DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Last year I wrote to you via the priority email service over a crush on a guy at my gym. Quite rightly, you advised me to gather my courage and ask him out. This was tough because we had multiple lockdowns in my country, and it took me several aborted attempts – but I did it! He was really enthusiastic, gushed over my bravery and how flattered he was, and asked for my number. For that first few days, I was geared up to write a “relationship win” email for you.
But then he never called. I waited a week, and nothing. When I ran into him the next weekend, he told me that he’d just started seeing someone (something about it being ‘early days’ and how he ‘just got out of a relationship a year ago’ – he was kind of cagey about it and I didn’t want to pry). He asked if we could still be friends, and although I said yes, I’ve barely been back since, and the one time I did go, we politely ignored each other.
I’d hate for him to think I’m mad at him, but the truth is I am absolutely heartbroken. I spent the best part of a year trying to build up, questioning my feelings, doubting myself. Last summer I couldn’t even make eye contact with him, but I persevered, and hearing that initial “yes” felt like a turning point in my life. I never thought I would get there. And then, finding that I had actually missed my window has just destroyed me. It’s been 3 months now, and barely a day goes by where I don’t find myself crying over him.
This is kind of sad, I know. I’m 36 years old, but this dumb crush really has rattled me to my core. You correctly identified in your private message that I’m on the asexual spectrum (I identify as grey-ace/-aro) and I had to completely reassess my sense of my own sexuality in order to even acknowledge the possibility of these feelings. I rarely experience attraction, so this really did feel like a “one and only chance” kind of a deal. My relationships are usually more like friendships with sex bolted on, and I find it hard to connect with others in a romantic sense. Most of the time, I’m just not all that attracted to my partners. I’ve never been on a proper date, not had any sort of romantic or sexual interest in 8 years now, and the few truly passionate relationships I’ve had were deeply unhealthy. When I do fall, I fall bad. I respond really intensely to intermittent reinforcement, probably because it gives me the space to develop a real interest, and then I ultimately end up neglected and discarded. Over recent years, I have mostly accepted that romantic partnership is not for me. I have built a stable life with my best friend, and was happy with that – until now.
The truth is I miss the feeling of excitement I got from being around my crush. I miss the anticipation of getting up in the morning and going to the gym knowing I was going to see him, thinking about what I was going to say, coming away feeling exhilarated when he complimented me or shared something meaningful. I had started taking better care of my skin, bought new clothes, rediscovered a side of myself that I had neglected for many years. Now, all that has gone. I don’t want to do those things anymore. Maybe I never really did? Maybe it was all performative femininity because I wanted to ‘get a man’. I don’t know.
But the worst part is that I don’t even enjoy going to the gym now. Fitness has been a big part of my life for the past 7 years and is how I manage my mental health, boost my self-esteem and get my endorphins. Now, everything related to it reminds me of him. I even changed gyms, but found myself sitting on the bench crying because even being in that environment was enough to set me off. I just want my zeal back. I want to reclaim this thing for myself, if nothing else, but it’s like he was a drug, and now I’m in withdrawal. I hate that I’ve lost that fire and that motivation, but it feels like every time I push myself to go, something happens that makes me feel crappy (a song plays that reminds me of him, a guy makes a gross comment) and then I want to go even less.
My rational brain knows that all this really makes no difference in the long run. I was always going to be ok without a romantic partner, and I know deep down that I will be ok now. But by opening up to the possibility, even for a short while, I feel like I’ve opened up an old wound. I feel sad that I’ve never had that romantic evening with someone I felt excitement for, that I’ve never really desired anybody who hasn’t treated me like garbage; I’m frustrated that the one time I felt that mystical ‘spark’ that everybody talks about, it turned out it was all in my head (or worse still, possibly just a matter of bad timing).
This experience has made me resent my asexuality for the first time since my teens. I’m jealous that other people seem to get that feeling of excitement all the time! I keep looking around at people constantly, trying to force some sort of attraction, hoping it might happen again. I tried online dating, but everyone came on way too strong. To make matters worse, I’ve had a case of Texts From The Ex (apparently a common occurrence in the pandemic) and although I distrust him greatly, I’m engaging with him more and more as a distraction from my crush.
