Hello all you pervert people of the intertubes, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column that’s syndicated on New Tuchanka.
This week, it’s all about your willingness to take risks and expose yourself to hard truths. How do you break out of a self-reinforcing dating cycle that has you convinced you’re going to die alone and unloved? What do you do when the solutions to your relationship woes just seem to make things worse? And are you willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, things aren’t as bad as you think they are?
This might get as intense as the stormy love story in Blasto 6: Partners In Crime. Let’s do this thing.
So I’m completely lost right now in my dating life and I could really use some sound advice. A little perspective first, I’m 32 years old, good looking (or at the very least, by all accounts above “average”), hold a good job, a nice apartment; I check what most would consider all the boxes for a sound catch. I have no problem attracting women on tinder or bumble, either. My problem is when I do find someone that I’m genuinely interested in, I fuck it up – royally.
It’s really starting to affect my self worth too, Doc. I’ve begun to ask myself what exactly is so ugly about me on the inside that I “scare” women away so easily. I’ve asked a few exes (reluctantly) what my problem is and they’ve said I come on too strong or try to force things too soon. I admittedly have some trust issues too that stem from my last genuine relationship (over 4 years ago) where the woman I loved and lived with cheated and stole from me; it was a shit show and it took me quite some time to recover.
Since that relationship, my longest relationship has been roughly 4 months. It normally goes great for a couple weeks before things start to disintegrate. Whenever I feel a woman starting to have doubts (real or not), I panic. I try to overcompensate by being overly sweet or over planning our time or just generally becoming anxious and nervous about their feelings for me and it makes me look like a complete psycho, which honestly, since I’m the common denominator in all these relationships, I’m starting to believe I am and that maybe I’m just “broken”.
This is incredibly frustrating for me because I desperately want to have a family someday but I can’t seem to keep someone around for more than a couple weeks or a months before they chunk the “duece” and leave me feeling insecure and unlovable again. Fast forward every few weeks and rinse/repeat with another woman.
So I ask thee, oh wise Doctor NerdLove, how can I be relaxed enough to let things progress naturally with women without coming across as some noncommittal aloof? Do I need to seek counseling for anxiety or issues of self worth? And lastly, how can I fight the unhealthy weight I put on myself about finding someone who generally loves me for me?
Broken or Unlucky
You’re not broken, BU, you’re just panicky. You’re like a startled horse or a dog that freaks out at the first loud sound it hears. The problem is, you’re basically spooking yourself with imagined phantoms, ghosts of girlfriends past that’re lingering long past their expiration dates. And that’s throwing you off.
The issue you’re having is one of neediness, BU, and neediness is The Anti-Sex Equation. Neediness tends to express itself in a couple of ways. One of the most obvious is that needy people get incredibly clingy. They push for relationships far too early because there’s that part of their brains screaming “LOCK IT DOWN NOW! NOW BEFORE SHE HAS THE CHANCE TO LOOK AT OTHER OPTIONS!” They want to spend every moment with their partner because… well, if they don’t, then bad shit will happen. Maybe it’ll be that as soon as she’s on her own, she’ll meet Dirk ChestMeat and his cousin Studly GoodNight and that’s going to be the end of the relationship. Or maybe it’s just that somehow they’ve convinced themselves that people in love spend every moment together and any moment apart is just a sign that things aren’t working out.
Another way that neediness destroys attraction and relationships is that the needy partner starts demanding constant reassurance. It’s one thing to ask your partner for a steadying hand when you need it, a quick boost to the ol’ self-confidence at a time when you’re being an insecure bag of slop. It’s another entirely when you need it all. The. Time. That same impulse that drives a dude to send 30 emails in quick succession, each explaining the previous email and demanding a response is the same thing that leads to people constantly badgering their partner to tell them that yes they are happy, no they’re not lying, no they’re not thinking of leaving.
Remember that scene in Swingers when Mikey leaves about a dozen messages on one girl’s answering machine? That’s basically what you’re doing to the girls you’ve been trying to date.
