DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I'm going to make this a bit of a short story, starting with the present, moving on to the past, and ending with some questions on how to approach my love-life's future, if you don't mind.
I'm a 32 year old web applications programmer, and I have had no real experience with love, sex, or even dating. There's optimistic phrases for people like me, such as "late bloomer," or "don't compare your life to others, just live your life and things will be fine." But, I'm real scared that I'm on my way to being Steve Carell's 40-year-old Virgin. This leads me to not talk much about my love life with friends or family, but also, I think, leads to a circular problem because by not putting myself out there as willing or available, nothing really comes my way; kind of like job hunting. Compounding it all is the fact that I do suffer from some depression and social anxiety, which makes it tough for me to get out on my own. Leading me to go out only when I have friends or family available, and typically keeps me from going to or participating in things where I might meet other singles like myself.
Now for the past: I moved from a tiny town in a very rural area--like literally it was a 2 and a half hour drive just to go to a Walmart--when I was in the middle of High School to a larger city/metro with close to 3 million people. Made it hard to make and keep close friends. No real complaints. I've lived a good life. My Senior year of High School, I was a foreign exchange student in Kyoto, Japan, and went to a college prep (and English language friendly) school affiliated with the University of Kyoto. Met some friends that I currently pen pal (email) with today. Also, in my Junior year of High School, I was in Taekwondo. You would think a 16 year old boy would be hormone filled and super open to sex, but when a 26 year old instructor came onto me when we traveled together to a tournament with an overnight stay, I freaked out and was scared. Not really something you talk with any friends about, it's just embarrassing. In college, I kinda sorta dated this girl that was in several of my classes, but, honestly, and embarrassingly, I didn't really know how to take things a step further than just hanging out every now and then, going to a few movies, dinners, coffee shops, she even invited me over and cooked dinner a few times. I knew she wanted to "officially" date and was waiting for me to do something more...I could just feel it. But, I didn't know what to do, and didn't know how to communicate my feelings. I liked her, and wanted to take it further, too, but just wasn't sure how to get past where we were. So, we graduated, she moved for a job, I moved for grad school, and that was that. We kept up a bit from a distance over the phone and email, but not much anymore; she's married now. Got a scholarship to study at Cambridge in the UK for my masters degree. School was pretty intense, and I didn't have a whole lot of time. Weirdly, there was a guy that I shared a very similar experience with that I had with my "kinda sorta girlfriend" in college. We actually kind of dated, I think. And, if I'm honest, I was attracted. And, I think it was a similar situation where we just weren't sure how to go to the next step. So, I'm not really sure, but I may be bisexual.
That's where we get to where I'm at now, and how do I move forward. I'm back where I've been since I was a Sophomore in High School. Living alone, but about a half hour drive from the parents. Working as a programmer. Having a hard time getting out on my own. And, also a little confused about my sexuality because, let's be honest, I really have no real experience at all. How to a reconcile this and move forward. At 32, even if I'm comfortable with the fact that all my friends are married or seriously dating and I am doing nothing of the sort (which, I'm not), I feel like it's time to move forward a bit. It's hard to live alone at this point and not feel a little lonely. Any advice on steps to take to just get a catalyst going toward moving out of stagnation?
DEAR TOO-LATE BLOOMER: It's interesting that you bring up The 40 Year Old Virgin, TLB. I've got a lot of issues with that movie - ranging from a casual approval of hooking up with someone who's too drunk to consent, complete with "nope, you have her" scene, to the equating sex with maturity - but there's a point a lot of folks miss. Steve Carell's character Andy has a pretty good life. Hell, aside from his lack of relationship experience, his life is downright enviable. He's got friends who care about him, a good job and - critically - he's actually appealing to women. His biggest problem is his own anxiety over sex and women. Once he starts to get over the label of being a virgin and starts just relaxing around women (especially someone as cool as Catherine Keener) he actually does really well for himself.
There's a lesson in there. Just sayin'.
So let's talk a little about you, shall we? Because it seems to me that you're getting hung up on the big V label and ignoring the fact that you've got a lot of things going for you. I mean, you went to good schools, you studied overseas, you practice martial arts and oh hey, YOU GOT ACCEPTED TO CAMBRIDGE.
That's pretty goddamn impressive TLB. A lot of folks would tell you that this alone is a pretty impressive list of things that make you interesting and a potentially great partner to women.
But what about the downsides that you list? You live in the city where you went to high-school. OK and? It's a decently sized down, which means that you don't have the demographics problem that folks in small towns frequently run into. You live half an hour from your parents. And? Living in proximity to your folks is hardly a bad thing, especially if you're close with them. Hell, even living with them isn't that big of a deal - not in this economy. But you've got your own home, a good job, folks who were into you, good friends...
Ok, maybe that 40 Year Old Virgin comparison was more apt than you realize.
Your biggest problem is your anxiety around sex, being a virgin and your lack of experience. And while I realize you feel like you're The Last American Virgin, I promise you: you are not alone in your lack of experience. There're lots of folks who are in the same boat as you, with the same anxieties. And I'll tell you what I've told them: 90% of that anxiety is bulls
t. Whether or not you've had sex doesn't say anything about you as a person. It doesn't say anything about your worth as an individual, about your desirability, your maturity or your masculinity. It's just one experience you haven't had yet. And you will.
Now with all that having been said: in your case, some of that anxiety is earned. I mean the fact that your adult instructor hit on you when you were 16 is super-goddamn inappropriate. I realize that there's a lot of cultural bulls
t around boys being horny by definition and "wouldn't it be awesome" stories around teachers banging students but holy hopping sheep-s
t NO IT WOULDN'T. That's the definition of someone in power abusing their authority over someone. You shouldn't be embarrassed about freaking out over this, that's an entirely reasonable goddamn reaction... especially when you're travelling and have no way of getting out of their on your own. It's good that nothing actually happened, but the fact that you're treating this as a failure on your part is messing with your head.
