Ask Dr NerdLove: I’m Sick Of Being Her Side-Piece

Ask Dr NerdLove: I’m Sick Of Being Her Side-Piece

Hello, all you delightful pornwolves of the internet. Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the Game Genie for your love life.

Above: My Love Story

This week, it’s all about rebuilding from chaos and pulling back from bad situations. How do you give up a relationship that isn’t working, even if you get glimpses of what might be? Worse: How do you give up on a relationship that ended before it could even truly begin? And how do you heal a wound when the hits just keep on coming?

The Doc’s got the remedy for you. Let’s do this thing.

Dear Doc,

I’ve been reading your articles on Kotaku and never thought I’d be in a situation where I’d actually send something in. Since you’re probably reading this, it’s obvious I was wrong. Please help me Dr Nerdlove, you’re my only hope.

So I’m not social, at all. My only friends consist of eight people (nine with myself) (six guys and three girls), all online, that I play games like online tabletop games with. We play games four to five nights out of the week and talk just about every day. We’ve been friends for about four years now and started hanging out in person about two years ago, which necessitated a fair amount of driving. Three of us (two guys, one of the women – I’ll call her Abby) hung out before going to a con together.

After we dropped off the one guy at his house there was still a four-hour drive back to Abby’s house and with no working radio station and me needing something to keep me focused, we talked the whole way back. We talked about everything, our pasts, our hopes/dreams, our likes, dislikes, literally everything that we could think of, we talked about. By the end, with about an hour left, we ran out of normal things to talk about and the conversation got perverted.

At the time I was confused about my sexuality, still am, and she told me how she had a crush on me, despite her having a long distance relationship, but was confident in telling me since even I wasn’t sure of my sexuality. I liked her too, we got along incredibly well, we have the same hobbies and interests with enough things different that we have things that we love that we can introduce the other to. By the time we got to her place we knew everything about each other, we decided that we’d be best friends. I didn’t say anything at the time but I developed a massive crush on Abby, and I was arguing with myself the whole drive home after dropping her off.

I finally decided to grow a pair and tell her. Even if it didn’t work out, we’d still be best friends. When I told her, she admitted that she still had feelings for me but was still in a long distance relationship and that she really cared for the guy; she couldn’t bring herself to break up with him. I understood, if you’re in a relationship with somebody for three years, it’s natural that you don’t want to end it. But she felt a little guilty so she told him about it, telling him that she still cared about him, but he basically ended things and stopped talking to her, and it tore her up.

Abby didn’t just want to end things with him, she still cared about him but didn’t know what to do. I comforted her and told her that she needed to keep trying to talk to him, that they needed to communicate and after about two months it worked.

Their relationship was rocky, but they wanted to at least try and fix things. He decides to visit and they spend a week together, just hanging out. In the two and a half year relationship of theirs, they only met in person one time and it was when their relationship was incredibly rocky. At one point when she wanted to do something with him, play a game, watch something, and so on and said she was bored he told her to “Go hang out with her friends online.”

That was around New Years and their relationship has only really gotten worse. With obvious communication issues (like neither of them knowing the other’s schedule, not telling the other important information or just flat out not talking to each other that much), the huge distance gap (they live on opposite ends of America), and the lack of time either spends with the other (she is constantly talking and playing with the group even when we say it’s OK to talk to him instead and he is constantly working and now going to school) it’s just not working out. He puts in almost no effort while she’s been trying to fix it, but lately she’s started to realise more and more all of the problems and that it’s just not working.

It’s been almost a year now since I told her. This whole time I’ve been comforting her when she’s been upset over the relationship, giving her advice to try and fix it, and generally being a best friend to her. I’ve helped her get out of depressive states more times than I can count, in that year we’d hung out almost every weekend, except for the last few weeks due to jobs issues.

In that time our relationship, my feelings towards her, and her feelings towards me have all grown. We’ve done little things like kiss or cuddle but that’s it. She’s always felt a little guilt but never enough to actually stop or not do it.

Over the summer I made her think about and choose during the two-week break before we went to a con. To choose either me or him. I just want to see her be happy, and I know that it’s not going to be with him and I know I can make her happy. In the end, she decided that she wanted to give it one last shot with him and I respected her decision.

That was about four months ago, in the time since then their relationship has only gotten worse. She’s been more depressed than ever, constantly coming to me for the company, and I’ve always been there for her. Lately, Abby’s wanted more and more romance in her life that he’s giving her absolutely none of. Their relationship seems to be possibly coming to an end but there’s no way to know for sure.

Now for what I need your help with: What do I do? Should I just give up on the only person I’ve ever had any real feelings for because it just may never happen or should I hang in there knowing that the wait would be worth it? I’m not social so the idea of just going out and finding somebody new is impossible. I feel terrible that a small part of me is happy that they aren’t going well because I know I could make her happy and treat her how she wants to be treated. I just want to see her be happy and I know it’s not going to be with him. Nothing she has tried to do to fix things with him have worked and he has done nothing to try and fix things. What should I do?


