DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a long time reader (male, straight) who has been following your site on and off since high school; currently, I am in my mid 20s, with no dating or sexual experience. This doesn’t bother me, per se. At the risk of sounding cocky, I am fairly certain I could date and so on if I tried in earnest, but I’ve only actively pursued a couple women my entire life, to no avail.
I am cynical about long-term relationships and discomfited by the intimacy involved in more casual arrangements. Early relationship excitement does appeal, except I am not an excitable person. I’ve been infatuated twice (see above), more because of unique circumstances (first crush, quarantine) than anything else. That’s unlikely to repeat, in large part because I’d rather it didn’t by now. This tangle of emotions has resulted in endless inaction, yet the notion of remaining celibate indefinitely rankles me. After all, You Only Live Once.
Hence, an ages old internal debate that I like to dub “Sense & Sensibility.” Sensibility would rather I leave matters the way they are, not because of any genuine hope of deliverance but just to enjoy the fantasy of larger-than-life romance a bit longer. Sense opines I’ve wasted enough time dithering and should just date casually; no need to become seriously involved with someone I am “merely fond of” if that offends Sensibility so much, but I could at least enjoy myself. This latter argument seems particularly persuasive when Sensuality (lust, but alliteration makes for alluring allegories) jumps in, but as a contestant it is woefully inconstant and so far Sensibility has enjoyed the advantage of being the incumbent.
With the quarantine hopefully coming to an end soon, the question of what to do is relevant again and therefore eager to torment me. Sometimes I manage to tell myself that, once meeting new people becomes feasible again, I’ll try asking some out and just date for the heck of it. But then the moment passes and I forswear all my plans. Hence, this letter. I am well aware of at least a portion of my flaws and it must be apparent by now that crippling indecisiveness is one of them.
Any advice would help. I should make it clear that my professional and social lives are going fairly well and I am overall content with my current situation, with plans to improve it further. So while I may seem dejected and do want to address this problem, its negative impact is mostly restricted to melancholy moods where I recite Keats to a suitably overcast sky. I try to balance that out by, I don’t know, singing AC/DC to a suitably overcast sky. Skies are nearly always suitably overcast this time of year where I live.
Thank you kindly,
Insert Clever Byname
DEAR INSERT CLEVER BYNAME: So I’ve read through this letter a few times and honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is an eternally relevant quote from the sage: “Being clever’s a fine thing, but sometimes a boy just needs to get out of the house and meet some girls.”
I get what you’re going for ICB, but the way you’re writing all of this is getting in the way of… well, everything. And honestly, I suspect this is as much of an indication of your underlying issue as the mindset you’re describing.
If I’m gonna be blunt, this kind of screams of the sort of conversations I had in college at 3 AM with folks who a) made being Quirky And Weird their entire personality and b) were almost-but-not-quite too stoned to function. The problem is that Quirky And Weird isn’t the same as deep or interesting; it’s just weird, and to be perfectly frank, most of the time it just serves as a form of emotional self-defense. It may have started off with someone identifying with some lovable misfit from books or a movie or something, but more often than not it’s a not-terribly-productive way of keeping them from getting hurt by making sure nobody tries to come too close. It’s very easy to spin it to oneself as “I AM UNIQUE AND DEEP AND MISUNDERSTOOD AND ONLY SOMEONE WHO TRULY CARES FOR ME WILL LOOK PAST THIS/GET IT” but in practice, it ensure that they never have to deal with the actual risks that come from connecting with others. You don’t need to worry about being vulnerable when nobody tries to get close to you, after all.
Just between you, me, and everyone reading this, ICB… all I’m seeing here is someone trying to justify being afraid to put himself out there, dressed up in Very Clever drag. That’s why I’m left wondering: who are you trying to convince here, you or me? It’s not like I’m entirely unfamiliar with this approach; I coasted through high-school with the philosophy of “if you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bulls--t.” Problem is, you can’t bulls--t a bulls--tter, especially one who knows this trick too. I mean, credit to your vocabulary and all but these are a lot of four dollar words to try to make “I can’t bring myself to take risks” sound deeper or more significant than it actually is. I’m certainly not somebody who’s opposed to having an affectation that makes you stand out in an unusual way but there’s a difference between a statement piece and self-consciously trying to act like you were born in the wrong time.
(God I miss the days when the folks doing this were just acting like they were part of the Rat Pack)
If we strip out the fancy language and equivocating, we come down to this: you’re afraid of what success would look like. You like the idea of relationships because a relationship in potentia is perfect. You can’t f--k up an ideal. You can’t have moments where you’re so irritated with them that you wonder why the hell you’re still together. You can’t have nights where you wonder if the way you tripped over your own ego (or your dick, for that matter) was so egregious that it’s going to bring the whole thing down. And, of course, you don’t have to drop the act and stop trying to use vocabulary and literary references as armor and actually deal with people as a person instead of as The Protagonist of a Gothic Romance.
(And seriously, you’re talking to an English lit major. Let’s be honest, most of those stories are tedious as f--k and the only ones that stand out as being interesting are because the folks involved are raging trashfires. LOOKING AT YOU, HENRY ‘WASHINGTON F--kING SQUARE’ JAMES.)
The issue isn’t indecisiveness, my dude. The issue is being afraid of what any of this would mean. It’s being afraid, not just of rejection, but of having to connect with people on a primal level and open yourself up to them. It’s a fear of what it might mean if you met someone who actually did like you back and what would happen if you had to actually make things work, with all the risks that means.
Because here’s the thing: yeah, you’re gonna get hurt. Welcome to the world babies, it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter and you’re gonna get your heart broken. That’s part of the process. You’re gonna f--k up otherwise promising relationships. That’s also part of the learning process. But the key word is learning — as in “learning from your mistakes” and “learning how to recover from f--k-ups“. It means learning that rejection sucks, but you’ll get over it and that while getting your heart broken feels like the end of the world, you’re gonna survive it, pick up the pieces and move on. And — just as importantly — you’re gonna start learning the difference between “attraction” and “love”, and why infatuation is neither the same thing nor something that even lasts very long.
Oh, and — assuming that you don’t have your head so far up your own ass you become a human Klein bottle — you’ll also hopefully learn that getting laid for the first time (or the first time in a long time) isn’t the same as “this is a person I could settle down with”.
But none of this can happen until you stop masking the truth with Very Clever lies. It’s not indecision, it’s fear. The sooner you admit it, the sooner you can face it. The sooner you face it, the sooner you can overcome it.
You say you could probably go out and date “if I tried in earnest” OK… so prove it. Drop the pretense, drop the persona and go actually talk to some girls. Put a profile up on Hinge, hit up some book clubs and just chat with people about something more than loving microbrews and reading Proust. Ask women out on dates, flirt, dance, dine and see where things go. Maybe it’ll lead somewhere. Maybe it won’t. Either way, it’ll be a learning experience?
Will you get hurt? Probably. Love isn’t meant to be safe. But then again, to paraphrase another literary sage: “THEN YOU WILL HAVE LEARNED AN IMPORTANT LESSON.”
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org