That's my my first suggestion would be for you to talk to a counselor. Working with someone to untangle the whammy you've got on your head around sex is a good start. But so is working on any issues you may be having with depression or social anxiety. That alone is going to do a world of good for your mental health and self-esteem; the more you get that under control, the easier the rest will be.
My second suggestion would be to stop focusing on what you don't have and look at what you do have. Now I realize this seems a little flippant, but there's actually a point to it. Practicing gratitude is a key part of not just learning to be happy, but also building your sense of confidence. Making a list of things that you're grateful for and expressing that gratitude is surprisingly powerful. It strengthens your relationships with other people, it helps change your perspective on your own life and, honestly, it makes you feel better. Recognizing that you have more going for you than you realize is a great way to help boost your sense of self-esteem and develop the courage you need to take the next step in your relationships.
Which brings me to my third suggestion. The biggest issue you're facing when it comes to your relationships is that you just need to muscle up and take a leap. If you want to take things further, then all you need to do is open your mouth and make the words come out. They don't need to be smooth or perfect. Hell, being nervous would probably increase your appeal with many women; there's a reason why "adorkable" is a thing, after all. But all it really takes is to say "hey, I like you and I'd like to take you out on an actual date." So my advice for you is to not wait for a catalyst, it's to be the catalyst you need. You are the lever you need to lift yourself out of this rut. All you need to do is commit to putting yourself out there and actually making that leap when you're with someone you like.
You don't need to make a production out of it. You don't need to tell them you have feelings for them. All you need to do is say "I'd like to take you out on a date" — preferably with a specific activity at a specific time in mind. The feelings are implied by the fact that you want to, y'know, go on a date with them.
Yeah, it can be scary. Yeah, it opens you up to the possibility of rejection. Do it anyway. Let your knees shake and your heart pound and your voice break, but do it anyway. Take chances. Explore possibilities with people you're attracted to, regardless of their gender. Let yourself make mistakes, learn from them, get back up, dust yourself off and try again.
Commit to making these changes in your life and I promise: the rest will take care of itself.
You've got this.
All will be well.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I know it seems like a self-explanatory question, but hear me out. I went on a date with this cool dude last week (met online), and thought it went really well. We seemed to hit it off? My anxiety comes from a few things:
1. It's the holiday season so I'm not sure how much additional busy this adds vs regular "too busy to hang out"
2. I've never been on a date with someone I'm not in a relationship with, so I have no idea what to expect afterwards
3. He doesn't seem to be the best at communicating his thoughts on emotional stuff
Soooo he says he'd like to hang out again but I keep getting "not in the next [time period] because busy" (I've only asked twice, and he was able to meet right away for the first date). But also it's holidays so... ?
We continue to send multi-message responses to each other when we have time to answer.
(Another thing I feel a little weird about: he was watching the time so he could get to bed for work the next day, but I lost track of time because I was having fun. Not sure if this is just a personality difference or what but I'm overthinking everything and it's making me anxious and I think I just need some perspective from a more experienced party thank you so much for reading this messy wall of text I love you like a sister)
-Confused First Date
DEAR CONFUSED FIRST DATE: First, let's handle the timing question. As someone who's neurotic to the point of anxiety about how much sleep he gets, having a hard limit so he can get up in the morning is entirely reasonable to me. Assuming he's being honest with you - and we should give folks the benefit of the doubt on a first date - then that's just a personality difference. Don't stress too much about this unless it comes up again.
But for judging how the date went? Well, that's where things get tricky.
Here's the fun - for suitably frustrating definitions of "fun" - part about dating: because people have this annoying tendency to be individuals, it's kind of impossible to say exactly what you should "expect" after a date. There are people who will want to go on another date right away. There're also people who will be afraid of being too eager if they do so, so they'll try to create some artificial scarcity. Some people are legitimately busy and have a hard time fitting relationships into their lives, while others are off in their own little world and rapidly running out of oxygen.
So you can't really give a one-size-fits-all answer to how to tell whether a date went well or what you should be expecting afterwards. But there is one thing I've found to be true: if someone wants to see you again, they'll let you know. Even if life gets in the way. Even if they're not necessarily the clearest and best communicator out there.
Right now, it sounds like your would-be beau is being real with you. Between all the various winter holidays, New Year's and even a little of the weirdness that comes with dating around Valentine's Day... yeah, it gets hard to find time to breathe never mind date. So here's my suggestion. You know he's busy for the next [time period]. Find out when said period ends, then make plans for the following weekend. Name a specific activity on a specific day and time. "Hey, I saw there's $COOL_THING happening on $THIS_DATE and I'd love to go to that with you. How does that sound?" People are more likely to say yes to a specific time and activity than they are to "go out some time next week". Specificity helps because he's now able to check his schedule and - if he's free - keep that day clear for the two of you. It's easier to say "I can't do X on Saturday" if he has a date planned. If it's more nebulous, it's easier for life to seep in and steal his availability.
But if he can't make it? Then see how he responds. Does he say "Ok, I can't on Saturday, but I've got Wednesday free. How does that work?" Or does he give a "I can't, I'm gonna be busy that day" with no alternate suggestions? If it's the former... well, that's a pretty good sign that he wants to see you again. If it's the latter, then either he's not interested, or he can't be bothered with taking the initiative. And in that case, you have to decide whether you want to keep trying, or if you want to be the person who's going to have to do all the planning.
And as a general rule of thumb: one "I can't, I'm busy" is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action. Wait, that came out wrong. Three times is a message. And that message is "I'm not interested."
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)