DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I find myself in an interesting position. I’ve just recently graduated from college, and in the morass that is post-school BS, I need some advice with regard to my (admittedly near-nonexistent) love life.
See, I have a friend – let’s call them Alpha – who I got reasonably close with in my last year of school, and we have a lot of the same interests (and issues) in common – we’re both tabletop nerds with heavily self-deprecating senses of humor, we both suffer from some pretty severe anxiety/stress/upwardly messed up brain chemical stuff, and we both have a love of political-heavy sci fi (we have a decently long-running inside joke about House Atreides).
In school, I acknowledged, “hey, they’re real attractive,” but any kind of feelings on my part were muted because A. They were in a very nice relationship with a really great guy and B. any kind of romance/sexual exploration was not on my list of things to solve in school, and my weight and self-esteem issues would have made dating in general unlikely anyway.
But things kind of changed on my part after a mutual friend (and my roommate for half of college) passed away during cancer, and Alpha and I interacted quite a bit and caught up in the aftermath. They and another friend who lives close by said they would be coming to my general area over their break, so we made plans to meet up.
The two showed up, and we had a lot of fun playing tourist in my hometown. I introduced them to my friends, among them a guy we shall call Bravo. Bravo is, shall we say, the flirty type, and so is Alpha; they hit it off pretty quick on that front, and while it didn’t really go anywhere in the end, it was the kick in the nuts that said to me “Oh crap, I’m really into Alpha. Like, a lot more than I thought.”
Things get even more complicated after the visit, when, afterwards, we start confiding in each other over text. This is my real problem; you’ve probably gotten the usual “don’t want to take The Leap and ruin the friendship” line a quadrillion times, but I think in this case it’s justified – we’ve low key become something of a shoulder to lean on for each other and a confidant, with them telling me they have an easy time talking to me and confiding. A lot of the stuff is a bit heavy, but while I’m not going to share any of it, I will say that I don’t think any of it could be considered “flirty.” It is, however, something that I really do value, and has helped my depressed ass on more than one occasion, and I like to think vice versa.
They also accepted my invitation to come hang out with me and my friends on New Years’ Eve, and when I was later in a bit of a self-loathing slump, they pointed out that they were literally blowing off their family to come see me and my friends on NYE, which kind of shocked me in hindsight.
I suppose the summary of my issue is – I’m crushing hard on a friend who I really want to keep as my friend, and whose support and affection means quite a bit to me. They’ve also had a lot of troubles at school, and have been burned before, so I don’t want to accidentally throw any further fuel on that fire and accidentally “Nice GuyTM” them or something, I just want to be there to help provide emotional support when needed. What’s a nerd to do?
Badly Conflicted Atreides
DEAR BADLY CONFLICTED ATREIDES: Here’s the thing about crushes, BCA: they’re kind of like fire. Some of them burn like a star and some of them are a low flame. Some burn out quickly and some will continue to burn like smoldering coals until something causes it to flare up again.
But regardless of the intensity or the duration, all crushes and attractions need fuel to keep it going. Part of what makes a crush – especially an awkward or inconvenient one – linger for so long is that you keep dumping fuel on them. Sometimes that fuel are the fantasies about dating them – ranging from grade-school behavior like constantly doodling their name to thinking about what it would be like to be in a relationship with them. Sometimes the fuel comes in reinforcement, doing things like constantly checking their Instagram or Facebook feed and looking for thirst traps or evidence that they’re single again. And, paradoxically, sometimes that fuel comes from trying to squeeze those feelings away or obsessing about how goddamn inconvenient it is to have a crush that you don’t really want.
The commonality between all these behaviors is that you’re focusing on the emotions and the feelings of the crush. You’re letting it set up space in your head, rent free. Even when you’re trying to force it away, all you’re doing is constantly reinforcing the idea of “I have feelings for this person.” And to make matters worse, we as a culture don’t really have any sort of narrative of “well, I feel this way but it’s no big deal.” Almost everything we hear about crushes and pants-feels for people are either “It’s awful and you have to repress them” or “yeah, you need to do something about this otherwise it will haunt you forever.”
But a feeling isn’t an obligation, any more than arousal is a mandate. Feelings are just feelings and you can choose to just let them be.
So here’s how you let that inconvenient crush go. First: stop obsessing. Part of what keeps it so at the forefront of your brain is that you worry about what this means. It doesn’t mean anything; it’s just a feeling. So… feel it. Let the sensations of it flow through you like a stream. Don’t try to dam it up, don’t try to divert it. Just… feel it. And as you feel it: note it and name it, like you were noting a plant or a particular scent on the wind. “Oh hey, looks like I’ve got a crush on Alpha. Ok. Anyway, back to what I was doing.” The simple act of noticing it, feeling it and accepting it makes it less of this monumental THING that looms large in your consciousness and more of just one more piece of sensory data. Giving it a name deprives it of its titanic importance. It gives you perspective and distance and allows you to shuffle it along without dwelling so much on it that it becomes distracting.
It’s like any sensation. Your brain has only so much bandwidth to process signals, so once it decides something hasn’t changed, you’ll quit feeling it in order to free up the space. Just as you eventually stop noticing a smell or the way your chair feels underneath your body, the feelings of that crush will simply just… not be as immediately noticeable until you devote more conscious attention to it.
