Hello Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column written entirely with a Valyrian steel pen. This week, we're handling the emotional dark side of dating - how to handle things when jealousy, bitterness, resentment and fear are getting the best of you and slowing your progress. Is it better to confront these issues head on, or are there ways of learning to let go? Let's do this thing.
Hey Doc, I'm having some problems keeping my emotions from getting the better of me.
I'm gay and live in a state where being openly gay is still pretty risky. This has made finding someone to date difficult for me and my lack of a love life is getting to me.
My workplace recently hired a gay couple, each of them working in a different department. One of them is a co-worker of mine. I was crushing on him for a time, but stopped when I learned he had a partner and was in a very committed relationship. I never really saw or interacted with his partner but for a few times after this. You know how it is when you have different departments in one workplace; you don't see anyone from the other place unless you need them for something.
Over the few months since they were hired, I ended up getting to know both of them pretty well and can see why they make a good match for each other. Recently, all three of us were fortunate enough to have our lunches together and finally interact. They are a great pair of guys, and I'd like to be friends with them just because I like how sweet and nice the two of them are.
And that's where the problem lays. Secretly, I hate them because they found each other. I have your articles about how it's ok to be single and the signs that I shouldn't be dating bookmarked and refer to them on a regular basis. I've been working out and practicing being social with strangers in an attempt to level up my life so that I can be ready to date. But every time I see a couple on a date at work, on the street, sitting across the dining room when I'm eating out, etc., I experience a flood of emotions. I want what they have, even though you've clearly said that thinking a relationship will "complete" you is a tell-tale sign I'm not at all ready for a relationship similar to what they have.
In the past, getting over these feelings was pretty easy. Play a mindless video game for a while, go on a run until the physical pain overpowered the emotional one, or just watch a dumb movie that helps me forget I was upset in the first place. But I'm finding myself feeling these feelings so strongly just by looking at my co-worker or his better half (on those rare occasions I see him). And no video game or long run or dumb movie can help me when I know I'll be seeing them when I go back to work the next day.
So, what do you think, Doc? Got any advice to help me from venturing down to the Dark Side and stop being jealous?
Lonely Runner 5
So, growing up, I had a shitty time when it came to dating. In my social group, I was The One Who Was Not Good With Girls. This in and of itself was bad enough, but one of my oldest and dearest friends was my buddy Miles. We'd known each other since before kindergarten. He's legitimately one of the nicest, coolest guys I've ever known. I love the guy like a brother.
And for a very, very long time - from middle school to my brother's wedding - it was all I could do to not throw acid in his face.
Y'see, Miles was everything I wasn't. He looked like the love child of Rob Lowe and Hugh Grant. The man was a natural with women - effortlessly charming, funny, athletic, a talented musician… everything I wished I could be. Other dudes were invisible while he was around. I would struggle endlessly with women - usually falling into the role of The Nice GuyTM - while Miles would attract women the way that cheese attracts mice. It drove me out of my mind with jealousy. I wanted what he had in the worst goddamn way.
Thing is though? That attitude I was carrying around - the bitterness, the jealousy and resentment, all of it - was affecting everything I did. I was making my status as The One Who Was Not Good With Girls a part of my identity, and whether I knew it or not, people could tell. And my attempts to distract myself weren't really helping; they were ways of masking the problem, not fixing it.
And I suspect this is the same issue you're having too; you're distracting yourself from your feelings, not addressing them, and that's not going to help you, either in the short term or the long term. Much the same way I did, you're making your being single part of who you are, and that brings the bitterness and jealousy with it. It's easy to be resentful and jealous of awesome people when you're making that jealousy part of who you are.
The way you combat this is by changing your mindset. You need to retrain your brain and the way you think about things. The first step is - as woo-woo hippy as this sounds - to practice positivity. Negative thinking is a habit - you've basically worn a groove in your brain that makes it easier to fall into these self-defeating patterns and beliefs that you're never going to have what other people have and never be good enough, etc. So you want to take the time to consciously retrain your brain and force yourself into new habits. Doing the 7 Day Positivity Challenge - where you consciously avoid thinking anything negative for seven consecutive days - is a great start. It teaches you to recognise your thought patterns and triggers, requiring you to deliberately reframe situations to look on the brighter side of things. When you have a jealous moment, accept it, then consciously reframe things so that you find the positive side. Sure someone else has a relationship you wish you had - but instead of being angry about it, use it as motivation to improve things so you can have it too.
