Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating column that helps you answer the call of LFG for your love life's MMORPG. This week, one reader's dealing with a co-worker who won't take "no, go away" for an answer... so what's he supposed to do about her? Meanwhile another reader wants to know why every relationship he has follows the same pattern, and how to break the cycle.
Time to switch to party chat and pull relationship advice aggro. Let's do this.
I have some issues at work.
Over a year ago I met a wonderful girl abroad, nothing happened at the time but I really enjoyed talking to her, and we talked on a daily basis after I got back to my country, we never talked about each other's relationships (I knew she had a boyfriend at the time). As we continued talking, we fell in love and she even left her previous boyfriend.
In the following months, a new girl at the office was hired and we became friends, I must say that this girl was especially nice to me, but my foreign friend and I decided to become boyfriend and girlfriend, of course we knew it would be hard because of the distance, but I love her, and she even came to my country to visit me.
A few weeks later at a company event, the new girl that was hired at the office told me that she liked me, and since I was a little drunk we started making out, she told me that she was aware of my current relationship status and that she didn't care. I felt guilty about what happened, but started to have nice feelings about the new girl and we even went out a couple of times. Of course, I told my foreign girlfriend that I was not sure about our relationship, she felt horrible (and so did I, since I was having mixed feelings).
The new girl was nice, but she said something that made me upset, she said "if you don't make a decision, I will make mine and you're going to regret it". At that moment I was very confused and couldn't make up my mind until she asked me "are you in love with the other girl" I replied "yes", then she asked me "in that case, what do you want me for? "I was like "shit, you're right go away". After that she told me to forget what she had said and to give her a chance, I refused and she stopped talking to me and told a friend of mine that I was a jerk, but she stared at me whenever we were in the same room.
Since a couple of months ago, the situation has become unbearable since the new girl has been transferred to my department reporting to me. She has made some comments like "you have beautiful eyes" and "I like you" to which I replied, "don't bother me", but we still have to work together. She told me once that she wanted to go out with me, I immediately said "NO".
Before I finish, I must say that I recently got engaged with my foreign girlfriend, we are really happy. I told the new girl that I'm going to get married, she asked me not to tell her those kinds of things, but I didn't mean to upset her. The main problem is that she keeps texting me saying things like "I really like you and I have feelings for you, even though you're a jerk".
I honestly don't know what to do with this girl, also I'm starting to feel very uncomfortable at work because of her attitude towards me, she is really childish, every time I don't react to her flirting she gets mad and makes work harder for everyone.
Please help Doc, I'm desperate!
DIdn't Ask For This
Hey, DAFT? I want you to take a few seconds to re-read what you just wrote to me and flip all the genders.
Because let's be real here: if this were a man behaving like this to his engaged, female co-worker, this would be immediately obvious as a clear-cut case of harassment. So let's not play around or mince words; she's harassing you.
I mean, let's run down the list. She's continually making comments that make you uncomfortable. She's blowing off your requests to leave you alone and stop bothering you or texting you, and she throws a fit whenever you don't play along with her flirting. How, exactly, is this not text-book "creating a hostile environment at work?"
I get that there's a lot of pressure as a guy to pretend like this doesn't get to you. We, as a culture, tend to turn a blind eye to the fact that men get harassed and abused too, whether by men or by women. It's not supposed to bother us because hey, "men handle their shit" and any dude who let's some chick beat them down deserves it because he's a pussy, right bro? (The feminizing insults are key; after all, admitting weakness means you're "not a real man.")
You need to keep this fact in mind: this behaviour ain't cool, whether it's a man doing it or a woman, and your previous relationship (such as it was) doesn't give her licence to act like this. The fact that you hooked up with this woman doesn't change anything. The fact that you went on a date or two doesn't make it OK for her to act like this. Drunken make-outs and the occasional drink together don't give her permission to act like an arsehole, any more than it would if it were a dude who wasn't taking "no, shut up, go away" for an answer.
