DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I had a question I was hoping an expert could help me answer. I started dating a girl at the beginning of this year. Things were going great, we were highly compatible, she was an interesting conversationalist, and we were both physically and emotionally compatible. Great times were had by all… for about 4 months.
See, about 3 months in I told her that I loved her. I meant it, of course. I sat on my feelings for a bit before expressing them, I wanted to be absolutely sure. She told me she did not feel the same way and wanted to see where things went. I told her that was fine, I did not expect her to feel that way and understood and respected her feelings. Then things changed.
I started noticing that the quantity and quality of text messages diminished. I’ve had this sense before in previous failed relationships but thought I was just being paranoid. We were still great in person, we were still very intimate, and so I ignored the texting thing.
Then about a month later she tells me she needs to talk. She had been doing some thinking and believes that she is a lesbian. I was not sure how to respond to this. I know she’s been in love with a girl in the past, love that was un-reciprocated. She had never been in any serious relationship with a man or woman in the past. She had asserted, when we first started dating, that she was bisexual. Now that was no longer the case. The relationship ended, unfortunately. When asked if something changed after telling her I loved her she said she was filled with dread upon hearing that. She said she wasn’t sure if she could ever feel that way.
I have two questions based on all of this: 1) Should I have told her I loved her? Should I have waited longer, regardless of outcome? 2) When I thought something might have been off would it have benefited me to bring it up in conversation and discuss it? I thought about it and wasn’t sure if it was important enough at the time. I’m trying to learn from mistakes made here as I move forward so any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
– Trying to Learn
DEAR TRYING TO LEARN: I think you’re overthinking things, TTL. People assume that everything in relationships is a linear progression of cause and effect when in reality, it’s really a bit more a ball of wibbly-wobbly timey wimey… stuff.
Yeah, that kind of got away from me.
I’m going to start by saying that three months is seriously early to drop the l-word, particularly if you’d been feeling it for a while before hand. At three months, you’re still balls deep in the honeymoon stage of the relationship where everything about them is amazing from the way they look, to the way their hair smells to the adorable way they chew their food. You’ve got all that new relationship energy flaring up in your brain from the novelty of it all and it feels absolutely incredible… but it can also be pretty fleeting. 9 times out of 10, at three months you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of who your snuggle-bunny is. Hell, most of the time, you’re probably not even at the “willing-to-fart-in-front-of-them” stage, which as we all know, is a key milestone in any relationship.
So I think telling someone you love them at three months is premature at best, especially if you don’t have enough relationship experience to know the difference between love and limerence. But beyond issues with your mistaking infatuation for romance, telling someone you love them that soon can scare people off.
For many people that can be a sign that you may be the sort of person who overcommits early in the relationship, which is a red flag. People who mistake infatuation for love tend to be displaying lower emotional intelligence or low self-esteem and are hoping to lock the other person down before they could get away. Abusers also tend to declare their love early; for them, it’s a way to manipulate people who’re emotionally vulnerable or inexperienced. They “love-bomb” their targets into lowering their defenses, showering them with expansive declarations of their undying devotion and trying to overwhelm their victims’ Spidey-sense.
The other issue with declaring your love for someone early is that it’s a heavy thing to drop on someone, especially at three months in. There’s a lot of pressure to respond, and if she doesn’t feel the same way you do then things can get awkward. But even if she’s not intimidated or weirded out by it, it can make people stop and reconsider just how they’re feeling about the relationship.
Which I think is what happened to you and your girlfriend. I think that your telling her you loved her may well have made her stop and reexamine her own feelings. Not just her feelings about you specifically but about how she felt about men in general and her sexuality.
Let’s break this down a little. Sexuality tends to fall on a spectrum and people can and frequently do slide around on said spectrum as they gain more insight into themselves and what they want and don’t want. Someone, for example, who’s bisexual may find themselves in periods where they’re more attracted to men or more attracted to women. They may realize that being bi was a pause on the way to identifying as gay or to identifying as straight. They may be bisexual but hetero or homoromantic – that is, they’ll have sex with men and women but have romantic relationships with one gender. Sometimes they be gay but have an occasional sudden (and often unexpected) attraction to someone of the opposite sex and believe that perhaps they are bi instead of just running into one person who flips their switch.
(This, incidentally, can go both ways – there’ve been straight people who’ve realized that this one particular penis or vagina just happens to be one they’d be interested in.)
I think your saying the L-word was the catalyst to make her stop and think about things and… well, she realized something about herself that meant that she couldn’t continue dating you.
So the short and dirty answer is that all you did was likely accelerate the timeline on something that was going to happen anyway. Bringing up the fact that she was starting to feel distant wouldn’t have helped. I can guarantee you that she would have had any number of very plausible reasons why she was increasingly unavailable by phone or text.
There really wouldn’t have been anything you could to do change her mind. Ultimately – and honestly I hate the fact that I actually have to spout this cliche – it wasn’t you, it was her.
Which, y’know, sucks. But at the same time, it’s a mixed blessing. Yeah, it’s a shame that the relationship is over; you really liked her and it’s going to hurt that things ended the way that they did. At the core though, all that happened is that something that ultimately couldn’t work ended sooner, rather than later. So what do you take from this? Next time, don’t tell someone you love them three months in. Wouldn’t have made a difference in this case, but it may well prevent a premature end to your next relationship.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been struggling with this problem for the past couple of years and I would really like your advice on this please.
I am a 24 year guy with a job and good friends. I have started exercising again, made new friends at my workplace, go out every weekend etc. I have no dating experience, still a virgin ( I have only gotten far as kissing a girl back in university who had a crush on all my friends and a few lap dances in gentleman’s clubs).
