Ask Dr. NerdLove: Is My Ex Leading Me On?

Hello you beautiful and terrifying love piranhas, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the dating advice column for people who got a recommendation from Dr. Mario.

This week, we’re gonna squash some relationship viruses. How do you clear up a misunderstanding that’s led to a conflict in your friendship? How can you tell whether your ex is being sincere or just stringing you along? What do you do when everyone you know is giving you shit for your body?

It’s time to pop some pills and drop some bombs. Let’s do this.

Hi Doc!

Let me tell you a story and hopefully you can help me understand what happened. I’m a guy, got a new job less than a year ago and have been very happy with it. There is a girl, a very cute one, but never had the chance to exchange anything more than a greeting or talk about the Office party or something like that. Let’s call her Amy.

A couple of weeks ago, she asked me out, just as friends and we both agreed to that. She had a boyfriend but only recently got back together.

During a period of 6 weeks, we go out 4 times and get to know each other. Everything is flowing A-OK, we discuss plans like trips and concerts and even buy tickets. She gets to know my close friends and fits in nicely. She gets more and more used to me being around. I’m a naturally affectionate guy, and we start hugging every time we say hello. She starts cuddling. And looking more for me even with just a gaze in the aisle or just straight coming to my desk to hang out a couple of minutes.

We texted regularly. One day Amy sends voice messages one after another after I just asked how she is doing, and after that she stopped replying but was normal in the office. About a week later she starts, out of nowhere, being distant and even rude. She missed my birthday party and never said anything. I text her after a couple of days saying that I understand she wants her space and that I can respect that, if she wants to talk about it I will be available.

Amy replies immediately saying that she knows she is being weird and doesn’t know how to act. But that she felt that I misinterpreted her intentions with me. She apologizes for the things she might have done to confuse me. I said that I thought we were just friends and having fun. She apologizes again and says she is relieved it was just a misunderstanding.

However she keeps being distant and even uncomfortable with me around. I just let her be. Not at all unexpectedly gossip stars going around, but the different versions contain some details only she and I knew. I text her to confront her, not saying she is lying or anything, I understand everybody has their own version of the story, just to tell her to leave me out of it. That I don’t want people gossiping around my life.

She apologizes quickly, again, and changes the subject that she doesn’t want me to have the wrong idea about how we are no longer talking to each other. That she is uncomfortable and doesn’t know why. I said it was OK, that she doesn’t need to worry about it.

And now she puts a lot of energy in avoiding me.

I always had my mind clear. Yes, I like her, a lot. But I knew we could only be friends and behaved as such. I have analysed if I ever overstep or did something wrong or out of place but I don’t think so. Maybe I should just let go. What do you think Doc?

Stuck At The Office

You’ve got it right, SATO: you need to let this go, because there’s not really much to be done here.

In all likelihood, one of four things happened:

  1. You weren’t treating this as “just friends” as you thought you were and your behaviour was starting to give a vibe that you saw her as potential relationship material, despite her having a boyfriend;

  2. She was starting to feel like you two had crossed a line somewhere, possibly interpreting your increasing physical affection as going too far;

  3. Her boyfriend decided she didn’t like having a work buddy who was getting as close to her as you were and raised a fuss;

  4. Some combination of the above.

However, all of these scenarios have one common denominator: somewhere along the line, Amy got uncomfortable with your relationship and was increasingly not happy with the level or nature of the intimacy between you. The tipping point seems to have been her sending multiple voice messages, which, going by your email, seems to have been a break from her usual pattern of behaviour.

Now, you don’t give me any indication as to just what was said, so it’s hard to tell why she went from texting to voice messages to not replying at all. It could be that you stepped on a particular landmine that you didn’t know was there.

It could be that the physical affection in your relationship was starting to cross lines she didn’t appreciate but wasn’t entirely sure she could express to you or had the words to articulate. Or it could be that she was feeling that your relationship was starting to venture into territory that was too intense or inappropriate for an office buddy.

I mean, planning trips and buying tickets - and I presume you mean concert tickets, because otherwise, woah — when you’ve only known each other six weeks and hung out four times? That seems like things were escalating pretty damn fast.

It’s not that hard to see that this would make her uncomfortable, especially if it wasn’t entirely her idea. If you got a little too enthusiastic and leaned out over your skis, then it doesn’t take much to see her feeling like maybe you’re reading things into this that aren’t there.

What is clear is that her behaviour shows that she’s increasingly uncomfortable and wanting to end things with you. Since she doesn’t want to cause a scene, she’s doing so gradually. The whole thing about “I know I’m being weird, I don’t know how to act” and so forth? That’s her trying to put distance between you without saying, “lool, I don’t want to be around you because I’m feeling uncomfortable.”

