DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve heard good things about you, so I’m hoping you could help me with what I’d describe as a social anxiety problem.
I’m a 20 year old cis man, going to be 21 later this year. I’m currently living with my family and working part time. I’m a bit overweight but I am trying to diet, and I’m hoping I can manage it with my sweet tooth.
One thing that’s really bothered me basically my whole life is that I have Asperger Syndrome. This made it really hard for me to handle myself in social situations. It got especially rough during middle school and high school. I’d throw tantrums, I’d break down over simple things, and worst of all, I was terrible at making friends. I didn’t really get a chance to hang out with anyone until my last year of high school and by then they were all busy with college stuff and there wasn’t that much time left to spend.
Right now, my social circle is about zero. I think the last time I really hung out with anyone was last year or the year before. A lot of times, I’m okay by myself, but it can get lonely at times, not being able to actually be in the same room as someone around my age. It can get pretty lonely. I’ve reached out to some old friends before, one quite recently, in fact, but it can feel awkward for me since it’s been ages since we talked and I’m not sure what to say. And sometimes they just don’t talk to me and I have no idea why.
And that leads me to more recently where… I guess I’ve been bit by the sex bug or something. I’ve just been really interested in having sex with someone. I’ve never had it before, and there are several people I follow online who aren’t afraid to talk about what they’ve done. I know it’s not a race or anything, but just hearing about it makes me wish I could experience what they have.
And then there’s a whole issue of intimacy. I feel like I’d want my sexual encounters to be a more consistent, one-to-one thing. I’ve read some of your responses and articles regarding friends with benefits, and I don’t know if it would make me feel shallow. Like, part of me is thinking “sex can just be an activity that two people or more can enjoy together, regardless of if they’re into one another, just good friends, or whatever.” On the other hand, there’s a part of me that feels like with sex, you kind of cross some line regarding friendship, like there’s something more going on.
I’m really on the fence about it and I don’t know how to feel. Like, I feel like if I found a person willing to do it with me, I’d want to continue with that person and I am almost afraid of not knowing what to do with this woman and where to go down the line. Would it feel less special? Would things get awkward between us? It’s a lot to think about.
So anyway, between dealing with my loneliness on occasion, having a small social circle, trying to reconnect with old friends, “being bitten by the sex bug” as I put it, and having so many damn thoughts about the damn thing, I suppose my question is, “Is it a good idea to put myself out there? And if so, how?”
Like, for real, I don’t know where to start. I live in a suburban neighborhood, so there aren’t exactly any trendy nightclubs or bars in my area. I mean, there might be if I drove around, but again, basically no idea where to look. I know there are sites like meetup.com, where you can find people with similar interests, mainly stuff like gaming, Internet stuff, and other pop culture stuff, but I don’t know if that’s my only option. If I were looking for a girlfriend, would I try online dating? There are like a million sites and apps to choose from. I don’t know what I’d choose. Plus, I’m not the most physical of specimen, so I’m kinda worried that would hurt my chances.
As for the sex thing… honestly, I’m not 100% sure what I want. I don’t know if I’m ready for a serious relationship yet. I still want to build my social skills a bit. And at this point, I’m not sure FWBs would be a good idea either. I’m not sure if it would end well for me or her and the prospect kind of scares me. Hell, maybe the whole “sex bug bite” thing will pass in… I don’t know how long. Days? Weeks? Months? I don’t know.
I’m not sure what I want, but I guess having a group of friends would be a good start. And I’m really unsure how to proceed. Maybe building up my social skills? But I don’t know how. Maybe I’m not ready for sex at all because I’m afraid I’ll let her down. Or, like I said, maybe these feelings will pass in a while. Thinking about it now is kind of nerve-wracking. I’m really unsure how to go forward and you tend to give sound advice. Can you think of a course of action for me to take? Or just any advice in general? I’d appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Dazed, Desiring & Desolate
DEAR DAZED, DESIRING & DESOLATE: You’re overthinking things, 3D. 90% of what you’re getting spun up about are, in the scheme of things, fairly minor. You’re putting a lot of thought and energy into minor details and letting the sheer magnitude of it all overwhelm you. Practically speaking, it’s all much simpler than you’re worried about. Like I just told Starting Over Single yesterday: most of building a relationship with someone is just about connecting with them, getting to know them and finding the person who’s weird matches yours.
The difference is that you’re coming to this from a very different place, with some unique challenges — on top of the very real challenges of dating during the COVID-19 pandemic. The key is to focus your time and attention on the right areas that’ll put you on the path to getting what you want.
Here’s my question for you, 3D: how is your life right now? How you feel about yourself and your life goes a long way towards having a successful or unsuccessful social life.
You mentioned that in high-school, you had issues with getting overwhelmed and how being stressed and overstimulated could cause problems. Do you have that under control? Are you in a better position to manage your emotional needs so that you feel in control and confident? The more you feel that you have a handle on that, the less anxious you’ll be in social situations. This means that you’ll be in a better position to talk with folks without feeling like you’re having to divide your attention.
Similarly, how are you with talking to people and making friends? The skills involved with making new friends are fundamentally the same as the skills you use to find a parter; the only difference is the end point of the relationship.
This is important, because you’ve mentioned how lonely you’ve been. That, I think, is the issue you should try to resolve first. Coming to dating when you’re chronically lonely makes things much harder and more frustrating. It’s much harder to find what works for you when you’re feeling such a cavernous lack. You’re more likely to chase after potential matches who are simply not right for you because you feel like you need to focus on them or else die alone and unloved.
Having some good friends — your Team You, as it were — is important to your social success on a number of levels. To start with: you have people in your life who love and care for you, which is important for your emotional health and well-being. Having those friends helps your self-esteem, it gives you people who support you and cheer on your successes and who’ll help you recover from your failures.
They also help you meet new and awesome women. Having an abundance of people in your life — including female friends — helps make it easier to meet folks who are your kind of yum.
But what about the question of sex? Do you go for FWBs? A casual, no-strings relationship? A monogamous partner? My answer is: yes. All of the above. Or none of the above. See, the only person who could know what’s right for you is, well, you. As you give yourself time to grow and focus on those social skills — and that social circle — you’ll be getting to know yourself better. And when you’re on more stable footing, you can try different options. You can try a casual relationship for a bit and see if that brings you satisfaction. You can date around with an eye towards something a little more long-term and see if that’s right for you. Figuring out what you want is going to involve taking chances. You’re going to have to do some trial and error to see what does and doesn’t click for you.
You may find what you think you want isn’t what you need. You may find that the things you actually want are so night-and-day different than what you could possibly imagine now.
Yeah, it can feel scary. You’re going to have to take chances and risk being hurt; there is no reward without risk. But the rewards not only are worth the risk, but you’ll quickly discover that failure may suck… but it won’t destroy you. And that knowledge will help you build your confidence and give you the extra motivation to make your move when the time comes.
For now: don’t worry about sex. Masturbate, get to know your body and don’t get hung up on “being good enough”. Focus on meeting people in general, making friends and living an awesome life. Doing this will not only make you a more confident, more assured person, but it’ll help bring people into your life… almost without effort.
Don’t worry about trying to make up for lost time. Your past is merely prologue; the first act of your new life starts now. And it’s going to be a good one.
You’ve got this 3D.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org