DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: TL;DR: used to be a nerdy loser, recently got my life together because of my fiancé, tempted to use my newfound powers.
I’ve been stuck in this strange situation for some time and I’m trying to figure my way out of it. To cut a long story short, I’m 33. I spent the majority of my life as a frustrated, overweight, overworked, nerd.
At one of the lowest points in my life, I found a girl. At the time, my dad was terminally ill, I’d left my job (I couldn’t cope with the stress of him being sick), and I was really depressed. I was 26 with no job, no family (my mom and I don’t get along). The one thing I had going for me was that I had some really good friends to help me through it.
After he died, this girl was there for me. We dated shortly after his funeral, and truthfully things turned around. She helped me get into therapy, and after a little while I was able to land my dream job.
Fast forward 7 years and since that point, life has panned out great. I’ve been able to afford to buy my own apartment (all from being promoted from that job at the company), dental braces, a new car and let’s just say, life worked out from that real low point. During lockdown, I proposed to my girlfriend and I thought life would be set.
My problem started after lockdown. I’ve started to go out a lot more to hang out with friends, which now also includes clubs and bars with work colleagues. On several occasions I’ve been at bars, and women have made passes at me. Not only that, but I feel like I’ve gotten noticed a lot more in the last year compared to the entirety of my 20s.
I admit I’ve glowed up, I’m happy with my life. But the thoughts keep coming in: “I need to make up for lost time”, “I need to make up for lost experiences”, “I need to take advantage of my glow up”.
No matter how hard I try, the thoughts keep coming in. Do I act on them? And if I don’t, have I missed out on my golden years? After almost 10 years of sadness, wouldn’t it just make sense to test it out?
I never had any success with women growing up. That whole time, I longed to have the superficial things to make me more successful with women. Now I have those things, and I can’t use them.
Help Doc! It’s like the Lord’s Prayer:
Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.
All Glowed Up
DEAR ALL GLOWED UP: Ok, AGU, you know how I’m always saying “the problem you’re asking about isn’t the problem you have?” This is a classic example of what the end result looks like.
I know, that may not make sense right now. Stick with me for a second.
I want to preface this by saying that I realize this may be a somewhat hot take but… this isn’t about being successful or not being satisfied with what you had or being a selfish jerk. It’s about your mindset.
Specifically, it’s about how you feel about yourself, about the standards you use to measure success, about changing externals without changing the internals and not having quite let go of the what you thought was so important back when you didn’t have access the things you thought you needed to be happy.
This is a thing that a lot of folks go through, especially folks who have the sort of glow-up you describe. Folks who’ve spent years or decades of their lives feeling one particular way about themselves will often put in a lot of work to make important changes and become the person they’ve always wanted to be… or the person they think they’re supposed to want to be. But what usually happens is that they’ve put in the effort to work on their exterior issues – their physique, their grooming, their skin care and presentation, even techniques to be more charismatic and charming. And to be clear: they put in a lot of effort, and that should be acknowledged. It takes hard work and discipline and they should be proud of what they’ve accomplished, just as you should be proud of how you’ve turned your life around.
However, because they put all this effort into their exterior, what they often discover is that their mindset hasn’t changed along with their outside. Yeah they may be more stylish or more conventionally attractive, but in their heads, they’re still very much the lonely or frustrated person they were before. They can’t fully accept just how much things have changed for them and what it all means. What it usually means is: the problems they were having weren’t about their body or their clothes or what-have-you. The problems were how they felt about themselves and the metrics by which they were gauging who they were supposed to be or what standards they were supposed to live up to.
To take a common example, let’s say we’re talking about men who were heavyset or overweight who felt like they had to lose weight to be attractive. Well, they dieted, they exercised, they lost weight and… well, now they may be yoked as hell, but inside they still feel unattractive. Even when they’re getting external forms of validation – being checked out by others, for example – they still feel like it’s not “real” somehow or that it doesn’t “count”.
It’s not that they have “fat boy brain” or whatever (and yes, I’ve seen people call it that), it’s that they didn’t recognize that the problem wasn’t their weight, it was how they saw themselves. They felt unattractive or undesired, decided that the issue was their weight and tried to correct it.
And to be fair, this is something society pushes hard on folks; lose weight, get into X shape and all your problems will be solved, whether physical, mental, spiritual or emotional. When this doesn’t actually work, people get frustrated because they’d been sold a bill of goods and oh look it turns out to have been mostly bulls--t. All that happened was that they discovered that while external validation is nice… it doesn’t actually fill the hole in them.
But let’s turn this to you, AGU. You started off in a place where you felt profoundly unvalued, undesired and unwanted. As you put it, you were “a frustrated, overworked, overweight nerd”, with all the baggage that comes with it. You grew up being told that your value and status was intrinsically tied with externalities – how much money you bring in, how much sex you’re having, how strong or manly you are compared to other men and so on. You got fed a narrative that “these are your golden years” or that you needed to accomplish all these things within this narrow window of time and that time not spent achieving these things will have been wasted.
To put it another way: your inner growth was being stunted because you were told to douse it all in Brawndo because it had electrolytes, when what you needed was water.
