Welcome to Ask Dr Nerdlove, the only dating advice column that knows how to get every ending in the dating sim of your life. This week, we have a common problem: What do you do when you keep getting the Let's Just Be Friends speech from the women you want to date? Do women really mean it? And if they do, why do they ditch you when they start dating someone else?
Plus: How to spice up a dreary sex-life, and an update from a reader about his dating problems...
Hey Doc NerdLove,
I've got something of a problem that's tangentially about dating, and I figured I would see if you could help.
30, single, male; 5'10", 180 lbs, not amazing shape but not terrible shape either. Not the best looking guy in the world, but not the worst either. Personality wise I'm introverted by nature, but I am friendly and outgoing when I leave the house; I'm pretty funny, optimistic and smart but get described as offbeat a lot too. This is all to say that while I would definitely not say I kill it with women, it's not like talking to them is a terrifying or alien ordeal; usually it goes pretty well and both parties end up pretty much unscathed.
EXCEPT FOR THIS:
Throughout my twenties I have found myself in a cycle that I really want to end.
1. I meet a girl.
2. I realise I'm into the girl, and the girl seems into me as well. They usually tend to be the ones who seek me out after our initial meeting.
3. I ask the girl out, and they say "Oh no, I just want to be friends".
4. I say "OK".
5. Over the next couple of months, we are friends, and usually become really close. I'm usually told a lot of things like "I feel like I can tell you things I've never told anyone before" and "I'm so happy I have you around."
6. The girl meets her next boyfriend.
7. The girl, without saying anything to me, pretty much ceases all communication with me.
8. I am really hurt at the loss of my friend.
I hate this cycle. It's the worst, because I feel like I'm getting dumped, without any of the fun of dating; and over the past 10 years it's probably happened about 7-8 times, and I can feel it's starting to affect the way I feel about women in a pretty negative way.
I'm finding that I hold back from them more and more, and don't really trust them as friends. I know when you start seeing someone new, things can get busy and your other friendships can get prioritised less; but this is not so much as "Hey we don't hang out so much anymore" but rather "Oh you don't care if we're part of each other's lives at all." I've never experienced this level of being shut out with my guy friends; they may come out less, but they still talk to me.
Rationally, I know that this must be some subtype of people's personalities, and that there's got to be some sort of way to see red flags associated with them so I can avoid investing so much in the friendship.
Emotionally, it seems like women are selfish jerks who simply want to use my good nature as a crutch while they find the guy they really want. Clearly this is not a healthy perspective to have.
So I've got two questions for you:
One, do you have any advice for warning signs or maybe things I can work on about myself so that maybe I can stop finding myself in this situation with ladies I let in emotionally?
Two, sometimes (usually when the guy is gone), the girl tries to reform the friendship, and so far I haven't done well with that situation either.
When I tried to call them out on what's happened, I get called a jerk and there's no real resolution or progress made. When I tried to "be cool" about it, and act like it didn't hurt me that much, the cycle simply repeated itself.
Do you have any advice on how to handle that type of situation?
So a patient comes to me and says "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." So I say to him "So stop doing that."
(Remember: Doctor NerdLove is not really a doctor.)
This may sound a little dismissive but if you're doing the same thing over and over again and it's continually getting you hurt, then it may well be time to try something else. If you're ending up in the same place over and over again, the thing you have to recognise is that sometimes the only common denominator is you.
So how do we change the equation? Well, let's break it down a little.
The first thing we need to do is examine the initiating behaviour: you getting the dreaded Let's Just Be Friends speech from women you're interested in. If you're hearing LJBF frequently then odds are that the problem is either in how you're presenting yourself or in your approach.
When you hear LJBF, what you're hearing is that she just doesn't find you sexually attractive - there's no "spark", no burst of chemistry. The thing about chemistry is that it's not binary - it's not "there" or "never going to be there" - chemistry is something that you create.
Now the trick is that there is two types of chemistry: physical (or sexual) chemistry and emotional chemistry. The problem is that you need to maintain a balance between the two. Too much physical chemistry without any emotional connection and you've got someone who's turned on but may not necessarily like you enough to do something with that arousal. Too much emotional chemistry and you end up with a platonic BFF. You sound like you've got the emotional chemistry down pat - women feel close to you and tell you their deepest secrets - but you've got zero physical chemistry.
If I were to guess, I would say that you play things a little too safe; you build emotional connections and find commonalities but you give absolutely no indication that you may like her for her mind but you want her for her arse. So you need to be willing to inject a little sexuality into your flirting, a willingness to tease, and to touch (the right way).
In short: you want to act like a lover, not a friend. Yes, you're going to be risking rejection. It's better to take the rejection and move on to somebody who wants what you have to offer than to end up in a "friendship" that you're treating as a boobie-prize.
Which, incidentally, is part of the problem with what's going on after you've been given the LJBF speech.
The reason why you keep getting the brush-off from these women once they find a guy is that up until that point, you're serving to fulfil their need for emotional intimacy. There are people who will use platonic friends for the intimacy they want from a romantic partner. And believe me, this is not a "girl" thing - guys do this to their platonic female friends all the damn time.
(Side note: I rarely hear about this in platonic queer relationships, hence the heteronormativity. Still, the plural of anecdote isn't "data", so grains of salt, etc.)
The friend is essentially serving as Emergency Substitute Relationship, essentially a back-up partner until someone more "suitable" (read: that they want to fuck) comes around. When they do, the platonic friend gets ditched until they're needed again.
