DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m 24 and male, mostly interested in women, and I feel like I’m in a weird place because I’m having trouble finding a committed partner. I feel like I’m a bit behind, and I’m not sure where to go from here.
I have a degree, I’m working towards my dream career, in my dream city, I have many friends, skills, and hobbies, and on the whole, the only thing that seems missing is a loving, committed partner.
I seek it out, and I do find connection, good connection even, and yet after a few dates, it always seems to end. They’re too busy, or they aren’t feeling it, or I’m not feeling it, and I’m back to square one in a month or less.
I feel almost “behind” in this respect, as I have old friends from college with years-long relationships, and others who are more committed and stable in this area of life than I am, and it feels like I’m doing something wrong. I do research connection-building quite a bit, but it hasn’t quite gotten me where I want to be yet.
Some would say I’ve not yet found the “right person,” but it really feels like I have, but it’s been the wrong time, or it’s my fault for not presenting myself “right.” I was also kind of an awkward nerd as a kid and into college. I didn’t have my first girlfriend until I was 22, and that lasted only two months, my longest relationship to date, and I was a virgin until 23, and I’ve never had sex with a partner, only a few casual encounters here and there. This makes me feel worse, because I feel like I’m not getting anywhere in building romantic relationships with others, and that frustrates me.
I guess my questions here are along the lines of “how do I do better?” How do I get myself in a place where I find partners trying to build something like I am? I try to date when I can, and seek out people I can talk to, and enjoy getting to know, but it seems like I’m still not quite getting it right…
-Too Old for this S--t
DEAR TOO OLD FOR THIS S--t : One of the most perversely fascinating aspects of my job is how arbitrary some things can be. One of the most obvious examples is the idea that there’s an age where you “should” have had a partner or a relationship already… and past that point, you’re simply going to be locked out. Because women — and, let’s be real here, I mostly see this from straight dudes — can tell that a guy missed the window. Somehow. What’s fascinating is that tripwire is always, always that person’s age minus one to five years. I have seen people who’ve convinced themselves that the fact that they didn’t have a girlfriend by fifteen meant that they’d missed their window.
The thing is: there’s no such thing as “too late”. The vast majority of women out there aren’t demanding your dating resume; they’re not gonna ask you to explain this large gap in relationships or why you’ve had so few. What women care about is finding a guy they like, who they connect with and who makes them happy; the number of partners he may or may not have had before her is ultimately meaningless.
By that same token, I see plenty of people who worry that they’re “falling behind” somehow… such as in your case, TOFTS. They look at other people — friends, family members, total strangers — and think that those people are somehow a marker of where they should be. Which is, honestly, the dumbest possible yardstick I can imagine. It’s one thing to say that you would prefer to have had X experience by now or that you wish you’d done Y already; that’s understandable. Those are feelings, desires, things that are personal but not definitional. However, when you start using words like “should”, or comparing yourself to other people, all you’re doing is introducing unnecessary misery into your life.
Here is a truth: using other people as your measurement of where you “should” be or what you’re “supposed” to be is a recipe for heartache. The problem with looking at anyone else and assuming that they are the exact model you should be following is that, frankly, you’re not them. They have an entirely different life than you; they’ve had different experiences, grew up with different parents, had different friends and had completely different challenges and opportunities than you did. The only way that you could legitimately say that you were “falling behind” would be if you were living their exact same life, at the same time and getting different results. But you you didn’t. You’re living your own life, separate, independant and unique from everyone else. You can’t measure your life by anyone else’s, only your own.
Here is another truth: the fact that other people have had long-term relationships — for suitably variable definitions of “long term” — doesn’t make them better or more advanced than you. It just means they have a relationship. Having a relationship isn’t a marker of maturity or progress or what-have-you; all you have to do is look at some of the drama bombs that are high-school relationships for proof.
Here is a third truth: there’s nothing wrong with having had your first relationship in your 20s, or losing your virginity at 23 — even if it was a casual encounter, rather than a committed relationship. These are just data points, not measurements of your worth or progress. They have no inherent meaning except what you give them. And the problem is that you’ve not only given them meaning, but you use that meaning like a scourge to whip yourself with. That’s going to actually make things harder, because you create a mindset that says “you should’ve been able to do this by now. You’re awful, you’re a loser, and now you have to make up for lost time.”
And that mindset is leading to the problems you’re having.
To start with, it sounds like part of the problem is that you seem to expect that each date you go on is going to lead to a relationship and, honestly, they aren’t. Dating is, to a certain extent, a number’s game. The early days of dating aren’t the start of a relationship, they’re about getting to know someone, seeing whether the two of you are right for one another and if there’s mutual interest and chemistry. A lot of times, there won’t be. Not because you did anything wrong or because you’re “defective”, just because you two didn’t mesh up the way you needed in order to work. As a wise man once said: you can commit no mistakes and still lose. That’s not weakness; that’s life.
But if you’re going into each date expecting this to be the last date you ever go on… well, that’s also going to be setting you up for heartbreak. You’re giving yourself unreasonable expectations, which makes disappointment almost inevitable. And if you’re expecting to go from “going on dates” to “a relationship” within a handful of dates… well, that’s going to throw people off. If that’s the vibe you’re giving, then it comes off as needy and desperate; that’s going to turn people off. And if it doesn’t… well, those are people you should run from so fast that you leave a human-shaped cloud behind you.
Worse, it sounds like you’re coming at this from a position of trying to fill a hole marked “girlfriend”, rather than coming to each person and wanting to get to know them. That too tends to put people off. It tells people that you’re less interested in them so much as what they represent, and that’s not a comfortable feeling.
Here’s what you need to do. First and foremost: you need to forgive yourself. You haven’t actually done anything wrong, but you seem to feel like you’ve f--k ed up somehow. So, ok, fine; forgive yourself for it. Forgive yourself for not living up to some bulls--t ideal. Forgive yourself for not being someone else. Grant yourself absolution for not meeting those arbitrary standards and then let them go. You now have a clean slate; you’re starting fresh and clean, to craft your life as you choose.
Next: stop going into dates looking for a relationship. Let go of the idea of relationships or trying to find one. Instead, you are going to treat each date as an opportunity to get to know somebody. Who are they, what makes them tick? What drives them, what do they live for, what do they value. And — more importantly — what makes them worth your time? What do they have going for them that makes them worth your interest? Why should you want to be with them? The fact that they’re attractive isn’t enough. The fact that they’re there is definitely not enough. You need to come to this from the position that you are the decider, that you are the catch and that they need to be deserving of you. Now this doesn’t mean that you look down on the people you date like a Roman emperor; you want them to be worth your time. You want them to be deserving of you. But your time is valuable and your heart is too precious to give to just anyone. So you will get to know people, go out with them on dates and see where things go.
Maybe they won’t be right for you as a romantic partner, but they could be good friends. Excellent! That’s a wonderful thing to discover. Others may be a great match as a sex-partner, but not compatible for a committed relationship. Again: excellent! Sex is awesome, and if that’s what you both want then hey, have a blast. But someone who’s worth having a relationship with will not be common; you don’t want to give your time or affection carelessly. So you give people a chance, but you keep your head and wait for someone who is right. You may find them quickly; you may not. That’s fine. While it may take you a little longer than you’d prefer, that’s OK because when you meet someone who is right for you, then it’s worth it.
The relationship isn’t the goal. The right person is. So focus on getting to know people and just enjoying yourself. When you meet someone who is right for you, then you’ll be ready. Not because they’re the person who said yes, but because they’re them, specifically.
Adopt this mindset, and you’ll not only have a better time, but you’ll meet a better quality of potential partner.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com