The other thing I would suggest is learning to practice gratitude. Again, very woo-woo newage-y, but there's a point to it. When we focus on what other people have that we don't, it's easy to lose track of what we do have. And even when you don't have a lot, you can turn it into more than it seems. Taking time to appreciate what you do have and to express that appreciation for what others have given you or done for you is a powerful way of pulling yourself out of the darkness. It also makes you a more positive person over all… and that's going to make you happier and more attractive in the long run.
Yeah, it sucks right now. But it will be better. You'll be OK. I promise.
Dr. NerdLove, I'm hoping for some advice on what to do with a still ongoing relationship. Should I stay or should I go etc.?
I live with my boyfriend of three years and have just turned thirty. It seems like all of my contemporaries are all getting married and/or having kids. Naturally I would like to join the club, but my boyfriend, who is five years younger, says his ideal age would not just be after he finishes grad school, but thirty. When I asked why thirty, he said,"That's when my dad got married." My response was, "Your divorced dad?"
Which segues nicely to the other issue, he seems paralysed by the idea of divorce. His parents had a nasty custody battle, so I can see wanting to avoid that. Who wants to get divorced? He says his biggest concern is that I won't be happy and that will lead to our divorce. His evidence is that I had a fun-but-not-good job that I wasn't happy with before we moved in together. And when I moved from the larger city, to the college town where he goes to grad school, I had two-bad-paying-awful jobs and unemployment. Because we're in a recession, I decided to go back to school. But now because I was unhappy with my career the entire time we have lived together, it is evidence that I can't be happy.
Needless to say this makes me angry. I changed my life around for him. I told him what I wanted (marriage and babies), and he said he wanted that too. He even agreed before we moved in together that he would have to change his time preference for marriage because of me. He even spends a ton of time looking at houses on Zillow sending me links. That is imagining the future we would have together. What cities, what books we would buy our kids (he started a list), what holidays would we celebrate, etc. We spend so much time talking about the future, I can't figure out why he doesn't actually want to commit to doing it.
How do I feel more secure about our relationship when I gave up so much to be with him and he won't commit to me? I feel like he keeps me at arm's length so if we were to break up, it wouldn't affect him.
What do I do? Do I sit here stewing? Is there a way to let this go because it seems like we have a fight every weekend (you know when people post wedding, engagement, baby photos etc)? Do I give up?
Stuck In Limbo
What we've got here are two stubborn people going head to head over a topic that you both feel strongly about. You want to get married. Your beau, on the other hand, is not quite so hot on the idea; he's open to it in theory, but he's not ready.
Fair enough. The question is ultimately about whether - and how - you're both going to come to some sort of equitable agreement.
Thing is though: right now, neither of you are covering yourselves in glory in the ways you're trying to change the others' mind. I mean, deliberately poking at somebody's fears of divorce in an attempt to make a point about a completely arbitrary deadline isn't the best way to go about bringing someone to your way of thinking. Constantly butting heads and getting into fights every week is only going to make both of you miserable and more likely to dig your heels in further and try to out-stubborn the other.
What you need to do is have a long conversation about where you two are in the relationship and where things are going and - critically - about whether he honestly thinks that marriage is actually in the future. Because frankly? I'm getting the impression he likes the idea of getting married more than the reality of it. Fantasizing is fun! It's a blast to think about what your future lives are going to be like, even to make it feel a little more real by playing "let's pretend" with real-estate listings and gaming out our futures together. Fantasy is great because there are no limits and it can be whatever you want! But reality is messy, complicated and frequently ugly and even the best of relationships can fall apart, as he's seen within his own family.
And let's be real here: you've made it clear that it's not just that you want to get married to someone, anyone. You've uprooted your life, made serious sacrifices to be with him. You're showing in no uncertain terms that you're looking to put in the effort to make this relationship work. Meanwhile he's going over your life like the Zapruder film, trying to find the little details that "prove" you're not going to be happy with him - no matter how insignificant or unrelated. So either he doesn't feel secure in how you feel about him, or he's willing to talk about the future just so long as it stays the future.
