelings for one another… but that was before you met in person. And now that you have? You get along great, but that doesn’t mean that she’s physically or sexually attracted to you. If those pants-feels don’t exist, then there’s really not much to be said.
So here’s what you need to do. First: stop assuming things. You don’t know that she hasn’t told her boyfriend about you. You don’t know the full story about any of this. You know how you feel and a fraction of her life. Stop building your fantasy narrative and stick to facts on the ground – what you know, what you don’t know and what you know you don’t know.
Second: once again, tap the brakes. You’re about to plow headlong into a Friend Zone pileup. If you don’t want to get hurt more than is strictly necessary, stop investing quite so much into potential and deal with actual.
Third: Make your case. “Hey, I know we said we were too far away to do anything last time we talked about there being an us, but now that I’m closer, I’d like to give it a shot. What do you say?” And then leave it there. If she says “yes,” then blessings on you both. But recognize she may very well say “no”. And while she may like you – hell she may like you a lot – that doesn’t necessarily doesn’t mean that she’s ready to overturn her life. All you can do is put it out there and wait to see what she says. Maybe having a place to land if she does leap out of that boat will be what gives her the strength to do so.
But if she decides she’s not ready to, or not for you? Then the only thing you can do is accept her answer with grace and respect. Doing otherwise will just damage the friendship.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m 30 and I really don’t date, at all. So, recently I was going out with a friend. Just casual dating. It seemed like everything was going well and then all of a sudden she pulled the ”I like you and the way you treat me, but …”. She went radio silent for a while and acted differently once we started chatting again. I admit, I was being a bit too pushy and clearly she has no interest to try anything out. Recently, I discovered that she felt I was treating her like an idiot and sucking her into my world. I don’t really do much so I don’t really get that part.
She’s going through her own personal battles with her family. I’m also in one of my lowest points in life.
I really want to apologize for my behavior, but it seems like it’s not completely my fault. What approach should I take?
It’s Not My Fault
DEAR IT’S NOT MY FAULT: You aren’t the arbiter of other people’s feelings, my dude. If someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to say “no I didn’t.”
You may feel like you didn’t do anything wrong. But the fact of the matter is, something you did made her feel hurt and offended. And nobody on this planet is going to appreciate it if you try to explain why they shouldn’t be hurt. Nobody likes it when someone tries to explain their feelings to them and they REALLY don’t like it when you try to tell them they don’t have a right to feel the way they feel.
There is only one thing to do here: apologize. And not a “sorry you feel that way” non-apology. If you care about her, then tell her: “I didn’t realize I was making you feel that way. It was never my intention, and I’m really sorry. Now that I know, I won’t do it again.”
Don’t try to parse what you did and why it wasn’t that bad. Don’t try to explain. Just a simple “OK, I didn’t realize, I’m sorry,” and then try not to make the same mistakes next time.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)