DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been married for 15 years, and together with my wife for 18, with two children (13 and 10). Two years ago, my wife explained that the marriage was over. We stayed together, largely for financial reasons, until I was able to move out some five months ago.
After so much time in a monogamous relationship, I am now in a panic about dating.
I have tried online dating – your favourite, OkCupid – but have had two replies to 10 messages so far. The two replies have both been from the most speculative messages, courteously explaining that they are not interested. Nobody else has even acknowledged my contact, even though I’ve carefully shown that I have read their profile, chosen people with whom I have, apparently, plenty in common, and couched my message in civilised and articulate terms. (For the avoidance of doubt, I am not messaging young women, but ones of my own, mid-50s, age group or up to 10 years my junior.)
I appreciate that people often do not reply to messages, but a complete absence of interest is disturbing. I am an attorney, self-employed, with a wide range of interests. I have no problem talking with women – in fact I find female company a lot more congenial than male company, and I have plenty of female friends – and although I will never have a career as a male model, I’m in pretty good shape for my age. I suspect the problem may be the fact that I am separated, rather than divorced, but there is nothing I can do about this – under English law, you can’t get a divorce within two years of separation unless you are going to allege adultery (we have both been faithful to each other) or “unreasonable behaviour”, which opens a whole can of worms of unpleasantness. I’m getting the sinking feeling that I’m facing at least two years more of celibacy. (In fact, there are a couple of real drawbacks to me as a romantic prospect – thanks to the recession my legal practice does not produce much money, although things have improved over the last couple of years, and because of the children I still see a lot of my wife and we still cooperate to a great extent in practical matters – believe it or not, we still have a joint bank account and I run the finances for both of us. If a woman found either of these points unattractive, I would not be surprised – however my complete failure so far is in advance of either of these points coming up.)
So morale is pretty low as far as online dating is concerned. Meanwhile, the more traditional approach of meeting people through my range of outside interests (I play in an orchestra, play volleyball in a mixed league once a week, am in a mixed book reading group, and have joined a couple of meetup groups) or getting together with one of my female friends looks very problematic. (And, of course, a major disadvantage of working for yourself is that I have no co-workers at all!)
Before I was married I always had a problem with converting contact with women in a neutral social setting into a sexual relationship. If I joined an evening class, for example, my thought process was always that if I hit on one of my fellow students and was rejected, I would become in some way a pariah in the class – and I always made the mistake of joining classes where I actually wanted to do the study programme – or if I was in a club I would avoid any entanglement with other club members, lest it ruin my participation in the club activities – I would never dare make a move on one of my fellow volleyball players, for example.
Pretty destructive thinking – and it’s been made worse by something that happened in the last month. My wife and I have a mutual friend with whom I have been on very friendly terms for a number of years. Since the separation we had taken to having coffee together once a week for a prolonged chat, and we see each other around the village a lot anyway. It has been the kind of relationship where if we are both at the same party, we will form a huddle in a corner and talk for ages. Unfortunately – you can see where this is going – I like her a lot, and made the mistake of asking her whether I should rule out in my mind the prospect of our friendship developing any further. She expressed herself interested, but saw practical problems; the next day I texted her that I appreciated the problems and that it would not affect our friendship if she said no, and she replied that having thought things through any relationship would have to be surreptitious and that would not be good for either of us. Then she blanked me. The coffee mornings have stopped, the last time I saw her in the village she walked past me without saying hello, and as far as I can see more than 10 years of friendship have just gone up in smoke.
So, about as tentative an approach as possible to somebody with whom I have for years been very close, with the express statement that I would not hold it against her if she could not respond, and it’s a fiasco. I think you can guess what the prospects are now for me risking making any advances to somebody that I know through a social setting where I want to remain in that setting – I may meet somebody socially, but am frankly terrified that unless I remain 100% platonic, I will need to get out of that social setting for good. (Concrete example, I found there is a local hiking group for singles – decided against joining it, simply because of the thought that I would have to leave the group as soon as I had attempted to make my move.)
Any advice? Is it just a matter of getting a grip on myself? Or do I accept I’m on the shelf for the foreseeable?
– Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer
DEAR UNFROZEN CAVEMAN LAWYER: First of all: welcome to online dating. I recently released a video on the Dr. NerdLove YouTube Channel (youtube.com/user/DrNerdLove) where I talked about how to deal with the frustrations of dating. One of the biggest issues is that men and women use dating apps like Tinder and OKCupid very differently — men try to pick everyone and then narrow things down after they’ve matched. Meanwhile women tend to be more selective in the men they match with and swipe right on far fewer matches than men do. As a result: women are matching with men who may then decide never to message them, while men are encouraged to swipe right as widely as possible in order to maximize the chance of getting ANY messages… even with people they’re not actually attracted to.
Small wonder online dating is so messed up right now.
But even when you do match with someone, sometimes it just won’t work out the way you would hope. Lots of people will just not respond to emails for a multitude of reasons ranging from accounts not being active to seeing how things are going with other matches to having arbitrary deal-breakers that you just somehow hit. Again: this is just how online dating goes, for both men and women. There will be a lot of shouting into the void – and conversations (and dates) that ultimately go nowhere. As the saying goes, every relationship fails until one doesn’t… every approach in online dating fails until, once again, one doesn’t.
On paper you sound like a pretty darn good catch. If this isn’t coming across in your profile, then you may need to consider revising it. You should definitely have a friend look over your profile, especially a female friend you can trust to be bluntly — if insightfully — honest with you.
However, I suspect the problem goes beyond the vagaries of online dating and far more about where you are mentally and emotionally. To put it mildly, you sound exhausted and depressed as hell. You have an incredibly pessimistic attitude towards yourself and dating and if it’s coming across to me, then it’s definitely coming across to the women you’re interested in. And to be perfectly frank, I’m not bloody surprised.
Dude, your relationship of nearly 20 years came to an end and you couldn’t even make a clean break of it – you continued to live with your wife, knowing that the relationship was over and only got out for good five months ago. For f*ck’s sake, that is not enough time for you to heal and recover. You don’t have emotional scars, you have emotional hemorrhages. You’re still one of the walking wounded. You shouldn’t be thinking about dating right now, you should be working on healing yourself. What happened to you was a massive emotional blow and even though you don’t realize it, you’re still reeling from it. I don’t necessarily believe in the old saw that it takes roughly half the time you were together to get over someone, but five months is not enough time to leap back into the dating scene, even on a casual basis.
You need to quit worrying about dating for now; you’re just not ready for it. What you need to do is focus on yourself for a while. Your goal should be getting your life back in order and your head on straight, not trying to find a replacement spouse. I realize right now you’re feeling like you’re never going to find someone who will love you ever again and you’re desperate to prove yourself wrong but all you’re doing is making things worse. You’re not seeing things clearly. Look at what happened with your friend. You thought you were confessing your feelings to her; she on the other hand was hearing you completely recontextualize your relationship . To her, your asking if you had a chance with her sounded like you were admitting that you’d had feelings for her this entire time… including while you were with your wife, who she’s still friends with. So now not only are you hinting – inadvertently – that you’ve been in love with her for the years while you were married, but that you’re asking her to potentially betray her friend’s trust.
(Yes, you can’t call dibs on people, but think of how this looks from her end of things.)
No wonder she’s pulled the fade.
If your pain wasn’t still so fresh and raw, you’d realize how it looked too.
So take dating off the table. It’s just not in the cards for you right now and not putting pressure on yourself to be back on the market it is going to actually make you feel better. You are not open to finding a new relationship and probably should be for at least the next year or so. Focus on your job, your finances and your relationship with your kids. Rebuild your life and get deeper involved in your interests and hobbies. Join groups just because it’s something you want to do, not because you’re trying to find a new girlfriend. Make new friends just for the joy of having friends. Let the pain fade and the wounds heal, let yourself face mornings without dread or self-recrimination.
I’d also suggest talking to a therapist. You’re seriously depressed right now and I think being able to talk about your anxieties with someone will do you a world of good.
And when you do recover to the point of being able to date again – remember, at least a year, if not two – just asking somebody on a date doesn’t mean you’re going to be exiled from your social group. As long as you’re polite about it, take rejection with aplomb and grace and don’t treat it either like a dire insult or the end of the world, nobody is going to get weird. If she says “thanks but no”, then your response is to shrug and say “ok cool. Hey, did you hear about Arsenal’s striker….” and just let it go. If you don’t treat it like a big deal, nobody else will either.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)