DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: In the midst of quarantine, around May or so, I decided I’d try to get my dating life in order even in the time of corona. I reactivated my Hinge account and had some matches, but everything sorta fell flat (naturally, people are hesitant to meet in-person these days and even video chat; I date women so I can’t really blame them for the latter and the former just makes sense given the pandemic) and I wasn’t really feeling it, so I locked my Hinge account so I wasn’t available to nearby people and decided to find other things I enjoyed doing since a lot of what I loved (gym, social gatherings, live music, bars) was obviously off the table and I needed to be a more well-rounded person. Fast-forward to the middle of August where I reactivated my Hinge account to try and run through it again. I felt like it was worth it to try again because I live on my own (de facto; my roommate is with her boyfriend currently) and I wanted to get out there.
About two or three weeks ago, I matched with a person on Hinge (we’ll call her “S”). She is just… well, wonderful. A dual-degree masters student currently on leave who does work in affordable housing architecture; is outgoing, outdoorsy (which I am not, but enjoy doing), and just an all-around pleasure to be around. On our first date, we decided to brave the unideal air quality in the Bay Area and went on a bike ride to a couple of places, walked around a small isthmus for about an hour, took a ride to a few outdoor places to grab Mexican food and a beer, and just chatted and enjoyed each others company. Afterwards we headed to the local marina to see her boat (she also sails!!!!! Holy s--t!!!) and look at the beautiful bay, despite the smoke. We had a second date recently, where we grabbed Mexican food (again) and beer, and ate dinner and drank in a nearby park for about four hours. I was really nervous but I think the beer helped (I drink very little so a couple of cups is enough to get me buzzed) and about two hours in we started cuddling on a park bench, and then she kissed me. We made out various times for the rest of the night, then I walked her home (after hanging with her for over four hours total) and we’ve been texting every so often the past few days (we would have hung out yesterday and this weekend, but she had to make an emergency trip back home). I am not trying to put the cart before the horse here, but overall I really like S and I think she is just a super wonderful, beautiful, and fun person.
And that’s where my anxiety lies: I know that I really like this woman and that she’s great, but how I feel is sorta at odds with what I know to be true. For example: I know that I like her, but the feeling of euphoria that one gets from meeting and dating someone at the beginning isn’t there, or at least not as intense, as it usually is for me. We also text fairly frequently, but not nearly as often as I usually have with people I usually like or have dated in my late teens and early 20s (which worries me, but also makes me feel better because texting ALL THE TIME is exhausting no matter who it is). I guess my concern is whether or not this is… normal? I don’t want to end up realizing that I don’t like this woman because, for all intents and purposes, I really really do. But I feel like my brain is telling me that this is wrong, because meeting someone you click with after dating is supposed to give you specific feelings. So because of what I’ve heard about how the first few dates are supposed to go, compared to how I currently “feel” (in terms of human affect), I worry that there’s a mismatch between what I think and how I feel. I’m not sure if it’s because of my brain being a jerk (which would NOT be new), the meds that I’m on (Lexapro for anxiety; I didn’t realize that I was feeling emotionally detached until just recently), or something else.
Should I be worried? Should I, as you have mentioned in many of your articles, “chill the hell out?” Again, I don’t want to get ahead of myself here because I’ve only been on two dates with S, but I also worry about potential future dates/relationships where I may feel this way. I’ve had very little dating experience and so this is probably my most “formal” exposure to it, which probably adds to the anxiety a bit, so that may also be a factor as well.
Any advice or feedback is appreciated. Again your suggestions you made in our session all those months ago have been super helpful and I’m so glad that I was able to discuss those with you.
Missing The Buzz?
DEAR MISSING THE BUZZ: First of all: congratulations on putting yourself out there, MTB, and on meeting somebody new. That’s huge, and you should be proud of all the progress you’ve made!
Now let’s talk about your letter.
This is what’s known as “borrowing trouble from the future,” MTB. You’re getting really, really ahead of yourself right about now, especially considering that you’ve only had two dates with S. Not only are you getting worried about facts not in evidence, you’re getting worried about things that aren’t actually a problems.
Take the texting issue, for example. You and S aren’t texting as much as you had with previous relationships — especially relationships when you were still in your teens. That’s not actually an indicator of anything other than the fact that you and S don’t text as often as you did when you were much younger. One of the things that you should keep in mind is that every relationship is going to be unique. The patterns you had with this ex or that one aren’t going to be universal; you’re going to find that each relationship has its own vibe, its own feel and its own routines. Part of every relationship is discovering those patterns together. It’s part of the adjustment period as you and they get to know each other and find the things that work for you.
The same is true of the buzz or euphoria you worry about. That euphoria — the New Relationship Energy — isn’t an indicator of how strong, viable or good this connection is or will be. It’s simply the high you get from the oxytocin and dopamine rush of being with a new partner. Just as importantly though is the fact that you’re not a teenager. When you’re young, especially when you’re a teenager, everything is more intense. Your body is a chaotic maelstrom of hormones and it turns everything up to 11. The same is true of when you’re relatively inexperienced and you’re hooking up with someone who not only are you crazy about but they’re into you too. It’s an intensifier; you’re thrilled because woah, this is all new and different and holy s--t it feels amazing. But it’s literally the novelty of it that makes things so intense; we’re a novelty-seeking species, and new experiences generate way more oxytocin and dopamine than the ones we’re used to. But we’re also an incredibly adaptable species, and hedonic adaptation always kicks in; what felt insanely intense starts to mellow out because it’s now our normal. The fact that you aren’t completely twitterpated over her doesn’t mean that you don’t actually like her, it just means that you’re a grown-ass adult who doesn’t lose his head over limerence.
However, all of that is secondary to the most important thing: you have only had two dates with S. They were great dates to be sure, but it was just two dates. This is way the hell too soon to start worrying about what X, Y or Z means about your relationship because… well, it’s not a relationship yet. She’s still a relative stranger to you, and you to her. Getting caught up in “wait, does this mean I’m not that into her??” isn’t just putting the cart before the horse, you don’t have the damn horse in the first place.
So, yes, you need to chill the hell out — both about S and about any future dates or relationships. Every person you date will be unique, and so will the way you feel about them. Some of them will hit you like a goddamn dopamine hammer to the brain. Some of them will be like easing into a warm bath with a good book and two fingers of fine bourbon. Those are all valid, and don’t mean any more or any less than the others.
Relationships aren’t chess matches. You don’t want to be trying to think three moves ahead, and doing so is a great way to never actually be able to enjoy a date ever again. What you need to do — with S and with any other person you date in the future — is to take it one day at a time. You want to spend time getting to know them and seeing what develops. What is calm but pleasant now might turn into a frenzied tornado of sexual excitement as you build up trust with each other. What’s intense and intoxicating may burn out before you can even blink. There’s no way of knowing, and trying to predict it is a fool’s errand at best.
Here’s what’s important: right now, you’ve had a couple awesome dates with S. She seems like an amazing person, with the right measure of brains, ambition and attraction for you and you enjoy the time you spend together. You clearly have emotional chemistry and no small amount of physical chemistry. It’s far, far too soon to be trying to make more of it than what you currently have. Enjoy what you’ve got with them, take a “let’s see where this goes” approach and just relax.
You’ve got a good thing going here. Let it be its own thing and just see where the ride takes you. If it leads somewhere, then hey, yahtzee! If not, then you’ve had a great experience and a reminder of just what’s out there and what you’re capable of when you put your mind to it.
Take the win, already, my dude. You’ve earned it.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org