Hopeless And Confused

Well, I’ll give you credit, H&C: at least you said something early on. Most of the letters I get like yours come from someone who’s pining away or trying to pull the Platonic Best Friend Backdoor Gambit. So kudos to you: Putting yourself out there takes guts, and you should be proud of yourself for doing that.

Now that I’ve said that, it’s time to apply the Chair Leg of Truth.

Let’s be real here: Your protestations of relationship martyrdom and how you’d be OK if she chose her long-distance beau are kind of bullshit. You say one thing, but your actions are indicating another entirely.

If you legitimately respected her decision to be with this guy — who she’s chosen at least twice now — you’d have backed off. A lot of the background information you’ve given — including stuff that had to get trimmed for length — says to me that you’re looking for a reason, any reason, to disqualify her choice to be with the dude.

And make no mistake, you’re not exactly covering yourself in glory as the virtuous party here. Let’s start with the fact that you’re the one continuing with someone who you know has a boyfriend. And then there’s this part: “We’ve done little things like kiss or cuddle“. As a general rule, one make-out session when you’re in a relationship can be chalked up to bad judgement in the moment. Two is a sign of trouble in paradise. Three means enemy action. You’re not exactly respecting the fact that she’s chosen to keep dating this guy, even if he’s an unromantic douchebag who doesn’t understand her.

Now, don’t get me wrong: She’s not innocent either. It takes two to tongue-tango, and Abby seems to be OK with having her side-piece cuddle-buddy and her boyfriend at the same time, her feelings for you notwithstanding. That doesn’t make me all that charitably inclined towards her either.

In fairness, breaking up with someone, even someone you know you need to leave, can be really difficult. The fact that she’s been with him for three years can trigger an irrational fear of loss, because breaking up with him now would mean she’s wasted all that time. And leaving him for you makes her the bad guy in this situation, no?

I’ll also say that there are times when someone who’s in a bad relationship needs a reason to leave. Sometimes that reason is that there’s someone else who they’re interested in waiting in the wings, or at least an available dick that serves as the “Relationship Self-Destruct” button.

However, you aren’t giving her any reason to leave. She’s got her boyfriend on the one hand and you on the other provide her with the emotional intimacy and romance she’s not getting from him. From a strictly selfish perspective, she doesn’t really have anything to gain by leaving him, or anything to lose by staying with him.

If you want to have a chance in hell of actually having a relationship with her — which, gotta be honest, I don’t think is a good idea — then you have to break that stalemate.

Here’s what you do: You draw a line in the sand. You sit down with her and have it out: You want her. You know she (supposedly) wants you. You know she’s not happy with her boyfriend. You’re not happy with being her substitute boyfriend. So now she has a choice: It’s him or you. If she’s going to be with him, you can’t keep being her cuddle buddy, if only for your own emotional health.

So if she’s going to stay with her boyfriend, you’re going to have to end things with her. You can still be friends, but it’s going to be a more distant, less intimate friendship. No more cuddling, no more kissing, no more romantic gifts. You’ll see each other at gaming sessions and cons, but that’s it. If she wants to be with you, she has to break up with him. No middle-ground, no “on a break”. Him. Or you.

And then you back off. The ball’s in her court now and she’ll need space to decide one way or the other. But no more cuddling. No more intimate talks or late night Skype sessions until she makes her choice. And if she chooses him: That’s it. You’re out.

But here’s the thing: No matter what she chooses, you have to stick to this. If you cave in and let things go back to how they are now, then all you’ve done is shown that a) you don’t respect her choice to be with him, and b) you’re not serious about making her choose. If she can have her man and her side-piece too, there’s really no motivation for her to finally dump the dude. You’re going to be stuck in this relationship limbo for good… even when she breaks up with him and ends up dating someone else.

You may love her, but you need to love yourself more. No more games. It’s time to pull the trigger on this. Either she picks you, or you end things.

Good luck.

Doc, I have what may be an impossible question to answer.

For lack of better phrasing, I’ve been a non-participant in dating since university (let alone getting to first base). I’ve always had an excuse not to do it that angered my family. ‘I’m dealing with grad school.’ ‘I don’t have my own place.’ ‘I’m living in a shitty condo.’ ‘My car doesn’t work and I need money to pay for it.’ The time never seemed right.

Flash-forward to roughly two months ago and I’d gotten my affairs in order. I finally said ‘why the hell not’ and agree to go on a date with a years-long friend/coworker who’d shown interest in me but I’d never acted on it. We were both nerds, we had some common interests and even if it didn’t work out I figured it was better to know than not.

The relationship ended in the worst possible fashion. She died unexpectedly last month from complications from her prescriptions. I have only just started to get some closure on this and start feeling better when November 8 rolled around. I’m not sure the relationship would have ultimately gotten romantic or worked out but I know we’d have remained friends when it was over.

I’m holding myself together, but I feel alone in a way that I never did before I dated her. I know I need to go out again and try at some point. But the way my previous relationship started gave me no experience to the ‘getting to know you’ phase since we already knew each other.

My question is twofold. When is it a good idea/socially acceptable to dip back into the dating pool, and how do you go about doing it?

