Hello and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column to prevent the resurrection of Dracula.
This week, we’re talking about the sorts of awkward situations that you can’t really feel comfortable talking about… except with an advice columnist in front of thousands of anonymous strangers. How do you make it clear to a guy that you’re not his friend, his therapist or his mother? What if he’s also donating thousands of dollars to your livestream? And what does it mean to have a fetish for a particular type of person? Is it always bad? Is it something that should be pursued or avoided?
Be careful out there, because it’s a horrible night for a curse. Let’s do this.
Hi Nerdlove. I need some advice.
Last column, you touched upon this issue of a man liking a female streamer. Well, this time I’m the female streamer asking for help dealing with a viewer.
I used to be a regular streamer, and started only because a youtube/gaming community asked me to. It was a lot of fun, the channel saw great success, then one day someone from the community found me, and well… this is where the problem begins. He liked my stream and had a lot of money. It started off with $100. Then it began escalating. Eventually this person donated A BIG amount to “help me out”. Talking over $6K. They began taking personal interest in my life and because I was going through hardships, they took it upon themselves to help me out with money. I asked them to stop, but they refused to, saying it made them feel good about themselves to help me.
Outside of interacting in streams and chatting in a game together, we didn’t socialize much. This person was very guarded, didn’t really like to talk about himself. When this person decided to stop by my hometown while on a tour of this part of the country, I haltingly agreed to meet up (mostly agreed because I felt guilty he’d donated so much money). It turns out he’s barely any older than my younger siblings, and lonely because of military life. I was cordial to him, but I think this is where I messed up – I’m guilty of not wanting to be mean (because I’m really good at being mean) so I didn’t say “No, I will not hang out, please don’t visit me. It’s weird. You don’t know me.”
He decided to come back to visit this area again a few months later to meet up with me and another member of the community, against my recommendation. Even though his tours and trips did include going to other places, the majority of his trip was centered around being in my hometown and spending time with just me, refusing to meet up if my friends were with us. This time I confronted him about why it is he keeps coming to see me instead of other friends or family, to stop donating so much money and basically just to really talk it out.
He insists that I’m genuine and real, (despite my very clear signs and history of being toxic, depressed, anti-social, etc.) and that it’s more genuine to meet up with someone you know from online in person. Even though we met online, he thinks it’s weird to talk online. After talking with him about of my concerns, I see he’s a lonely nerd whose life experience at 22 is limited to military life and who was crushing hard on the girl he saw on stream. He says my streams have helped him with the military monotony; He’s stressing out about life, feeling the full force of the human experience weighing on him, and he sees comfort in me. I understand doing things alone and being alone sucks; but I never latched onto a streamer I didn’t know in efforts to force a friendship with them and to ease my loneliness. I mentioned that with the money he donated, he could have paid a therapist for help. He actually did get help, but now he wants to chat out his therapy exercises with me. In all the online time I do, he is there in one form or another. Waiting for me to log into the game, waiting for me to group up, waiting for me to start streaming so he can be the first in chat. I’m starting to get sick of him.
Where do I go from here? I’m very selective with the friends I make, so for someone to latch on to me just because they saw me online and force a friendship feels strange, and frankly, very intrusive. He’s a nice, lonely kid but I don’t want to encourage or reward his behavior of just showing up in someone’s hometown by being friends with him. Should I go full force and cut ties with him, remove him from my friends list on steam, bnet, etc, refund his money (even though I have a policy of not doing that) and just straight cold shoulder him, potentially devastating him? (He falls apart when I ignore him.) Or, should I keep being nice to this lonely, deluded stranger while enforcing some strong guidelines for both of us (Which I have no idea what they would be). This sounds like the most logical thing to do, but I think even an inch is too much for him. He means well, but I don’t want him around. Help!
Here’s your problem in a nutshell, FS: you’ve got a good heart. This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but it’s being coupled with a very familiar issue: you’re putting his desires above your own rather than risk being “mean”.
