Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column that's secretly responsible for ending The Time War. This week we have a very different kind of question from a reader: how does he make it clear that he doesn't want to date? Meanwhile, after two failed relationships, another reader wants to know: what should he be looking for in a potential girlfriend?
Hey, Doc. I have a different sort of question for you. I'm in my mid-thirties, and have been divorced for almost a decade now. A good number of my friends keep telling me to "get back out there," or some sort of variation of that. And, despite my constant attempts to get them to drop the subject (as I have less than zero interest in it), they keep bringing it up.
A little background: my (now) ex-wife left me for another man while I was on a combat deployment. Our marriage was as close to perfect as possible for the first few years (before I deployed); we rarely fought (and even then, never raised our voices to each other), enjoyed each other's interests (as well as shared ones), enjoyable sex (happening at least biweekly), and we both got along really well with each other's friends and families. To put it succinctly, there were no warning signs, whatsoever. To say I was blindsided would be a massive understatement.
Since then, I have no interest in dating. As far as I'm concerned, it's a pointless endeavour. I have been to the top of the mountain, been pushed down the other side (a steep fall, indeed), and it is bullshit.
How do I make those who refuse to drop the subject see that I would rather die a painful death than to go down that road again? It's been ten years, the whole "give it time, you'll change your mind" argument doesn't hold water.
- Off The Market
Sometimes a problem isn't really a problem. Sometimes a problem is only a problem because other people insist on making it a problem.
Case in point: not wanting to date. Anyone. Ever.
Some people just aren't interested in dating or romance - period. There're any number of reasons for this - they may be asexual with no inherent desire for a sexual relationship, they may be natural loners with little need for companionship, they may be avoiding potential hurt, they may have chosen chastity for religious or spiritual reasons or they may simply just think that the rewards are worth the potential risks and challenges involved in pursuing and maintaining a relationship.
Thing is, everything in our culture insists that people are happiest when they're paired off with someone - possibly several someones. We're taught that being in a committed relationship - a husband or wife, 2.5 kids, 1.4 cars and the white picket-fence - is the end goal of life, the ultimate mark of maturity and adulthood and people who don't have this must have something wrong with them.
This gets especially pronounced if someone happens to be single later in life, and many people fear the stigma of being single past a certain age. You can see this over and over again in the letters I get for this column: people who worry that others are going to assume that someone who's been single for so long is irreparably damaged.
God knows I'm not immune to this; my first instinct upon reading your letter is to say "no, relationships are great and I'm sorry you were hurt but…"
But I stopped; I was gearing up to solve a problem that's not really a problem. Something we don't hear very often - almost never, really - is that it's ok to be single. Not being in a relationship isn't an automatic referendum on your worth as a person; it just means that you're not dating anyone. Period. Some folks don't want to date and that's fine. Being alone doesn't mean that you're lonely or missing out or that you're miserable.
The fail-state of "relationship" isn't "single", it's "being in a shitty relationship". Being stuck in a toxic relationship is damaging, emotionally and even physically. Yes, if you want to be dating someone, there will be times that being single can leave you feeling lower than a snake's nuts in a drainage ditch. But being stuck in a toxic, abusive relationship is almost infinitely worse.
The fail-state of "relationship" isn't "single", it's "being in a shitty relationship".
And more to the point - being single doesn't magically prevent you from being happy. You can have a completely satisfying and fulfilling life without dating someone. A person in a relationship isn't automatically happier or more content just because he or she is sharing their life with someone, just as someone who's single isn't by definition sad or lonely.
All that being said: there's a difference between being content to be single and being single because you're bitter, resentful and mistrustful of everyone around you. One is being self-sufficient, and the other is pushing people away because you've become convinced that people are bastards who will fuck you over.
The latter can be problematic; this sort of attitude tends to close you off to all kinds of relationships, not just romantic. Bitterness tends to spread and infect things around it, affecting your world view as a whole.
OTM, it sounds like your friends are worried that you're not happy. It sounds to me like there's something about your behaviour that gives off the "pissed off and resentful" vibe. Hell, I'm picking that up from your letter.
In fairness, you got a pretty solid kick in the balls from the universe. That's a pretty good reason to be pissed. But if you've been holding on to and nurturing that anger and resentment… well, that's going to be affecting just about everything in your life, and that's kind of a shitty way to live. If that's the case, then maybe you'd benefit from talking to somebody. This doesn't need to be about rehabbing your wounded soul so you can go out and date again, just about giving yourself some closure and learning to let a decade-old wound heal.
But hey: maybe you're happy. Maybe you just sound like this because you're tired as fuck of all the well-meaning busy-bodies in your life who keep poking at you demanding to know when you're gonna date again.
If you're happy, if you're getting your needs for companionship and intimacy met and you're content being single, then just tell your friends that. Enforce your boundaries a little. Say, "I appreciate that you're concerned about me, but I'm fine. I'm happy as I am, I have no interest in dating and that's not going to change, and I'd appreciate it if you'd just drop the subject." You don't have to justify it or explain any more than just "this is how I feel." Your life is your life; it's not a democracy or up for public debate.
