DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a 21y old male (Brazilian, so please forgive any bad English) and I have been dating a girl (I’ll be calling her A) for the past 3 and a half years. She is a very special person and I care very deeply for her. She is probably the sweetest person on this planet. She loves me very much and always makes sure to show her affection in the cutest ways. She’s so caring and lovely that sometimes I don’t even think I deserve that much, despite always trying my best to be a good boyfriend for her.
Regarding aesthetics, A is also very beautiful. She is not, like, insanely hot or anything like that, but I’d say her face is above average looking and she has a decent body. I know that I should be very thankful that I have such a wonderful girl by my side but the truth is that I have recently been fantasizing about another girl.
This other girl (whom I’ll be referring to as J) is someone who I met back in high school and, DAMN! It was love at first sight back then. Something about her always made me get all nervous and sweaty when she was around and I simply couldn’t get my eyes off of her. J and I developed a friendship during high school, but I never attempted to go any further with her because she had a boyfriend at the time.
Despite that, J also seemed to feel some sort of attraction for me. It was weird, because she was committed to someone but would always send me some subliminal signs that she liked me as more than a friend. Like, once she even said she had dreamed about me (but didn’t reveal the content of the dream). I would always make her laugh and there seemed to be a lot of chemistry between us. Of course one might argue that I misinterpreted J’s behavior towards me, which makes sense considering she had a boyfriend. But I don’t know, something always felt different between us.
The fact is I had kinda “forgotten” about J since we graduated high school. We both went our separate ways, she continued with her boyfriend and I met A shortly after. We haven’t been in touch since then.
The problem is I never actually got over my feelings for J and I would sometimes (not very often) think about her. Most of the times it was just a momentary thing that didn’t had much impact on me but last week I had a dream about J (a rather vivid one) and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her since. The thing is: I never felt for anyone what I feel for J, not even for A. Although A is truly a wonderful person, I don’t think I have ever been IN LOVE with her the way I was (or am) in love with J.
A is a very kind and loving girl, but she is not nearly as sexy as J is (not by a thousand miles). Please do not think that by “sexy” I mean vulgar. J isn’t by any standard a vulgar girl, she is actually a very respectable person. She is one of those rare people who can be sexy without the need to be vulgar and that is probably one of the things that made me fall for her. It is also very important to mention that I found out that J is currently single…which makes the situation even more complicated.
I am feeling really tempted to break up with A to pursue a romantic relationship with J. But I fear that might not be the right choice. I fear that J might reject me and say “I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same way” or something like that. In that case I would not only lose J but also lose A, who has been a great girlfriend for me. Also, J and I haven’t spoke for years, which would make it even harder for me to try bonding with her again and even less likely that she would still have feelings for me.
So…what do you think I should do?
Should I take that (very) long shot and try to be with the girl I have always been in love with or should I stay with the one who’s been my faithful partner for years?
Bird In The Hand
DEAR BIRD IN THE HAND: Alright BITH, let’s be real here: this isn’t complicated at all. This isn’t about whether you should take a (very) long shot. There is no shot. Your choice isn’t between J and A. Your choice is between “being single” and “having a relationship with A”. J isn’t in the picture. Hell, she’s not even near the camera.
Now what I’m about to say isn’t going to be pleasant, but it’s necessary: there was never anything between you and J besides friendship. When all the evidence you have is “something felt different”, but nothing else, then all that’s happening is that you’re looking for reasons not to accept what you already know. It’s wishful thinking made manifest. Trust me: I have been there, I have done that and I have spent so much time in the so-called “Friend Zone” that I could’ve applied for primary residency and ran for political office from there.
(Standard disclaimer: there is no “friend zone”, there are just people who don’t want to date or f--k you.)
You know this to a certain extent in part because you’re doing what so many people who’ve had unrequited crushes have done: you’re reading the tea leaves to find scraps and clues of how she feels. As a general rule, when someone’s into you, even when they already have a partner, there’re signs, and those signs aren’t so subtle that you have to examine them with a jeweler’s loupe. There weren’t moments of physical contact that went above and beyond casual touch between friends, no times of the two of you finding excuses to be alone, no lingering moments where it seemed like SOMETHING was going to happen if one of you would just move even half an inch towards the other.
What you had was a friend who treated you like a friend. It may have been different and unusual to you if you haven’t had many female friends… but it was friendship. And honestly, it was a friendship that ran its course. You said it yourself: you and J never kept in touch after you both graduated. That alone should tell you something. While yes, many friendships – even romantic relationships – fade away after high-school or university, there are folks we tend to make an effort to stay in contact with. Those tend to be relationships, platonic and otherwise, that have stronger connections and deeper ties.
