Hello all you pervert people of the intertubes, and welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating column to moonlight as a gentleman thief.
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This week, it's all about looking inward and getting comfortable with our inner selves. Everyone talks about how you can't love someone else unless you love yourself, but how do you do that when you're convinced you're unlovable? When you feel one way but everyone you know tells you you need to be someone else, how do you decide who's right? And what if you're worried that your interests are hurting your chances at finding love?
Lock up your hearts and let's do this.
How's it going? I am a little lost over here. I recently got married, (six months ago or so) and to give you some background story, we met online. We dated for almost seven years and finally tied the knot last year. He is wonderful, always listens to my problems, loving, caring and we share the same love for video games. Perfect match!
So, what's the problem, right? Well, the problem is that, and totally being honest here, I am fat, and I know I am not attractive. On the other hand, he is (at least to me) attractive, had other relationships (he is my first), hot ex's and girlfriends, and had a more social life than I did.
When we first met, my biggest fear was that once he met me physically he would back off and leave me stranded at the airport while I left heartbroken, but he didn't and he genuinely told me that he loves me. I fell in love with him at that very second and never doubt it myself. But, when the time comes when we have sex, I feel super insecure. I hate my body and he knows that I do, yet he always makes sure I feel comfortable and makes sure I understand he loves me, even if I gained more weight.
One time, I remember I saw someone asking you about how to make himself more confident since he hated his body too. Your advice was to dress with comfortable clothing, fix his hair or even boost his confidence with telling himself he was hot. But it hasn't worked for me, my little voice in my head keeps coming back and now it's affecting our sexual life. I always tell him to turn off the light but he insists he wants to see me to show me he does not care about that and his desire is genuine.
So, Doc, how can I make that voice shut up? How can I overcome this insecurity even when everything else is perfect? I feel like I don't deserve him and it's seriously killing me inside. I am trying to communicate this to him more often and he knows and he is trying to go slow too. But I know he is reaching a limit on this, and now he feels it might be his fault.
What can I do? More diets? More exercise (which I do, but not as often to show better results)? Or just keep trying in loving myself more with yelling at my mirror?
Girl with Internal Issues
There are a couple things I want to address here, GWII. The first is that it's understandable that you have a hard time accepting yourself and — just as importantly — how your husband feels. We live in a society that actively demonises and dehumanises fat people and fat women in particular. Being overweight is seen not just as being unattractive but as a moral failing, addressed in terms that are usually reserved for discussing mortal sins.
The dislike society has for overweight people crosses all boundaries and affects us in ways that many people are unaware of. Even people who should know better, like medical professionals, let their dislike of overweight people colour the care they give. A fat person is more likely to have a medical condition attributed to their weight, rather than the actual cause.
Even "helpful" advice falls in the realm of moralising. It's significant that we refer to eating certain foods as eating "clean", implying that chips or fried foods or processed foods are "dirty" or "impure". It turns eating into a moral referendum.
It isn't just about societal disapproval; there is a not-insignificant and incredibly vocal subset of people who want overweight people to suffer. There's a reason why r/FatPeopleHate had more than 150,000 subscribers before Reddit banned them for harassment. Fat people having nice things is a crime that can never be forgiven; stores like Torrid are seen as a problem because their customers might not feel the pressure to get skinny if they have nice clothes! Plus-sized models might make fat people think that they too can be attractive and we can't have that.
Add into this mix the constant social message that women are supposed to be aesthetically pleasing in narrowly-defined ways at all times — and shamed into compliance when they aren't — and it isn't that surprising that you have your jerkbrain pouring poison in your ear. To paraphrase a quote I can't find the source for, when the message is that you are always unworthy, loving yourself is a radical act.
But that leads us to the second issue: You aren't taking "yes" for an answer. Your husband — who sounds awesome, incidentally — is trying to tell you how much he loves you and wants you and you're calling him a liar every time.
