DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Hello Dr. NerdLove! I am a 17 year old nerd girl who needs some help.
Basically, I’ve been desperately madly in love probably three or four times in my life. I have always thought of myself as fat and unattractive, so in relationships, I have found myself to feel as if I put in much more effort into the relationship than the other person, to have either me ending it because I feel as if I am the only one who cares, or the other person ending it because they feel as if I like them more than they like me.
These two relationships were a few years ago. After that I had some minor crushes, until I once more fell head over heels for an amazing guy. I was in love with him for a good about six months… during which he a) broke up with his first girlfriend and b) got a new one. As I got over him, I noticed that I was starting to fall for my best friend (this all happened in boarding school). All my life, I have claimed that all humans are bisexual, and that we fall in love with a person and not a gender, but this was a theory I developed before I started feeling sexually attracted to people at all.
I left boarding school this summer to move to my hometown, where I was overwhelmed with loneliness – a feeling that only got worse as I started school here. My friend (acquaintance, person in my life whom I don’t really care for) told me that she’d met her girlfriend over an LGBTQ dating website – and since there aren’t really any other dating websites for people under 18, I figured why not.
Over this website, I met a girl. We met up in early December, and have sporadically been going on dates since. I’d call her my girlfriend if someone asked.
This is where my problem starts.
I am not actually attracted to her.
She is beautiful, and smart and everything, but I’m not actually attracted to her, or in love with her. Now, you might be wondering why I’m together with her if I’m not attracted to her, but the thing is, I feel like I would so much rather be in a relationship than be single. Being single is the worst thing ever. And it is completely insane that someone actually wants me! She actually likes me and says that I’m pretty!
I find myself feeling a bit turned on by her every now and then – but then I realize that I’m not actually desiring her as much as I’m actually just desiring another human being. I’m quite introverted and like being by myself, I often even prefer that to being with her – and if she asks to hang out, it’s a mix of “woo Achievement unlocked: got a girlfriend” and “I really just want to be on the internet”.
So basically, this is making me confused. I thought I was attracted to girls as well as guys (I will also admit that I went through a phase where I watched lesbian porn a lot, even though I found it objectifying), but not being attracted to her has me thinking that I might actually be painfully, boringly straight. Or maybe I’m just not attracted to her – and I can’t decide what’s worse.
As I said, I’m a bit introverted (outspoken and witty at times, but social interaction exhausts me), and I’m very picky about who I hang out with. It takes a lot for me to like a person for who they are and not just because I need a friend and they will have to do.
I am quite intellectual, and I have quite high standards of intelligence for the people around me. I don’t find that anyone in my new high school matches the intelligence and depth of the classmates in my boarding school, and I’m not patient enough to get to know them well enough to discover such a side to them. I have a feeling that my relationship with my girlfriend an attempt at making up for the intimacy (physical and emotional) that I lost moving away. If I break up with my girlfriend, I will be alone. It’s not Oneitis – it is being realistic. Two years went by with me being single, no matter how I tried. Boys don’t like me, and the 0.3 who might, I don’t. I’ve been asked to a date once in my entire life, and I have never had someone else initiate a relationship with me. Really it’s all about loneliness. Both platonic loneliness and romantic loneliness. I love being alone – I just want it to be of my own choice rather than because I don’t have anyone.
So, what I’m really wondering is can I make myself fall in love with, or at least feel more attracted to her? And if not, should I break up? She knows I’m not in love with her – we’ve talked about that. She doesn’t know that I’m not really attracted to her.
I don’t want to be alone. I really, really don’t. I suspect that I am somehow, subconsciously, waiting for something else, and that I will leave her as soon as someone else comes along. Is that wrong though? If I know it is not going to happen within the near future?
And the other part, is it possible to be in love with only one girl in your life? I don’t want to be a hasbian – but I am attracted to quite a lot of boys, and not that often or to that many girls in real life. But if a guy only enjoys gay porn, wouldn’t that be a sign that he is at least bisexual?
– Confused Nerd Girl
DEAR CONFUSED NERD GIRL: There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s take it by urgency. The more immediate needs first, the other, longer-term issues after.
So first things first: break up with your girlfriend.
You know all of those guys you dated where you cared more for them than they did for you? Remember how much that sucked?
Guess what you’re doing to your girlfriend.
You said it yourself: you’re not attracted to her, you prefer not to spend time with her and you’re keeping her around because you think being single is worse than being with someone you don’t actually like all that much. This is selfish behavior; you’re basically using someone else, someone who actually cares for you, because you’re afraid of being alone. All that’s going to happen is that eventually either your girlfriend is going to realize what’s going on – that she’s a glorified security blanket – or you’re going to find someone whom you are attracted to and end up dumping her. In either case: this is going to hurt her like you wouldn’t believe and it’s all your fault. It’s unfair to her for you to be in a relationship with her under false pretenses, a relationship that she has no reason to believe is not genuine and based on mutual respect and attraction.
