Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column that was born 500 years ago in the highlands of Scotland.

This week, one NerdLove reader is dealing with a crush that is more complicated than your usual run of the mill interest in the cute girl you see at the comic store. What’s a guy to do when he’s fallen for a cam girl? Should he confess? Or is he fooling himself?

Let’s do this.

Hey Doc!

I’m intentionally single after my last couple of relationships went sour (one I ended due to privacy/trust concerns, the other I ended due to way too much unnecessary drama). Aside from spanking the money the old fashioned way, one of the ways I address my sexual needs is by occasionally visiting a cam site. I’ve been a member of a particular cam site for a few years. Up until recently I was actually planning to delete my account.

That all changed when I met a particular model on the site a few months ago. She’s gorgeous, sweet, funny, entertaining, and unlike any of the other models. When I first saw her, I instantly knew she would be one of my favorites. She is contagiously cheerful and tangibly passionate about what she does. I’ve been supporting her as I not only enjoy her company but I want her to have fun and be successful on the site.

Here’s the issue. I’m not sure why I’m supporting her so much. I’ve spent more money on her than I have my last three girlfriends combined (which I have no problem with, as I feel it was well spent). We’ve talked over Skype a couple of times and texted, and we’ve both established that we’re intentionally single. She also mentioned that she doesn’t feel any sexual tension from me even though I tip to watch her get naked and masturbate. From what I know about her so far, I thoroughly respect her as a person and I just wanted to support her throughout her camming career.

However, lately I’ve been wondering if I want something more. I’m wholly aware that just because I give her a certain amount of money or friendship or support doesn’t mean I am entitled to any sort of sexual relations with her. I also feel fortunate that I even have things like her phone number and her Skype as I imagine most of her viewers don’t.

I really like her, though. It’s to the point where if I miss a cam session, I feel bad. Like I totally missed out. I can do a million fun things at night after work, but when she logs in I find myself doing the same.

The way I’ve rationalized it to myself is that models on cam sites provide a service, similar to bartenders, servers and strippers. At the end of the day, they are all there to work, and it’s their job to get you to like them so that you give them more money. She’s doing her job extraordinarily well. Though honestly I’ve been struggling with it because I’m not sure if I’m in denial and keeping something from her that I should tell her. I don’t want to hurt her or be fundamentally dishonest with her or myself.

How do I approach this without completely fucking it up?

Sincerely,

In Love With A Camgirl

Hoo boy.

ILWACG, you have done what many, many men have done before when single: you done went and fell in lust with a stripper. And, as much as I hate to break this to you: the stripper almost certainly doesn’t love you back.

Ok, let me back this up a little bit. Grab a seat, this is gonna be a long one.

Back in my pick-up days, there were two classes—for lack of a better word—of women that PUAs used to rank as being among the hardest to get: “hired guns” (that is: women in the service industry, so waitstaff, bartenders, shot girls, etc.) and strippers. Being able to pull one of these was supposed to be a mark of your skill; they were not only used to being hit on by… well, pretty much every man they interacted with, but their whole job revolved around milking dudes for money. And as dehumanizing and misogynistic as those views were… they’re not entirely incorrect.

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Anyone who’s been in a service industry job that relied on tips can tell you about all the tricks that they would use to maximize their tips. Little things like calling the customer by name, writing a little “thank you” on the check, even adding a little something like a smiley-face to the bill will prompt the customers to give a little more than they would otherwise. Being a little flirty is frequently a part of that particular tip-enhancement package; an extra smile, a little banter from the bartender… all of these can make the difference between a 10% tip, a 15% or a 25% tip.

Of course, when you stack all of those together, they sound an awful lot like indicators of interest. And when you’re already attracted to the person… well, then you have a motivation to want to believe that your barista or your waitress or your bartender likes you.

Now, let’s talk a little about sex-workers, like strippers and cam girls. Much like with service industry professionals, most of them make the bulk of their money off tips from their customers. The difference is that instead of selling you drinks or taking your order, they’re selling sex, and sex has a way of making people (men and women) stupid. Just as little flirty touches can mean the difference between a 15% and a 20% tip, selling a fantasy to go with the boners means that customers are going to stick around longer, spend more money and—hopefully—become regulars. Individual customers come and go, but a regular means steady—even predictable—income. For some, it can even mean gifts above and beyond straight fees for service; clothes, dinners, jewelry, even travel. And contrary to what you may think, this doesn’t become an issue of prostitution; more often than not, sex doesn’t actually enter the picture. Some dudes may well be trying to buy the dancer’s affections but a lot of regulars just like the idea of being a part of the dancer or cam-girl’s world. They like feeling like they have a special relationship with her.

That relationship, that greater level of intimacy that her other clients and customers don’t have, is part of the fantasy. And there are many ways of encouraging that fantasy, including—you guessed it—giving someone greater access to them by giving them their phone number or Skype name. So no, I don’t imagine most of her customers have her digits. But then again, I wouldn’t lay odds that you’re the only one who does.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying she’s coldly exploiting you for money and that her personality is a put-on. There may be some role-play, some persona, but not really that much more than any of us change ourselves between when we’re working and home… or on social media, for that matter. It’s not a false face so much as a carefully curated one.

