DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m 26 years old and am having what you could call a romantic dry spell.
I met my first girlfriend at 21 years old and we dated for about 11 months. After we broke up you could say that I deviated from my authentic personality and in an attempt to appear more manly engaged in some toxic masculine behavior which wasn’t me.
This helped me get a few hookups and some superficial “relationships/flings” which didn’t last more than a few months. I have no interest in getting back with her, but I want to meet someone new so badly. The problem is that since it’s been so long since I’ve had a long-term relationship, the process of getting into one seems so foreign to me now. My main question is how do I go about courting a new girl for a relationship after being out of the game for so long? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Confused and Frustrated
DEAR CONFUSED AND FRUSTRATED: I get where you’re coming from, CaF. You did the thing a lot of folks do after a break-up, especially one that really hurt: you went on something of a f
kboy bender. You decided to try on a different role and personality for a bit, let yourself be a bit more self-involved and focused on putting up a “f
k you, you can’t hurt me because I don’t care” front. Honestly, that’s more common than you’d realize, especially among the young. There’s a certain push to say “well, you need to act like this” and chase after things that you were told you were supposed to want. And, like a lot of people, you realized that all those “rewards” you were promised were not only what they were made out to be, but they weren’t going to be delivered the way you were told.
Now you’re back and you’re ready to get back to your authentic self… and now you’re feeling like you’ve been in that other world for so long, you don’t know how to act in this one.
But the fact of the matter is that you get into committed, long term relationships the same way you get into casual ones. You meet people. You flirt. Maybe you start off going on actual dates. Maybe you start off with a fling — even a one night stand. It doesn’t matter, because how you start the relationship is a detail, not destiny. Starting things with an eye towards marriage, 2.5 kids and 1.88 cars is no more of a guarantee of success than going home with someone you met that night is a guarantee of failure. Plenty of life-long marriages started with a one-night fling that just never ended.
The difference between a relationship that stays casual and one that becomes more committed is simply communication. As you and your partner get to know each other, as you grow to trust each other and spend time together, you’ll start having a better idea as to whether this person is right for you. If you decide that they are, then you and your partner have the Defining The Relationship Talk where you lay out exactly what it is that you want. If you want something exclusive or long term or with an eye towards marriage, then say so. Set aside time and say “Hey, I really like what we have and I want to know if we’re on the same page about where this relationship is going.” Tell her what you would want in an ideal world, where you’d like to see the two of you going and how you want to get there.
Or, at least, that’s how it would be if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic. Unfortunately, COVID-19 means that dating has changed for now, and we have to adapt with it.
But in its own, f
ked up way, this can be a blessing in disguise for you, CaF. Right now we’re in a point in time and history when casual hook-ups and flings really can’t exist. With the pandemic continuing and everyone having to self-isolate and maintain social distancing, we can’t really have casual or superficial relationships. Most of those can only exist at a time when physical chemistry and really good sex allow you to paper over the various cracks and incompatibilities that end up driving people apart. Relationships that shallow simply aren’t going to have the foundation needed to survive when you only have emotional chemistry to rely on. If you don’t have the shared values, the common interests and compatible goals as well as that good f
kin’, the two of you are going to drift apart like ships in different currents.
We’re in an era of mandatory courtship, where we have to go into new relationships deliberately and with intent. If we’re approaching people on dating apps, we’re doing so with an eye towards the long term because hey, we have no idea how long social distancing will last. So for the immediate future, we’re in a period of having to get to know our potential partners well, to have long and involved conversations about life, the universe and everything and actually pay attention to all the little things that we assume will just sort themselves out. We can’t rely on the easy distractions of flashy dates, last minute “hey, let’s go do this thing” plans or the many ways we focus primarily on physical attraction over emotional connection.
(Not that focusing primarily on physical attraction is inherently a bad thing, mind you, or that a relationship that’s mostly — or entirely — physical is somehow lesser… it’s just counterproductive for your goals, CaF.)
So the first thing I would suggest is that you check out my free workshop on love, sex and dating during quarantine (available here:https://nrdlv.co/2RLw8ch); I lay out what dating looks like in the era of the coronavirus, how to plan killer virtual dates and even how to keep the sexual side of things hot. Then I would suggest sprucing up your dating app profiles, and start some conversations. Find the people who, like you, are looking for something serious and long-term and start some conversations now. Get to know them, have those long, intimate and enthralling conversations over Skype or FaceTime or other video chats. Send silly Tik Tok videos back and forth, watch some movies together or play some board games. And as you get to know them and find the people who you feel are most in alignment with what you’re looking for, start laying the foundations for a long-term relationship. Talk about the future, make some short-term plans for after the quarantine is lifted and see how things play out.
You already have all the skills it takes to get into a long term relationship. You just need to apply them correctly.
You’ve got this.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org