What she’s doing is creating a socially plausible pretext, a non-dating version of “it’s not you, it’s me,” where she can give you a gentle nudge in the direction of “away” without having to have a discussion that might turn into an actual argument.

It’s not surprising that there’s gossip going around. What you shouldn’t do is assume that it’s malicious or that she’s going out of her way to spread rumours. I can all but guarantee that what happened is that one of her other friends noticed that she was feeling down or acting differently, asked what was up and got the download from her. It’s not that she’s trying to single you out, it’s that she’s confiding in a friend. That’s neither unusual nor off-limits; we tell our friends what’s going on with us.

The fact that things spread from there? That, unfortunately, is the nature of the grapevine. You can’t really control that, nor can you tell her to not talk to her friends about her relationships, platonic or otherwise.

That having been said, the gossip can be a way of gauging where things went wrong. While you have to allow for the sorts of distortion that happen in a game of Telephone, you can at least get an approximation of just what was making her so uncomfortable with you and keep it in mind for next time.

Ultimately, this is a “live and learn” situation. She’s not comfortable being around you, and trying to force the issue isn’t going to make it any better. It’s understandable to want to try to make amends if you did somehow make her uncomfortable, but there are times that attempting to do so will just make things worse.

If she wants distance, then the best thing you can do is give it to her.

Good luck.

Dear Dr. NerdLove:

On the daily, people always are making jokes about my weight (45kg 19 yo) and while I already am in and have been in the process of eating more to gain weight while exercising more (which has been very encouraging), whenever I go into public with anything that can expose my dangly needle-like arms or my stick-like legs, I’m almost always met with people commenting about my body and it just destroys any ounce of self-confidence that I had built up.

Today alone I’ve had 4 (rude) comments about my body as I hung around a community pool: two were from family members and the other two were from strangers. Keep in mind this was before the clock had even hit 12 in the afternoon!

Usually these comments typically sound like “Dude, do you even eat?” or “Lmao, you look like a child with those arms!” The worst part is that when I get depressed because of what people say, I turn into a hermit and hide by myself in my room or make up dumb excuses as to why I put on joggers or a long-sleeved shirt while I am clearly sweating in it. All of this is followed by me not wanting to eat because of how upset I become over the comments (some people eat when depressed... I don’t).

Sometimes what troubles me the most is that there are plenty of very skinny losers out there like me who just seems to not exist in media. All over instagram on the woman’s side are the plus model body-lovers teaching women to love their body but when it comes to the male side of media nobody cares for us skinny guys... we’re just expected to “just get over it” because somehow guys aren’t supposed to be insecure about their body.

Even on the heavier side with guys in media you have representation because unlike women, being bigger was ok for guys and nobody really makes it that big of a deal. But when it comes to skinny guys—no I don’t mean fit/6 pack skinny guys - we often get the short end of the stick. :(

For us skinny guys, what can we do to help boost confidence so that guys like me aren’t left in shambles every time someone makes fun of our bodies?

Gangly Scarecrow

First of all, GS, you need to keep in mind that you’re dealing with arseholes. Whether they’re family or randos, folks who feel the need to comment on or give you shit about your body are arseholes and should be regarded as such. Arseholes are gonna arse, regardless of whether you’re fat, thin or anywhere in between. They’ll find something to give you shit for, no matter what shape you are or aren’t in.

So your first step should be finding Team You: the folks who have your back, who you can count on to give you support and validation and remind you that your weight and size are a number, not the whole of who you are.

The next obvious step is to work on your diet and exercise. Problem is, adding muscle takes time and effort, and as many folks who’ve lost weight can tell you, just because you changed the shape of your body doesn’t mean that you’ve changed how you feel. 

So while you’re working on your gains, you need to focus on your mind and your heart as much as your body. A lot of it is going to be learning how to love yourself and your body and work with what you’ve got.

Start with how you dress. Right now, you’re making a classic mistake: You’re trying to hide your body with your clothing. The problem with this is that what you’re actually doing is emphasising your size. Your long-sleeved shirts and track pants are making you look frail because of the way they hang on your body.

So you need to dress for the body you actually have. That starts with wearing clothes that fit properly, without excess material around your limbs or torso that just makes you look like you’re swimming in your older brother’s hand-me downs. You want clothes that’re slim-fit, designed for men with builds like yours.

