Ask Dr NerdLove: I’m Good At Tinder, But Bad At ‘Real’ Dating

Ask Dr NerdLove: I’m Good At Tinder, But Bad At ‘Real’ Dating

Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the fastest dating advice column alive.

This week, we’re talking about getting out of our own way. Whether it’s the self-limiting beliefs that say what we do isn’t good enough or a lack of boundaries that winds up making us miserable, sometimes we’re our own worst enemies. So, it’s time to look deep inside and recognise that we’re the ones holding ourselves back… whether that means redefining what success looks like or recognising that it’s OK to finally stand up for ourselves.

Let’s do this thing.

Hey there, Doc!

Now, this might be a weird question, but I have been thinking about this a lot and can’t come up with an answer. You see, I am what you could call a late bloomer. I was never shy, but up until college I was a complete virgin who had never kissed a girl. It was only around my sophomore year that I started desiring women; and, while I have definitely been acting upon that (with very satisfactory results), I have noticed a strange pattern: most of my success is found online, especially on Tinder. For some reason, I rarely manage to hook up with women without of the aid of some online tool; I either get rejected or simply neglect making a move, only for my friends to later tell me that that girl “was definitely into you”.

As far as I can tell, the problem can be traced to the fact that I got so accustomed to the workings of the online dating world that I only actively start flirting when I am ABSOLUTELY sure the woman likes me (which, of course, might be a symptom of how… weirdly paced my development was). When that happens, my results tend to be very good; many girls have told me that I am really seductive, charming and bold, in a good way. Problem is that I can’t find it in me to tap into that side of my brain unless the girl has already shown interest… and, for me at least, that usually comes with a Tinder match. In real life, I usually misread signs and/or completely neglect pacing and timing, which ends with me being either too fast or too slow. It has gotten so “bad” that 95% of my success has been thanks to Tinder.

While I can’t complain about lack of female attention, I am afraid my late development caused me to hone my skills in a haphazard way, and my “addiction” to dating sites and apps seems to have wired my brain to only work around them. I have read lots of advice online – including your website – but I keep botching it. In fact, when it comes to real life, I only manage to “score” when I resort to brute-forcing it; or, in other words, going to a party and hitting on as many women as I can.

Needless to say, I want to fix that. What if I end up fancying a lady in my social group? I don’t want to lose a possible opportunity because I can’t work without the likes of Tinder and OkCupid. What could I do to learn how to use my skills without the use of an “online crutch”? I am familiar with your advice on cold approaches, qualification and the like; the problem comes from the fact that my skills seem to completely disappear when I don’t have that proverbial “Match”, even when I notice the positive signs you mentioned on that other article. Worse, I can always see, in hindsight, whether a girl was interested in me or not, but that kind of “insight” is useless if I don’t happen upon it when I am actually approaching a girl.

Thanks in advance,

Tinder Bound

Gonna be honest here, TB, I’m not entirely sure that you have a problem so much as an issue with self-perception. And I think some of it comes from the idea that using dating sites is a “cheat” or a “crutch” for people who can’t otherwise hack it in the real world.

And that couldn’t be further from the truth. I realise that for a lot of folks, meeting and picking someone up (for whatever value of “pick up” you want to use) off a cold approach in a club or a warm approach at a party or in your social circle is the mark of a master and there’s an appeal to the idea of being able to walk into a place and walk out with a date.

But, let’s be honest here: movies and self-aggrandizing stories distort people’s ideas of how cold-approaching works. Doing cold approaches means taking a shotgun approach to meeting people over the course of an evening. You’re trying to convince a complete stranger to be interested in a potentially sexual relationship with you after having only known you for somewhere between 20 minutes to several hours. That is very bloody difficult and you’re going to have more misses than hits – especially when you’re starting out.

To be perfectly frank, not everybody is built to meet people that way. That’s not a judgement on them as a person; it’s just that this style of approach doesn’t works best with their personalities. For many people, online dating is ideal – it lets them meet people in a low-pressure environment, at a pace they’re comfortable with and to at least partially vet their date before saying “hey”.

If you’re having plenty of success with OKCupid and Tinder, then, dude, roll with it! It’s clearly working for you and it’s as valid a way to meet folks as any. And believe me, there’re plenty of folks who find online dating to be maddenly frustrating and who would be envious as hell at the success you’re having.