So what do you do? Well, first, I'd make sure that you talk to your supervisor and make sure that they know what's going on, especially if she works under you. If you have any sort of meaningful authority over her then it's vitally important that you make this above-board and by the book. If you've got a paper-trail of her behaviour - for example, the constant texts - bring those with you. Note the times, dates and witnesses whenever she makes these remarks.
The more documentation you have, the better; evidence will bolster your case that she's a disruptive influence at work and make it more than just a he-said, she-said dispute.
It may well be in your interest to see about getting her transferred to another department - doesn't matter where, as long as it means you don't have to deal with her.
Meanwhile, lay down the law: she doesn't get to treat or talk to you like this. No more flirting, no more texting, no more bullshit tantrums when you don't play along. You're there to work, so's she.
And if she doesn't listen? Then it's time for another talk to your supervisor… and your company's HR department.
I'm having a lot of trouble trying to keep a woman's interest. Every time I find someone that I want to have a relationship with, she ends up dumping me for another man. I can almost predict when this is about to happen, because she will start ignoring me and make herself "busy" and unavailable. Then she finds someone else, and I am thrown away like day old meatloaf. This has happened three times in the past four years, and each time I get more depressed over it. Right now, my confidence is in the dumpster, and I don't know what to do.
I know that looks shouldn't matter, but the types of men that I have been dumped for were all taller and uglier than me. I'm no model myself, but I am at least decent looking. I am a little short, but not overweight. The bad thing is, they have all acted really interested in me at first and told me that I'm handsome. Is that just another way for them to say I'm only average? I don't care about finding someone super hot; I just want to find someone that I'm at least attracted to.
What can I do to keep her interest so I don't lose the next girl that I really like?
Respectfully, Good Guy Giving Up
There's a saying in dating advice circles: once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is
enemy action a pattern.
If you're seeing the exact same thing happening over and over again, then it means it's time to stop and do some self-examination to figure out why you're in this cycle. And I hate to say it but the only common denominator in these relationships is… you.
Now don't get me wrong: I'm not saying you're a bad person or that you're fucking up and you deserve to be dumped by these women. What I am saying is that something you're doing leads up to relationships ending this way, and it's time to figure out what and where the pattern originates.
Generally, when somebody pulls the fade-away, it's an indication that there isn't much initial attraction - certainly not enough to sustain the relationship. Now, seeing as you don't provide much in the way of details and I've yet to have my mutant powers of clairvoyance and mind-reading kick in (memo to self: find nuclear power plant, move next door), let's look at some of the more common problems for men in your situation.
You Aren't On The Same Page - you'd be amazed how often this happens. One of the mistakes that many, many people make is that they take certain assumptions for granted. You may think that you're in a committed relationship while she thinks that the two of you are just fooling around, with no strings attached. Hell, it may be that you think you're going on dates and she thinks that this is a completely platonic relationship. I've seen person after person make this mistake - they get uncomfortable with making their intentions known because they're trading on Schrodinger's Relationship; they're both in and not in a relationship and trying to put a label on it risks collapsing the waveform. As long as you don't say anything, you don't run the risk of getting rejected.
Of course, this all tends to end the same way: badly. You have to make your intentions known. If you're inviting someone on a date, you have to make it clear that this is a date. If you're looking for a committed relationship, you have to make sure that they know this is what you're looking for. Trying to leverage ambiguity as a hedge against rejection just means you're going to get hurt. I'm not saying you need to have a defining-the-relationship talk by the third date, but you should touch base to make sure that everybody's clear on what's going on.
You Are Chasing After Women You're Not Compatible With - This is another incredibly common problem. Sometimes what we think we want doesn't line up with who we synch with. If you're a stay-at-home, Agents-Of-Shield-marathon-and-a-bottle-of-Malbec kinda guy, you're going to have a hard time making things work with a woman who likes to go out clubbing every weekend. If you're a city boy who's idea of roughing it means having to pay for wifi, you're not going to match well with an outdoorsy woman who wants to go camping and rock-climbing.
Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat lied to you - opposites don't attract. You don't need to have the exact same interests, but you need to have enough commonalities for the relationship to last.
