DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve always found myself terrible when it comes to dating, I went through school without ever being in a serious relationship and watching all my friends sort of meet their partners along the way. At age 20 I went to university and started to get a little worried about not meeting anyone who I truly clicked with and them BAM, when I came home for my first year I met someone on Tinder who seemed to tick every box, after going on several dates I asked her out and she said yes.
Sounds wonderful I guess, but then she herself went off to university too, and her course seems to be a lot more time consuming than mine, so spending time with her has become difficult due to her always being busy. Me and her have been working long distance, but I’m finding it’s being much harder than I anticipated, but I genuinely do enjoy spending time with her when I actually get to, albeit as little as it is.
I presume it sounds like your standard long-distance complaint at this point, but it since I started my second year of university I’ve found another girl who has started to display a lot of signs of affection towards me, despite me having mentioned my current relationship to her before. Me and her seem to get along very well, but I still find myself feeling slightly worried when I talk to her, particularly if we’re alone or anything. Recently I’ve found myself torn between these two, unsure whether I just happened to jump at the first opportunity I had for a relationship. I’m not going to sugarcoat it now: being long distance is a lot of work, which has got me thinking that maybe I’m just enjoying being coveted by a woman who lives much more locally for once. But I find myself unsure of what to do in this situation. I don’t want to be some kind of two-timer or cheat on my girlfriend, but I honestly do find myself enjoying spending time with both women in question, the only difference being one lives hours away and I never see and one I see much more regularly and lives closer, or maybe this is just me being tempted by someone else because I’m in a long distance relationship and want someone closer? PLEASE HELP?
DEAR EMOTIONALLY CONFUZZLED: What’s going on is pretty simple: you’re a human. You’ve got an attractive person right there with you, giving you attention. That’s going to make you feel pretty damn good. It flatters your ego, it revs up your sex drive and you’re starting to think about whether it’s better to go with the bird in the hand or go diving back into the bush.
Wait, that came out wrong. Anyway.
Regardless of any underlying relationship issues you may have or any intention of actually acting on those issues, a pretty woman giving you attention and valuing you company is going to trigger a psychological phenomena known as The Reward Theory of Attraction. She makes you feel good and therefor you’re going to instinctively prioritize your relationship with her. Your girlfriend, on the other hand, is fairly distant and you only get to see her rarely. That and the natural difficulties that come with a long-distance relationship mean that the benefits of your relationship with her aren’t necessarily outweighing the drawbacks.
Now, don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean that your relationship with with your girlfriend isn’t as valuable or valid or worth it as the one you currently have with your friend. It just means that right now, it’s completely understandable that one is more tempting than the other. That’s just part of the human experience.
So what do you do about this? Well… frankly, you’re going to have to make that decision yourself. Does the distance and the inconvenience of a long-distance relationship outweigh the time you DO spend with your girlfriend? It’s ok if it is; maintaining a long-distance relationship is difficult, especially when your schedules mean that you rarely get to talk or see each other. Breaking up because the distance was an insurmountable is very understandable. The fact that you’re already interested in somebody who’s close at hand doesn’t make you the bad guy either; it just means that this made you realize that the distance and inconvenience bothered you more than you realized it would.
At the same time, there’s no guarantees that a relationship with the woman at your university is going to do any better. Right now, she’s new and shiny and there’s the thrill of novelty and what the poly community calls New Relationship Energy. That glow can disguise or cause people to overlook relationship deal-breakers that would otherwise disqualify this woman from your dating pool. Or it’s possible that this relationship simply won’t work out in the long term for whatever reason. You have no real way of knowing, except by rolling the dice.
The only thing I will say is that if you’re exclusive with your girlfriend – and I mean that you’ve actually stated this instead of just letting be unsaid – that you end things with her before starting anything up with the other woman. Similarly, if you’re going to stay with your girlfriend, let your other friend know this is why you’re dialing things back.
Ending either relationship doesn’t say anything about you as a person or about the success or failure of your relationship with that person. The fact that you didn’t die in the saddle (as it were) doesn’t mean that your relationship with your girlfriend was a failure. After all, every relationship you’re in will end, until one doesn’t. If you’re able to be cordial, if not friends with them afterwards and look back on your time with them fondly, then that relationship wasn’t a failure; it just means that it came to its natural conclusion.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m currently a senior in college, and I’m spending the next year studying abroad in a rural area in Japan. The thing is, that I’m 23 now and until this year I’ve never had any kind of intimacy with a woman, and I really feel it’s holding me back daily. This last year I have made leaps and bounds in making progress and being more forward about my interest instead of playing the “nice” guy friend that hides his intentions. Even when I’m busy I see around me constantly couples and it kind of burns me out. I am my own person, and do things, and I can make friends easily, but I can’t become anything more ever. The intimacy I speak of is just maybe a kiss, if that, and then I don’t hear from them again. I just can’t get girls to stick around and it really makes me feel like something is wrong with me.