Break up with her. Now. Do it quickly and cleanly; don’t give long rationalizations about it, don’t tell her that you’re basically using her. Just “I’m not ready to be in a relationship with anyone and it isn’t fair to you to keep stringing you along”. The cleanest break heals fastest and she’ll be able to move on to someone else, someone who actually cares about her and wants to spend time with her, not treating her like a trophy that says “I HAVE A GIRLFRIEND!” to make you feel better.
Next: human sexuality isn’t nearly as cut and dry as some people make it out to be. Sexual orientation isn’t just a continuum, it’s a multi-axis graph, including who you’re sexually attracted to and who you’re romantically attracted to. Some folks are sexually and romantically attracted to people of other genders. Some are sexually and romantically attracted to folks of the same gender. Some are sexually attracted to all genders, but may be more romantically attracted to one than others.
And even within those parameters, there can be a fair amount of variation. Some of those in between fall closer to being gay and may round up to gay rather than bi or pan; others fall closer to straight and may round up to straight. Still others may bounce around a bit as they learn more about themselves or even find someone who is the exception to their usual preferred type.
Now, I’m definitely not the person to tell you what your orientation is or what any of this means. That’s ultimately something that you’ll figure out — and you may find that it changes for you over time. Getting worried about what-this-all-means will cause you more stress than anything else. What it means is that sexuality can be a moving target and as you get to know yourself and grow more confident and secure in yourself, you’ll find your answers. You may be straight-ish. That’s perfectly fine. You may be bi or pansexual. That’s completely legit too. You may find that you’re sexually attracted to people in general but romantically you lean towards men. That is also real and legit.
But the thing to keep in mind is that how you feel for this person specifically isn’t strictly definitional for your entire life. You may just not attracted to your girlfriend, specifically, rather than it being an issue of not being attracted to women in general. One stale relationship with a girl doesn’t automatically mean that you’re not bi; it just means that she doesn’t do it for you.
(Incidentally, it’s worth examining the type of porn that you’re watching; a lot of “lesbian” porn is filmed by men, for a male audience. If that’s what you were watching, then it’s no wonder you found it objectifying. There’s a lot of porn out there made by women, for women, and that may be more to your taste in general.)
Finally: a very big reason why you’re so determined to find a significant other ASAP is because there’s a part of you that still believes that you’re unattractive.
You want to believe that you’re attractive to others and having someone to date is a sort of proof that hey, you’re actually pretty awesome after all!
The problem is that a) this is a s--tty basis for a relationship, b) it’s unfair to the person you’re dating and c) it doesn’t actually solve the underlying issue. Right now, whether you’re in a relationship is about finding a source of validation, someone (or something) that makes you feel as though you really are attractive after all.
Except… it won’t. Not for very long.
Your real issue – how you feel about yourself – is still there; all that’s happened is that you’ve papered over the hole and are trying to pretend that it’s all taken care of. And as with any surface solution, it doesn’t last. You’ll still have those nagging insecurities creeping around your brain, making you need more and more reassurance and validation from your partner that yes you are attractive… and there will still be that part of you that eventually will quit being able to believe them. And so the cycle repeats itself, over and over again as you keep trying to treat the symptoms instead of addressing the actual problem at its source.
You need to spend some time working on yourself and learning how to love and accept yourself and internalizing that locus of control. I know it sounds like pop-psychology-good-feelings-woo-woo bulls--t but it’s true: you need to be able to love yourself before you can really have a healthy relationship with others. When you can’t love and accept yourself, it’s much, MUCH harder to accept or receive love from others. You have harder time believing that they could love you when you don’t believe you’re worthy or deserving of BEING loved.
And that also damages the relationships you get into. After all, what you want is a partner-in-crime, not a nurse or a shrink who’re supposed to magically heal you through the power of their luuuuurve.
I’d recommend talking to a counselor or a therapist to help with your self-esteem issues, as well as learning how to make yourself feel attractive. And – of course – my standard recommendation of “live an awesome life” filled with passion (even if it’s a quiet passion), exploration (even if it’s by yourself) and intellectual engagement: it will make you feel better as a person as well as making you more appealing to others.
And honestly: you’re 17. You’re VERY young. I realize that time seems to drag on forever and everything feels amplified and larger than life when you’re in your teens, but being single – even for an extended period of time – isn’t the worst thing in the world. You need to cultivate patience. You don’t know people at your school because you’ve made snap-judgements about them and – by your own admission – you haven’t taken the time to actually get to know them on an individual level. Your own attitude towards them is part of what’s holding you back. The sooner you start to change that, the more emotional intimacy – and more potential relationship partners – you will have.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org