DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a straight white male 52 years old, never married, no children and not many relationships as I’m very choosy and like my own company, but always looking out for that special one and I tend to obsess over those rare encounters with potential mates which didn’t work out. I’m well educated and well spoken. I might call myself a ”Sigma male” introverted, intellectual and remote, but confident and not unapproachable or unattractive. I’m physically reasonably in good shape, take care of my appearance and have lost weight in recent years after I stopped drinking. Although I’ve lost some hair, my hair colour has never faded and I have a youthful face and demeanour so I’m often taken for about 5-10 years younger than I really am. I often get interest from women much younger than me even in their 20s. I’m usually not interested as I find them too immature and obsessed with social media, which I hate.
I was recently on a 20 day study course spread over three months and because of COVID, the first part was online. One of the participants was a very attractive young woman I estimated to be in her late 20s possibly 30, but who I later found out to be only 25, but very mature, poised and self confident. She had a Middle Eastern background, with thick dark hair, large dark eyes, full lips and light skin, strikingly beautiful with an exotic, even charismatic vibe, well educated with flawless English and clearly from a very privileged background. She’s the kind of woman with that magic vibe who all the men swoon over and who’s always the centre of attention and slightly apart from everyone else even other women. During the online course she seemed to take an interest in me. It’s hard to tell in meeting rooms, as there are many other people in the meeting, but I definitely felt she was flirting with me, judged by her reaction whenever I spoke and the efforts she made to interact with me directly and signs you pick up like name-checking, pouting or playing with her lustrous dark hair to attract attention.
The second part of the course a month later was in-class so I was curious to see if my suspicions were confirmed and was determined to act if there was, as she was certainly out of the ordinary. Because I have not been in many relationships I tend to take things very slowly and wait for clear signals and invitations. I take the view that if something’s going to happen it’s got to happen naturally not by pushing or contriving it. In the first two days, I picked up on all the classic flirting signals one learns to recognise, but strangely we rarely came into contact so I never really got a chance to invite her out during the course. Flirting does not always mean anything more than flirting, but it was definitely aimed at me. I did not really notice any obvious opportunities to approach her, but I admit that I can be somewhat obtuse and self-absorbed and might have missed some signs she was expecting/inviting an approach from me. We had a couple of brief conversations but not enough for me to feel certain. I also wondered whether her cultural background from a conservative Muslim country might play a role so I probably confused myself. There’s also the age gap. She’s a classic millennial always messaging on her phone and highly active on SM whereas I’m a senior Gen X-er, all but invisible online and I only have a small circle of friends who are spread all over the world.
Anyway, on the final day when we had to give an individual presentation something snapped and she went from merely flirting to being almost brazen, locking me with direct and intense eye contact several times that I couldn’t hold for long without feeling embarrassed. She even called out my name audibly several times and offered to help me prepare, and vocally applauded my presentation, which took me aback. In hindsight I realise at that moment I needed to establish at least some reciprocal eye contact to signal I was interested and wanted more. But my shyness got the better of me and I turned away avoiding eye contact and went straight back to my seat and I think she took that as a rejection.
At the after-class drink with the other students I expected we would finally make a connection and exchange numbers, but it never happened. She ignored me completely like I was invisible and talked to everyone but me and left early without saying a word. It’s over a month ago now and as she lives in a different city I rarely visit, I wonder if it’s even worth trying to get in touch as women forget men quite quickly, especially since there is only an outside chance we will ever be in contact again. I’m not sure if she was annoyed or frustrated with me and felt I hadn’t reciprocated her interest or thought I was just playing with her out of vanity. As a very attractive young woman she will certainly not struggle to find men where she lives and will probably forget me quite quickly. I can’t do that so easily. There’s a remote chance we may run into each other again, but it’s hard to know under what conditions and if she’d be interested. Women at that age can grow up and change quite quickly.
All the best,
DEAR SIGMA PRIME: You know, it’s kind of serendipitous, SP; just before I pulled your letter, I had I just finished listening to an episode of Behind the Bastards about sigma males.
It’s really too bad that the whole alpha/beta thing doesn’t, y’know. Actually exist. The entire concept is based on outdated and incorrect information about wolf packs, and the scientist who popularized the term has been fighting like hell to correct the record. On top of that, the whole idea of the sigma male came from an white supremacist SF writer who wanted to explain why even though he totally could be an “alpha”, he chose to not interact with people at parties and that made him totally hot. As is, alpha/beta/omega/sigma hierarchical s--t has about as much relevance as a Harry Potter house sorting quiz.
Unless you’re into A/B/O fiction, but that’s another kettle of fish entirely. And also far more litigious.
