DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: First off, thank you for your wise, level – headed and sensible columns. They are exceedingly valuable and I took a lot from them.
Here’s the thing, though. I recently (a few months ago) realised that, despite appearances to the contrary, I’m not actually male. While this is rather terrifying, I do think it’s been positive: at the very least, it makes sense of an awful lot of weirdness that I’ve been dealing with over the last few years. And while it definitely left me a bit out of it for a while, I’m moving forward with my transition and things are looking up (seriously, it’s scary how much easier everything is when you know what gender you are, even taking dysphoria into account).
Thing is, now that I’ve come to certain conclusions, dating and relationships have become a whole lot more attractive; I feel confident in myself, whoever I am, and quite honestly, though still a bit wobbly, I think I have the emotional maturity to meet people and form relationships. But actually doing it is massively fraught and confusing.
I never had any idea how to date as a man. I have a bit more of an idea of how to date as a woman, but then again, I think that while I am very much female and feminine, feminine gender roles in our society are a crock of s
t through and through. In short, I have no idea what the social rules are here. I know what I want to do, but that’s not exactly an ideal guide to what I should do.
Added to that is the issue of safety (I’m taking sensible precautions, such as self – defense training, but those only go so far) and the fact that the next few years are going to be a bit odd, with hormones, physical changes, social transition and all that. I’m quite happy putting off dating for a while, but five years is a bit long to wait, I think.
I have many very good friends, who have been brilliant, so I probably don’t have a right to complain, but even the closest friend isn’t quite the same thing as a life partner. I want someone whom I can drink tea with in bed over pastries and terrible newspapers on a Sunday morning. I want someone whom I can cook for and eat with, whom I can cuddle with on a couch after one too many glasses of wine. And with all the crap going on in my life, that just seems ineffably far off.
Apologies for this part – question, part – vent. To boil this down to a question:
How do I do relationships while transitioning? What are the social rules here? How do I meet people who might be interested in a relationship? How does all this work?
Starting Off On My Journey
DEAR STARTING OFF ON MY JOURNEY: Hey SOOMJ, first of all, it’s great that you’ve found your truth and you’re becoming your authentic self. That’s huge and exciting and terrifying all at the same time. It’s going to be an astounding experience but one that, at the end, I think will be more than worth it.
Now as for your question… well, I’m a cis-gendered straight man, so I’m not going to have the experience or insight that trans men or women would have. So I put out the call to my readers, and here is some of the advice they have for you.
From Puck Von Nida:
“If you are seeing someone who doesn’t respect your transition or wants you to stop. They are toxic dump them. Also you are not a trap. Don’t ever let people tell you that”.
“It didn’t really dawn on me until much later how much my standards would change during and after transitioning.
People I thought were amazing or good dates before would hit me up, and I’d have changed so much in those months that they were no longer appealing. And that’s okay!”
From Bex G (they/them):
“Biggest thing is being upfront that you don’t know exactly where you may be going. I had one image of who I wanted to be before I transitioned, but a very different one on the other end of the journey. There was someone I was mutually flirting with at the time who is very into androgynous bodies. So when I started to transition, he was looking forward to me going that way. But I didn’t & he got super upset.
Transition is all about ambiguity. And a lot of folks are really supportive of that ambiguity. But some aren’t, & weeding them out at the start is better for both of you.”
From Riley (he/him):
“Have good communication with your partner around sex — it was a super confusing time for me & what I could/couldn’t do sometimes changed wildly. It was good to have patient, understanding partners about that.
Also don’t date assh
*s just because they give you the time of day. I dated/had sex w too many terrible ppl because I thought I didn’t deserve to do better and should take what I could get.”
From Dana (she/her):
“Communication is key. In my opinion, people need to know what’s going on, so that false expectations won’t be a factor. Be clear what you want/like and don’t want/like. Also, be careful please. There are many toxic people out there, especially so-called ‘chasers’ are a problem.”
From Sarah (she/her):
“Whether or not to be open about your trans status is completely your own call. You’ve cultivated your identity to where you are now. If you want to be up front, do it . If not, then don’t. Also, if you are just starting to date guys, they will say anything just to sleep with you.”
From Bex C (he/him):
“I’m just starting out myself, but I’ve found it easiest to be really open about my transition. It’s the 1st thing in all my dating profiles and I try to casually mention it at least once during the first convo.
First of all, I do it because I hate formally Coming Out to people. But also, I recognize that people don’t always read me as the gender I want them to (in my case: straight dudes thinking I’m a girl) and it’s super important to me to know from the beginning that people I date understand and respect my gender. Also be prepared for surprising shifts in their attractions. Who you’re into and what you like to do with them may change. I got waaaayyyy gayer.”
From Mina (they/her):
“Explain to them that you are transgender. Stealthing can be dangerous. Disclose any triggers that can lead to a dysphoria attack. Things they may ask and you can say no to things like showing a old picture of yourself and awkward question about hormone replacement therapy. Majority of this is from personal experience.
Things may change, fluctuate and evolve. Be who you want to be and who you want to be with that makes you feel you.”
From Zenith (she/her):
“Make it very clear to your partner what you are and are not comfortable with. I started dating someone just before transition who wanted to help me along the way. I made it very clear that things were weird with my body and I wasn’t very comfortable with sex at that moment. Your partner has to realize, no matter how supportive, that there are boundaries and things you cannot do. And if they go back on that, it can cause trouble. We aren’t dating anymore because she couldn’t respect those boundaries when asked to months later.”