This is all pretty easily avoidable. The biggest issue is that you aren’t letting go of your ex. And dude. I get it. I’ve been hurt pretty damn badly by women I trusted and that shit leaves scars. But there’s having a scar, and then there’s constantly picking at the scab. And I strongly suspect that you have a near-constant long night of the soul where you’re replaying what happened and what went wrong and how could you have stopped this. So now you’re so on the lookout for trouble that you’re jumping at shadows and inventing new things to freak out about.
Until you stop doing that, you’re not going to stop chasing those women away. You need to start eliminating that neediness if you want to find a relationship that’ll last.
The biggest issue you need to deal with is your fear. You’re not just afraid of getting hurt again, you’re afraid of feeling that fear again. As soon as you imagine a problem, you spring into full-blown panic mode. So here’s what I want you to do:
First, slow your roll. Let relationships proceed on their own pace. This may mean having some casual relationships for a while, where you don’t expect anything from people expect pleasant company with occasional sloppy make-outs. Date for a while without expectations outside that. If something happens, then that’s a bonus, but you just want to enjoy the moment. If it doesn’t work out… well, you had no expectations, so you haven’t lost anything either. Being in the moment will let you focus on the here and now and getting to know this person. The better you know them, the better you’ll be able to recognize what’s real and what’s just in your head. Sure, they’re slow to respond to texts or instant messages… is that because they don’t want to talk or because they prefer not spending all day on their phone? One person’s “Sign of Waning Interest” is another’s “This is how I spend my Sundays”.
The next is: slow yourself. Right now, your major source of exercise is leaping to conclusions. You base so many of your actions on assumptions that have no basis in reality. The next time you’re starting to feel panicked about problems in your relationship, I want you to focus on your breathing. Breathe in to the count of 5, hold it to the count of 2, breathe out to the count of 6. Do this over and over again and feel your heart rate start to slow. Let those thoughts just flit through your head without dwelling. Let everything just relax and slow down. This will calm you down and let you get a handle on your emotions so that you aren’t making decisions based on shit that happened to you four years ago.
As you calm down, ask yourself: “is this a real problem? Or is it something I’m imagining as a problem?” Are you reacting to your girlfriend? Or are there other, reasonable interpretations about what’s going on that don’t fall under “proof that she’s about to leave me #321 in a series”? If one of your friends were to come to you with this story, what would you tell them?
And finally: forgive yourself. It sucks that you got played by an asshole, BU, but you don’t seem to be willing to accept that it happened and it’s over. Forgive yourself for loving if not wisely, then well. Having been hurt doesn’t mean that you’re a weak or stupid person, just that you gave your heart to someone who didn’t deserve it. That’s it. Not everyone’s an asshole or looking to hurt or trick you. Forgive yourself and finally let those wounds heal. Then you won’t always be looking for the next person who’s going to screw you over.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I have been reading your column for a long time, it has helped me understand a lot of difficult interactions in relationships and sex. While I was reading the letters and your responses I was always hoping that I wouldn’t be the one asking you difficult questions. But guess what, here I am.
I have been married for almost 2 years in a same-sex relationship. My partner and I love each other a lot. He is my best friend, we enjoy each other’s company, we laugh all the time, we spend a lot of time together, we communicate very well and are open to talk about anything. We are both independent and share responsibilities in our home. From the outlook we are a very happy couple, our families and friends all consider us very happy. But there is a problem between us I never talked to anyone about. It’s about our sex life.
It all started a year ago, about one year after we were married. He started to have sex much less frequently with me and when he did he was not so into it, and he wouldn’t get an erection with me. We sat down and discussed about it many times, he assured me that the love has not changed, he just didn’t feel the sexual urges when he was with me. I read about couples getting less sexually attracted to each other over time so I decided it was normal for him to act this way as long as our love has not changed. It was hard because I’m still very much attracted to him sexually and it was very upsetting that he didn’t feel it reciprocally.
We tried different things, spiced things up with different ways of having sex, even tried to use pills for ED (we are both in our 30s, I don’t know if it’s too early for this) but nothing really worked. And it turned to a point where I was always asking him for sex or trying to arouse him, unsuccessfully most of the time.
