Hello, you electric angels of the Abyss, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to help you get the BOO-ty call you’ve been waiting for on Halloween.
This week, we’re going to get into the spirit of things by talking about relationship fears. What do you do when you’re afraid that your overreliance on porn is going to make it impossible for you to ever please your partner? How do you get over your worries that women are only dating you because you smell like free money and look like free lunch? And what do you do when you’re a gamer, but not enough of a gamer for your partner?
It’s time to bring these flatlining relationships back from the brink and help everyone have a ghost of a chance at finding their Final Guys, Gals and Non-Binary Pals.
Let’s do this.
I’ve had very few sexual experiences in my life. Now I’ve been trying to change that but the thing is I can’t really get an erection when it comes to being with a girl. I either can’t get it up because the girl is not attractive enough for my standards, or the girl is absolutely gorgeous and I can’t get it up because she intimidates me and I get nervous.
Part of the problem is that I watch too much porn and masturbate daily, and that has really messed up not only my expectations on women, but my body is now very used to getting only an erection by my hands. But since I can’t have sex, I can’t really stop masturbating. It has turned into a vicious cycle that I don’t know how to stop.
My friends tell me I need more girl experience, but being with a girl has become very disheartening since I can’t perform well. Lately I’ve been to scared to even ask them out or kiss them, since eventually I’ll end up in bed with them and disappoint them.
Thanks for reading and for helping all of us.
Spirit Is Willing, Flesh Is Limp
One of the frustrating things about erectile dysfunction is that in the moment it feels like an emergency. Everything is going great, then POP QUIZ HOTSHOT: YOUR DATE IS NAKED AND WAITING FOR YOU AND YOU’RE LIMPER THAN KANYE’S GOSPEL ALBUM. WHAT DO YOU DO? WHAT DO YOU DO??
Small wonder people lose their goddamn minds over it.
Your porn and masturbation habits are a distraction from the real issue. While I know the No-Fap crew and various religious groups love to go on about “porn addiction,” the truth is that there’s no such thing. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has found that there’s no empirical evidence for it, nor is it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. The bigger issue you’re going to have with porn is that porn makes you a lousy lover. Porn is to sex as Bad Boys II is to actual police work. It looks great for the camera and gets everyone charged up, but trying to recreate it in real life is going to just leave everyone upset and disappointed.
The problem here isn’t the porn, SiWFi L. It’s not even the masturbation. It’s the intimidation. Dicks are notorious divas; if everything isn’t perfect, they’ll half-arse things or just straight up refuse to work at all. That in and of itself is frustrating. However, the difference between “frustration” and “panic” is that the former is the first time you can’t get it up for the second time. The latter is the second time you can’t get it up for the first time.
And that panic is what’s getting to you, SiWFiL. Because not only are dicks divas, but they’re like goddamn Tinkerbell: they work on belief. If you start believing you’re not going to be able to rise to the occasion, then your body is going to shrug and say “Welp.” And then you get locked into a self-perpetuating cycle, where your panic makes it impossible for you to get hard, then your inability to get hard makes you panic. Wash, rinse, repeat.
So how do you handle this?
Well, the first thing is to stop dating women you’re not attracted to. It’s a bad idea in general—it’s insulting to the women you’re dating, and all you’re doing is wasting everybody’s time. So knock it off.
The next thing you do is to learn to take your dick off the table, as it were. Here’s something that everyone should’ve learned in sex ed: vaginal penetration is a lousy way to get someone off. One of the reasons why there’s a notable orgasm gap between straight cis men and women is that guys put too much emphasis on penenetrative sex and not enough on the things that get women off. Less than 35% of women can reach orgasm through penetrative vaginal sex, and 45% can’t get off from penetration, period. The things that do get them off? Oral sex, manual stimulation and deep, full kissing… all the things that a lot of straight dudes have a tendency to rush through to get to the supposed “main event.”
(There’s a reason why the orgasm gap virtually disappears amongst gay men and lesbians…)
This is why, if you can’t get it up when you’re with someone, it’s no big deal. The fact that you may have a less-than-steely erection is annoying but hardly mission critical, because you still have your fingers and your tongue. Taking the pressure to perform off your penis makes sex less of a “do-or-die” situation.
If you’re not treating penetration like the end-all/be-all of sex, then you’re less worried about “disappointing” someone if you end up trying to shoot pool with a rope. You can still show them an amazing time — possibly better than you would if you were just focused on getting tab A into slot B — and blow her mind at how goddamn good you are in bed. Believe me, a guy who knows how to use his hands just right and his mouth to do more than talk is going to be a prize to be fought for.
