DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Found you years ago back when I was a high school student and here I am now writing to you as a college student.
Here’s a backstory leading up to my current situation, which all started back in January this year. I transferred to an out-of-state university as a junior during the spring semester, and was a little concerned about having no friends in school once again.
Luckily, my cousin goes to this college and was able to introduce me to her friends in Smash Club. While I was a filthy casual when it came to Smash, they all took me in pretty fast seeing how I was a cute girl who wrote them notes daily, baked cookies on occasion, and speed-ran HuniePop during club meetings when I lose in bracket.
I met a boy who I’ll call Ludwig for this story. Let me tell you, the moment I offered him my duck umbrella during a rainstorm and he commented about how cool it was, I was infatuated. I can admit it was a unhealthy crush, almost bordering obsession, and I’m glad I was able to let go of those feelings and find closure despite it taking 5 months soon afterwards paired with quarantine.
I haven’t allowed myself to fall in love for someone for years since I was always planning to move away for school and I know I can’t do long-distance, which is why I fell as hard as I did at the time. At the same time, he broke up with his girlfriend shortly before I met him, but that was due to him still having strong feelings about his high school ex who also attended this college with us. Thus, you could guess when I inevitably confessed to him that I liked him, he rejected me and told me he wasn’t ready for any relationship.
Ludwig and I still kept in regular contact throughout these months, from January to August. Whether it was through Discord group calls or texting each other privately, it was always nice to have affirmation that he still wanted to be my friend and did look out for me. We actually did have a small misunderstanding that lasted from late July to early August, but we have since reconciled. We also discovered our initial confusion would’ve been solved faster and easier if a mutual friend didn’t interfere and asked Ludwig to not reach out to me, while assuming the worst from me and thinking I actually had it out for Ludwig from our mix-up.
However, I think it made us stronger as friends and once again reaffirmed that we want the best for each other and we still want to be positively involved in the other’s life. It was shortly after this when he opened up to me about his still present feelings for his high school ex.
Knowing full well I wasn’t the first person he’s talked to about this but also respecting his privacy enough to have never asked about his relationship troubles with any of our friends or himself in any point in the past, I had to tread carefully in a conversation that lasted until 3 in the morning. I thought it would be good to validate his feelings to a point, but bring him to reality when he talked about he felt she was the perfect one for him and other things relating to that train of thought.
Ludwig was still defensive to a degree, but he was still reluctantly open enough to tell me how he was scared of going to sleep due to him having good dreams about her and waking up into a reality without her.
It would be fair to say that my opinion of Ludwig went down a little after telling me he’s carried a torch for a girl that he hasn’t dated in years and still prioritizes her despite her ghosting him regularly. However, I didn’t let that conversation affect our friendship negatively, because why would it? After that conversation, he began to ask if I wanted to hang out with him in person, and our meet-ups grew more frequent throughout the month of September.
I slowly started developing feelings for him again, but they were a lot healthier in comparison to my first run. I didn’t let my crush get in the way of my other obligations or promises or priorities. I also made a conscious decision to not pursue it, seeing how it’d feel like I’m beating a dead horse and how he literally talked about his ex the previous month.
However, he grew increasingly more affectionate and started confiding in me a lot more than he previously had in the past. This should have made things obvious to me, but I didn’t want to read into it at the time or give myself false hope. Ludwig eventually did confess to me after we watched a stupid movie and drank two bottles of wine. I was shocked and told him flat out that I was shocked before telling him that I’m really happy and that I returned his feelings.
After that, we started dating after both talking about how we want to take things slow. He wanted to take it slow because it felt a little weird to be dating a good friend versus someone he wasn’t friends with prior and I did because it’s been years since I dated seriously and I was still relatively inexperienced.
If you ask me, I believe our relationship is really great and I’m fortunate to have as strong as a foundation we had to begin with. We both value communication and quality time and I know he’d never do anything that would intentionally hurt me. As an example of this: Ludwig told me he wouldn’t have taken a chance on us if he didn’t see us working out, as well as admitting his feelings for his crush were dying out and also getting replaced with feelings for me.
However, my main dilemma is that even though we’ve been through quite a bit platonically, Ludwig still feels incredibly anxious about our relationship and we’ve been keeping it a secret from our entire friend group minus three people. I didn’t mind at all at first because I cared and respect him and I still do. However, both our families eventually found out and now know about our relationship and I found it weird that it was still a secret from our friends. I brought it up to him and suggested we can surprise our friends on Halloween, which he seemed receptive to at the time.
However, when a friend of ours recently found out in a private hangout thanks to my lockscreen being a picture of Ludwig sleeping with my dog. I texted Ludwig about it and I think he freaked out before telling me as calmly as he can about how he still wants our relationship on the down-low because he still feels anxious about us and he wants me to understand that a little.
I told him right afterwards that I’m glad he was open to me about his feelings and that we don’t have to go public on Halloween if he’s not ready. I then reassured him that I’ll be here for him no matter what and reaffirmed that I like him and I like us. We then had a calm conclusion afterwards, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bummed about the aftermath.