You Don't Have What They Want - A variation of the previous problem: if the women you date are continually leaving you for the same kind of guy, then you're chasing after women who value things that you don't have to offer.
Someone isn't going to be right for you (or you for them) just because you really want them to be. They may be willing to give you a shot, even have a quick fling… but at the end of the day, you simply don't have what they're looking for and that's going to make all the difference. And once they realise that you don't have what they want and they don't want what you have, they're going to looking for someone who does.
Maybe it's something shallow. Maybe it's something that you don't see. Doesn't matter; it just means that you two were never going to work in the first place.
You're Self-Sabotaging - Many times what we think is "our type"
is really a form of self-sabotage. If you're dealing with self-limiting beliefs, such as believing you're undeserving of love or that people couldn't possibly find you attractive, it's not uncommon to chase after people that you know at some level are unavailable to you.
Other people subconsciously fear relationships and commitment and chase after people who they know will reject them because that emotional dick-punch is still preferable to the potential consequences of trying for real and failing. It's the same perverse sense of psychic self-defence that powers approach anxiety; it may make you miserable, but at some level you believe that this form of misery is preferable to what must be worse down the line.
You're Chasing After Women Who Make Up For Something You Lack - Sometimes the people who appeal to us don't represent potential partners so much as people who have qualities that we wish we had. Somebody who's reserved and has a hard time connecting with their emotions may chase after someone who's more outgoing and expressive - even when that person is a bad match for them otherwise. This is the appeal of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl - she represents everything that the man wishes he was like and will make him into a better, cooler person while simultaneously providing blow-jobs.
Other times, it's because we're hoping for the transitive property of relationships - we want to date this hot/cool/stylish person because it will make us hot/cool/stylish too. It may not be a conscious desire, but it's still a form of dating an accessory instead of an individual.
You're Dating People You Think You're Supposed To, Not Who You Are Attracted to - Sometimes we pursue relationships with people not because we're actually attracted to them but because we believe we should be. This frequently affects younger people, especially young men, who either don't recognise what they actually want or who bow to social pressure. Many people who fall into the pick-up scene, for example, will chase after club girls because PUA continually reinforces the idea that the hot girl in the club represents the pinnacle of achievement, regardless of whether she's your type or not.
Other times, it's a case of not necessarily being willing to own your desires, consciously or otherwise. There are many men who're attracted to large women, for example, but won't approach or date them because they're concerned about what their friends will say or think. A lot of people, especially when they're younger, will date with an eye towards someone their friends will be jealous of rather than who they're actually attracted to.
Now, these are only the most common examples; in your situation, it could be something completely different. It could be that you put in far more interest and effort during the initial courting stages but dial it back as soon as you get comfortable. It could be that you present yourself one way, but live an entirely different way.
But the only way you can really start to diagnose the problem is to sit down and do some serious self-examination. I'd suggest that you should take some time and write down as much as you can about each of these relationships, from start to finish. And by write, I mean with pen and paper; writing things long-hand accesses a completely different part of the brain than typing and can help you pick up on insights you might not see if you were sitting at a keyboard.
When you write about these relationships, include everything that comes to mind, even it seems insignificant at first. Include as much detail as possible, what you said, how you felt, everything. Do your best to not analyse or edit as you write; you want this to be as raw as possible, without letting your subconscious or internal biases get in the way. Once you've written out everything you can about these past relationships, let it sit for a day or two. Play some Pillars of Eternity, go for a run, get lost in work… just focus on other things that will clear the mental palate. Then, come back and read what you've written. We're frequently too close to the problem to be truly objective. It's only when we've had time to take a step back that we can spot patterns and repetitions that we may have not noticed beforehand.
Once you've spotted a pattern, whether it's in your behaviour or in the women you pursue, then you have to make a conscious effort to break that pattern. It may take some trial and error to figure out which are the problem and which aren't. It won't be easy. It won't necessarily be fun. You may end up spotting some sides of yourself that you don't like. But in the end, it will make you happier and your relationships more fulfilling. And that is what you need.
Have you had to deal with harassment at work? Have you found yourself in a dating rut? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and we'll be back in two weeks with more 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.