The other thing you can do to keep from getting intimidated by these impossibly gorgeous women? Talk to them. Get to know them as people, not as these ideals who you must prove yourself to. They’re no different from anyone else; some of ‘em will be cool, some will be arseholes, some will be absolute dorks and some will want to talk your ear off about molecular biology… the same as literally everyone else out there. The intimidation factor comes from giving far too much importance to their appearance and feeling like you need to impress them somehow. But frankly, if they’ve gone home with you and you’re in a position that sex is gonna happen? Then they already like you enough to get naked with you.
Despite what your panicking jerk-brain is telling you, they’re going to respond based on how you treat the situation. If you don’t act like it’s that big of a deal, they’re not going to act like it’s a big deal.
So next time you’re staring down the barrel of not being harder than differential calculus in Mandarin? Shrug your shoulders, give your best Ragnar Lodbrok smile and go down on your sweetie for so long that you start to grow gills; she can get you off next time.
Once you’re not as worried that being limp means you’re somehow deficient as a man or lover, you’ll find that you’ll have far fewer issues with not being able to rise to the challenge.
So, I’ve had three actual relationships my whole life. In the first one, I was the primary earner and nearly went broke supporting the two of us. She had a minimum wage job, I was making only slightly over that, but most of her money went to alcohol and cigarettes.
After that ended, I had by then obtained a significantly better paying job, over twice what I had been making. It takes me a while to notice an emerging pattern where she ditches me as soon as dinner is over, and doesn’t actually want to spend time with me if I’m not treating her to something. We broke up when I told her I wasn’t going to get her a pack of cigarettes.
My third girlfriend was a broke single mum. I go and do everything I can to help her out, but it’s never enough. I buy her a new phone when hers dies, but I’m made to feel bad because I can’t buy her a car. I treat her, and her son, and her friend and her children to a nice night... and we break up the very next night because, while discussing plans for a romantic dinner out, I suggest one of the fanciest restaurants in town and find myself dragged into a debate about the kind of food you can expect at a “bar and grill” that goes downhill faster than I thought possible.
I do make good money, but I keep falling into the trap of spending way too much on women, trying to prove I’m a good provider and etc. How can I establish a budget and set boundaries, without coming off as a cheapskate, or paranoid that they are another gold digger? And how can I determine I am dealing with someone who only wants a source of nice dinners before I invest too much in the relationship?
Closed Gold Mine
Whenever someone starts having the same relationship issue over and over again, one of the things I always advise them is to start looking for what those relationships had in common. The more you can drill down on potential causes, the more you can start the process of elimination to figure out where things are going wrong.
But sometimes, when all is said and done, the thing that all of those relationships have in common is… well, you. If you’re consistently attracting gold-diggers or people who just want to use you as an ATM with legs, then it’s worth trying to determine just what it is that you’re doing. There are two issues to look at here: what is it about these women that seems to draw you in, and what signals are you giving off that makes you a likely mark?
I suspect the primary cause is a sense of low self-esteem; if you don’t feel like you’re someone who is somehow “worthy” of a partner, then you’re more likely to overcompensate in other areas to prove that you are. So if, for example, you don’t feel like you bring much to the table, then it’s possible that you’re throwing money at the problem instead. You may feel like you’re trying to prove that you’d be a good provider, but in actuality, it’s more about trying to cover up what you feel you’re lacking.
And wouldn’t you know it: if you’re throwing money around, you’re going to attract people who are exclusively attracted to money. Once they’ve latched onto you, they’re going to trade on your low self-esteem and poor boundaries as much as they possibly can.
So my advice is two-fold. The first is that you need to work on yourself and your sense of worth. When we talk about “what you bring to the table,” it’s not about “you need to have at least these four traits to get a girlfriend,” it’s about “how do you make people feel when you’re around?” What do you have going for you besides your looks or your job? What would dating you be like? Would life with you be one of curiosity and adventure? Would it be passionate and intense? Would it be filled with music and concerts, or quiet cosy nights? Are you a traveller and explorer, or do you like the comforts of home? Are you into the great outdoors or the city?
If your answer to any of this is a shrug or a question mark, then it’s time to start cultivating interests, hobbies and passions. If you’re not sure where to start, then think of the sort of person that you would want to date. What would their life be like? What would do you think dating them would be like? Let that be your guide as you start to become the person that you would want to date. That’s seems a little counter-intuitive, but it’s actually really important because Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat lied to us: opposites don’t attract. We’re drawn to people who are similar to us, whose interests, passions and values line up with ours.