So where do I go from here? I really want to get my motivation back, but I don’t know how. I wish I could go back to my old gym and see him, but I don’t think he’ll even talk to me now. He probably thinks avoiding him, as I had been driving across town a couple of times a week just to see him, and now of course I am not. If I do go, I worry that I’ll only be hanging around hoping he’ll talk to me, wondering if he’ll be free again and might change his mind, and I know that’s deeply unhealthy, and that nobody wants to date a whiney stalker chick who can’t handle a polite rejection. How do I readjust to life where I /don’t/ have that starry-eyed adoration lighting a fire under my ass? I feel like he took 90% of my motivation with him, and now the thought of doing all those things I used to enjoy just makes me feel depressed and lonely, because I had been imagining doing them with him.
How can I overcome this setback and return to contented singledom? I’m tired of crying, tired of feeling jealous and listless, tired of missing out on things that used to bring me quiet, solitary joy. I know I can’t change the way my sexuality works, but how can I go about rebuilding myself?
Ace in a Hole (36, she/her)
DEAR ACE IN THE HOLE: Ok, this is going to sound like a complete digression AiaH, but stick with me for a second.
One of my favorite TV series’ back in college was Babylon 5, in no small part because of how many times they had these fascinating side stories focusing on background characters. One in particular stands out — an episode that focused, in part, on a man named Jinxo who had been a survivor of all of the previous Babylon space stations. Whether the station was destroyed in an enemy attack, blew up because of an industrial accident or just straight-up vanished, it always occurred when Jinxo left the station. As a result, people had begun to believe that he was cursed; if he left the station, then the station was doomed.
However, a recent traveler to Babylon 5 points out that Jinxo was looking at things from the wrong perspective. After all, he managed to escape disaster four separate times; by all rights, he should be called “Lucky” instead. His leaving the stations before the worst happened wasn’t what caused the disaster, he was surviving each time. That’s not a curse, but a blessing; he was just seeing things in an incredibly negative light.
That’s the issue you’re having right now AiaH: it’s not that you failed or waited too long or whatever. You did something you have previously struggled to do: you talked to your crush! You opened your mouth, words fell out, everything went well and there was no earth-shattering kaboom. You summoned your courage and took your shot! Even though you were terrified, your knees were shaking and your voice quavered, you did it anyway. That is something to be celebrated! Yes, it didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, but honestly, the fact that you made your move is the most important thing here!
And here’s the thing: the fact that you’ve done this once means that you can do it again. You’ve proven to yourself that you have this power within you, and you’ve had it all along. While this time didn’t work out, you now know that when you do develop a crush on someone new, you’re capable of doing something about it. And having struggled through the first time, now you’re better able to do so when the opportunity presents itself instead of having to build up to it over days or weeks. And that means that, in the future, you’ll be less likely to miss any particular window.
The other thing to keep in mind: just because you and he didn’t hit it off doesn’t mean that you have to avoid him. In fact, avoiding him is actually part of what makes things harder; avoidance actually just increases the anxiety and stress of it all. Seeing him will sting — possibly a lot — but like ripping off a bandage, that sting will fade faster than it would if you just try to peel it off one millimeter at a time. And while you and he may never be a couple, he could very well be a great and important friend. And just importantly: it’s a reminder that the worst can happen — he had a girlfriend — but the world didn’t end. It sucked, but you survived and you recovered. That’s an important lesson to learn.
Now all that joie de vivre and excitement you were feeling about taking care of yourself, dressing well, etc? You can get that back. But the key here is, again, to change your perspective. Instead of doing it as a form of “performative femininity” or “to get a man”, consider doing it for yourself, because it makes you feel awesome. Dressing up sharp can feel amazing when you do it just for yourself, rather than for the sake of others. The same with exercise, skin care and so on — doing things because it makes your body work and feel better is an excellent reason to keep at it. The side-benefits — it may make you more attractive to others — are just that: a bonus. A side-effect of the joy of taking care of yourself and keeping your body as a well-oiled, high-performance machine.
Focusing on the joy of movement, the pride of taking care of yourself, the simple pleasures of dressing well because they make you feel good will help you reconnect with that part of yourself. Treating yourself well will remind you that you deserve good things and that, while life can be difficult… it can be great too. And doing so will also help you maintain the confidence and courage to make your move the next time the stars align and you find another crush.
Because here is a truth: this guy was just one person that happened to hit your buttons in this particular way. And while guys like that may be few and far between for you… there are more. All of this was you learning that you’re capable of far more than you ever gave yourself credit for.
This wasn’t the end. This wasn’t even the beginning of the end for you. This was merely the end of the beginning.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org