I know his anxiety isn’t going away anytime soon, but neither will I and I always tell him that. I know he’s upset at himself about his anxiety throwing a wrench in an otherwise good relationship. We’re both happy with each other, but I always wonder if there’s more I can do for him to ease his concerns about us. Is there anything I might be doing wrong with my approach or reaction? Or is there something I could be doing more? How can I be a supportive partner to Ludwig and for him to truly recognize that?
A Former Lonely Sonnet
DEAR A FORMER LONELY SONNET: “Found you years ago back when I was a high school student and here I am now writing to you as a college student.”
Cool, cool, pardon me while I disintegrate into a pile of dust and blow away…
Alright, AFLS, you’ve got quite the tumultuous history with Ludwig. And you’re not wrong: it’s been my experience that having a strong friendship first can lead to an incredibly rewarding romantic relationship. That shared history together is, in some ways, like getting to skip some of the more awkward parts of dating — the getting to know you stages where you you have to learn to accept or tolerate the quirks that aren’t cute and endearing and/or get on your nerves — while still having the thrill of the New Relationship Energy. You also have that baseline of shared history and shared experiences, which can be pretty significant.
However… I want to caution you that 10 months off and on is not as long as it may feel to you. If you and Ludwig had just started dating and hadn’t had those months where you were just getting to know each other, I’d be reminding you that you’re in the honeymoon stage of the relationship. It may feel like everything is perfect and you and your beau clearly have a Love To Last The Ages, but the truth is that you’re still very much in the early days of dating. This is the time when the oxytocin and dopamine are flowing pretty hard and you are both literally getting high off each others’ presence. While all that feels abso-goddamn-lutely amazing, it also means that you’re not exactly the most objective when it comes to them. That dopamine rush is a hell of a thing, and it means that you’re often going to overlook potential red flags because you feel so damn good and hey, everything about him is cute and charming and THE POWER OF YOUR CONNECTION and so on.
Red flags like, say, the fact that he wants you to keep your relationship on the down-low.
Now, I can kind of understand why he might want to keep things quiet. Y’know. If I squint. A lot. You’ve already had one “friend” who got up in the mix of your friendship, and that lead to you and he being convinced that you didn’t like each other. College can be a giant drama factory, and there’re plenty of folks — full of enthusiasm but absolutely no experience or perspective — who’re more than happy to light the fuse on drama bombs and lob ’em into the laps of the people around them. And I can see other reasons why someone might want to keep a relationship on the q.t. — usually because it involves physical threats, legal issues or family drama that could blow the whole thing sky high.
But frankly in this case… this doesn’t really pass the smell test. The fact that he wants to keep it a secret (or as much of a secret as it can be when at least three people already know) because he’s “anxious” about the relationship? The relationship that he wouldn’t have taken a chance on if he didn’t think it would work out? That smells fishier than the dumpster behind a Long John Silver’s, if I’m being honest.
I suspect there’s another reason why he’s a little more concerned about keeping things quiet. I think he may not have been entirely straight with you when he said his feelings for his ex have faded. While I don’t think he’s trying to date you on the side until his ex comes back around… I don’t think he’s necessarily going to strenuously object if she does. Keeping the illusion of still being single means keeping up the hope that maybe, just maybe, she’s going to change her mind and decide she likes him again. No, it’s not logical. But feelings rarely are, especially when you’re young and you’re still thinking about The One That Got Away.
I think you and your ex need to have an Awkward Conversation about just what he’s anxious about and why he wants to keep this a secret. Part of the problem when one person wants to keep a relationship a secret is that he’s not the only person who has to lie; he’s asking you to join him in that lie. You’re having to monitor everything you do in hopes of not accidentally giving the game away. And that doesn’t just mean avoiding PDA or not using the cutesy nicknames you have for each other. It means trying to avoid things like, say, having people notice that he’s on your phone’s lock-screen.
And quite frankly… the secret’s already out. I mean, the whole thing about “three can keep a secret if two are dead” is true, and three people already know. Four, possibly, if your friend who clocked your phone wasn’t one of them. At that point… unless you’re going to make them sign some hellacious NDAs, the game’s up already. If they haven’t told someone else, then it’s just a countdown until they do. So at this point, you and he may as well talk this through and try to get to the bottom of just why he’s trying to keep you all a secret.
But even if it’s not because he’s trying to keep word from reaching his ex, it’s still a s--tty thing to do. It puts an unnecessary strain on the relationship, it means you have to keep a running tally of who does know, who doesn’t know and how much they know. It means having to obfuscate, if not outright lie to your friends. And that ain’t cool.
If you two want this relationship to work, you both have to be coming to it from a place of integrity… with each other and with your friends. And that’s not happening here.
So block out some time, sit him down in person, and hash this out.
If you care for him, if he cares for you and you both honestly want this relationship to work? You need to talk this through. Maybe it won’t end with his agreeing that yes, you don’t have to keep this a secret any more. But at the very least, you’ll understand where he’s coming from and why. And that will make it easier to decide how you want to proceed with things.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com