Learning to live a great life that leaves you feeling fulfilled and satisfied helps you feel better as a person. You won’t feel the need to impress people because you’ll know how awesome you are and how lucky the right woman would be to date you in the first place. You won’t feel as weird about inviting someone for, say, a trip to a museum and a picnic or ice cream afterwards, or coffee and board games, because you won’t feel the need to impress them with your net worth. You’ll have far more confidence in your charm, your wit and the value that you’d bring to their lives as a person.
Plus: actively cultivating those traits in yourself means that you don’t go looking for that Manic Pixie Dream Girl to fix your life and make you A Better Man and you can go about focusing on people you’re actually compatible with.
The other thing that you need to work on is to be comfortable with the word “no.” As in “No, I don’t need to subsidise your life as a precursor to being in this relationship.” Or “No, I’m not going to let you treat me so disrespectfully.” Gold-diggers are a subset of toxic relationships, and they thrive on people who are afraid of saying “no” or standing up for themselves. Having strong boundaries is the dating equivalent of waving a cross in front of a vampire; it drives them off, in search of someone else who looks like an easier mark. You won’t have to worry about dating someone who’s just interested in you for your money because having strong boundaries means they’ll avoid you in the first place.
That having been said, it’s always a case of “deeds, not words.” Do they seem to care more about you when you pay for expensive dates, as opposed to cheaper ones? Do they pressure you to help out or drop constant hints about how hard everything is — not in the sense of “yeah, the economy sucks and we’re all in debt” but “I would be able to do so much more for you if…”? Then those are warning signs.
The other warning sign is how you feel. It’s one thing if, for example, you’re paying the bills for your long-term partner while they’re going through school or supporting them while they’re trying to be an author or filmmaker or other ambitious pursuit. In that case, you’re trying to help someone you love because you love them. If, on the other hand, you feel like not paying for X, Y or Z is going to make them get angry at you? That’s a sign that it’s time to seriously reconsider this relationship. The more that their happiness (and by extension, yours) is contingent on how much you spend, the more you should look at the relationship as a whole and decide whether it’s actually one you want to stay in.
I’ve been reading your column for quite a while and thought if anyone could help me it was you. You always dole out wonderful advice and I’ve learned plenty from reading your columns.
So, I have been with my boyfriend for around three years now. He’s wonderful and I love him a lot, but he suffers from a bit of insecurity, especially when it comes to our shared interest. I’ve often been told that I don’t seem or look as if I’d like video games or comics or whatever. I have been accused in the past of being a fake gamer girl because I don’t come off visually like whatever stereotype those guys have. As a lady, it’s not unusual to me that I like video games and anime and other niche or nerd hobbies. Because we exist. That’s my jam; that’s who I am.
I understand women like me might not always be accessible or seem accessible at least, so it could seem like an anomaly even if it isn’t. That’s made even more clear because I’m a black woman, and that narrows things down even more because there’s a racial aspect that ties in where a lot of black kids have been called weird or ostracised for going all in on these sort of hobbies and black women have been guilty of that too. I often believe my boyfriend was a victim of this or at least very self conscious about it growing up, since he’s always been into games and anime and whatnot.
The problem is that to some degree he’s obsessed with the idea that we have to do all these things together, all the time. Sometimes I want to hang out and watch a movie that’s not related to anime, nor do I want to whip out the controller all the time. But he gets weirdly passive aggressive about the whole thing if I turn him down. If there’s a game we were playing together and we can’t play because I have homework (I’m in graduate school) or because I don’t feel well (I have an illness and am doing chemotherapy for it) he doesn’t outright say anything in the moment. But the first chance he can bring it up, he will.
He makes constant comments about how he shouldn’t have bought the game since we never play it, even though we do—maybe just not every moment we’re together. And he’ll say how we’re going to fall behind everyone else or miss out on events. Or how we’re never going to get through a series when I suggest we watch something else because I want a little variety. It’s not like he only enjoys those things.
He has other hobbies too, and he engages in them often when we’re apart. So these aren’t his whole life. But he has expressed the fear that he wouldn’t ever be able to find someone like me again so I can only assume this behaviour is rooted in that. And I’m not sure what to do with that information. I’ve suggested he watch the series or play the games by himself or with others online but he never wants to do that. He likes having a built in gaming partner. And he scoffs and gets upset and basically tries to cajole me into admitting that I’m bored or don’t want to do those things with him anymore. Which isn’t true. I’m just busy and have my health to think about. And y’know sometimes I just want to do other things which should be ok.