-Might Have Loved And Lost It

First of all, I’m so sorry this happened to you. Losing someone you were close to, whether it was a friend or a lover, is a major blow. Even more so when it happens unexpectedly. It’s like a betrayal of the harshest kind — we have a lifetime of potential ahead of us, a multiverse of plans and potential and then suddenly… it’s gone. No warning. No reason. Just chaos. A world that was expected, if not promised, and now it’s gone. The world looks the same somehow but there’s this absence, a fundamental wrongness and there’s nothing to be done but wait until we’ve gotten used to this change.

And then the world continues to turn upside down with the results of the US election, just as you were getting your feet under you again.

So, here you are. You’re feeling hollowed out. You’re more than a little numb. You’re wanting to feel… well, almost anything but certainly to at least feel normal again, even as the hits just keep on coming. What do you do?

I hate to say it, but you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not a question of “when/how should I start dating again,” it’s a question of “how do I heal?”

A couple of personal notes. This isn’t quite the same as what you’re going through, but it’s a moment in my life where the rug was yanked out from under me. There was a point in my life where, after years of depression and an incredibly toxic relationship, life finally seemed like it couldn’t get better. By some miracle, I was dating someone I thought was absolutely perfect. Gorgeous, a geek, loved many of the things I did and was busy introducing me to music and TV and books I’d never considered. Meanwhile, I had what I thought was my dream job; I was getting paid obscenely well to draw alongside some of the best artists I’ve ever known, many of whom have gone on to be legends.

And then it all fell apart. Right at what should have been the first climax of awesomeness with my job, I got let go. A lot of us did, and we kinda saw the tidal wave of shit coming but… that didn’t exactly soften the blow, y’know?

I had a couple of days of being drunk and feeling sorry for myself before I started trying to pull the tattered remains of my ego together and figure out what the next stage of my life was going to be. And just as I was putting the finishing touches on a new plan and getting a new job lined up, my girlfriend left me. And everything fell apart.

I got fired from my perfect job. I got dumped by the perfect girl. It was a good thing my car was paid off because otherwise I would have hit the Country Song Trifecta. Believe me, nobody wants to see me go full-on Hank Williams Jr.

But I was gutted. Hollow. Everything I thought I’d ever wanted, not just gone but as thorough a refutation of me as could happen.

I thought the best thing I could do was force myself to go on like I was OK. Go out, start dating again. Get over her by getting under someone else.

That was the worst thing I could do. All I was doing was trying to pretend like I wasn’t bleeding and that it didn’t hurt. I was just trying to force some semblance of normalcy, as though going through the motions would make it better. It didn’t. All it did was make it harder to get over her. I had to give myself time to grieve and to heal and I wasn’t doing that.

It doesn’t sound to me like you’re doing that either. “Holding myself together” and “feeling more alone than ever” doesn’t exactly sound like someone who’s ready to get back out and start dating again. That sounds to me like “If I stop for five seconds and let myself think about this, I’m going to fall apart.” You don’t need to be in perfect mental or physical health to date, but you do want to be in good working order. And it doesn’t sound like you’re quite there yet.

Right now, everything’s in chaos. You, America… everything. You’re still mourning the loss; not just of your friend but of all that potential of what might have been and now will never be. All those possible futures are gone, snuffed out before even a single one of them could be born. It’s hard enough to get closure from a break-up; it’s even harder when your relationship ended because someone died.

Dating is the last thing you should be doing. What you need, more than anything else, is to get your feet back under you, to have a feeling of stability and purpose and to fill that hollowness inside. Believe me: Dating and sex don’t fill the void. At best, they numb it. And that numbness goes away pretty damn fast.

You need to take some time and do things that are going to settle your soul and help fill that void in you. You need to connect with folks around you — your friends, your family and your community. Find the places where you can help, even in small ways. Volunteering. Organising. Build a network with the people around you, that you can support and who can support you in turn.

These are the things that build you up again. They help heal not just the loss but the loneliness and the helplessness. It’s how you get to a place where you feel like you have something to offer — and women would be crazy to not be interested — instead of a list of reasons why you can’t date.

The good news is that you know what to do when you are ready: You really just ask someone out or you accept a date from someone who’s interested in you. Some will say “no”, and you move on. Some will say “yes”, and then it will be a matter of getting to know them and finding out if there’s enough there to make a relationship work beyond that initial spark of interest.

That getting-to-know-you phase isn’t terribly different from how you got to know your friend in the beginning. You talk. You ask questions. You hang out together. You argue and you debate and you make discoveries and try things you may never have thought to try before. There’ll be false starts. There’ll be first dates that go nowhere, second dates that seem promising but weren’t… even third and fourth dates before you realise that there’s not much there.

But then there’ll be those magic nights that never seem to end. And the relationships that will last months, then years, and you’ll be amazed that it’s been so long because it still feels like you just met. You’ll wonder why you were ever worried about your lack of experience.

Don’t try to chase it now, when you’re still hurting. Let yourself heal. Rebuild your foundation. Connect with other people and find healing as you help them heal too. When you’re ready, you’ll know.

Good luck.

How was your first dating experience? How long did it take you to get into your dating groove? 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.


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