Pick tees and shirts that’re cut thin in the arms and pants that aren’t billowy or baggy on you; you want to keep a clean silhouette. If the weather permits, then consider layers - not multiple shirts to create bulk but a layered look, such as a tee with a light jacket or overshirt.

The thing to remember is that you don’t want to wear clothes that hang on you like a wire hanger or emphasise the wrong areas. Crew necks, for example, are better for guys with slim builds than v-necks. Large accessories will only emphasise the slightness of your frame.

Start paying attention to brands, since different brands tend to be cut to different sizes. Top Man, for example, tends to run on the slimmer side and may well be perfect for you. Asian brands like Uniqlo might also be exactly what the (fake) doctor ordered.

But loving your body is more than just your presentation. It’s how you choose to feel about yourself, even if you’re feeling underserved by the body positivity movement. Part of the issue at hand here is simply a matter of numbers. There are more people who’re heavier than the recommended average than there are who’re underweight, and the stigma around being fat is far higher than the one around being skinny. As a result, there’s going to be more out there about bigger people in general.

But where you’re wrong is when you say there are no attractive skinny dudes out there or that there’s no positive representation for you. The key is where you’re looking.

You, my friend, should start looking at rock and roll. Because rock and punk are filled full to bursting with skinny guys who’re cool as hell. 70s icons like Sid Vicious and Iggy Pop are skin and bones and angry energy and have confidence and fuck-you spirit to spare.

(Also heroin, but that’s a different issue.)

The goths, New Romantics, the Mods… there are a ton of hot dudes who are weedy, reedy and wirey but cool as all fuck. Finding your archetype amongst them will go a long way towards giving you both the attitude and the style you’ll want to cultivate while you’re building your body.

And trust me: there are a lot of rocker looks that guys built like linebackers (like yours truly) wish they could pull off, but can’t.

Find that inner “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” punk energy and you’ll be 90 per cent of the way there.

Good luck.

Dear Doctor NerdLove:

Up until around a month ago I had been in a very committed, arguably codependent relationship that ended out of the blue when my partner came home crying stating that she didn’t feel like she had a life outside our relationship and needed to break up in order to pursue personal growth.

While I found this jarring emotionally and psychically I knew that if that’s what she needed to be happy I had no right to be upset. My issue then grew from when she said I was still the love of her life and she requested we remain friends with the goal of her coming back to me when she was ready.

I admit the idea of having her back is very appealing, but I fear I’m acting as a willing participant in being strung along. We met in college when we’d sit late until the night when I gave her advice on her relationship with men. We briefly became romantically involved and then drifted apart after a pregnancy scare showed us we had differing worldviews on a few key issues.

Years later she exits an abusive relationship and comes back to me for support and protection. I grudgingly agreed after repeatedly telling her she needed time alone. Grudging support grew into a deep love over several years, to where we were house hunting and I was ring hunting mere weeks before the breakup.

I want to support her and I want everything to go back to normal, but I have a creeping fear she loves the idea of me as a protector who will always be there, rather than actually loving me.

Should I stay in contact? Should I cut her out completely? Should I entertain the fantasy of one day reuniting with the woman I thought I would spend the rest of my life with?

PS. Our apartments are about 27.43m apart so I see some sign of her every day, no matter what.

Help me Dr. NerdLove, you’re my only hope.

Confused in Columbus

You know, CiC, part of the point of ending a codependent relationship is so you’re no longer codependent on one another. What your ex is proposing sounds an awful lot like trying to keep you around so that she doesn’t need to worry about you being able to move on. That way once she’s done whatever it is that she feels like doing, she doesn’t have to deal with the pesky issue of your having developed a life of your own. It’s a lovely way of having her cake and eating it too.

Too bad it means that you have to put your life on hold for this to happen. And that ain’t cool.

You have a right to your own personal growth, CiC, and that growth may well include growing past the relationship you had with your ex.

In fact, that may be exactly what you need.

I think the best thing you can do is tell your ex, “Look, I love and care for you, but I need to live my life too. When you’re ready, we can see where we both are, but I’m can’t just press pause on my life so that you can go have whatever learning experience you think you need.”

And then it’s time for you to establish and maintain some firm boundaries, because she’s apparently gotten into the habit of coming back to you whenever something has gone wrong in her life. And that’s not fair to you.

So let her go, wish her well, then go and live your life. If you two are right for each other in a year, two years, whatever, then life will find a way to bring you back together. But you don’t do yourself any favours by being her crash pad, especially at the expense of your own life and development. Learn from the sage when he said, “I might love you, yeah, but I love me more.”

Good luck.


Ask Dr. NerdLove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, 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 YouTube channel. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. 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.


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