He was married before and I know that these things were a source of tension in that relationship. His former spouse often treated gaming/anime/comics like it was childish, not wanting him to do it at all. But As far as I can tell he’s not an irresponsible gamer or anything. He doesn’t put it before date nights, sex, or work. But if we aren’t going anywhere, or if he catches wind that I’m free for any length of time, it’s all he wants to do.
If I mention wanting to do something else, like suggesting we watch some sitcom I know he likes or will enjoy, or just not playing the game, again he kind of jumps at me and tries to weasel out of me that I’m secretly bored or says something passive aggressive like “It’s my favourite game but we never get to play it because you don’t want to.” Or when I suggest to him that we do play, it turns into a reassurance/convincing fest because he often says, “We don’t have to play, I know you don’t really want to.” But I do! I tried to reassure him that my love of video games isn’t going anywhere. That I still enjoy them, and still like playing them with him.
That my interest haven’t changed, but it doesn’t have to be all the time. But it’s like he doesn’t believe me. We even had a big argument about it recently, where he got dramatic and said he was never bringing up the game again. I don’t even think he realises how passive aggressive he’s being and how bad he makes me feel when I simply state that I don’t feel like it. I’d really like to know how I can talk to him about this or what I could say to get him to understand that we love each other and we both love our shared interests and can indulge in them without making them our whole lives. I just seem to be lacking the words. Please help.
- Gaming Couple Burnout
It sounds to me like this is a case of his defining himself by having a Gamer Girlfriend. I’ve lost track of how many guys who’ve written in about wanting to find a partner who’d game with them. Some of this comes from a place of wanting to share what they love with someone they love, but a lot of times it also comes from a place of seeking validation. Having a Gamer Girlfriend (or Wife) means that they’re “cool” and not just someone who likes games and anime and what-not.
The problem with this outlook is that they tend to forget that their Gamer Girlfriend is a person with her own desires, wants and needs, not a magical waifu who always wants what her boyfriend is into. And while they often recognise that consciously, they tend to subconsciously correlate the two. So when the gaming starts to drop off, they worry that it means the relationship is in trouble.
I suspect in your boyfriend’s case, this may be something of an over-correction from his ex. After having been married to somebody who thought his interests were dumb and childish, now he has this cool girlfriend who likes playing MMOs too AND SO THERE, KAREN. But there comes a point where that “the couple that plays together, stays together” belief starts to become a little smothering. Especially if he’s using “we play all of my—er, I mean OUR—favourite games together” as a barometer for how the relationship is faring.
And y’know, I get that. I love it when my partners enjoy the same shows or games or movies I do. But sometimes they don’t, or they get tired of it, or their tastes change. And hey, that happens. It doesn’t mean their feelings for me have changed—but they might if I keep nagging.
After all: having separate lives is good for a relationship. Constant togetherness is for sardines.
So I sympathise with both of you over this. But clearly the current status-quo is a fast-track to misery. This is why you need to help him recognise that the problem isn’t the games, it’s his attitude about how you both have to play them, at all times.
However, I do want to correct you on one point: you do have the words. You laid out your issues very simply, clearly and succinctly in your letter. Everything you’ve said to me are the things you need to say to your boyfriend.
That’s why you and your boyfriend need to have an Awkward Conversation about this, where you lay out what’s wrong, why it bothers you, what you think needs to change and why things would be better if they changed. You just need to be careful to frame things in how you feel, rather than “you are doing this wrong.” “I feel pressured” is less accusatory and easier to hear than “you’re pressuring me.”
After you’ve said your piece, let him share his. It could very well be that, like you, he has concerns that he just can’t quite find the words for. His pressuring you to game with him may have absolutely nothing to do with the games themselves and more to do with what that time spent gaming together represents. If, for example, he’s worried about the state of your relationship, his wanting to game more could be his way of seeking reassurance or trying to bridge whatever gap he’s feeling.
But the only way to figure this out is for you two to sit down and talk this out. Even if it’s halting and awkward and you need to pause to figure out how to phrase things, talking things through and sharing how you’re feeling will help the two of you get to the real source of the issue.
Once you two resolve that, you can go back to being a happy gaming couple once more. Just possibly on a less demanding schedule.
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.