DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: To start, I’m not the best at socializing; I seem to normally skew more towards listening and observing, and while I’ve gotten better at being social over the years, it’s still something that doesn’t come naturally.
My closest friend, on the other hand, is very extroverted and generally socializes as easily as one breathes, and needless to say, he’s very successful when it comes to befriending people, hooking up, going on dates, etc. Logically, I know it shouldn’t bother me, and I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but it still stings to see him do all this with such apparent ease, and it ends up making me feel very invisible.
I know these feelings aren’t healthy, and I don’t want to risk damaging what is otherwise one of the best friendships I’ve ever had, so how can I manage or overcome my feelings of jealousy?
What I Do In The Shadows
DEAR WHAT I DO IN THE SHADOWS: Man, this question comes up a lot, huh?
So, I’m not gonna lie, WIDTC: As I’ve said before, this is a letter that I could’ve written back in my teens and 20s. I have, quite literally, been there, done that and built a career out of it.
Growing up, I was very much in the same position you were. While it certainly didn’t help that I was dealing with undiagnosed ADHD, I was a very unsocial person. While I could connect with folks — I had lots of friends — I was awful at meeting girls, worse at flirting and dating was a crapshoot at best.
(I’d say I was on the bleeding edge of online dating with the girls I met and “dated” off what were functionally glorified BBS systems but that would imply that those relationships lasted longer than a week and a half in person. Also, quite frankly, the way they both went down and the way I acted over the course of both of them is still embarrassing…)
Now to make matters worse, my good friend Miles (not his real name) was always in the picture. Miles is one of those guys who radiates charisma like a social Chernobyl. It wasn’t enough that he was naturally charming and delightful and stupidly talented and good looking, he was also one of the genuinely nicest and sweetest guys you could ever meet. So you honestly couldn’t even hate him, he was just that good. But it was certainly possible to resent him because, when it came to girls, he was almost supernaturally gifted in all the areas where I sucked. He was so magnetic that he was a danger to electronics and VHS tapes, whereas I was… not. And, like you, when he was around, I may as well have been invisible.
This, needless to say, did not do good things for my self-esteem when I was younger. But then again, in a very real way, it was Miles who put me on the path to where I am today. Like… literally. A woman I was flirting with at a wedding hooked up with him instead, which lead to my discovering Neil Strauss’ The Game, joining the PUA community and eventually leaving the community. So I have Miles to thank for a lot of my current life… even if, at the time, I really resented him.
All that having been said, time and perspective has changed my view of those days and I wince a lot at myself from back then. Granted, I was working with the best information I had at the time, but it’s still kind of cringe. However, it also means that I’m probably the best person you could have turned to with this question because you get to benefit from my experience without having to, y’know, live through it all first.
So I’m going to give you what I’ve learned over the years. It’s important that you take this all in, in no small part because it all ties together. It may seem like I’m giving you feel-good bulls--t, the empty calories of dating advice, but I promise you: internalize these lessons and you will not only learn to not resent your friend, but you’ll improve your own life in the process.
Here’s the first thing to take in: life isn’t a zero sum game. Your friend’s success and social ease doesn’t take away from you or your opportunities. It certainly feels like it, don’t get me wrong. It’s hard not to think “well, if you weren’t here, I’d have a shot.” Except there’s the part that we keep forgetting: that the women that he’s talking to are people too, with agency and preferences and interests… and those are all part of what attract them to him. It’s not just that he’s extroverted and charismatic, it’s that he’s him, specifically. It’s not that they would’ve been into anyone but he was the best choice in the room; it’s that they like things about him.
And while that seems like a comment on you, it isn’t. Think about it; how many women do you see on a daily basis that you just aren’t attracted to, especially when one you are attracted to is around? It’s not that you’re repulsed by the others or you think they’re lesser or subhuman, it’s just that you don’t feel anything for them. That doesn’t make them less or worse than the person you’re into, nor does your not being attracted to them make you shallow or less of a good person. It’s just that they don’t have the je ne sais quois that draws you to the other woman.
So turn that around for a second; it’s not that you’re lesser than your friend or that his success somehow takes away from you. It’s just that he’s very good at meeting and hooking up with the folks who are into him… people who aren’t into you, for reasons that often have nothing to do with you, any more than your not being into those other women is a judgement on them.
You’re capable of having your own successes and your own romances. You may well even find success with folks that your friend might be into. His existence and presence in your life doesn’t take away from yours. You’re on parallel but distinctly different paths.
That actually brings us to point number two, which is ties into this: you will never have his success because you aren’t living his life. You are living your own, and this means that you aren’t going to be subject to the same forces and changes that made him who he is and who you are. If you were to replicate every move he made and tried to do things exactly like he did, you would have entirely different results. Just as nobody has been able to replicate the success of World of Warcraft — no matter how hard they tried — you won’t be able replicate his success, because you’re unique, just as he is. In order to have his success, you would have to live his exact life from birth with every single experience and choice he made, at the time when he made them. All of those ephemeral influences that only existed in that very precise time and place are part of what made him who he is — influences that nobody could track or plan for. You were just as influenced by infinite circumstances that you were never aware of nor could control, and those made you you, unique in all the universe.
