DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: One thing I hear over and over again from people is that I should be completely happy by myself before I attempt any sort of romantic engagement.
If that’s to be taken seriously, then how is dating not just an interruption of either of our lives? If I’m content with being alone, then how wouldn’t inviting someone into my daily life not just make them feel unnecessary? How wouldn’t my partner just feel like a proverbial tacked-on wheel to an already functional vehicle?
DEAR ROLLING SOLO: This is an interesting question because I have mixed feelings about the idea of “you should be happy by yourself before you date someone”. Not that I disagree with it — I don’t — but because people toss it out there so frequently without understanding it. It’s kind of like the oft-quoted line from Ru Paul: if you don’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anyone else. People assume that this means that you can’t love someone or date them if, say, you struggle with depression or self-worth. But what it actually means is that you have to understand and trust yourself, be willing to be good to yourself and do what’s right for you if you’re going to love someone. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure. You’ll pick people who aren’t right for you, you won’t have the necessary boundaries to make sure you aren’t taking care of your own needs and you’ll be offloading your own locus of control onto someone else.
So it is with “be happy by yourself”. The reason why people get this wrong is because… well, they’re coming at relationships from the wrong angle. They treat relationships as a “need”, a “I MUST have this in order to be happy” or “I can ONLY be satisfied if I’m dating someone”. That’s a bad look on anyone. The problem with this outlook is that you’re functionally abdicating responsibility for your own emotional health and well-being. When you’re saying that “you need X to be happy”, you’re putting the responsibility for your happiness and satisfaction on someone else; your theoretical partner is now responsible for making you happy and feeling satisfied. That’s not what they signed on for. Folks are struggling to hold onto their own emotional well-being; being the sole person in charge of another person’s happiness is just one responsibility too many.
It’s akin to the idea of the manic pixie dream girl: the idea that this woman’s whole purpose in life is to make her boyfriend a better person. But that’s not a person, that’s a prop.
At the same time, having a great life while you’re single doesn’t mean that adding to it is a disruption. You can be happy and satisfied while being single and still want to date. You can have a great life and date someone without it being a disruption. Having a great life, one that you’re happy with, actually makes you a more desirable partner. It means that you’ve got your s
t together. You’re in a good place emotionally, you’ve got a solid social circle, you have interests and passions and live an interesting and fulfilling life. These are all positive qualities, things that we look for in potential partners. It means that they aren’t going to be looking to us to pick up the slack for them. It also means that they’re living a life that we would like to take part in. After all: if you’re having a great time with friends and activities… why wouldn’t someone else look at that and say “hey, I’d love to give that a try. I bet that I would have a great time with them!”
Being “needed” sounds sweet and romantic… right up until you try to live it. That’s when you discover that this isn’t love, it’s control. It’s anxiety.
Your life should be great… and a relationship should be the capstone on it, not the foundation. Otherwise, all you’re doing is giving up control of your life. The loss of that foundation — because relationships can and do end, even when nobody has done anything wrong — destroys your life and happiness.
A relationship is a complement to a life well lived. It’s the wine that ties a great meal together; it increases the quality, but isn’t a prerequisite.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE:
I’m turning 21 within a few months, and I have yet to get a guy to even say hi to me without me initiating the conversation first. My three sisters all had boyfriends by the time they were 15. I have yet to even go on a date.
I’m doing everything that I am supposed to: getting out of my comfort zone, talking to people, and trying new things, but nothing is working. I’ve lowered my standards and lowered my expectations, but still nothing. I’m getting so sick and tired of being rejected. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.
I would like to get a boyfriend by the end of my junior year of college, but if things keep going the way they are, I’ll probably never get a boyfriend and die alone. Help!
DEAR NEWBIE BLUES: I can’t tell you what you may or may not be doing wrong with guys, NB, but I can tell you what you’re doing wrong right now: you’re comparing your sisters’ highlight reels to your unedited footage. Trying to compare yourself and your love life to any one else — including your sisters — is a mistake because you are literally not them. You could do exactly every single thing they do, make every decision they made and still not have it work out because you are not them. The only way that you could have their success is for you to go back in time and literally take their place.
You aren’t in a race with anyone; the success other people have or haven’t had has absolutely no bearing on you. The fact that your sisters had boyfriends before you only means that they had boyfriends when they were younger. That’s it. You may notice that they almost certainly aren’t with them now. That’s because the relationships you have at 15 rarely last. Hell, most of the time they barely last to 16.
The other mistake you’re making is that you’re putting yourself on an arbitrary and artificial timeline. And you know what? I get it. I understand that desire to hit some milestone by a particular date. When I got to college, I was determined that I needed to lose my virginity before my sophomore year.
It didn’t happen. All that did happen was that I dated someone I was wildly incompatible with (and not terribly attracted to, to be honest) in hopes of beating that particular buzzer. I was so determined to try to cross what I saw as the most important moment in my life thus far that I functionally said “you’ll do” to the first person who I thought I could score with and then spent the majority of the time pushing hard for sex that she ultimately didn’t want. I, needless to say, did not cover myself in glory during all of this. That relationship (deservedly) fell apart, I went home for the summer and didn’t end up losing my virginity until the next year (which is a different learning experience entirely).
I bring this up because you’re setting yourself up on the same path. By deciding that you need to get a boyfriend by X date, you’re setting yourself up to try to date people who will likely be a poor match for you, simply because you’re trying to shove someone, anyone into the hole marked “boyfriend”. And while I don’t believe that your first time — whether it be your first relationship or your first sexual experience — needs to be this transcendent, magical event… it should be with someone who you actually want for themselves, rather than for what they represent.
What I suggest you do for right now is to stop trying to find a boyfriend. You’ve been trying and trying and trying and it hasn’t been working. So stop trying. Instead, I suggest that you effectively date yourself. By this I mean, stop letting the question of getting a boyfriend be the driving force in your life and simply do things for yourself for a while. Find clothes that make you feel like a million bucks or a sexy badass. Hit the gym, not because you’re trying to get into “beach body” shape or some other horses
t but because it makes you feel good regardless of what shape you have. Take full advantage of everything college has to offer, from cheap travel to various on and off-campus activities and events. Talk with dudes, make friends with them, but don’t stress dating. Spend that time getting to know yourself and treating yourself like a queen and living a life that you love, regardless of whether or not you have a boyfriend.
Because here’s the thing: a partner is not and should not be the foundation of your life, it should be the capstone. Your life should be something that you love and the only thing that could make it better would be finding a guy who’s actually worth sharing it with. And I promise: if you take this path of living an awesome life, getting comfortable with yourself and also being comfortable talking with dudes? You will find guys worth dating will come into your life almost without effort. And — more importantly — they’ll be guys who will actually be right for you instead of looking at someone and saying “you’ll do.”
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org