Now, what do you do about this?
Well, ideally, you ID and avoid these people in advance and avoid getting overly emotionally invested in the first place. Since this seems to happen to you so often, you are going to want to start looking inward - if you're repeating a pattern, then it has a lot more to do with your mindset than women's in general. Examine what exactly it is about these women that you like and then ask yourself why you're attracted to them.
The next step is to simply not invest so quickly and maintain some boundaries. People who are looking for emotional intimacy pacifiers tend to get very close, very quickly - they want that deep connection until they can get emotional and sexual intimacy. It's also worth noting that this tends to be a very one-sided relationship - you'll find that they're more interested in your meeting their needs and less so than in their meeting yours. At the time, it can feel amazing that they're trusting you and opening up to you and there's this impulse to want to be the guy who listens and comforts his friends, but if they're spending more time unloading to you than they are listening when you talk, then that's a warning sign. Yeah, it may feel like you're soulmates and it feels great, but you frequently find yourself shouldering a lot of their emotional needs and that's not fair to you - especially when they ditch you.
You're allowed to keep a certain amount of space and set limits, even with your friends. You don't need to be at their beck and call or give them all your time. Set some boundaries and do things on your terms, too.
Those boundaries are also important after they ditch you and try to re-engage with you when they're single again. Most of the time I'd say it's not worth striking the friendship back up again, but if it's what you want then you need to be willing to stand up for yourself. Be willing to tell them that you don't appreciate the way they disappeared on you and have now come back like nothing has changed. Someone who likes and respects you will recognise that they have been acting like an arsehole, apologise, and adjust their ways. Someone who doesn't is just trading on your willingness to be a doormat and the best thing you can do is refuse to play along. If they're not willing to acknowledge or respect your feelings on the matter, then it's time to just walk away.
May I call you Doc? I have a question of utmost importance. How do I have mindblowing sex with my girlfriend/soon to be fiancee without overstepping my bounds. I really don't want to be stuck in a single-position sex life for eternity and really want to spice things up in the bedroom. Missionary is very rarely exciting. It is frankly it is starting to get to her and myself. I am just absolutely terrified that I am going to do something wrong and she is going to explode on me about it. It didn't use to be this way either! We used to have sex fairly regularly, but lately everything has been stale. I am afraid to make a move, fool around and bluntly just get the job done.
Lust For Life
Communicate, communicate, communicate. And also: communicate.
Seriously, LFL, if you're in a relationship with someone - especially if you're planning on getting engaged, you need to be able to actually have a conversation with your partner about your needs. So if the sex is starting to get stale and you want it to change, you have to use your words.
Talking about what you'd like to do beforehand is almost always a better option than just springing it on your partner with no warning. That's a very good way to find out you've just stomped all over a personal boundary or tried a move that's going to put her on the Nope Train to Fuck This Shitville.
I realise that it feels like sex is something that should be spontaneous and talking or planning it out feels like the antithesis of sexy or that it's somehow not as "genuine" but honestly: if you want to change things up or incorporate something new in the bedroom - whether it's just a new position or being tied to the bedposts and flogged like the naughty boy you are - then you want to talk about it before you're in the middle of things.
Now this doesn't mean that you necessarily have to treat this like an emergency intervention where you both sit on the couch and dissect everything that's been going on. If the two of you have gotten stuck in a sex-rut, then suggest that you'd like to try something different.
The key is in how you present things. You don't want to lead off like you're admitting you have cancer - that's going to encourage her to see things negatively. Similarly, you don't necessarily want to present it in a "hmm, what do you think of this?" sort of way - because our culture is so sex-negative, there's an impulse to treat anything out of the ordinary (which may simply be something as unremarkable as fucking from behind rather than missionary this time) with a reflexive "no", even if they'd consider it otherwise.
This is how you phrase it: "You know, I've been thinking about doing $USSEX_ACT with you and it really turns me on. I'd love to try this with you…" It's short, simple and emphasises that this is something you want rather than an idle curiosity. Plus, talking about things you'd like to do to each other while you're making out is incredibly hot.
Don't be ashamed of wanting better sex in your relationship. Sexual compatibility and sexual satisfaction is critical to a long-lasting, happy relationship.
And just as an aside? If you're literally terrified to bring things up to your girlfriend, then it's seriously time to rethink the relationship.
Regular readers of my column may remember Phantom Zone Phil, who was having his doubts about the identity of his online-only girlfriend. Since I advised him that he was likely being catfished, he's gone on to confront his Internet paramour and… well, I'll let Phill tell you the rest.
I don't know if you like updates, but I got a fun one. The person I described in my original advice request (who was REALLY mad about your column btw) just told me that they are actually a 30 year old heterosexual male living in Paris. They said that they just enjoyed my company and "playing games" with me, which is why they pretended to be a woman in love/lust with me for like a month.
I've done a lot of research on narcissistic personality disorder and sociopathy since meeting them, and I've learned a lot.
Thanks again for the advice!
Phantom Zone Phil
Good to hear that you got some answers, Phil. It always seems to be the antithesis of romance, but sometimes the best practice is "trust… but verify."
Ever dealt with the LJBF speech? Have some tips on how to reignite a dull relationship? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments section, and we'll see you in two weeks with more of your questions!
Illustration: Tara Jacoby
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.