Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column dedicated to helping you jumpstart your dating life with a New Game +. It's the dawn of a new year, and that makes it a perfect time for a fresh start. This week, we have a letter from someone who wants to do just that. How do you start over when you're feeling the weight of your dating history on your shoulders?
I need a way to start fresh.
I'm 2.5 years into a long streak of being single and failing to get a girl. I had broken up with my ex after a 4.5 year relationship. It was unhealthy, our lives were going different ways, and so, even with the pain of being lonely for so long, I still feel it was the best decision.
Since that time, I have failed multiple times in miserable ways to get a girlfriend. Once to a friend secretly sleeping with the girl I had been trying for, once to an unknown "history" a girl had with my brother, once to trying too hard and scaring a girl away, and once to simply living too far away.
I'm even at the point where I invited a girl out to a big concert with free tickets I had won. She left right after the show with her other friends who happened to be there, told me we could chat more later, and I've yet to hear a word from her again weeks later.
These failures, compounded with failures to gain any interesting jobs with my degree (being an obituary editor does little to increase your appeal in speed dating scenarios) have left me feeling tiny and demoralized. They haunt me enough that I could swear I'm cursed, and the looming shadow of my ex (now a successful pharmacist with a PhD and a good-looking, wealthy boyfriend) has demolished my entire sense of self worth.
I need a new start. I need a way to wipe away those girls, their rejections, and the lingering smirk of my ex so that I can move forward.
How can I dispel this curse and no longer feel haunted by my history of love-life failures?
Oof. Hey, Voo-Dude, you have my sympathies. Break-ups suck and trying to recover from them can suck even more. There's nothing quite like feeling like you're on the verge of coming out of it when the universe decides to tap you in the nuts one more time. Enough set-backs and it starts to feel like you're doomed to be single forever, watching everyone else's success with covetous eyes.
But hey, I've been where you are and I can tell you exactly how you're going to break this slump. And to do that we're going to have to look inward because your biggest impediment is… you. But it's not in the way you think.
Right now, you're fighting against yourself. Try this: perform some simple but non-trivial task: chop carrots, write a paragraph in pen, dance a waltz - while tensing every muscle in your body at the same time. You're having to fight your own body in order to accomplish your goal. This is what you're doing to yourself: you're resisting yourself, making everything harder than it needs to be.
You've made a mistake that many, many people have made, myself included: you've made being a "single loser" your identity. When you think of yourself, you think of yourself as "yeah, I'm that loser who can't get a girlfriend, who has a sucky job, who's always going to be left behind…" This constant litany of your supposed failures just reinforces your self-limiting beliefs in a continual cycle of negativity. You miss out on people who may be interested in you because you can't believe they would find you desirable, so you write them off. When you pursue someone you are interested in, you're sabotaging yourself because you can't believe it would work out. And to make it worse, because you're so desperate to not be That Single Loser, you get overly eager and come on too strong when you do have a chance. Then when you do fail, it becomes one more example of Why You Suck, which just makes the next failure more likely. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I should know. I spent over a decade as The One Who Wasn't Good With Girls. It defined me, it controlled me and made everything I did a referendum on the fact that I couldn't get a date. And until I was willing to challenge these beliefs and mindsets, my dating life would never be more than bad comedy (...Starscream).
What we need to do is teach you how to stop doing this, to stop getting in your own way.
Let's look at what you've been doing to yourself and how to break out of this cycle. The first step is simple: you're going to stop looking for a girlfriend for a bit. Now, I know that "you'll find love when you least expect it" is an annoying cliché, but it's not entirely wrong, either.
See, when you get caught up in one specific aspect of your life, you end up losing control over all of it. You're in the emotional equivalent of trying to pass the jetski level in Battletoads - you're so hyper-focused on trying to thread that needle that you can't do anything else. You're tense, you're frustrated, you're trying to rush past this one part because you want to get to that section where you keep slamming into the wall and goddamn it now you have to start all over again. And so you reload and try again and now you crash five seconds after you start motherpussbucket…
But as any gamer can tell you: the key to beating that one section is to take a deep breath and relax. Take a step back from the game, come back to it a bit later. And when you do, you make it through! It may be by the skin of your teeth but who the hell cares, you did it!
So you need to take a step back from dating for a little bit while you work on yourself a little and rebuilding your life.