This is why you need to have that talk. And it's going to be hard. But it needs to happen. Be calm. Be caring. Be reassuring. But you also need to be straight-forward: for this relationship to work, you both need to be on the same page. He needs to be honest about his feelings - why is he being so reluctant? Is it because of fear of being hurt? If so, what can you do to help reassure him that you're serious about him, not just the concept of marriage in general? Or because he doesn't actually want to get married?
I'm not saying that by the end of this conversation you need to be engaged with a wedding date set - but if this is something you both want, you should be taking some definite steps in that direction. And if in the end marriage really isn't on the table for him… well, I hate to say this, but it may be time to recognise that you want different things and there is no way of making it work.
I'm a student and political activist and I've a rather difficult problem in the dating department I'd like some advice on.
Several years ago, I had a Major Depressive Episode (not sure if it is the proper english term for what happened; I'm not my own doctor) and received a subsequent diagnosis of having clinical depression. I spend a long time more or less in denial and ashamed and refused professional help on the matter, despite the fact that the effects of my illness became more and more prominent. I finally accepted help and I'm actually doing well again; although I'm still not one hundred-per cent back to as it was before.
And there lies the problem: I still have infrequent "bad days" and a slight problem that I don't recover from stress all that well. This doesn't have a significant impact on my day-to-day life as I've learned to manage, but beyond that it can become a bit of big deal as I've had to recognise my limits more so than others.
Now as I said before I'm doing better now than I've for years; and in these past years I've not been dating at all, part of being ashamed about my condition and part because I just could not muster the energy required to actively "go out there" on top of work, studying and activism. Now I really want to get back in the game because I'm better and I'm sick of the whole "hiding that I'm ill"-business.
Since I cannot hide that I have problems but said problems aren't visible at first sight, I'm unsure how to deal with the matter in the context of dating. With my friends it was a big deal during the past years, it caused a lot of tension and required much explaining (by me or by others). And while it made me closer with some of my friends, it also drove others completely away; not to mention that it all but prevented me from making new connections that go beyond casual conversation.
So yeah, how do I best deliver the message that there is something (psychologically) wrong with me to someone who has not prior experience with me?
I don't want anyone to think that I'm trying to get a "pity bonus" but I also want to be up front about the fact that there are, for the lack of a better word, "complications".
- You're My Boy, Blue
I've been where you are, YMBB. When I was in college, I was dealing with clinical depression as well - so bad, in fact, that I had to take time off for a while to get help. And I was ashamed of it too - I saw it as a personal failing. I had the blues, why couldn't I just cheer my arse up like everybody else could? It took time to recognise that it had absolutely nothing to do with me as a person and everything to do with my neurochemistry being out of whack. And I was hardly alone: nearly 10% of the population struggles with depression. It took time and therapy to get to a place where I had it all under control. And like you, I still have my occasional bad days where it seems like everything is roaring back to the way it was.
So I want to emphasise: you're doing everything right. You've gotten help, you've learned how to handle things and - importantly - you know how to recognise your limits and how to practice self-care when things get bad. That's huge. You should be proud of yourself for that.
So why in the name of Neptune's salty nutsack are you destroying all that work with this "I'm hiding that I'm secretly defective" bullshit? You're not defective. You're not "ill". And no, there's nothing "wrong" with you. Dealing with depression - or other mental health issues - aren't disqualifiers from dating, dude. You're not damaged goods, so quit treating yourself like you are.
If this isn't part of your day to day life, then it's not exactly material you "need" to disclose on the first date. Hell, you don't really need to bring it up at all until you're getting more serious. And when you do, the way you roll it out will directly affect how your potential girlfriend will react. If you present it like it's no big deal, then they will treat it like it's no big deal. Here's how you be up front with someone about having had depression: "Hey, just so you know, occasionally when I'm stressed out, I'll have a bad day and be down for a little bit. It just takes me a bit to recover from it." There you go. Problem solved.
And honestly, if someone's going to hear that you've dealt with clinical depression and freak out about it? They have done you a fucking favour by self-selecting out of your dating pool. You don't need that sort of bullshit in your life.
So drop the "damaged goods" idea, Blue. You're not damaged. You're not defective. You're a survivor. You've stared down your demons and you've come through on the other side. Be proud of that.
You're going to be just fine.
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's bi-weekly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.
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. 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. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.