DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m about to turn 35, and find myself single after 12 years of being in a relationship. My ex and I met in college on a study abroad, and were friends (with benefits) for many months before we became exclusive. That friendship developed, evolved, and after six years of dating (four living together) we got married.
We were married for another six years until she suffered the loss of someone very close to her which ended up impacting our relationship greatly. We saw a therapist, both together and separately, and tried very hard over the course of nearly two years to rebuild the relationship, but ultimately we grew apart and decided to divorce. We remain friends to this day, but now I find myself single, and if I’m being honest a bit scared of it. We were separated and living apart for the last 1.5 years of our marriage, so it doesn’t feel like I’m coming right out of a relationship anymore. The pain of saying goodbye to my marriage has come and gone, and I finally feel ready to start exploring life again as a single guy. But unlike last time I was single (college) I’m not constantly surrounded by new people. Hell, last time I was single apps like Tinder and Bumble didn’t exist! I have joined the various online apps, and have been on a few first dates.
The first dates went about as expected given that I was new to online dating, and really dating again in general. The first date had great conversation, but lacked attraction, the second date there was attraction, but the conversation lacked some chemistry, and the third-first date had chemistry on both fronts, but external factors with family (she has a kid, and my family had some health issues) caused a second date to be indefinitely postponed until things just fizzled.
So I’m reaching out to you and your audience to better understand how one starts over in this brave new online world. With work, trying to start a new business, and maintaining healthy habits at the gym my time is limited, and it’s hard to motivate myself actually go OUT and meet new people. There are plenty of women I find attractive at the gym, but my assumption has always been that these women probably get hit on plenty there and just want a place where they can zone out and do their thing, much like I do at the gym. That said, I’d be totally okay with being hit on at the gym, so perhaps I’m putting up barriers for myself that don’t exist.
As you can probably tell by now, I’m not quite sure how to be single guy looking. I’m not really looking for anything too serious, but also not relegating myself to simply hooking up with people. That said, starting with something casual would be okay. Part of that long separation in my last relationship also means it’s been quite the stretch since I’ve had sex, and I’m not going to lie, I miss it! But where to begin? Datings apps, going out, speed dating, the gym . . . do I just cast a wide net, or is there a strategy to singledom?
Any and all help is greatly appreciated,
Starting Over Single
DEAR STARTING OVER SINGLE: I don’t have much advice for you on how to meet people, SOS because honestly, you don’t need it. You’re actually doing everything right: you’ve gotten on the apps, you’ve been talking to people and you’ve been on more than a few dates. That’s all precisely what you should be doing, my dude, and you’re having quite a bit of success with it. Your experiences thus far are fairly typical when it comes to online dating. As I’m often saying: humans are built for face to face communication, and there are many things that are requisites for attraction that you can’t pick up on without being in their physical presence. As a result, you’re going to meet people who seem great on paper, even on messaging apps, but who you just aren’t compatible with in person. Dating in general is a numbers game; you’re going to meet more people that you’re not right for than folks you are right for. That’s not a problem with you, that’s just life and that’s fine.
The bigger issue is that you seem to be intimidated by the magnitude of it all. That’s why I want to reassure you: you’re not the only person who’s had to go through this. Hell, you’re not the only person ever to write to me this month wondering about how you get back in the game when you’ve been out for years, even decades. It can feel incredibly intimidating — like you’ve just been revived from cryo-stasis and now the world is so alien to you that you’re practically catatonic. But you have an advantage here that lots of other folks in the dating scene don’t have.
You’ve done all this before.
No, for real. The fact that you’re coming from a 12-year long relationship means that you’ve been there, done that and seen so goddamn much. You have far more relevant experience under your belt than so many of your compatriots out there.
The key is that you are looking at things from the wrong angle. Guys who are single and on the scene tend to focus entirely too much on the early days of dating. They’re looking at the mechanics of the approach or focusing on where to meet people, when these are literally the last things you need to worry about. Approaches feel like they’re important because they feel so immediate and they can feel far more consequential than they actually are. After all: you’re going up and making yourself vulnerable to a relative stranger and hoping to convince them that they want to start a romantic or sexual relationship with you. Apps like Tinder and Bumble can seem to make it even more intimidating; now it feels like things move faster than ever, oh brave new world, etc.
But it’s not true. Things only feel like they move faster than they do because a) we’re all more honest about what we’re doing and b) people focus on the more salacious stories about hook-up apps and swipe right for oral sex on the go, and not about all the slow-burn relationships that started right alongside all that casual sex and one-night stands.
Dating apps are just a vehicle for meeting folks. It only seems crazier because it’s giving you access to a volume of potential partners you didn’t have last time you were single.
In reality, approaches are actually the least important part of meeting someone. People who put all of their time and focus on learning how to make approaches get good at approaching people. What they’re not good at is connecting with them. Folks who are the most successful with women aren’t the inveterate approachers who can start conversations with anyone, they’re the folks who know how to talk to women. Guys who can talk to women, help women have a good time and generally make them laugh and feel good are the real MVPs of the dating scene.
And you already have those skills. You know how to talk to women. You have nothing to be nervous about.
I mean, my dude. You’ve been in a relationship with someone for more than a decade. That means you have had so many weird conversations with your ex that seem like nothing. Why? Because you had confidence in yourself, in her and in your relationship. You know you’re capable of opening up, being vulnerable and knowing that folks who care for you will be ok with it… because you’ve done it already. It feels scary and intimidating because you’re picturing all the ways things could go wrong. But in reality, you’ve been on this ride before. You know a lot of what to expect.
That’s why worrying about where or how you’re meeting people is less important than what you’re doing after you meet them. Having those great conversations and first dates are part of how you find the people who are right for you. You screen for chemistry, you screen for compatible lifestyles and you look for people who want what you have to offer as much as you want what they have.
And you do that by simply talking with folks. Getting to know them. Telling them what you want and are ok with and what you aren’t up for. Which you’re already doing. So honestly, my only real advice for you is “Keep doing what you’re doing, because you’re doing great.”
You may be a little rusty at first — this is a skill set after all — but you’ll get back into the swing of things far faster than you realize… in no small part because you already know how to talk to women. You know there’s nothing to be afraid of. So focus on presenting your best, most authentic self to them and meeting people who you click with.
But as a general word of advice: don’t spread yourself too broadly. You want someone who craves you, not someone who thinks you’re alright. Being broadly but shallowly appealing isn’t nearly as valuable as being deeply desirable to a smaller group of people. Life’s too short for dating people who’re only lukewarm about you.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org