And because you’re able to just notice this crush without losing your mind over it… you deprive it of fuel. You don’t feed the attraction with your attention and you don’t intensify it by trying to compress it and lock it away. You just let it burn itself out in its own time and at its own pace. That may be a couple weeks. That may be a couple months. But it will fade. In time, it’ll just be one more quirk of your friendship with Alpha, something that the two of you can laugh about years down the line.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My situation is pretty specific. I’m a high-schooler in my senior year, and have little experience with women. Not just in the dating sense, but socially, too. I rarely hang out with my female classmates out of my own initiative. This bothers me because, like you said a few times, it’s more important to simply be able to talk to them and gain experience that way in high school for the future. I would love to work on that, but there are a few obstacles, from what I can see.
One is that I’m just naturally quiet. My friends and family assure me I’m just a good listener, but I still feel weird and lost getting into someone’s speech, and then being suddenly hit off-guard with the “hey you seem quiet” or “what do you think” response. This is arguably my greatest fear, and I’m worried I come off as unattractive when it happens. Not to mention my normal way of speech is kinda slurred, and so often I’m asked to repeat myself, which feels weird, too.
The other obstacle is that I live in a country whose official language is not my native tongue (which is English). This makes group conversations in that language especially hard to follow and it usually results in me zoning out, standing at the edge of the group. More often than not, too, whenever someone in my peer group makes a comment or observation in their language, I can’t hear them at first, so I just pretend to understand and nod/smile. I do this instead of asking them to repeat themselves because I’m worried it’ll ruin the flow of conversation and make everything awkward.
Both of these factors just make me the quiet one among my peers, and I worry that if I do try to speak up a bit more, I’ll get ignored or told to shut up. I feel that’s correlated with my slurred speech as well. Basically it’s a bad combination of shyness, introversion and language problems.
So, I’m curious to see what advice you have for me.
Silence Is Gold-Plated
DEAR SILENCE IS GOLD-PLATED: First of all, SGP: it kind of sounds like you may have a slight audio processing issue. Considering that you’re trying to translate people’s conversation from their language into English, this isn’t terribly surprising; even people who’re fluent in a language will have moments where they have to run whatever they just heard through the translation program in their heads. There’s nothing shameful about that; it’s just a sign that you’ve actually taken the time to learn a language other than your own. If you need a moment to process something or it helps for them to repeat it so you can understand, then by all means, ask. Let them know that you didn’t quite catch that part and could they say it again? That’s part of how you learn. It’s less embarrassing – and less of an imposition – to ask someone to repeat things than it is to completely miss something that might have been important.
Second: if you’re worried about slurring, you can practice your diction. There may be vocal coaches you can work with in your area who can help you, or you might find exercises on YouTube that can help you get used to speaking clearly. I’ve had friends who’ve essentially trained themselves out of certain speech impediments by practicing imitating Sir Ian McKellan doing famous Shakespeare monologues. And if nothing else, slowing down and making an effort to speak deliberately can help you be understood.
But most importantly: there’s nothing wrong with being quiet. One of the things I’m always telling people is that we live in a world filled with people who don’t listen, so much as wait for their turn to speak. We very rarely meet people who actually value our input and opinions. This means that in practice, talking about ourselves tends to bring more pleasure than food or money. Being the person who gives someone their full attention and wants to know what they have to say? That is an incredibly attractive trait in someone.
And being quiet, or slow to speak up doesn’t mean that you look weird or creepy. More often than not, it makes you look thoughtful. You aren’t just rushing in to fling words into the air like audible chaff; you’re taking time to think about what people had to say and what to say in response. That’s a rare trait in this day and age when people (myself included) tend to let their mouths run faster than their brains can keep up.
Plus: there’s always the Silent Bob factor. When you don’t say much, people pay way more attention when you do finally speak up.
So no, I don’t think your friends are going to tell you to shut up or ignore you if you speak up when you have a point. Your friends and peers are far more likely to give you the same consideration that you give them. The ones who do are just marking themselves off as assholes, and life is too short to give a damn about what assholes think.
Just don’t let other people run roughshod over you, just because you’re quiet. There’s a difference between being quiet and being a push-over.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was just reading and watching your videos about ghosted (https://nrdlv.co/2Gv1yyO) and you talk about pre-date dates. How do you ask them without sounding creepy? Like you already got the date wouldn’t you asking to see them in advance be a bit creepy? Also how do you make sure that a date is happening without annoying or nagging them constantly?
DEAR PRE-DATE JITTERS: The way you suggest a pre-date without being creepy is that you make it something low-stakes and low-investment and with a definitive cut-off point. People are more likely to agree to meet up if you say “Hey, I’ve got an appointment/interview/client meeting/ what-have-you in your area at 3 today. It’s totally cool if you’re busy, but would you like to grab a cup of coffee/frozen yogurt beforehand?” This implies several things: first, this is (theoretically) coincidental. You’re not seeking them out, you’re in their general vicinity for reasons that have nothing to do with them. So if they say “no, thanks”, it’s not a big deal.
Second: if they do meet up with you and it’s weird or uncomfortable, they know it won’t take up very much of their time. Part of why some people will ghost is the fear that they’re going to be stuck on a date with someone they’re not into for hours and then have to deal with the awkwardness of trying to leave early. When they know it’s going to be 15 minutes at the most, it’s much easier to agree. And if things don’t work out, at the most, they’re out 15 minutes and the price of a cup of coffee, not an entire evening.
As for making sure a date is happening? Just confirm with them the day before. Shoot a quick text that says “Hey, I just wanted to make sure we’re still on for Saturday” or “Looking forward to seeing you!” and you’re good to go.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)