DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been beating myself up for ages, because like you used to be, I am “The One Who Girls Don’t Like Like That.” I think I’m pretty friendly, and most people don’t seem to be against the idea of spending time with me, but in terms of romance or sex I’m completely dead in the water. I actually have to pretend I have experience in both of those areas to even be able to survive even a simple conversation, since most of them revolve around those exact things.
Considering I’ve got a minor autism thingie going on (like so mild that you can’t tell at first, I’m not Forrest Gump or Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man”), I’ve gotten very good at “bulls--tting,” where I essentially craft a backstory about myself that is so radically different from what I really am. Essentially, I’m just a likable Jewish kid from New Jersey who’s saving himself for marriage (because pretending you’ve gotten laid repeatedly is annoying, and I’ve been found out more than once), who personally dislikes the taste of alcohol and drugs (seriously, pretending to be religious is a godsend for the socially awkward) and what not. I’m not quite as distressed about this as I used to be, since I’ve got a way better mental image of myself than I used to, considering that in high school I was convinced that I was obese and wanted to kill myself. But that’s old news, and I’m better than that. And I’m only 17, so I’d assume that most people would laugh me off and say “Oh don’t worry, you got time, kid.”
The problem this creates is that even if people believe that I’m an abstinence nut, albeit one that seems strangely fine with other people having sex, it still doesn’t explain my complete ineptitude with the opposite sex. As a platonic friend I’m tops, because I’m nonthreatening, very sweet towards women, blah blah blah. This bothered me in high school, but I’m not so mad about it now. Point is, even a guy pretending to be a religious nut can have a girlfriend. And I don’t, nor have I ever had one. I won’t go down the “forever alone” line of complaints, but I’ll admit that I’ve considered that I might be like that.
Back to the platonic friend crap. I don’t mind it so much anymore since I’ve left high school, and the only female friends I have now are ones that I am not sexually interested in.
A new problem I think I might have is that it’s a possibility that I might be more attractive than I thought and some women may have liked me after all, and that I either didn’t know or, when I found out, lost interest completely. I’m suspecting more and more that I’m only attracted to women who don’t like me back, on purpose. The second they express interest, I lost interest. It’s as if I need all that pain and heartbreak of the friend zone to even want to bone her, much less be in a mutual romantic relationship with her. And that’s bad, much worse than my initial “I’m really ugly” belief. Even now I know that I’m not better than average appearance, which I can live with, but if this theory of mine is true, then I am royally screwed.
Case in point: I casually start talking to this girl online (not even for romantic reasons). When I eventually see a picture of her she took for me, holding a sign with my name on it, I notice that she is HOT. Not even cute or adorable like most of the women I encounter, but so attractive that I’m shocked that she’s still talking to me. She knows what I look like too, I’m not one of those insecure morons who gets a picture of some “Magic Mike” looking guy online and pretends to be that. We keep talking, and I eventually admit that I’ve got feelings for her, and amazingly enough, she apparently feels the same way. So what, she lives in California or something, so it would be great if she lived where I do, but too bad. The problem is, the second I hear it from her, suddenly all of that mad attraction I was feeling just went away. This is not the first time this has happened, I think.
So essentially, to sum it all up, I’m just wondering if you’ve ever heard about anything like this before, and what could possibly be done.
Lost In Jersey
DEAR LOST IN JERSEY: As with many of my other readers, there are a few issues in here besides the one you’re asking about. And frankly, most of them revolve around the fact that you’re 17.
To start with: the whole virginity/lack of romantic experience thing – I think you’re more hung up on it than most of your friends and acquaintances are. You say that you have to fake experience in order to “survive” in conversations that revolve around sex or relationships. In reality, a lot of it is in your head. I get that it feels like you and your friends are talking about sex all the time. I realize it makes you feel like you’re the Last American Virgin.
But here’s the thing. First and foremost, the number 1 rule of being a teenager is to remember that most teenagers talk a whole lotta s--t. At that age, there’s a LOT of lying on one’s resume; everyone’s confused and insecure and will exaggerate or straight-up lie about what they’ve done and with who in order to seem like they’ve got a handle on this whole “sex and relationships” thing. That can make it feel like you’re the only one who HASN’T had all kinds of crazy sexual adventures… and you’re not. You’re 17; being a virgin at 17 is neither terribly unusual or something to be ashamed of.