I think the biggest problem you’re having isn’t your emotional development but in the fact that you look down on yourself. I think you have a hard time believing in the possibility of people being attracted to you and dismiss their signs and indicators of interest. I think you also put a lot of pressure on yourself to get a result, which is a great way to induce some serious performance anxiety. You get entirely too caught up in your own head and end up being stiff and awkward and making other people feel uncomfortable.

Here’s what you need to do. First of all: quit worrying about how you meet people. Getting a date off of OKCupid is as valid and real as if you met at a party. Second: take a deep breath, relax, and let yourself be in the moment. Instead of trying to process whether this person likes you or not or whether you’re going to get a phone number out of her, focus on connecting with them. What are they passionate about? What commonalities do you two share? Are you having fun talking to her? Let yourself be outcome independent and just enjoy your interaction with her. That will help you get past that need to have a Match % to guide you along and help you get better results than being uptight and trying to force yourself past your anxieties.

But seriously: if online dating works for you, then just enjoy it!

Also, here’s a tip that will help filter out any false positives when you’re trying to tell whether someone likes you: watch for clusters of signs, not just one thing. Playing with her hair could be a sign, or it could be a habit. Playing with her hair and laughing at your jokes and straightening her clothing? Much stronger sign of interest.

Good luck.

Hey Doc, I have a problem.

I’m an older nerd, a little over 50 years old and from across the pond.

After my marriage ended about 5 years ago, I embarked on the road of finding my next long term relationship. Since I have a problem with dating at the workplace, the only logical choice was to go online. For 2 years of unsuccessful attempts at meeting women who mostly misrepresent themselves, I met my current girlfriend. In general she is a nice person, a breath of fresh air after my ex-wife, in many more ways than one. But I started to realise, she is falling into the same mistake my ex-wife did: taking my mild-manners as weakness and trying to dictate her way.

Let me give you an example. I love animals. Currently have dogs and cats in my household. Since I have no children, I consider them as some people consider their offspring. Prior to combining households, they lived wherever I lived. It was not unusual waking up in the morning with a dog curled up next to my leg and a cat sleeping on my chest. At the beginning she requested if we could keep the animals out of the bedroom. Since I was being nice, I said ok, it won’t kill me if they do not sleep with me at night, especially considering their replacement. Come few months, we moved and rented another house. She asked if they can stay on one half of the house, as the built structure of the house allowed that. Since the half that she did not want the pets in, is empty during the day and only used for sleeping at night, I did not say anything. Now, for the past few months, we are living in our new home that we bought and the animals are only allowed in the room which is considered to be my office/man-cave/tool storage, i.e. just another room in the house which looks like clutter-central at this point.

I have made my displeasure with the arrangement known subtly, but the attitude I am getting is that of a “get over it, this is the new rule”. And she gets and acts pissed if she doesn’t get her way. I am more of a peace keeper personality and avoid conflict at all costs. And I think she is using this against me, knowingly or subconsciously. At this point, my only option is to give her an ultimatum that things are going to change drastically or our relationship is over. I know she will throw a temper tantrums and storm out. I don’t want to hurt her but at the same time I do not want to see my life as I knew it eroding to oblivion, just to keep HER happy.

Do you have any wisdom how to handle this situation ?

– Mr. Nice Guy

Oh yes, I know exactly what you need to do, MNG: dump her right the hell now.

First and foremost, you have a fundamental incompatibility when it comes to your pets. Much as with children, your pets are part of your life; continually shoving them aside is not only cruel to them but it’s a rejection of part of who you are. “Love me, love my pets” is a very good rule to have, in my experience, as people who don’t like your pets aren’t going to be compatible with you.

Plus: someone who’s right for you will never make a “it’s the pets or me” demand because they’d understand that they should never ask you to decide.

Beyond that particular (and significant) character flaw is the fact that your girlfriend is an immature, toxic, tantrum-throwing, boundary pushing asshat and your life will be immeasurably better when you see the back of her. She’s constantly pushing against limits that the two of you have already agreed to and that’s only going to continue. To be perfectly honest — and these are the anxieties of a life-long pet-owner speaking — I’d start worrying that one day you’re going to come home and find out that you don’t have pets any more.