And strictly from my limited perspective (so take this with all appropriate levels of salt): take care of yourself, emotionally and physically. This can be a tumultuous time, and you may find what you want and what you can handle will change a lot. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break when you need to. You may start out and realize that you’re not quite ready, and that’s fine. Nor, for that matter, do you need to wait until you are 100% ready, with every single of your ducks in a row. Everybody, male, female or non-binary, gay, pan or straight, goes into dating as a work in progress and continue to be so for all of our lives.
So if you need to take time, then by all means, do so. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend diving in and trying to learn how to swim afterwards – primarily for the safety issues that can surround dating while trans – but if you feel you’re ready, then give it a try. Do what’s right for you, according to your timeline and comfort.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve gone through a lot of self examination this past year and got a handle on emotional intelligence, except for this one issue.
I’m in a 3 year relationship that has been going very well, however this last year has been fraught with relationship ending hurdles, which we seem to have gotten through, although we are, clearly damaged through the other end. I have no doubt that together we can work through and bring our relationship back to how it was, and my partner is all about communication and not leaving things unsaid (when she has an issue).
Last year her ex of apparently not long got in touch to ask her out as he hadn’t realised she was in a relationship (they follow each other on Instagram and she’s more selfie than couple shots). She declined and explained and I thought that was that as he dropped off the radar for a while. I started noticing he likes every photo except for any that are of us together, and she initiated private messages between them.
This has led to a massive jealous streak coming out in me and it’s not been pretty. I looked through her phone without permission and have been seeing just how much contact she has with all of her exes (there are quite a few!). While nothing incriminating, I still have trust issues. At this point I should add that she had issue with how much contact I had with a single friend who I knew was interested, but from my end there was nothing of it but for her I cut this person out as my partner is more important. I compare the two situations and see my partner as craving attention from this guy which is making me feel like I lack something and she is not satisfied. Also, I told her I had been through her phone and asked her to change her passwords so the temptation is not there as this is a huge trust issue.
This led me to counseling and reading about emotional intelligence and it’s worked mostly, but every now and again I see his name pop up and she’s buried in her phone. I’ve told her how I feel, she says I’m immature. It feels secretive. I’ve had a handful of relationships versus her many so I feel it’s inexperience on my part and as such I worry I’m just as disposable.
I want to be able to understand that she is messaging an ex but that’s all it is. Logically there is nothing wrong, but I don’t know how to handle it when the dark thoughts creep in and consume my mind. I feel I should talk to her but I’ve done it so much that she gets pissed about it and its going to end the relationship.
I’ve listened to your jealousy podcast over and over, but how do I stop being jealous and making something out of nothing? Or am I right to have this gut feeling and just draw a line, him or me?
The Third Wheel
DEAR THE THIRD WHEEL: Lots of couples deal with issues of jealousy; it’s an understandable part of the human experience. Even people in poly relationships have to deal with feelings of jealousy, same as everyone else.
Now, it’s easy to think that the fact that you feel jealous is inherently a bad thing and something that you should try to rise above or simply not feel it. It’s better to think of jealousy as being akin to the “check engine” light of your relationship. It may mean that you just need to tighten the gas cap, or it may mean that you have needs that are going unmet.
Or it may well be that there’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed, and one that could break the engine if it goes unfixed.
There are a number of things that could be going on here. It could be that your partner is just enjoying reconnecting with an old friend who she just happened to date. Or it could be that she’s enjoying the attention that she’s being given; after all, we all tend to appreciate flirting from someone outside of our relationship. Even when we love our partners to pieces, when they let us know how attractive they think we are, it can feel a little… rote. Like “of course, you say this, you have to.” Hearing it from someone else, even an ex, can be incredibly validating.
Or, it could be that those old feelings are sparking up and there’s trouble on the horizon.
And I’m not going to lie, FLTW: I’m side-eying both of you here. On your end, going through your partner’s phone is seriously uncool. I understand some believe that what you find can retroactively justify things, but it’s still a violation of their privacy. But by the same token, your partner telling you who you can or can’t be friends with is not cool with me, especially when she is doing the same thing you were.
While everyone has the right to their own comfort levels, “It’s ok for me but not for thee” isn’t something I’m cool with unless everyone’s on board. It’s not unreasonable for you to ask for the same consideration from your partner that you gave when she asked you to stop talking to your friend. The fact that she has a previous romantic relationship with him doesn’t change the math in any significant way. Feels are as likely to crop up with a stranger as with an ex.
And the fact that she’s buried in her phone makes it sound like her talking to this guy is taking time away from the two of you – which is a great way to damage the relationship beyond repair.
You’ve burned some trust by going through her phone, FLTW, especially since there wasn’t anything to justify your suspicion. That’s going to affect how she sees the situation. But at the same time, the fact that she’s not looking for someone else’s D doesn’t mean that it’s cool for her to be spending that much time and attention on someone else. The lack of a looming or impending affair doesn’t mean that it’s cool to ignore you or your needs.
So here’s what I’d suggest you do, FLTW: you need to stop being letting her irritation squash your feelings – especially if she’s been unwilling to acknowledge them. You need to sit down with her and have that awkward conversation, where you explain exactly why this situation makes you feel jealous. Be ready with some suggestions about what sort of solutions would work for you and how this would make things better. And then give her space to respond.
But here’s the thing: how she responds is going to tell you a lot about the state of your relationship. If her only response is to get angry and to call you immature, without ever acknowledging her end of things? That’s not good. That’s an indication that she either doesn’t see the problem or isn’t willing to do anything about it.
And if that’s the case… well, you’ve got some serious questions to ask yourself about how long you’re willing to put up with that behavior.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)