Similarly, you’re not really IN LOVE with J. Infatuated, sure. Horny as hell for her, absolutely. But you don’t even know J any more. It’s been a long, long time since you two were ever in contact and I can promise you: she has grown and changed, just as you have. Just as you aren’t the same person you were in high-school, neither is J. She is, for all intents and purposes, a new person… a person you don’t know and haven’t met. You’re looking to the past, not the present. And that’s important because it’s also why you’re having this moment of all-consuming limerence.
What you feel is less about J and much, much more about the fantasy of her and the fantasy of the relationship you might have had. But here’s the thing about those: they compel us because they’re whatever we want them to be. There’s no risk in those fantasies. You never have to handle the mundane day to day existence that you do with a real relationship; you don’t have the times when the way she snores keeps you awake or you get frustrated about how messy her side of the bathroom gets. You don’t have to deal with when she’s sick and cranky with it or times when she’s so stressed with work that she snaps at you because you got on her last nerve. These fantasies are able to be exactly as idyllic and rose-colored as you want. The reality is much messier, with rougher edges and splinters.
This is part of why she’s so much more appealing to you than A right now. A is a person, with all the flaws, foibles, and failings that come with it. A has flesh that bends and squishes and folds over itself; the fantasy of J doesn’t. A farts, burps, scratches her butt, gets zits and ingrown hairs; the fantasy of J doesn’t. J can be everything you ever want; A is resolutely who she is.
A is also known to you, which is the other reason why J is so appealing. We are a novelty-seeking species and we adapt to circumstances very, very quickly. No matter how amazing something may be – from your dream sports car, to your giant 4k TV to your supermodel girlfriend – eventually it becomes our normal, and the excitement of it wears away. Now it’s just part of our day to day reality. This includes with our romantic partners.
When we’re caught up in that New Relationship Energy, our brains are cranking out dopamine and oxytocin at an elevated rate. We are, quite literally, getting high from being with them, and it makes us want to spend even more time with them. We want to get our fix. But after a certain point, the levels of oxytocin and dopamine we get from being around them returns to normal levels and we don’t get the same “rush” from them any more. That doesn’t mean that we don’t love them or don’t find them desirable; it just means that they’re not the New, they’re the Known. When the New shows up again – we get a crush on someone new, we start to date someone else, and so on – then our oxytocin and dopamine production ramps right back up again.
But, here’s an important thing: you aren’t even in contact with J. You just had a particularly sweaty dream about her and that got you all hot and bothered. Which, hey, that absolutely happens all the time. I found myself with inexplicable crushes on girls in high-school that I wasn’t into previously because I had especially hot dreams involving them. But, while that may have flared up all sorts of hot hot fantasies in the short term, it’s going to fade… sooner, rather than later. Especially because – and I can’t emphasize this enough – you aren’t in contact with J. It’s not like she suddenly came back into your life and invited you out to lunch and now you’ve got all these feelings. It was just a dream.
I keep harping on this because, frankly, I don’t think you’ve actually gamed out what you’re going to do. What, are you going to break up with A, immediately call (or DM) J and say “hey, guess who’s on the market again, wanna do something about it?” Or hey, maybe you think it’ll be more about reconnecting and then trying to speedrun your relationship in high-school to see if you can get back to the place you think you were at back in the day, so that this time you can finally make a move? Perhaps you’re thinking you’ll take it slower and try to court her as you get back in contact. OK… so you’re planning on ending a relationship that you enjoy in order to put all your money on months of effort with someone you haven’t talked to in years and will need to spend all that time and effort to try to get together with her? Assuming that she even wants to be more than “former school friends”? All of that because of a dream?
And honestly, a dream is a stupid thing to end a perfectly good relationship over. Because hey, you know what I don’t see in your letter? A reason why being single would be better than being with A. Or that you’ve decided your relationship with A has run its course. Nor am I seeing anything that says that you’re no longer happy with A, and there’s no work that could you could do to fix your relationship. Or for that matter, that you’re dissatisfied with A in ways that aren’t “she’s not as hot as my fantasy of J”.
Now, if you are done with being in a relationship with A, if you’re basically checked out and looking for an excuse to leave… well, then just do that. Break up with her. Make it quick and clean, so she has a quicker healing period afterwards. This is especially true if you’re only with A because you’d rather not be single; that’s a bad way to treat someone you care about.
But if it really is just a case of “everything with A was great until this dream reminded me of my crush on J”? Dude. Dude. Recognize this for what it is: a dream that got you all hornt up. That’s fine; that doesn’t mean anything other than “you’re a mammal with a sex drive”. But don’t destroy your relationship over it. Masturbate to it, plow that excess desire into A and channel it into your relationship. Use it as motivation to shake things up in the bedroom and try things you two haven’t done before. This will remind you of precisely why you and A are together.
That’s a much better decision than trying to jumpstart something that never existed in the first place. And as the sage once said: “there’s a million fine looking women in this world, dude. 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, firstname.lastname@example.org