Your big problem is that you have poor boundaries. Wanting to please people is a nice trait to have but not when it means being a doormat. You need to learn to develop and maintain strong boundaries and stand up for yourself even if it means pissing off people off. Yes, there’ll be times when you’ll end up in fights. Those are fights worth having. Yes, it means that there’ll be people who’ll be upset, even leave you if you enforce those boundaries. Those are people you need to cut out of your life anyway.

But that’s for your future relationships. This one needs to end. If you already know that standing up for yourself is going to lead to tantrums and dramatic stomping and slamming of doors? Then you already know what you need to do: give her the boot. Just make sure that she doesn’t have access to your pets before one of you has moved out.

Good luck.

Hey, love doctor. I figure it’s best just to get straight to the point.

I can’t get over my ex girlfriend. We broke up because of immaturity on her part and emotional impartiality on mine, and it’s been a good two and a half months since then. She’s attacked me on campus (I’m 18 in my senior year of high school, for the record), verbally berated me, and tried to be with other people for the sake of making me jealous. I understand those things are kind of par for the course in these circumstances, so I’m trying to avoid her at all costs and get my head straight, which is pretty difficult. That’s not what I’m writing in for, though, because I’ve done this a couple times before and know I just need time.

What I’m writing in for is my livestreaming community. She had been on a couple of streams and featured in a couple of announcement videos FOR streams on the Youtube Channel that I run. A decent 250 people on the internet know who she is and like her a lot, and a good 20 or 30 people came to my livestreams and really like her. It kind of broke their hearts, too, when I had to inform them that we split, and I explained the circumstances. However, I still get people pestering me during streams about how I’ll “get over it and bring her back” and “when’s she coming back, Cap?” and so on. I’ve tried to break it to them multiple times and explain that she won’t be coming back and her account has been banned from the channel, to no avail.

I guess what I’m asking is, what do I do? How to I get my chatroom to move on? How do I move on from a relationship that I know was unhealthy, but still want for whatever reason?

Thanks for your help,


Break-ups take time to heal. Time and being productively, healthily busy are the two greatest ways of getting over somebody. Beyond that, you need time away from the person you broke up with – which is part of why I advocate cutting them out of your phone, emails and social media accounts. You can’t heal when their presence is continually picking at the scabs. If work or school means that you have to be around her, then be polite and distant when you do need to interact with her and to ignore her otherwise.

(I’m assuming that when you say she attacked you, you mean confronted you and yelled rather than actual violence. If she literally assaulted you, then you need to be talking to the principal and possibly the cops.)

But your chatroom? They don’t need explanations, nor are they entitled to them. Giving details or trying to explain is only going to lead to your having to answer the same questions over and over again and constantly reliving the circumstances of your break up as everyone keeps trying to throw their two cents into something that is, ultimately, none of their business. You don’t need that right now.

So be firm and be blunt. “We didn’t work out and decided it’s best that she not be part of this any more. As such, she’s will not be coming back now or in the future. This is all I’m saying on the matter.”

If anyone else asks, then you point them at your previous answer. “Asked and answered,” repeated often enough, will drive the point home.

Good luck.

Have you broken up over pets? Is online dating your date ATM or a waste of time? 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.

Image by Tara Jacoby.


  • Regarding the pet lady. You don’t have to dump her, you just need to say, this is not negotiable, my pets are inside pets and allow her to make the next move.

    She may leave.. that’s ok. But living with someone doesn’t mean they have to like or approve of everything you do.

    • This. Have an open conversation about what’s bothering you; as opposed to the wise sage words posted in the article being “dump her right the hell now”.

      • Yep. It’s easy for a comfortable dynamic to go too far. One person is more organised and active, the other is disorganised and a bit lazy, so over time the organised one ends up leading the relationship. It ends up feeling more controlling than helpful, even though none of them actually want that from the relationship. It happens with all sorts of traits but it doesn’t mean your relationship was doomed from the start.
        If you’re lucky a jolt from a frank conversation will put it back on track but even if it doesn’t work it’s worth trying. Explain that the pet issue is important and you need to go back to compromising on that, but it’s also starting to run deeper than any one disagreement.

        These articles have some interesting questions. It’s a shame the response is typically to dramatically attack one side under the guise of tough love.

        • Yeah agree; the articles are interesting and ironically I end up reading them for the letters and complete skip past the response in most cases after reading a few lines.

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