DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m 29 going on 30 and have never been in a relationship. I’ve been on all of one date and have only kissed one person. I know I’m smart, can make anyone laugh, witty, kind and would make a great boyfriend but I never approach anyone. And I think I have found the reason why: I don’t want to bother anyone.
And these aren’t people who clearly don’t want to be bothered (headphones in, rushing somewhere, talking to someone else. etc) but everyone in general. In places where I’m comfortable and regularly hangout, I can’t approach anyone. Even if I were to see a girl standing against the wall, looking board out of her mind, i would think “I probably shouldn’t bother me”.
You would think that the problem disappear would when people approach me but it doesn’t. If someone tries to talk to me, i’ll usually just give simple one word answers to keep the conversation short. I don’t do it on purpose, it just happens. This has plagued me all of my adult life. How do I get over this?
Thanks in advance,
Sorry to Bother You
DEAR SORRY TO BOTHER YOU: This is something I see all the time, SBY. A lot of folks — mostly men, but plenty of women — worry that their interest in someone is intrusive or bothersome. Some feel that their mere presence is too much. For men in particular, this tends to come from a fear of being creepy ; they’re so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that they end up paralyzed.
At the core, there are two issues. The first is simple ignorance; they may lack the social calibration or experience to recognize when people are open and interested in talking to folks. That’s simply a matter of education and practice.
The other, however, is a lack of self-worth. They feel like there’s nothing worthwhile about them, and so their mere presence is an intrusion on other people’s lives. The irony, of course, is that most of the time this isn’t true. Many times, other people are actively interested in getting to know them, spend more time with them and cultivate relationships with them… they just don’t see it. Or, worse, they’re afraid of it. They don’t want to get their hopes up because they believe that the only thing that will happen is that they’ll be disappointed and hurt. And since the fear of that pain is often greater than the pain itself, they avoid the circumstances where they might feel that fear.
Case in point, SBY: you have folks who come talk to you… and you shut them down. The issue that you’re having is that, because you don’t believe in your own value, you assume that other people won’t like you. If someone starts to show interest, then you might get your hopes up. You might get invested in them. And then, when they inevitably realize that they don’t like you, you’ll get hurt. Thus, by shutting things down before they can even start, you’re protecting yourself from the inevitability of heartbreak.
If you want to get over this sticking point and get to a place where you can actually approach people — or be approached — and connect with them, then you need to learn to believe and trust in your own value. Some of this is simply learning to accept your worth — not on an intellectual level, but a bone-deep emotional level. And part of how you do this is to learn to be your own best friend.
Think about it: would you allow a friend of yours to be so down on themselves? Would you let your friend talk about how much they’d be a burden on folks or how they’re just a bother to people? Hell no you wouldn’t… so why would you treat yourself less well than you’d treat a good friend? Positive self-talk and affirmations may sound like cringe-worthy Stuart Smiley bulls
t, but it helps. Talking yourself up to yourself goes a long way towards breaking this idea that you’d be a bother to folks.
Some self-awareness and conscious decisions to break the cycle can also work. If someone does approach you, then recognizing your usual pattern and forcing yourself to give more than one-word answers can help get you in the habit of actually talking to people. It ain’t easy; you’re having to break the habit of years, if not a lifetime. It’ll be awkward and uncomfortable at first. While you’re still practicing, you’ll have plenty of times when you realize after the fact that you missed your chance to try to force yourself out of your defensive crouch. But by being mindful and in the moment, you’ll start reaching a point where you will recognize that you’re about to fall into your old patterns and choose to break it.
It takes practice and a willingness to make mistakes, but those mistakes are how you learn and grow.
At the same time however, get some support from your friends. Telling your friends that hey, you could use a little positive affirmation, isn’t being needy or weird. It’s just staying that you could use some support from Team You.
Similarly, your friends could also help you bridge the gap by introducing you to folks, instead of your trying to build up the courage and motivation to do so yourself. While you may hesitate to approach people — or clam up when they approach you — having someone pull the “haaaaave you met Ted?” can sometimes be what it takes to get someone over that initial hump.
But that’s a stop-gap approach, not a cure. If you want to get past this, then you’ll need to work on yourself and your sense of self-worth. It may well be worth your time to look into some mental health options. In your case, a self-directed, cognitive behavioral therapy course like MoodGym or BetterHelp could be useful. These are low-cost ways of addressing some of your hang-ups and worries at your own pace and in ways that help you retrain your brain. And if those aren’t working for you… well, talking with a counselor or therapist can be incredibly helpful to dig in and unpack some of the underlying causes.
You said it yourself, SBY: you’ve got a lot going for you. It’s just a matter of learning to accept it and believe it. There’re folks who’re dying to get to know you; you just have to be willing to meet them half-way.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org