DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: People want me to be an incel, but in a positive, feminine way. How do I get them to stop?
This isn’t so much a dating question as it is a how do I deal with people who think I should be dating problem. Well meaning people love telling me that I’m beautiful and vibrant and anyone would be lucky to be with me and it’s not your fault dudes aren’t into you it’s just how our society is or whatever lame excuse.
This of course is bulls
t. I am not attractive, I am morbidly obese, I lack femininity, and my personality is abrasive. Yet people with zero skin in my game adamantly disagree with these facts and it turns into a self esteem pep talk. Rejecting this, I’m then an asshole for being pessimistic and mean because they’re just trying to help me feel better.
I insist on acknowledging my reality because it is emotionally easier to know why things are not working than to think everything is fine and yet not working for some unknown unfair reason. It took me many years of sadness and despair to work this out. BTW when dudes can’t work this out we call them incels and it’s a bad thing.
I’m not a bum who wallows in misery. I got a Master’s degree in my late 30’s. I travel. I have a job that I like. I go to cool underground shows and art events. I’m currently re-watching all the James Bond movies in order. Anyway, I hope someday I do find a guy who is into me and we can have a loving and supportive relationship but it is horribly heartbreaking and impractical to just cluelessly bemone why I haven’t.
Ok thanks, I’d appreciate any advice you might have.
Not Their Business Anyway
DEAR NOT THEIR BUSINESS ANYWAY: Y’know, NTBA, this kind of runs parallel to a question I get from guys all the time. I hear from folks who want to know whether it’s ok to stop dating for a while. This can be difficult for a lot of folks to do. We live in a society where being alone is seen as a problem to be solved and that someone who doesn’t have a partner must be miserable. Giving up – for whatever reason – is seen as resigning yourself to misery… even if you’re actually ok.
You’re dealing with a related issue: well meaning friends. See, if we accept that being single is a problem and that being single is misery, then it can be hard to see friends who’re alone. From that perspective, it becomes a moral duty, nay, imperative to help them.
Except, as we’ve often seen, a lot of times, that “help” tends to be empty platitudes and very little actionable advice. In fact, one of the hardest things to accept is that sometimes there is nothing to be done. As a wise man once said: you can commit no errors and still lose. That’s not weakness; that’s life.
But people in general don’t like to feel as though there’s nothing to be done. They like to feel that there’s some way they can help, something they can do. So if they can’t provide actual help, then they want to at least try to make their friend feel better. And while that’s noble and generous, well… sometimes it just doesn’t help. It just makes you tired and more exasperated.
(It’s like when you lose a pet and people insist on sending you that f
king poem about the rainbow bridge.)
Now it’s hard to get upset at people who only want to help and want you to feel better, but the desire to help isn’t the same as actually helping. But at the same time, if you tell them to knock it the hell off… well, yeah, you’re basically being the jerk who doesn’t appreciate the help they’re offering.
But the problem isn’t the platitudes, it’s not your resignation and it’s not in their attempts to help that make you feel worse. It’s that nobody is actually saying what they mean. Everyone is speaking in metaphors, where meaning is getting lost and causing issues. For example: someone may make the observation that they’re fat, only to be deluged with people insisting that no, they’re not fat at all. The problem is that everyone involved is using “fat” differently. One is using fat as shorthand to mean “unattractive” or “undesirable”, possibly even “lazy” or “slovenly”. The other, however, is using “fat” to mean “excess amounts of adipose tissue”. This difference in meaning can create conflict. If the person remarking that they’re fat is talking about their physical body, the well-meaning people who are translating “fat” as “unattractive” sound like they’re denying objective reality. On the other hand, if the person who makes the comment is discussing feeling unattractive or undesirable, someone taking that as “I am overweight” can end up sounding like they’re saying “you’re not that bad”.
(And this is before we start getting into things like the general inaccuracy of BMI, differences in body types, the difference between being fat and unhealthy, and so forth.)
In your case, your friends’ concern comes from what society says about single people (and single women in particular) and how they think this makes you feel. They don’t want you to feel worthless or undeserving of love, even as it feels to you like they’re denying objective reality. Their help also insists that you must be miserable and feel horrible about yourself. But self-confidence and self-esteem doesn’t always mean feeling like you’re the prettiest flower in the field; sometimes it means being comfortable with who you are and your circumstances and secure in your competency and capabilities. Their concern for you and their presumption of a lack of self-esteem can feel like they’re negating all that.
As you said: this was a long and painful journey for you; their concern and attempts to show they care can feel like it’s opening old wounds that have, if not healed, at least stopped bleeding. That’s not helpful.
That’s why the answer here isn’t necessarily for them to back off – though that will help – or for you to just passively accept their annoying-if-well-meant actions. It’s to address the miscommunication at the heart of this. You and they are speaking different languages and getting upset when the other doesn’t understand. So let’s remove the misunderstanding.
The next time one of your friends wants to reassure you, address the message, not the words. “I understand you’re telling me that I have value, that I’m not worthless and you want to prop up my self-esteem, but the way you’re saying it is ignoring how I actually feel about my situation. I have a good life, I have strong self-esteem and I’m at peace with how things are. I’d like to find a relationship some day, but frankly I have a pretty good life and I’ve worked pretty hard to get to where I am, emotionally speaking. I appreciate what you’re trying to say, but when you try to talk me up like this, you’re negating the work I put in to get here and that’s not helpful to me. In fact, it makes things harder. I realize you want to help but I promise you: I’m ok.”
Then, let them know what actually would be helpful for you. Maybe it’d be to send you funny memes or adorable pictures of their pets. Maybe it’d be words of affirmation about your accomplishments or going with you on your adventures. Or maybe it’d simply be letting you handle your being single on your own and not treating you like a problem to be solved.
The other thing I would point out to them is that being comfortable – or at least at peace – with where you are now isn’t the same thing as having given up hope. It’s just not letting the current situation dominate everything about you. Love and a boyfriend may well be in your future, but you’re focused on your present. Sometimes the love of your life is the love of your life… the life you’re living right now.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)