DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: long time reader first time asker etc,
So I guess I’m a former Nice Guy. Read every nice guy article on the internet and 8 years later, I super feel no one has like an obligation to love me, just like I don’t have an obligation to love anyone else. I started trying to fix myself, going to the gym, being more social, making better fashion choices, etc. I’m no longer afraid of “The Friend Zone” because that actually means I have friends. A ton of girls friend-zoned me in the past, but it’s no problem. It’s more like, cool now I have a bunch of super hot strictly platonic friends.
But also I’m like 27 and a virgin so something may still be wrong here. I think my issue may be more about expressing myself. I’m pretty good about making friends and talking to people, but I think I’m really bad about making my intentions know. A lot of times, I get interpreted as more than a platonic friend. I guess I’ve seen so many horror stories where dudes flip out or come on too strong OR doing what I’ve been doing and coming off not strong enough. I have this tendency of saying “Hey friend, I have feeling for you and or I think you’re, like, super attractive” is like a weird thing that had no warning and came out of left field because I tend to have anxieties about that. So it all just sorta gushes out.
How do I make it very clear I’m interested in someone romantically without coming on too strongly… or coming on like I’m just a strictly platonic friend that isn’t at all interested in going on a date? How do I reconcile this with the fact that typically I’m usually not going to be attracted to someone until I’ve spoken to them a few times
Doing Better, Needs Work
DEAR DOING BETTER, NEEDS WORK: First of all, DBNW, congratulations on all the effort you’ve been putting in. I know you’re feeling a little frustrated right now because you feel like you’ve stalled out. But the fact that you’ve done so much – physically, emotionally, and socially – to improve yourself is really admirable. You should know that I’m proud of just how hard you’ve been working and how far you’ve come.
The reason why you feel like you’re doing something wrong is because you’ve been making so much progress. Think of your self-improvement like you’re playing a computer RPG. Your life up until you started your self-improvement was essentially the tutorial level; you’re getting used to the systems and discovering what the goals are and getting primed for some of the content that’s coming later in the game. Once you decided to start making changes, you were going through the initial challenges. Hitting the gym, working on being more social, improving your sense of style? Those were all part of how you were grinding through early game content. But there’s only so much you can do in this stage before you can no longer reap the rewards from those challenges. You’ve leveled up and they’re not as difficult for you, so you’re going to see diminishing returns until… well, basically, until you stall out. These don’t test you the way that they did before. You’ve leveled out of the starter area and now it’s time to take on your next challenge.
So now it’s time to take on your next series of challenges – in this case, facing down your anxieties and taking what you’ve learned about not being a Nice Guy and applying it to your life. These are going to seem more intimidating and more difficult because they’re going to push you in ways that you haven’t been pushed before. You’re going to have to force yourself out of your comfort zone and take chances that seem out of character for you. You’re going to have to run the risk of getting rejected – many times – so that you can learn to find the approach that works for you.
And that starts with recognizing that there’s nothing wrong with your being interested in them. Your being attracted to somebody isn’t an imposition on them. Despite what angry dudes on subreddits and YouTube comments will tell you, women don’t find it insulting that you’re into them. The issue is in howsomebody expresses that interest. Light flirting and asking someone on a date isn’t crossing a line or coming on too strong… especially if you take rejection with grace and dignity. The guy who sends overly familiar and way over-sexual messages to women on dating apps or social media? That dude is the one who’s creeping women out. Same with guys who ignore women’s disinterest at bars or parties or who take “no” – including soft “no’s” like “I’m busy” or “I’m not ready to date” as a sign to keep going or to try harder.
That worry you feel about being that guy? That’s going to be a big part of what keeps you from being him. But at the same time, you have to be willing to not let that worry or anxiety paralyze you into inaction. You’re going to have to be able to own your attraction and express that interest in a respectful manner.
(And trust me on this: don’t try to mute your anxieties through, say, alcohol. It may turn down the volume on your anxiety, but it also turns down the volume on your sense of good judgement and ability to read signals, so you could end up creeping on people without intending to.)
The easiest way to do this is to be friendly and flirty with people you may be into. It’s easier to have a flirty vibe from the jump – even if you ultimately decide you want to be friends – than it is to try to switch gears from platonic to sexual or romantic. You also want to get comfortable with just asking somebody out on a date, rather than confessing to being attracted to them or having feelings. The former is active and has you taking the initiative; you’re asking them to come do something with you and telling them that you’re interested in them at the same time. The latter is more passive and puts some pressure on them. You’ve basically dropped your feels at their feet like a cat dropping a mouse and asking them to do something with it.