One of my biggest problems is the fact that I have low self esteem and can’t stand up for myself. It has been happening since I was a child and can’t seem to figure out how to deal with it. I have however found the cause ( or at least I think it is) of this problem: the way my parents treat me.
My parents dictate everything I do and I mean everything. They have interfered on what field to work in, what to study in university, the clothes I wear etc. They also make a habit of spoiling me by buying me clothes, cooking my food, scolding me whenever I am out with my friends and I don’t text them to tell them where I am and a million other pathetic reasons. I have been thinking of moving out and renting a place to live on my own so that I won’t have any interference.
I have read every inch of your website and I solely came to the conclusion that I have fallen in the nice guy territory. And from what I gather it is not a good sign, given the fact that I want to kickstart my dating life.
My question is do you think that I have fallen in the nice guy territory because of my parent’s badgering and clingy rubbish? What do you think is the best way to fix such a problem?
Thanks in advance
Confused Tall Guy
DEAR CONFUSED TALL GUY: I think you’re confusing being a Nice Guy with not being assertive, CTG. That’s not the same thing at all. Now, many Nice Guys are passive, but being passive doesn’t make you a Nice Guy. Being a Nice Guy means that you’re trading on the idea that being Nice (rather than nice) is enough to oblige a woman to repay you with sex. So put that whole issue aside for now.
Let’s focus on the real issue here: your folks and your relationship with them. Right now, you’re letting them run roughshod over you and your life and that’s not a good thing. Maybe they’re toxic people who prefer to keep folks under their thumb. Maybe they’re well-intentioned but overenthusiastic and can’t quite take a step back to let you make your own decisions and start your own life without their constant “help”. Either way, they’re smothering your independence and self-esteem. You’re a grown-ass man and they’re still treating you like a child. That needs to change. And since they’re not showing any signs of backing off, it’s time for you to start drawing some lines in the sand.
Now, since you’re talking about going out and getting your own place, I’m assuming that you have a job and aren’t financially dependent on your folks to survive. If not… well, the first thing I would suggest is that you find one and start saving up now. Finances are one of the ways that over-controlling parents keep their children under their thumbs. It’s easier, for example, for parents to demand what you study in college when they can threaten to yank your tuition. The fewer strings they have to pull on, the better off you will be, and making sure that you aren’t relying on their financial support gets rid of many of them.
But you have to realize is that just getting out of the house isn’t necessarily going to be the end of things. Parents are quite capable of still exerting influence on your life, even when you don’t live under the same roof as they do. There are plenty of parents who can wield weaponized guilt like a scalpel, even from thousands of miles away. Being your own man means standing up and enforcing your boundaries – and that means being willing to make your own decisions and stick to them under the weight of their demands and disapproval. You have to be willing to withstand their disagreements, their criticism or their insistence on getting their way.
You also have to be willing to accept the consequences of your choices. That may mean dealing with their anger or disappointment. It may also mean dealing with the fact that you’re going to make mistakes. You’re human. It’s going to happen. Part of what often makes it hard to step out from under your parents’ control is that someone else is making choices for you – and that means that your failures are ultimately not your fault. It’s easier, less scary. You have what feels like someone to catch you when you fall.
But being willing to risk failure and to get back up and fail better this time is part of taking back your independence.
So how do you do this? You start unlearning this helplessness by taking a stand in small ways. First and foremost: quit letting them dictate your clothes and your social life. You’re a grown-ass man and you don’t need people making decisions for you. You can tell them “I appreciate your opinion, but this is what I’ve chosen to wear. Please stop trying to choose things for me.” It may feel a little absurd – you’re 24 and having to tell your parents to quit trying to decide what you’re allowed to wear – but it’s something easy to act on. It’s that first step on a journey. It’s a very small thing, but those small victories add up quickly and make each, larger victory that much easier.
Moving on to putting up boundaries around your social life is another, significant step. It’s one thing to provide common courtesy if you’re living with them – letting them know you’ll be out late, for example. It’s another entirely to have to continually provide updates on where you are and who you’re with. You can tell them, simply, “I’m an adult. I appreciate that you care, but I don’t need to check in with you.”
Similarly, it’s nice of them to do things for you like cook or buy you clothes, but you also don’t have to accept it if it comes with strings. You can say “I appreciate your doing this for me, but please stop.”
That phrase “I appreciate X but please stop,” is both your sword and shield. It blunts accusations of being selfish or unappreciative and at the same time gives no wiggle room for people to argue with you. You don’t need to explain. You don’t need to justify your preferences. You want what you want, full stop. As I’ve said before: “No” is a full sentence.
I realize you probably feel foolish. I realize you probably feel like a loser. You aren’t and you’re not. You’re getting a later start than other people have, and that’s fine. Letting yourself get caught up in infinite, recursive loops of “I should have…” and “why haven’t I…?” are only going to trip you up and make things harder. It doesn’t matter that you’ve waited until now to stretch your wings and assert yourself; it only matters that you’re doing it.
One last word of advice: asserting your boundaries, particularly with your parents, can be stressful. Make sure you have your Team You – your friends and family-by-choice who’ve got your back and will support you and cheer you on during all of this. They’re going to be a valuable source of strength and inspiration during all of this. You may find it useful to talk to a counselor or therapist; they can help if you’re feeling especially bad or ashamed and help you develop scripts for standing up for yourself.
Good luck, CTG. You’re going to be fine. Write back and let us know how you’re doing.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)