Similarly, I’m not saying that she may not feel some genuine affection for you. The two of you may well have a legitimate emotional bond and a level of intimacy. The fact that you’re a client and she’s a service provider doesn’t preclude her from being friends with you or even actually infatuated with you. But—and call Sir Mix-A-Lot because this is one big but—it’s still her job and you are still interacting with her primarily as a client and it’s in her best interest to sell and promote that fantasy. No offense, ILWACG, I’m sure you’re an awesome guy and have a lot to offer… but this is her job.

Now this isn’t the only thing that’s going on, and it’s not that she’s some succubus, leading you on. There’re a few things happening in your own brain that’re contributing to this scenario. To start with: you’re getting a love-bomb, a shitload of dopamine and oxytocin going straight to the pleasure centers of your brain. Not only do you have the orgasms from watching her show hitting you, but the attention she’s giving you and the pleasure you get from the attention she gives you trigger what’s known as the Reward Theory of Attraction: you like how you feel around her because she makes you feel special, so you prioritize your relationship with her over others. She’s fulfilling your needs for emotional intimacy (and, to a certain extent, physical intimacy) and so you naturally want to spend more time with her.

You also have what’s known as the Sunk-Cost Fallacy going on. You’ve invested a lot of your time and money into this relationship and that makes it harder to want to leave it and find one with someone in person. Giving her up to pursue other partners would mean sacrificing all of this time and money you’ve spent, and that is legitimately hard to do.

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TL;DR: she may think you’re a good guy, but it’s in her interest to sell you a fantasy of a relationship and you’ve got a whole bunch of physiological and psychological reasons to want to believe in the fantasy. So no, I don’t think you really have a shot with this. It’s not impossible, but the odds are not in your favor. I think if you tell her, you’re going to get the “You’re sweet but…” speech.

But for the sake of argument, let’s play this out a little. Let us say that you express interest in her and she returns your feelings… then what? At this point you have two realities to confront.

The first is that this has been an online-only relationship and no matter how much chemistry you two may have through the phone and Skype sessions and texting, that doesn’t necessarily translate into actual chemistry in person. Cam shows don’t guarantee that there will be sparks in person—everything from the way she kisses to the way she smells and even the way she tastes when you kiss her all affect attraction and chemistry. Similarly, you’ve only seen a very small and carefully curated slice of her life; you have yet to truly see her when she hasn’t been “on”. The way you relate online doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to relate in the flesh and you need to keep that in mind.

The second is that she’s a sex-worker. That means that she’s going to have an intimate and sexual relationship with other men—quite possibly the same level of intimacy that the two of you now share—and you’re going to have to deal with that. It’s easy to ignore the fact that she’s performing sexually for others besides you when the relationship is theoretical. When there’s actual commitment, you’d be amazed at how much it might bother you, even when you’d swear up and down beforehand that it wouldn’t. Some folks are able to handle a non-monogamous or monogamish relationship and some aren’t and you’d better have a pretty firm handle on which you are before you go for it. If you are unable to handle it, then you’re setting yourself and your sweetie up for a world of hurt.

And while we’re on the subject: if you have fantasies of her giving up camming after you get together or of “rescuing” her from sex work, then you would need to give those up. Not only is it unfair to ask that of her, it’s actually insulting. The implication is that it was OK when she was primarily your wank fantasy, but now that she’s your girlfriend it’s unacceptable, and that carries a whole lot of implications for how you think of her as a sexual being. Predicating your relationship on a Madonna-Whore complex is a great way to end that relationship.

You have to realize: trying to pursue a relationship with someone who does sex-work is dating on hard mode. While these challenges aren’t insurmountable, they can definitely be far thornier and more complicated than dating a pastry chef you met on OKCupid or asking out Amanda in Accounts Receivable. It will present challenges you may never have imagined and hit emotional issues that you may well not have realized were there.

If, if she’s actually romantically interested in you or open to the possibility of dating, you have to be ready to deal with all of those issues. If you’re not, then I’d say you shouldn’t. Love is a wonderful thing, but love alone isn’t enough to make a relationship work, no matter how much you both may want it to.

Now that I’ve crushed your dreams with the Chair Leg of Truth, let’s go back your situation as things currently stand.

If your current relationship—texting, skyping, etc.—with her makes you happy and you’re realistic about the nature of your relationship with this woman, then there’s really no reason to end it. As long as you’re not spending money you can’t afford to lose and you recognize that this is primarily a provider/client relationship, more power to you. Just recognize that by continuing as you are, you’re choosing to not pursue a relationship with someone else who might be closer to home, both physically and emotionally.

Good luck.

How have you dated someone in the service industry? Did you manage to hook up with your favorite store clerk or bartender? Share your stories and experiences in the comments section, and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your questions.

Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered Write doc@doctornerdlove.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.

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. His new book Simplified Dating is available exclusively through Amazon. 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.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.