So rather than envy him and resenting him for what he has that you don’t, recognize that his circumstances are different from yours and his journey is also different. You don’t need to be him; you need to be you and find your success in the ways that are in alignment with your personality, your values and your interests. Those will be different from his and that’s fine. The issue here isn’t that you’re bad for wanting what he has, it’s that you’re treating him as the thing you need to be measured by. And he isn’t. His success isn’t your yardstick; it’s not even necessarily what you want or need. It feels like it now, but only because you haven’t found your path and your success yet.
But he can help you get there. The third thing to learn is, rather than resenting him, let him inspire you. Because here’s something I learned over the years: social skills are skills. Your friend didn’t come out of the womb as a perfectly charismatic being, any more than Miles did. He learned those skills, same as everyone does. He may have had gifts that made learning those skills easier for him and circumstances that meant he picked them up earlier than you… but he still had to learn them. Does your learning them later than he did mean that there’s something wrong with you? No; this implies that there’s a universal standard and there isn’t. You’re on your own path and your own timeline; looking at anyone else’s as anything other than a general guide is a mistake.
What this means is that what your friend can do, you can learn how to do as well, because it’s a skill. It’s a matter of learning and practice, putting that knowledge to work, making mistakes and learning from them. For years, I believed in the dating binary; either you were good with women or you weren’t, and there was nothing that you can do about it. For all the toxic s--t I found myself swimming in when I joined the PUA community, I gotta give them credit: they taught me that this was bulls--t. The most important thing I learned was that could learn to do better with women. I learned how to be more social, how to talk to women and flirt and present myself in the most flattering way possible. Miles may have learned it earlier than I did, and he may have had some starting bonuses that I didn’t… but I still learned. And once I realized that these were skills, not inborn qualities, I realized that Miles wasn’t my competition, he was someone to look up to. If Miles had to learn how to do all of this, then I could to. Would I ever be as good as him? No idea, but it also didn’t matter, because “good” is a bulls--t metric in this case. What’s “good” for Miles is different for me, because I’m not Miles and he’s not me. My wants and needs are different from his and that’s ok.
The same goes for you, WIDITS. Your friend had to learn the skills he has. You can learn them as well. The only difference is when you learn them vs. when he did… and that’s just part of your personal journey. Your picking up a skill later than someone else doesn’t make you worse than them, it just means that you learned it later than they did. It does mean that he’s had more practice than you… but that’s not relevant, because you don’t need to be perfect. You, quite literally, just need to be good enough. You can make all kinds of mistakes and still succeed. I have quite literally choked when talking to women and still pulled it back from the brink because I was good enough.
The whole thing to remember is that this isn’t a competition. I refer you back to the part about this not being a zero-sum game. You and he aren’t competing. Even if you the two of you were interested in the same woman, you’re not actually competing because women don’t come to every interaction perfectly neutral and pick the guy with the most points in Charm. They all have their own preferences, their own compatibilities and the things that draw them to one person, not the other. Someone who’s into you isn’t going to pick your buddy because he’s got the gift of gab or whatever; your success or failure (such as it is) with her is entirely about you and her. It’s a choice between you and him, it’s a choice between you and not you.
And one last thing: being happy for his success helps you. I get that this makes little sense, but it ties firmly into a truth: our outlook and our attitude defines our world. The things we think and the attitude we bring to everything affects how we see the world, how we respond to it and — importantly — how other people respond to us. Part of what held me back for so long was my resentment of Miles’ success. I was bitter because I thought that Miles was somehow taking things that would have been mine if he wasn’t around. Part of my journey was recognizing that my bitterness, resentment and entitlement were getting in the way. It made me a less pleasant person to be around. I blamed my failures on not being as good as him and my negative attitude meant that I didn’t try as hard — why should I, if I had failed before I even started? I didn’t bounce back from my failures because I thought that there wasn’t any point to making more than a token effort. When those failed, then I took that as “proof” that I was stupid for even bothering to try. And of course, my bitterness radiated out of me; everyone could see it and it drove people away. Who wants to be around someone who grumps and complains about how much better his friend has it?
It even took time after I started to improve before I realized how stupid I was being and how unfair I was being to Miles — who, I need to emphasize, has always been wonderful to me. Recognizing that my issues were my own and he had nothing to do with them helped me realize that it wasn’t about winning or losing. It was about being happy for him because he’s my friend and deserves good things and I’m thrilled when he gets those good things. Making that mental shift made me happier over all and it improved my success. Why? Because now I wasn’t treating this as a competition because we weren’t competing. His success and happiness took nothing from me; if anything it made things better, because happiness isn’t a zero-sum game either.
So it is with you and your friend. His living an awesome life and his successes are something to be happy about because he’s your friend and his having a great life means the two of you have an even better time when you hang out. And being happy for other people makes you happy, just as being grateful for what your friends bring to your life makes your life better. It can be positive motivation for you, something that helps you strive further and work harder.
Oh, and if he’s as good of a friend as you say? Then he wants you to be happy and successful too.
So take his desire for you to be happy and successful and use that as encouragement. Look at his life and say to yourself “hey, I can learn how to do this too! I want to find my version of this!” and let that help push you forward when things are hard and everything looks bleak. You will find your path, rather than being hung up about not being on his. It’ll look different than his, and that’s ok!
But most importantly: it’ll help you and him be closer, better friends, because you won’t have this unnecessary barrier between you two.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org