Again: I totally understand. You aren't doing this consciously. You don't mean to be sending this message to him. You want to accept his love without question. You have this incredibly insidious voice whispering hate to you at all times and it's utterly believable because it sounds like your voice. But the problem is that you can only rebuff even the most ardent lover so many times before he or she starts to feel it's not worth continuing. What is the point to trying to let someone know that you love them and desire them when they keep insisting that no you fucking well don't? That isn't a future that either you or your husband want. So, what do you do?
Well, it's like I said: You start practising some radical self love. And you have to decide what that looks like. Loving yourself is more than just halfheartedly looking in the mirror and saying you're cute. It isn't just getting a haircut you don't like but everyone tells you looks good. It's about changing the story you tell about yourself and the way you relate to yourself and your body.
That's why the way you decide to practise that love, acceptance and improvement is important. It has to be something that lets you believe in its transformative power, not just going through the motions without any intent behind them.
Loving yourself may mean talking to a counsellor. Dealing with these self-images and self-esteem issues can be deeply rooted and having somebody be a sympathetic ear and give you exercises to change the way you see yourself can be a blessing.
It may mean eating healthy, but sane. As a general rule, eating fewer processed foods, less sodium, less sugar and more green leafy vegetables is a net good… but that also doesn't mean you can't have your pleasures too. Pizza is fucking delicious, so have some pizza.
It may mean working out and getting fit. You don't have to hit the gym three or four times a week, just find physical activities that you enjoy and do them. Go on walks with your husband and hunt Pokemon. Practise for the undead future with apps like Zombies Run. Take martial arts. Play handball. Go swimming. If you enjoy it, then go make it part of your lifestyle and let the joy it brings you infuse your soul.
Also, please notice very carefully that I said fit, not "thin". Fit comes in many, many different shapes and sizes, not just "Victoria's Secret model".
I'm a believer in body positivity and loving yourself at whatever size you are, but I also am a believer in finding the shape and size that makes you happy. You. Not society - you. If working out makes you happy, then by all means do so; our bodies are designed to move and exercise is a marvellous antidepressant. But exercise doesn't mean that you'll get thin. Your body is your body and your build is your build, and you need to work with what nature and genetics have given you. You may get lean. You may get strong. But that may mean that you'll still be bigger than the fashionable ideal. But at the same time, it will be the body you have chosen and you will be justifiably proud of what you've achieved.
It may mean dressing in clothes that make you feel like the sexy badarse you are. One of the problems that a lot of fat guys and girls have is they dress to hide themselves and end up looking sloppy and unkempt; look at Kevin Smith and his love of gym shorts and hockey jerseys. The problem with this is that enclothed cognition is a thing and the way we dress affects how we act and even how we see ourselves. Find some clothes that make you feel hotter than a car hood in summer — and this includes lingerie — and watch what it does for you. You may feel ridiculous at first, like you're putting on a costume, but wait. Watch how that feeling starts to fall away as you allow yourself to feel good. For extra fun, encourage your husband to help you find those clothes. Imagine the fun to be had at picking out some sexy underwear and modelling it for him later on.
It may be finding some plus-size positivity groups and seeing all the ways that big can be and is beautiful. It may mean shutting up that jerkbrain and just saying "thank you" when your boyfriend compliments you and tells you he thinks you're sexy. It may mean being willing to compliment yourself; repeating affirmations in the mirror may sound like woo-woo bullshit but saying things often enough makes us believe them. The way we think is a habit, and we change our habits through repetition.
But the biggest thing you can do, the most radical act of self love out there, is to accept that not only are you loved but that you are worthy of love. That your size has nothing to do with your worth or desirability. You have an awesome dude who clearly sees all the amazing inside of you. It's time you start seeing that amazingness too.
I've read many of your articles and they have helped me deal with things like the RedPill and modern masculinity. I hope you can help me with my latest problem.