And then hey: during a low point in your life you met someone amazing. For what I’m sure felt like the first time in a very long time you were getting things you actually needed: emotional support and intimacy and being made to feel like a worthwhile person, regardless of those externalities. And wouldn’t you know it: like a plant finally getting water and sunshine, you started to grow and bloom… you thrived, even. She didn’t do these things for you, don’t get me wrong; what she did is help provide support that helped empower you to be better able to make these things happen.
Could you have done this on your own? Yeah, probably… but having folks in your corner who care for you and support you make it a hell of a lot easier when the journey gets tough.
But now you’ve got all these annoying thoughts coming about “making up for lost time” or “missing your ‘golden years'”, and it’s driving you batty. And the reason is because there’s an important lesson you haven’t learned yet, and it’s incredibly frustrating because you’re so close but you’re not quite making the connection. In fact, there’s no better illustration of the disconnect you’re experiencing than this line from your letter: “That whole time, I longed to have the superficial things to make me more successful with women. Now I have those things, and I can’t use them.”
In case you can’t see it, let me be all Wizard of Oz here for you: you never lacked for the things that made you successful with women. The fact that you have an amazing girlfriend – now your fiancée – who you met and dated before your glow up is proof. You didn’t need all the things you have now in order to meet her and start a relationship with her. You had the ability within you all along; you just needed to give yourself permission to unlock it.
In fact, by any reasonable metric, having a loving, caring and amazing partner who’s helped motivate you to achieve all these good things in your life and who’s supported you and validated you and made you feel like a champion is being successful as hell. But there’s still that part of you that is using an entirely different benchmark for success – one that’s quite literally been marketed to you.
That’s what’s tripping you up. There’s a part of you that feels like you did the whole thing backwards – first you get the glow-up, then you get the women. Well, you got the woman first and oh look, that worked out far better for you. While you may have had your glow-up and your life got better, you still have a lifetime of lessons telling you that you should have been chasing tail like a puppy and that you only had ten or fifteen “golden years” to do all the Man Stuff before it was too late. To continue an already stilted metaphor: you may be getting water, but you’ve still got all those Brawndo ads going through your head, telling you that it’s what men crave.
The thing to realize is that this is really common. You’ve passively absorbed these lessons because they’re part of the structure of the culture you grew up in; it’s literal cultural osmosis. When the majority of voices of authority in your life are telling you “you should do X, you need Y, all REAL men are Z” and there’s no counter-narrative or very little of one, it’s hard to not take it all onboard. So it’s entirely understandable that you still have these beliefs. Culturalization is a motherf--ker to uproot, especially when it’s been part of your life for the majority of your existence.
But just because you learned those lessons passively doesn’t mean that you need to stay passive. What you need to do is take an active role in confronting and examining those beliefs and asking yourself whether they’re valid or not and why. Ask yourself: what does “making up for lost time” mean to you? Why is it important? What will doing those things do for you?
Let’s say that making up for lost time will mean “going out and having more sex with more women”. Ok, wanting more sex or desiring people people is perfectly valid. But why do you want it? Do you want it because you’re naturally a very sexual person and maybe conventional monogamy isn’t right for you? Do you want it because having more sex partners will be an external marker of your value as a man? Or – and be honest with me here – is it because you’re worried you settled and you feel like you could do better? If you honestly feel like you settled, is it that you chose someone you didn’t actually desire but felt like you could have? Or is it, again, the feeling like “ok, but what if I had everything my fiancée gives me and also someone who made my friends/strangers jealous?”
There’s no judgement here; it’s important to be honest with yourself on these. If it’s the former, then that’s something to consider about your relationship. If it’s the latter, that’s something to consider about yourself and the metrics of what you find important.
Similarly, ask yourself: what, precisely, meant that those previous ten years were your “golden years”? What does it mean to have “missed” them, and why is this bad? Why can’t these be your golden years? Like the man said: 30’s the new 20, except in this case you’ve not only got the drive of your 20s, but also external trappings (better job, better car, a great relationship) and hopefully the maturity and experience to actually appreciate them and realize what’s actually valuable to you.
You want to “test things out”, sure… but what will that do for you, in the short term and the long term? Will it actually make you happy, or is it just a way of your dunking on your past self?
And, importantly: are the things that you think you would gain from this actually worth what it would cost you? You’re engaged to someone who’s brought so much amazing things to your life and who’s been by your side as you’ve achieved those things. Odds are good that to “make up for lost time” or “test things out”, you’d have to give her up… and you can’t expect her to be waiting for you when you’re done. Is that something you’re willing to lose?
Here’s the thing: you can appreciate your progress and your results without casting everything aside. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying feeling like you’re more attractive without actually doing anything about it. Even folks in happy, monogamous relationships get a charge from knowing people think they’re hot. Just because you’re not going to the party doesn’t mean it’s not nice to be invited.
So there’s your assignment, AGU: dig into those beliefs and really interrogate them. Be bluntly honest with yourself in your answers. Examine them and figure out how much of this is just your jerkbrain tossing other people’s values at you.
But if you want my opinion? In this case, I’m going to have to defer to the sage: “There’s a million fine looking girls in the world. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work.”
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com