Hell, I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 19. I was entirely convinced I was going to be able to drink before I had sex.
As I’ve said before, losing one’s virginity is given more importance and significance than the actual act has. The biggest physical difference between being a virgin and not being a virgin is basically non-existent and physically meaningless. Psychologically – assuming that you didn’t have a traumatic or exploitative experience – you’re the exact same person you were before; you just have a new set of experiences that you didn’t have before. High-schoolers make a big deal about sex because it’s supposed to be the dividing line between childhood and adulthood and by having sex they’re really more mature or somehow better than the ones who don’t… but that’s almost entirely ignorance and insecurity talking.
You’re doing yourself a disservice by putting up so many fronts as a way of saving face or justifying why you haven’t had more experience; by doing so, you’re reinforcing your own belief that being a virgin, not being interested in alcohol or drugs is something to be ashamed of. Yes, there are a--hats out there who will give you s--t for it… but why give a damn about what an a--hat thinks? F--k ’em, they only have the power over you that you let them have.
Plus, the way you’re crafting this fake narrative about yourself is only serving to sabotage your own progress. These false fronts you’ve been putting up have a lot to do with why you lose interest in women who might actually show interest in you.
You are doing something that I used to do back in the bad old days; you don’t believe that you’re actually desirable or worthy of having a girlfriend and as a result, you’re sabotaging yourself. It’s a perverse way of protecting yourself against emotional vulnerability and the pain of being rejected – by setting yourself up for failure, you know in advance that you won’t have to put yourself in a position to be hurt. The heartache and drama that comes from going for unavailable women doesn’t “count” because you know subconsciously that it’s not “real”. It’s not the same as if you went for someone you actually cared about and invested in emotionally. That would run the risk of real pain, not these phantom pains from being friend-zoned when you knew in advance that it would never go anywhere.
Let’s look at the example you provided: you’re talking with someone online, someone who lives across the country from you. Right there, you have two layers of insulation against the idea that the two of you could have a relationship. She’s “safe”. OK, so you realize she’s really smoking hot… but you don’t know her in person and she’s thousands of miles away. Still safe. It’s ok for you to be attracted to her, because you know in the back of your mind that it will never happen. So you allow yourself to have feelings for her.
And then she drops the bomb that she likes you too. Suddenly, she’s much less “safe” than she was before. Now, even though she lives in California, even though you’ve never met in person, she represents actual risk. This is a relationship that COULD actually happen. You, however, still believe that you aren’t capable or worthy of having one… and so you subconsciously shut down and pull away rather than risk actual emotional intimacy and the pain of rejection and genuine heartbreak because this can’t possibly work.
I’m not surprised that you’re having problems with the idea that maybe you’re not actually a hideous goblin. You have built up this mental image of who you are; finding out more and more that it just isn’t true and that’s causing you anxiety. Realizing that you were wrong all of this time means that having to accept responsibility for your decisions – you’re not single because of a quirk of fate, you’re single because of choices you’ve made – can be terrifying. It removes all of your carefully crafted rationalizations and defenses and forces you to look at them. It shows you all of the missed opportunities, all of the things you could have had and screams “This is all your fault!”
It’s easier to believe that your life is out of your hands than to look at all of the wasted potential and have to accept that you are where you are because you put yourself there. But as I said: you’re 17. Everything feels huge and out of proportion when you’re 17 – love is more epic, the pain is deeper and the losses are more tragic. To be a teenager is to have absolutely no sense of proportion and to think things are much worse than they really are.
For example: You think that if you’ve been wrong all this time, then you’re screwed. Except it’s not true. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. By realizing now that you were wrong, that you aren’t an unlovable troll but someone who is actually sexy and desirable, you have the opportunity to change and take control of your life – to have the relationships that you clearly want but keep denying yourself. The sooner admit to yourself that you were wrong and accept that these self-limiting beliefs of yours are bulls--t, the sooner you can open the door and let the future in instead of living your entire life looking backwards and wishing that things could have been different.
You’ll have that voice in your head telling you that you’re ugly, that women couldn’t love you. Shout it down. Shut it up. Remind yourself that it’s wrong. You have all the evidence to the contrary, so now it’s time to act on it. The past is merely prologue. Forgive yourself for having been wrong and for everything that you’ve missed out on. Then resolve to go out and live your real life.
It’s time to quit playing it safe and take some risks. Fortune favors the brave, after all.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org