I bring this up because the whole idea of the alpha/beta hierarchy is a type of magical thinking, especially once you get to the “sigma” bit. The idea that women are just “naturally” attracted to certain men and not others and that some (those so-called sigmas) are the desirable because they keep to themselves is appealing because it gives people the belief that they’re at the top of some sort of social pyramid and that all things will flow from there. It takes away the need to actually work at things because being an alpha (or sigma) means that it will all just come naturally to you and women will just be drawn to it.
(Men who buy into the idea but identify as betas also find it perversely comforting; it means that they were uniquely cursed by fate and so they’re given permission to wallow, rather than to strive to be more interesting and socially adept.)
That magical thinking acts as a sort of confirmation bias, convincing folks that they’re seeing things that aren’t actually there.
Such as, say, signs of flirting or interest. Particularly with a younger and attractive classmate.
Here’s the thing, SP: when it comes to signs of attraction and indications of interest, looking for individual signs mean nothing. They’re points of data that mean nothing on their own. Without context, they’re just noise. Somebody who plays with their hair could be exhibiting preening behavior… or they could just be someone who plays with their hair when they fidget. Pouting, name-checking… all of these could be signs of interest, or they could just be personal quirks. As a general rule, you want to look for what body language experts call The Rule of Four: four (or more) signs of interest that overlap or happen in rapid succession.
The problem is that, if you are indulging in some dickful thinking, it’s very easy to read interest into signs of basic friendliness and politeness.
And let’s be honest here, SP, you’ve said yourself that all of this is ambiguous. It’s difficult to tell flirting behavior in, say, a busy Zoom. Even things like the way she reacts doesn’t guarantee anything, since you have no idea what she’s seeing on her screen. She could well be reading Buzzfeed, reacting to a private message sent in chat, or looking at somebody else. After all, the way the zoom windows are arranged on your screen aren’t arranged the same way they are on hers.
Similarly, what you’re describing as “brazen” flirting sounds, stripped of the desire to bang her, a lot like basic friendliness and politeness. Offering to help with your presentation, saying your name, applauding your presentation… that doesn’t sound like “how about you come over for a hot cup of f--k my brains out”, that sounds like someone being nice and supportive to a classmate. And if she were that into you, your not making reciprocal eye-contact isn’t going to be thing that ends her attraction.
I mean, dude. She ignored you you at the party because, frankly, she had no real reason to talk to you. She clearly had been talking with and socializing with her other classmates, but you and she never exchanged more than polite chit-chat after class. If you had interacted more before the very last day then hey, maybe you would’ve been in on the conversation at the bar afterwards, but you didn’t. The only interaction you two had besides brief smalltalk were your checking her out and some basic politeness on her end.
You had a crush on your classmate and you were rounding up a whole lot good manners to someone having the screaming thigh-sweats because you wanted to believe it was true. Except you knew, at some level, that this was the case because if her interest was that blatant and “brazen”, then you knew it was a done deal already. All you had to do was ask her on a date and you would’ve been in like Flynn. It would’ve just been the count-down until the two of you slipped back to your place for a night of squishy noises and creaking bed springs.
But you didn’t. Because, at the end of the day, this was a crush and a fantasy.
Look, my dude. You’re shy. That’s cool; lots of people are shy. You worry about being rejected. That’s also cool. Lots of people get anxious about rejection. But when folks try to dress shyness and approach anxiety up as “feel like it needs to happen naturally, without pushing it” or “waiting for clear, unmistakable signs”, you set yourself up for a lot of missed opportunities. Those all just become ways of excusing yourself from having to actually take the initiative and risk being turned down. And honestly, the whole “sigma male” thing tends to be folks who explain why they’re totally as good as an alpha but just don’t want to work at it. Being a loner or separate from everyone else doesn’t make you mysterious or cool, it usually just makes you the dude who keeps to himself. If you want to date someone, you have to take chances and make moves. Approaching someone and asking them out on a date isn’t “pushing” things, it’s how people get dates. If you never so much as start a conversation with somebody, you can’t really be surprised when they don’t have much to say to you later on.
So no, you really don’t have a play here. I mean, you didn’t talk before classes ended and now it’s been months since then. Your trying to get ahold of her is going to seem like its coming out of the clear blue sky and I can all but guarantee that the most positive response you will get is a polite “thanks but I’m busy.” But the truth is that you’re much more likely to get thunderous silence.
If you want to actually have a chance with anyone, then you can’t just sit around and wait. You have to be willing to make things happen, starting with actually talking to her instead of analyzing her every move like it’s the damn Zapruder film. If you’re going to sit around and wait, you’re going to be waiting for a long, long time.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org