I'm a 20 year old university student who has never dated before. I wanted to wait till university to really dive into relationships. Key word there being relationships, not hooking up or dating casually. Personally something about that has never really done it for me in a hypothetical sense. I get the appeal of it, people having crazy sex stories, and how people look up to it. But I've always had a thing for romance even when I was little kid, growing up on love stories and shipping characters on my favourite TV shows. But now that I'm here in university I kind of feel like I have to do this or I'm going to be missing out on part of my youth. People are always saying you should spend your 20s dating around and having sex with everyone. Part of me is scared that I'll be in my 40s regretting wasting my youth in a relationship.
Should I ignore my feelings and just try hooking up?
Thanks, Just One of The Guys
Before I get directly into your question JOTG, I want to talk about the concept of sex positivity. When we hear about being sex positive, there's a natural inclination to see it in terms of people having all the crazy sex they want without being judged (as long as everyone's consenting and safe). And I'm all for it. I'm a big fan of people having the kind of sex lives they want. If that means having a lot of wild sexual adventures with a lot of people, then shine on, you horny diamond.
But what we don't often consider is that having that "having all the sex they want" can also men "not much at all". Sometimes people want crazy sexual adventures but with one person. And you know what? That's great too.
Yeah, I know I talk a lot about open relationships and the difficulties of monogamy and shit, but committed relationships are awesome, too. And that's something that can occasionally get lost in the desire to support people getting to decide what their ideal sex lives look like.
So let's talk about your case, JOTG. You're in university and you're a romance kinda guy. That's awesome; you do you as hard as you can, bro. But let's talk that doubt you're feeling right now. All that hooking up and crazy sex you're hearing about? Most of it? It's just talk. There's a lot of pressure to play up the whole "woooo look at me I'm a boozy fucking machine!" angle in university, and you can blame a mix of pop-culture (Animal House, I'm looking at you) and the idea that "all men are horndogs that are powerless before their boners". It's all part and parcel about how guys are supposed to perform their manliness. But it doesn't have to be.
Being a man is very simple. Do you identify as a man? Cool, then whatever you're doing is man-stuff by definition. Wanting romance instead of casual sex? Totally manly.
Here's the thing about regrets: They're about things you wish you had been doing but didn't. You, presumably, aren't wishing you were balls deep in some strange right now. You just feel like you're supposed to want it. What you are wishing for is a deep and romantic relationship. Which do you think you're more likely to regret when you're older: Not having as much sex as possible, or passing up on a potentially amazing relationship with someone because someone convinced you that it was a bad idea to be tied down?
The other thing — and something a lot of folks never talk about — is that life doesn't end when you're 30. You can, and many people do, date around in their 40s. One of the biggest health issues amongst seniors right now is the explosion of STI's because PopPop and GranGran are raw-dogging it up and down the retirement home. So it's not as though you don't have options should your outlook on relationships change as you get older.
And just between you, me and all the people reading this: Having sex just because you feel like you're supposed to? Feels pretty shitty. The sex itself is pretty damn bad (and yes, there is such a thing as bad sex, no matter what some wag will tell you) and you feel hollow and kind of disgusted with yourself afterwards. That is going to be something you'll regret far more than following what is in your soul.
So go out and love deeply, JOTG. Find that special someone and have an amazing romantic adventure. Experience the highs and lows, the heartbreak and the excitement of that new relationship energy. You'll regret it more if you don't.
Hi there Dr NerdLove,
I'm in a bit of a situation. Gaming is my passion, my lifestyle. It's part of the reason I get out of bed in the morning, and I will always take any opportunity I can to talk about it with those around me. However, I'm worried that this is causing me problems with both my social life, and especially the part of my social life around women.
I have plenty of friends, and many of them are gamers or even gaming enthusiasts like myself, but pretty much all of them are men. Gaming is one of the only things that, as a nerd, I can talk about confidently without worrying about saying something really stupid that will make me feel embarrassed, but as you can imagine, this makes it difficult to talk to both guys and girls who aren't especially enthusiastic about video games. And another problem is, no matter how hard I try, I almost always seem to steer any social interaction I have with anyone into gaming, regardless of if I know that they are into gaming or not.