The culture is also a bit of a stepping stone, as I’m a black male here and there is kind of a bad stereotype about us here, and so I feel like I have to strive to be nicer to get people to trust me, and then I end up not being interesting. It is so hard to find the middle ground, because as much as my friends say don’t worry about it, it’s very much a real thing here when meeting people in an outside social group. On another note, since the culture is different should I conform to it, is the question I ask myself daily, because it’s simply the opposite than American culture, as they have a strong “inside” vs. “outside” mentality, and it makes this problem already a bit more difficult to handle.
This makes me cut off people extremely quick, much more than I used to do, so I run out of friends/romantic interests. I used to wish I didn’t have feelings and life would be so much easier, but I know that’s not an option so I’m just trying to find a way to deal with feelings that should be natural, but I can’t fulfill them. I know there is no reason not for me to be able to reach these goals, but I just have no idea about what I’m doing, just what I feel.
Is there any advice you might have for me, Doc? I’m not blaming anyone but myself on this, but just getting to a better place instead of remaining in the same old area is my foremost objective. I want to be more fulfilled in my life and really enjoy my experience here rather than feeling like I’m in the wrong place.
-I’m So Annoyingly Messed Up
DEAR I’M SO ANNOYINGLY MESSED UP: There’re a few questions buried in here, ISAMU. Let’s roll it from the top, ok?
To start with: you’re socially inexperienced and – reading between some fairly obvious lines – a virgin. That’s not a big deal unless you make it one. I totally get that you’re feeling left behind and looking at the happy couples around you with envy, but it’s that feeling that you need to catch up is going to trip you up. When you’re focused on this one part of yourself like a laser, you’re going to tense up and that’s going to make it harder to do anything else successfully. Think of it like playing video games; there’s that one spot you can’t get past and the more that you focus on your frustration, the worse you end up doing. Then, when you take a break, do something else and come back to it later when you’re refreshed, you blow straight past it like it’s nothing.
That’s what’s going on with you right now. You’re trying to get past this one area and it’s frustrating you so much that you’re starting to slip up on things that you know you can handle. So take a deep breath, relax and just… be. Don’t try to get a girlfriend or experience. Just live your life in such a way that it lets you be the cool, fun and interesting person you know you can be. You’ll have your opportunities to date, kiss, screw and everything else and it will all come much more easily when you stop focusing on what you don’t have and enjoy what you do.
I mean, come on! You’re studying abroad in Japan! How freaking cool is that? You’re going to have all sorts of experiences and adventures on that trip that’ll lead to some awesome stories later. Hell, I missed my chance to do that in college (ironically, because I had a girlfriend… and I really shouldn’t have) so I’m jealous of you right now.
Now straight talk: being a foreigner in a very socially homogenous culture like Japan means you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb and some people are going to treat you like an oddity. This doubly and triply so as an African-American in a rural area. And in fairness: Japan’s got issues when it comes to racial stereotypes, especially when it comes to black people, and (again) when you get outside of the large metropolitan areas, you may well be the first black person some of them will ever have seen outside of TV or movies. That’s going to lead to some seriously uncomfortable moments at times and I can imagine that there will be times you’re going to feel the need to slap on a grin and pretend that it doesn’t bother you nearly as much as it really does.
(And in fairness: having to pretend to not be bothered is going to REALLY grate on your nerves, and for good reason. All the more reason to find friends who are going to treat you like a person and not a stereotype.)
But at the same time: being nice to others isn’t the same as being boring. You don’t have to present a bland version of yourself to fit in or be accepted; it just means being patient and understanding. You can be a pleasant person without being passive or a milquetoast or pretending that you don’t have a personality. Adapting to the local culture as best you can is one of the best ways to do this; making the effort not only shows respect, but doing so will make others feel more comfortable in your company. I suspect that being quick to cut people off means you’re cutting people out of your life who might otherwise be pretty damn cool once they get the chance to know you and vice versa. Yes, there’s going to be adjustments and there’s going to be people who deserve to be cut off… but not everyone does. Learning to tell the difference is an important part of building your social calibration.
But more than anything else, you need to relax. You’re in the middle of what can be an awesome adventure if you give it half a chance. If you’re caught up in whether or not you have had – or are going to find – a relationship, you’re going to miss out on so damn much. Let things be and just focus on enjoying everything that your situation has to offer. Enjoy getting to experience another culture in such an intimate, immersive way. Embrace the culture, explore the area and take full advantage of being a college student abroad. Right now you want to collect experiences and stories and just be your natural awesome self. That will serve you far better – and make you a more interesting, attractive person – in the long run. And that will help you find the intimacy and relationships that you’re longing for.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)