Let's start with the obvious first step: you're letting your self-esteem be dictated by events outside of your control. Your job isn't "interesting"... ok, and? You've had some shitty dates and you're currently single: big damn deal. That doesn't say anything about you as a person; you've had a shitty time for a while, which happens to all of us. Your ex has a job and a hot boyfriend. Again: who the hell cares? She's your ex, you admit your relationship was toxic and you were better off apart. She's not the love of your life anymore, so why in pluperfect hell are you making her your baseline for comparison?
You're relying on external sources for your sense of validation and self-worth and that's a giant mistake. You've made your self-esteem dependent on other people and external factors and that will never, ever satisfy you. You need to learn to value yourself, to recognise that you have worth and take pride in what you bring to the table.
To give you an example: you're down on yourself because your job isn't "impressive"; you're an obituary editor instead of, I dunno, a literary agent or something. This is a prime example of external vs. internal validation. Your job doesn't define how cool you are or how interesting you are. Your job is not who you are, your job is a thing that you do. Who you are comes from inside; what you do is external and will change repeatedly over the years. Don't look to your job for validation, what are you passionate about? What do you love? What is it that makes you get up in the morning, excited because you get to do That Thing? That is who you are, not whatever you do to pay the bills and keep body and soul together. Your job is temporary; it's something you're doing for now. What do you want to do and how are you working towards it? That is something to take pride in - the progress you're making towards achieving your goals and ambitions.
Another issue is that you're defining yourself by failure rather than what you have to offer. What makes you an awesome person? What makes you worth getting to know and spending time with? I want you to think about this and I want you to answer honestly… and by honestly, I mean not just throwing your hands up and saying "nothing" or "I don't actively murder kittens", because that's bullshit. It's easy to say that you have nothing to offer; it's hard to be willing to give yourself credit for your good qualities.
But for the sake of intellectual exercise, let's say you don't have anything going for you. Well, congratulations: you're a blank slate, which means you get to create your new life from scratch. Your life isn't hostage to random chance; you are able to go out and build an interesting, appealing life by choice.
And that's what I want you to do. You're going to start building that new life you want and move past these bad dates and your ex and all the rest of the bullshit you're letting define you. It's time to start finding those sources of internal validation and learning to appreciate that you're awesome.
Start by deciding what kind of man you want to be and work towards bringing him to life; write out a list of the non-physical attributes and qualities your ideal self would have and set goals for yourself on how you're going to achieve them. Don't worry about being "cool" or what would impress other people, think about the things that have meaning for you.
Spend some time exploring your interests. Try new hobbies, cultivate new experiences and broaden your mind. Try things you've always wanted to but never could find an excuse to do. Try other things just because you're curious. The more engaged you are with your life, the more connected you are with your passions, the happier and more fulfilled you will be.
While you're building your new life, take some easy steps to make you feel better about yourself. Fix your posture by straightening your spine and pulling your shoulders back. Dress up sharp, with clothes that fit properly. Get a new haircut, one that flatters your face. It seems a little absurd, but these little changes will make you feel more attractive and more dynamic. Those little moments will help motivate you to pursue your other, more ambitious goals.
And instead of dwelling on your so-called failures - your ex-girlfriend, your job, your bad dates - practice gratitude and positivity. Yeah, I realise right now it feels like you don't have anything. You feel lower than a snake's arse in a drainage ditch. But you do have more than you realise and acknowledging this - appreciating what you have instead of focusing on what you don't - will make you happier overall and is proven to make you a more charismatic, attractive person.
Live an interesting life with passion - even if you don't have your dream job or your dream girl - and it will help define you and fulfil you. Making some changes to how you present yourself will make you feel more attractive and desirable. Practicing gratitude and positivity will help bring you satisfaction and true confidence. All of this will help you be ready to get back out on the dating scene and put you in a better position to date. You'll be coming from a place of confidence and strength rather than hoping that a relationship will provide you validation and make your life better for you.
Straight talk: you're going to get rejected. Dating is a numbers game; you are going to have dates that go nowhere, people you dig who don't dig you back and a wide range of people you're simply not compatible with. Rejection happens to everyone, no matter who they are. Brad Pitt, Idris Elba, Ryan Gosling… all get shot down on occasion. One person's dream date is another person's "wouldn't touch them with a rented dick".
But by rebooting your life and building that base of self-assurance and passion, it won't hurt, not the way it did before. And when you do find someone who is right for you… well, you'll be ready for them.
Do you have plans for reshaping your dating life in the new year? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and we'll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.
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.