After a few months of trying without success, we decided to give open relationship a try, we thought that this might help a little if I could meet some other guys for my sexual needs instead. We discussed about all the how, where and when and made a list of rules that we were both comfortable with. After opening this Pandora’s box, I am having a little better sex life but what changed dramatically is that he became much more sexually active, always chatting with guys, he would meet some guy after work, when I’m at work (we work at different schedules). And the result is that we have even less sex than before.
Honestly, I really don’t care that he has sex with other guys, the thought of it kind of turns me on, even. We live in Scandinavia, the mentality for sex is pretty open anyway. The only thing that makes me feel bad is that he completely lost interest in having sex with me, and it has nothing to do with his love for me because I know how much he loves me.
So after all the trouble and everything we did, the problem still remains as his sexual desire towards me has vanished. We are only married for 2 years, I don’t know if this is how our lives are going to end up. Sometimes it makes me rethink if it is worth it to stay in this marriage but we have been through so much in our lives together, we have such a strong bond that we both do not want to break.
I understand that sexuality is complicated, desires change over time but are there other ways we can try to work things out again? I have never opened up to talk to anybody about it because I feel embarrassed that my partner has lost sexual interest with me. Do you think you can give me some advice?
Sleepless of Scandinavia
Alright SoS, there’s really no way to soften this, so I’m going to be blunt: your husband isn’t attracted to you. While it’s true that sexual passion wanes over time—something known as the Coolidge Effect—that’s not what’s going on here. Your husband isn’t feeling it for you, period.
There are any number of possibilities to the cause. The one that I see most often are people who moved a little too quickly; they rounded a close friendship with a little sexual chemistry up to a long-term relationship, and the sexual attraction just petered out, as it sometimes does. In cases like these, the relationships tend to drift back to being platonic friendships on their own… at least, in cases when lawyers and leases aren’t involved.
Another possibility is that this is how your boyfriend is wired. Some people simply can’t do long-term, committed sexual relationships; their attraction for a person fades along with the novelty. That’s neither good nor bad; it’s just how they are. This isn’t a problem except in cases when—as with you—they’re in a committed relationship with a partner who does expect sex.
And let me be clear, SoS: the problem is him, not you. I get that it’s embarrassing and painful when someone you want decides that they don’t want you any more. It makes you feel like you’ve done something wrong and start second guessing whether there’s something you could or should do differently. But the truth is, sometimes there is literally nothing to be done. There’s no amount of emotional or physical change you could make, no lifestyle adjustments or moments carved out. Sometimes—often, in fact—it’s just that one person’s attraction was always going to have a time limit. All that’s left is to decide what to do about it.
It would be one thing if you had both agreed that sex wasn’t going to be a part of your connection and your relationship would be about mutual love, support and companionship, but you didn’t. Similarly, it would be a different matter if you both were allowed to see and sleep with other people, but you still had that core of love and intimacy between the two of you. But you don’t. There is, after all, a pretty significant difference between “in addition to…” and “instead of…”, and you’re in the latter case.
And to be perfectly frank: he seems less than interested in trying to make things better. The way you describe things makes it sound like he went through the motions of trying to fix things so he could say he tried and you’d quit asking for it.
Remember: it’s entirely reasonable to want sex and physical intimacy with the person you married. That was part of what you signed on for when you two got together and what you expected when you got married. You went into this expecting and deserving to be desired by your husband. He, in turn, seems to have straight up abandoned you. You may have that bond, but he seems less than concerned with your needs and desires in this matter and that’s relationship poison.
I hate to say it, SoS, but I don’t think your husband’s coming back to you. I suspect that he had his dick out the door pretty early on. I could be wrong and maybe the tides of passion will roll back in… but I really doubt it in this case.
I think the best thing you can do here is end things as quickly and cleanly as possible. You may love your husband, and he may well love you, but that one-sided desire is going to curdle any good that your relationship has left. Waiting for him, even as you have your own sexual adventures, is just going to make you miserable.
This is a time when you have to take a line from one of my favorite bands: “I may love you, yeah, but I love me more.” You may love him… but loving yourself means not putting up with the pain you’re going through.
It’s time to leave, SoS. You deserve someone who loves you and wants you.
How did you heal from an ugly break-up? Did you deal with a sexless relationship? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. And meanwhile, we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write email@example.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.
He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.