A good example of how a conversation can quickly turn awkward due to this actually happened today, and is partly why I'm writing this. I'm soon going on a Senior Model United Nations trip with a group of my friends and classmates, and those going include girls in my year. So, we were talking about our preparations and how nice we hoped the hotel would, things like that.
Anyway, we were discussing our research for the upcoming conference, and somehow, some way, I accidentally started talking about the latest Overwatch patch and how I thought it would change the meta. And of course, they started staring at me as if I was from a different planet and started to edge away from me. I don't expect them to laugh at me from behind my back or anything, but as a socially anxious person, especially around girls, I felt like I had screwed up majorly. Added to this is that one of those girls was someone I have a major crush on, so it felt even worse.
I'd like to try to introduce some of my non-gaming friends, including women, to try some more basic and casual level games, but considering that these situations occur every couple of days, I'm feeling less confident.
I'm not exactly Channing Tatum in the looks department either, and my level of athleticism leaves a lot to be desired (most of the people in my year are bigger and heavier than I am), and most of them are into sports or are serious academics. I have other interests, but none of them really draw people in, and I have to work hard to make people feel comfortable talking to me, and that's just with other guys.
In conclusion, this will only become even more of a problem as I get older and start to finish up high school and move on to university, and with many of my friends starting serious relationships, I'm growing more concerned. Can you give me some advice as to how I can improve my conversation habits, or at least, make my other interests appear more prominent? I still love gaming, but this is becoming a real problem.
Alright CN, let me give you some advice that's going to help you immensely as you get older: Develop interests in more than just gaming.
Here's the problem: When you over-specialise in something, you tend to lock yourself out of other opportunities. Think of it as going down a skill tree in an RPG. The deeper you get into it, the less of a chance you have to explore other skills and the storylines that will only open up if you have those skills.
This, incidentally, isn't exclusive to being a gamer. People who are crazy into sports, for example, and only talk about sports or how things relate to sports, lock themselves out of just as any opportunities with people who aren't as into them as they are. It's one thing to catch the game and talk about how awesome a specific play was, but when you're getting deep into the weeds — how it's going to utterly fuck up your bracket or your fantasy team — people are going to be just as confused and sidle away just as quickly as if you were talking about the current changes to the Dota meta.
Don't get me wrong: There's nothing wrong at all with loving the shit out of games. But when it's all that you do — when it's your literal lifestyle — you're limiting the paths by which you can make new friends and find new relationships. It's certainly possible to find these things, but it's a hell of a lot harder when you have fewer options overall.
Becoming a more well-rounded individual, however, opens new paths to you. Having a multitude of interests means that you have more ways of engaging with people, especially people who may not necessarily share the passion you have for games. Having those extra options means that the cutie in your Model UN class (and for the record: I did both Model UN and Internation Simulation so hey, respect) may look at you funny when you talk about how the latest patch made you want to stop maining Roadhog, but that just means that you can connect with her over other topics.
And, as a bonus, developing those interests makes it easier to talk with people about more things. Part of why you're able to get so deep into the ins and outs of Overwatch is because you've been immersed in it. You know it inside and out and thus feel more confident in being able to speak with authority over it. Applying that same passion and interest to other topics will give you the same confidence.
And here's a tip that will massively increase your ability to connect with people, especially if they're into things you aren't: Learn to start asking questions. Find out what it is that they're into and ask about it. Not just how does it work, but why do they love it? How do they connect with it? What is it about that particular thing that speaks to them?
Not only will this make people want to spend more time with you — we instinctively like people who show interest in us — but it will help with your social anxiety. That feeling of being under the spotlight and judged? That goes away when you are putting the spotlight on someone else.
So love gaming… but learn to love other things too. Engage that intellectual curiosity of yours and put it to work. Rounding out who you are and what you're into will give you chances and opportunities and cut down on that awkward feeling.
Did you have to learn to love yourself? What opportunities do you regret missing out on while you had the chance? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. And meanwhile, we'll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
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.