DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m 23 years old and have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) which is a mental disorder. I’ll come to this in a minute. I’m getting treatment for it but the treatment isn’t that effective and I don’t know why. I’m going to a psychiatrist and a therapist.
When I was 20, I learned about cold approach and at the age of 21, I met with a woman through it and she was 10 years older than me. After being together with her for 1.5 years, we broke up – due to a mistake that I made. After that, I kept cold approaching and got on a few dates, kissed 2 girls but nothing more.
What I wanted to ask you is this: Lately, since almost like a year, I’m not having any success on cold approach (even though I didn’t approach too often) and my OCD makes me think like, “What if you’ll be unlucky for the rest of your life? What if there’s some sort of a unluckiness/spell on you that’ll make you always get rejected and stay single for the rest of your life? Or what if you’re gonna find somebody at the age of 30 or 35 and stay single until that time?” My mind doesn’t work like a normal person’s mind therefore these are the questions and worries that I’m dealing with. I know that life and future is full of uncertainties but I’ve an intolerance towards it and it’s making me very anxious and obsessed with these thoughts.
I’m trying to be active on Instagram and some dating apps but they never worked for me and seem like they aren’t my type on meeting women.
I’m talking to my doctor and therapist about all this but they’re doing their best and as you know they aren’t gonna find me a girlfriend; that’s something that I have to do by myself but at this point my mind is full of all these worries, uncertainties, anxieties, obsessive thoughts, etc…
Could you please give me some advice? Am I going to find somebody eventually because it’s a numbers game? But what if I can’t? And if I’m gonna find somebody, how will I wait until that time with all this uncertainty?
Thoughts and Layers
DEAR THOUGHTS AND LAYERS: OK, TAP, I’m going to start by pointing out that Instagram isn’t a dating app and really shouldn’t be used as one. Similarly, cold approaches are pretty inefficient in general. It’s a good skill to cultivate, because there will often be times when you’re trying to meet people and you have no social support to work with, or you’re trying to build a social circle from scratch. But in terms of a good way to meet women? It’s a lot of effort with a very low return on investment.
This is especially true if you’re looking for actual dates. Part of what makes cold approaches inefficient is that you’re functionally trying to convince a stranger to be interested in starting a romantic or sexual relationship with you when they’ve known you for a span of 20 minutes (or what-have-you). That’s not how most folks meet their partners; more often than not, we meet our partners through shared activities (classes, sports, hobby clubs, church, etc) or mutual friends, with dating apps forming a close second.
So part of the problem is the way you’re meeting people. You’ll do better if you find ways to pursue your hobbies and passions that bring you in contact with other people who share those interests.
Even then, there is a numbers game to it. You need to be putting yourself in fortune’s path, as it were, if you want to get lucky. If you’re only seeing the same 5 people every month… well, you’ve basically limited your potential dating pool to those 5 people. Possibly less, depending on gender and sexuality. So going out and meeting more people gives you more chances to make connections that can lead to relationships.
However, I think that’s not really the issue you need to be focusing on right now.
If you’re a regular reader, I’m sure you’ve seen me refer to my position on the importance of being in good general working order when you’re trying to date. Recently, even. But it’s still an important part of dating in general and successful dating in particular.
I want to emphasize that not being in decent working order isn’t about being unattractive to women or not being able meet people – though those are factors. No, I bring this up because it’s important to your overall emotional health, the quality of the people you may actually date and your ability to actually make relationships work.
Your intrusive thoughts are actually a good launching point for talking about this, in no small part because they’re close cousins to what it’s like having rejection-sensitive dysphoria as a part of the ADHD combo meal. Imagine if, instead, the thoughts you had were “wait, is this person mad at me? They made a weird face when they said this innocuous thing, what does this mean, does this mean I’m about to get dumped? Oh God, I’m about to get dumped, aren’t I?”
If – and I speak from experience here – you don’t recognize those thoughts for what they are and learn how to manage them (or medicate them into quiescence), this is the perfect set up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. You begin to believe that a break up is either in the offing or coming around the corner. When you see it coming, and RSD is very good at creating evidence, then you start behaving in response to that impending dumping. You start trying to get “confirmation” that its coming or you start trying to figure out how to ward it off, or (worse) you get anxious and clingy and your need for constant reassurance becomes intolerable.
Regardless… you end up causing the break up you imagined to actually happen.
In your case, your thoughts are creating a feedback loop where meeting people becomes impossible. Because you’re worried that you’re not going to meet anyone no matter what, you end up missing people who were very clearly into you. Because you can’t believe that someone might like you or that you might find someone to date, you just don’t see it. You rationalize it away, you dismiss it as being a prank or a trick or your brain lying to you or literally don’t perceive it – certainly not as a sign of interest.
And when you do meet people who are willing to push the case… well, a lot of times those can be people who you don’t actually want to date. There are people who will target folks who believe that they don’t have a chance to find a partner and have to take whatever the universe will give them, no matter what. And if you believe that this is your only chance, the only person to break through your anti-luck/anti-date curse or what-have-you, then you tend to cling to that relationship, no matter how bad it gets.
That’s not great – again, speaking from personal experience here.
This is why right now, getting your OCD under control is going to be pretty important; your intrusive thoughts and worries are going to actively sabotage you, often in ways you may not realize are happening at the time.
Now, I want to give my standard disclaimer: Dr. NerdLove is NOT a real doctor and I am in no way, shape or form qualified to tell you how to treat your OCD. That’s something you and your psychiatrist and therapist to talk about, especially if your current treatment isn’t working. It may be time to talk about alternative options or different types of therapy. Never forget that you know your brain and your feelings best. If, for example, a medication’s side-effects are becoming worse than the condition they’re supposed to treat, then you have every right to advocate for yourself and a different treatment. If you feel like your treatment isn’t actually helping, then you are absolutely within your rights to ask to try a different method.
One thing that may be worth asking your therapist about is cognitive behavioral therapy. A number of studies (and a hell of a lot of anecdotes from folks I know) suggests that CBT, even self-directed exercises from sites like MoodGym, is incredibly helpful at managing intrusive thoughts.
Once you get things managed – and I mean managed, not “cured” or “eliminated” – then you’ll be in a much better position to actually focus on meeting people. And to make things even better: you won’t be fighting through the filter of your own disbelief while you do so.
Think of it this way; right now, you’re trying to run a 5k with ten pound weights on each leg. Imagine how much faster you’ll be able to run if you reduce those to five pounds. Or two. Or take them off entirely.
When you get to that point, focus on building your social circle and look more towards warm approaches – meeting people that you already have a social connection with. This may mean classmates or having friends in common. Or it may mean that they’re fellow regulars at your favorite open mic night or amateur sports league or volunteer effort. That’ll go a lot further towards helping meet some amazing women without having to go make a dozen approaches a night.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org