It also helps to remember that flirting is just a way of telling somebody that you like them in ways that are fun and engaging. People tend to get hung up on the mechanics of “what counts as flirting” instead of the message of flirting. Some people will flirt directly – paying someone compliments and telling them that they think they’re hot. Others will tease and banter. Still others are physical and expressive and do a lot of playful touching. Finding the form of flirting that works for you is a key part of learning how to come across as a potential lover instead of a potential friend.
I won’t lie, DBNW: this part can be hard. It can be intimidating. It’s going to take the same level of work and dedication that you applied to getting fit and being more social. But trust me: in the end, it will be worth it. And soon enough, you’ll realize that you’ve reached your next plateau… and your next challenge.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a woman who’s now nearer to 30 than I am 20, and I’ve never been in a long term relationship or had sex. I’m aware that romance and sex isn’t the end-all-be-all of life, and in fact I know now that I’m Bi-Ace and sometimes teeter on calling myself Aro. I generally also have a tough time developing close friendships with new people though I feel like I’m well liked by most people that meet me.
Most of the time I’m fine with this, and then every once in a while I’ll develop a crush or even start feeling romance between myself and my friends. So far this hasn’t come to anything since my crushes are so rare I usually get turned down (and almost everybody is super cool about it), and I usually end up mutually deciding with my friends, yes we should just continue being friends. Often this is because my life is a mess and I’m not really independent and it’s hard to want to be in a relationship when I’m a grown woman basically doing the living-in-the-parents-basement equivalent. It’s embarrassing as hell.
That’s a lot of background to mostly just show where I’m coming from when I say while I’m comfortable with becoming that weird single granny down the street with three cats, two dogs and cookies without ever getting married, I’m worried. I worry when/if I do find romance my lack of trying up to this point will have hamstrung me for sexual and emotional compatibility.
Do I need to start forcing myself to go out and find dates and sex in order to develop skills and maybe find that possible romance? Or should I just carry on continuing to try to get my life together and THEN become more open to intimacy and maybe let romance find me?
Future Cat Lady
DEAR FUTURE CAT LADY: If you’re not actually that interested in sex or relationships and the times you do find someone attractive are few and far between, then I don’t see why you should force yourself out there, FCL. I mean, if you’re content with your social life as it is and you don’t feel like you have an actual lack in your life… well, if it’s not broke, then why try to fix it?
It sounds to me like your living situation is the bigger issue in your life at the moment. If you feel like you need more independence and want to get some separation from your parents, then it makes sense to me that you would make this your priority over dates that you may or may not be into. Plus, solving these issues will do wonders for your confidence and let you feel like you’re in a place where you can respond if you do find someone you’re into.
The thing to keep in mind is that romance is about the connection and your feelings, not the special techniques and clever stratagems. Awkwardly stumbling into a relationship is just as real and valid (and adorable) as being the smoothest operator.
Focus on your immediate priorities. I suspect the rest will sort itself out for you as you go.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve found myself in another break up recently and as much as it sucks, things were handled reasonably and amicably. I’m trying to move on with my life and handle it the best I can. I’m still in contact with my most recent ex, we still joke, talk about our future, stuff between mutual friends, but there’s still a major imbalance; they rely on me for emotional support sometimes. I’m okay with that. It’s a bit difficult to handle sometimes but I set that aside because I still care for them a lot, but I’ve been realizing it’s a very one sided ship. I can’t come to them with any of my problems or struggles or fears anymore, and honestly, it’s draining.
I’m at a loss for what to do. On one hand, I really want to keep in touch with them, but on the other hand, I had to cut out a previous ex soon after we broke up because again it felt like they’d only approach me for support. I feel like I’m being used here and I’m just not sure what to make of it.
DEAR TIRED:I wish you gave more of an example of what you mean by your not being able to come to them with your problems or struggles, Tired. That’d give me much more of an idea of just what you should do here. Is it a case of benign neglect, where they don’t think to ask about how you’re doing? Or is it something more active, where they refuse to engage, or tell you that your problems don’t matter to them any more?
Regardless, the thing you need to keep in mind is that you do have the right to advocate for your needs… even with your exes. If you two are going to try to be friends, then part of being friends is your being able to tell her that you feel like this is a very one-sided relationship. Let her know that you feel like you’re doing a lot of giving and that you’re not getting anything in return.
It’s entirely possible that she may not realize just how much she’s leaning on you or how little she’s doing for you.
Alternately, if she is making demands on you for emotional support and refusing to give that same level of support in return, you can refuse to give it. You can make that a boundary in your relationship. You’re allowed to say “hey, if we’re going to try to be friends, then I can’t keep being your emotional support animal like this. I care for you and I’m glad we’re still friends, but this is going to be a hard limit for me.”
And if she’s not willing to respect that boundary?
Then she’s shown that she’s not willing to be a good friend to you.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)