DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been a viewer/reader of your site for a while now, and I’ve even read your book, and I’ve got to say you have a lot of great advice. I’m not historically one for asking advice online, but there’s something I’d really appreciate if you could help me with.
My core problem is this: I still live with my parents, and I’m finding it to be a massive psychological (if not physical) hindrance to getting involved in the world of dating.
To provide a little context, I’m 25 years old (and turning 26 in a couple of months). I graduated from university about a year ago with a music degree in saxophone and composition (very lucrative, I know), and I’ve been living at home and slowly building a clientele of saxophone students since then. I’m making enough money to pay my bills but not enough to move out, and while my family is happy to support me and I love them very much, I’m dying to get my own place and become more independent. For further context, I went to university in the same city my family lives in, so I’ve basically never left home.
While I’m aware that my living situation isn’t terribly unusual for someone my age in today’s economy (my city is on the expensive side too), it still bothers me. When coupled with my rather lackluster dating history, consisting of one brief fling in high school and about a dozen attempts since then that amounted to nothing, my morale when it comes to dating is pretty low. A couple of years ago I had kind of decided that I wouldn’t bother trying to date again until I moved out, but now I’m not sure exactly when it’s going to happen and I don’t know if I really want to hold myself to that. I don’t know if it’s wise to hold myself to it either. I’ve been interested in someone or other at just about any given time in my post-pubescent life, so it’s not that I don’t feel the urge to date.
To be clear, I don’t have any major hangups about my looks or my personality. I think I look decent enough when I care to trim or shave and put some actual effort into my appearance, and I think my personality is good aside from a few minor foibles. It’s mostly just my stereotypically pathetic “mom’s basement” living situation (although I don’t actually live in the basement) and my lack of dating experience and success that’s giving me problems. Telling potential dates that I still live with my parents isn’t something I really want to do, but I figure it has to come out sooner or later. I dread the hypothetical “Want to go back to your place?” that I have to meet with an awkward “Haha, here’s the thing:”.
Anyway, I’m not here to write America’s next seminal novel, so I’ll wrap it up. Basically I have a confidence problem, driven primarily by my living situation and secondarily by my weak dating history. I want to get out on the dating scene, but I’m afraid that nothing significant will or can happen until I’m living out on my own (or with roommates who aren’t relatives). I’d rather not bother at all if I’m doomed to rejection down the road. Am I right to be worried, or is this unnecessary concern? How can I cope with this? What should I do?
Sax In The Basement
DEAR SAX IN THE BASEMENT: There’s this thing I see people do all the time: they try to game out scenarios in their heads before they actually are in a position to test them out. In theory, this is supposed to be a way of psyching yourself up and getting yourself ready to actually Do The Thing. In practice, this becomes a classic example of worst-case thinking, a cascading series of What-Ifs that inevitably plays out in the most humiliating way possible. What’s supposed to be an exercise in planning and confidence building ends up becoming a case of letting your brain weasels out to play. So even though you theoretically have total control over the scenario in your head, your anxieties take over and suddenly you can only imagine things playing out in the worst way possible.
And because our brains such at distinguishing what we imagine from what we actually experience, we experience the anxiety and fear of that rejection over and over again. We’ve gotten so used to it that we can’t actually imagine things playing out any differently.
And so… you’ve basically set yourself up for failure. Like the s
ttiest version of the Midnighter, you’ve played that interaction in your head a thousand times and you know how you’re going to get shot down in flames every single time.
And that’s the problem, SitB. You don’t have a living situation problem and you don’t have a confidence problem, you have a fear problem. Your biggest dilemma isn’t that you’ve been rejected for living with your parents, it’s that you expect to get rejected for living with your parents. You haven’t struck out yet because you haven’t even stepped up to the plate in the first place.
Your living with your folks? Your lack of dating experience? Those are just excuses. You’re afraid of the getting rejected. The reasons are just flavoring to the stew of anxiety you’re serving yourself.
And hey, guess what? You’re going to get rejected because everybody does. Nobody out there, not Michael B. Jordan, not Brad Pitt, not Chris Evans, goes 5 for 5. Everybody gets turned down and turned away because hey, not everyone’s gonna like you! So yeah: some women will turn you down for living with your parents… just like some women will turn you down because you’re a saxophone player, or because your hair is the wrong color or because you look like their ex or because sun is aligned in Sagittarius.
It’s like playing blackjack: you can do things correctly and build the odds in your favor as much as possible, but there’s always going to be factors outside of your control. You can’t make yourself rejection-proof because at the end of the day, a lot of rejection has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person rejecting you.
As much as it sucks, rejection is part of the game and there is no avoiding it. Much like studying martial arts or playing contact sports, if you’re actually going to do more than just observe from the sidelines, you have to accept that eventually you’re going to get hit. The key is learning how to take the hit and – more importantly – realizing that you can take it. And to be perfectly honest: you’re better off taking the hit early on and learning how to shake it off than you are to keep letting it be this huge thing that just gets scarier and scarier. The longer you wait for a time when you won’t get hit (which doesn’t exist), the bigger it will loom in your mind and the worse it will be.
Now having scared the piss out of you, let me reassure you: it’s not nearly as bad as you think it’s going to be. The fact that you live with your folks, for example, isn’t the dealbreaker you think it is. In this day and age, more and more people your age are living with their folks – more than a third of millennials at this point. The economy sucks for average folks, housing is expensive as s
t in most major cities and everybody’s overloaded with student debt. Most of the people you’re likely to meet and want to date are going to recognize that this is a reality of the modern economy, not a failure to launch.
And to be perfectly blunt, the bigger issues you’re going to face living with your parents are going to be the same you’d face living with roommates: namely “bringing someone back home without announcing it to everyone in the house”.
Now here’s how you deal with that fear of rejection: you accept that rejection happens, that it sucks and all that it means is that you and that person weren’t right for one another. You don’t invest emotionally in someone you’ve just met – especially someone who has no empathy for your living situation.
Similarly, you don’t treat the fact that you live with your parents as this huge, shameful secret. It doesn’t define you, it doesn’t mark you as a loser. It’s just part of where you are now. All you need to say is “Yeah, I’m living with my parents at the moment. Trying to find an affordable place in this city is insane” and most people will nod in sage agreement.
Women aren’t as concerned about the fact that you live with your parents so much as “do you have ambition? Are you working to something bigger, or are you just coasting?” You’ve got a job, you’re paying your bills, you’re making moves. Those are all net positives. The rest is just temporary.
So here’s what you do, SitB. Start making progress towards moving out. Save up some money, start talking with friends you could conceivably live with, look at “roommate wanted” ads on Craigslist. It’s not critical to your dating future, but the fact that you’re actually making some forward motion will help ease the brain weasels and give you more confidence. When those brain weasels start to thrash around, you’ll be able to point to those and say “shut up, we’re almost there.”
Meanwhile, stop waiting for s
t to be perfect before you start dating. If you want to date, then start putting yourself out there. You’re worried about your lack of dating experience? Fine: then you go start getting some experience. Go ahead and tell yourself that it’s not for anything serious; you’re doing this just to know that you can do it. Treat it as the casual exercise that it is. If you find someone amazing, awesome. If not, that’s cool too; you’re grinding out your XP and leveling up so that you’ll be even more ready when you do have your own place.
Also: get an app like Hotel Tonight; that’ll help for the times when you need a place to go with your new sweetie and you can’t bring ’em back home.
You’ve got this, SitB.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)