If they continue to insist on talking about it, repeat: "I've said what I have to say, now please drop it" and talk about something else. They will get the hint and move on to a different topic.
Hey Doc. I have a recurring dating problem.
I've now had 2 relationships, both lasting about year long each and its twice now that I've walked in on them both in bed with another dude.
What I don't get is that I had a lot in common with both of them, and both really seemed to care for me. I'd like to know if there is something that i should specifically watch for. Both seemed to love me as much as I loved them, but here I am now, single and alone. I guess i need some tips on what i should look for in a girlfriend.
I've looked for complete opposites and girls who are like me, and nothing seems to work for me.
I don't know what it is that seems to drive girls out of my life. I treat them like princesses, and I spend as much time as I can, I give them room and do everything i can. My last girlfriend had a 2 month old when I met her and I raised her from there. Woke up early every morning and did all the usual "Daddy things" cooked, cleaned, worked and helped where i could. I seem lost and not entirely sure what it is i should do. If you could help me out and give me some advice I'd be immensely appreciative.
There's a certain truism when it comes to dating, TB - the only common denominator in all of your relationships is you. So, if you're constantly dating cheaters - and walking in on two girlfriends in a row means beating some pretty goddamn long odds - then you need to sit back and just look at who you're choosing to date and how you're interacting with them.
Now, let's be fair: two girlfriends is a damned small sample-set and you're not giving me a lot of detail to work with. So I'm going to have to generalize a little. On the whole, when women (or men) cheat, it's usually for a reason. Sometimes she's not being fulfilled sexually or emotionally. Sometimes it's because you're sexually incompatible, or because she's just bad at monogamy. Sometimes she's just an arsehole.
Is it possible you ended up dating two arseholes in a row? Possibly. Again, we're talking some pretty long odds, but it does happen. But it may be that there's something about this particular personality type that attracts you.
There're a few things you say that stick out to me. The first is about how you try to treat women like princesses. Look, I get that it seems like an obvious plus to show a woman that you worship the ground she walks on and you want to fulfil her every desire, but in practice, that's not exactly attractive behaviour. In fact, in a lot of ways it comes off as needy - as though you're worried that if you don't wait on her hand and foot, she's going to leave you. Neediness is the anti-sex equation; it's unattractive and incredibly off-putting under the best of circumstances.
Second: something tells me that you're the sort of person who commits really quickly. Seriously, leaping into the daddy role for a two-month-old child so early in a relationship? That's a serious commitment. That's taking on an huge level of responsibility with someone you barely know. Even a year into a relationship, you're still getting to know each other; and it's barely the time to talk moving in together, nevermind raising kids. Either you're assuming love way too early - mistaking infatuation and limerence for a deep emotional connection - or you're jumping the gun in terms of where the two of you are in terms of your relationship.
Committing incredibly quickly tends to be a red flag for most people. As a general rule of thumb, people who're cool with you committing that fast tend to not be people you want to be in a relationship with in the first place.
I'd strongly suggest you look into those issues before you date anyone else seriously.
- Are your lifestyles compatible? If you're an outgoing socialite and she's an introverted homebody, you're going to have a much harder time meshing your lives together. Are you an ambitious, organised go-getter? You might have a harder time relating to a more free-spirited, laid-back go-with-the-flow type.
- Do your values line up? Religion is an obvious example of this - if you're a hard-core atheist who can't understand why anyone would believe in an invisible sky-daddy, you're not going to get along well with a person of faith. So, ask yourself: Are you both progressive? Conservative? Do you have similar views on how to raise children?
- How does she handle conflict? You're going to fight. That's inevitable. But is she someone who blows up quickly but forgives just as fast? Is she someone who hoards slights and grievances like a passive-aggressive squirrel hoarding hate-nuts for the winter? Are the two of you able to discuss your issues, or does every hint of a disagreement turn into a screaming match as you drag up every old complaint as ammunition to use on the other?
- Are you on the same page, sexually? Sexual compatibility is important. If you have a low sex drive and she wants it every day and twice after Game of Thrones, then you're both going to go away unsatisfied. If you're a serial monogamist and she's someone who simply doesn't see the reason to restrict herself to one partner, you're both going to be cruising for heartbreak.
But most importantly, you need to ask yourself if you're just repeating a pattern. Like I said: the only common denominator here is you, TB. If your relationships follow the same blueprint every time, then you need to stop and examine just why you keep going for the same types of people over and over again.
If you keep making the same mistakes and ending up in the same place over and over again, then you need to be willing make some changes in your life. Self-awareness is important here. It may help to keep a journal; writing things down and re-reading it over time may help you find patterns of behaviour that you weren't aware of. And recognising those patterns is the first step in breaking them.
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly 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.