Women are taught in our culture to be overly-considerate to men and men’s feelings no matter what… even when it’s at their own expense. In fact, there are times when women will feel that they have to be nice to a guy, even at times when their own safety is at risk.
Now, let’s be clear: I don’t think this guy is necessarily a threat to you… but he sure as hell isn’t in great emotional working order, and he’s imprinted on you like a baby gosling. As I told Lost and Confused (and In Love With A Camgirl before him): he has the illusion of a relationship with you. The fact that he sees you so often on Twitch, that he’s contributed in a material way to you and that he’s even interacted with you can give the feeling of a greater level of intimacy than actually exists. He feels like he knows you because of that sense of familiarity, which is part of why he thinks less of contributing so much money towards you. He may even feel a touch of ownership because he’s given you so much.
It might be different if he had money to burn and an otherwise solid social life and this was just an indulgence for him. But it’s not. It’s fostering an unhealthy, unrealistic and ultimately one-sided relationship on his part.
And then there’s the awkwardness on your end of things. It’s hard enough for a lot of women to be direct about shutting guys down — in fact, it can be pretty dangerous. But there’s more going on here.
To start with, there’s the fact that he’s given you a lot of money. That may not have had overt strings attached to it, but it sure as hell is going to make you feel a little obligated to make nice. That deep-rooted sense of reciprocity is in all of us. In his book Influence, Eric Cialdini goes into all the ways people use reciprocity to manipulate us, from the mints that come with the bill at dinner to car salesmen offering us bottles of water. In fact, a lot of people, from creepers to out-and-out abusers, will use that sense of reciprocity to influence the people they’re interested in; they’ve done X, Y and Z for you, so don’t you at least owe them something in return?
It doesn’t sound like your guy is consciously giving you money to keep you in his life, but it is part of the calculus as to why you’re having a hard time giving him the ol’ heave-ho.
Then there’s his sad-sack sob story. Again: it may not be something he’s doing intentionally, but by making you both mother confessor and the only “real” person in his life, he’s offloading a hell of a lot of responsibility onto your shoulders… responsibilities that you are absolutely not responsible for. He’s leveraging your sense of guilt to make you feel as though you have a duty to him after he unilaterally decided that you’re his best friend and mother-confessor and loses his shit when you don’t play along.
This is all deeply manipulative on his part. Whether or not it’s something he’s doing consciously — sitting in front of his laptop, fingers steepled and glasses glinting in the light of the monitor, plotting his next move to make you dance to his tune — doesn’t make it any less manipulative, creepy or just plain fucked up.
Of course, I do have to point out that it really doesn’t help that you met up with him in the first place. That’s going to blur the lines between “entertainer” and “audience”, especially if it’s not in the context of something like an organized meet-up event. Seeing him again months later was also a bad move, especially considering how uncomfortable you are with him. It sets precedent and expectations; now he has even more reason to see you as his… friend, therapist, crush-object, what-have-you.
So, all of that in mind, here’s my recommendation for you: you need some serious fuck-off boundaries — not just with him but in general. Letting people manipulate you through feeling like you can’t be direct or refuse because it’d be “mean” is going to lead to more trouble in the future, and likely worse than this. Learning to say “no” and make it stick is one of the most important skills you can develop on both a personal and professional level. That goes doubly so with your audience. If they want to put a tip in your tip jar, that’s one thing, but it’s not a transaction that guarantees them your attention or time beyond the stream. Same with people who just a) “happen” to be in your area and b) want to see you. Unless you have an actual relationship with them, that’s just bad shit looking for a place to occur.
(Also: sweet sufferin’ Jesus, lock down your social media already.)
Part of having those boundaries means enforcing them. That means drawing some very firm lines in the sand. He’s not your friend, you’re not his therapist and you sure as hell aren’t in any sort of a relationship. You’re a performer, he’s the audience, and that’s the end of it. Cut him from your friends lists and make it clear that your interactions are now very, very restricted and you’re going to drop kick him through the goalposts of Twitch if he breaks those rules. If you’re feeling especially generous, you can consider giving him the money back but honestly? I’d keep it. Call it an inconvenience tax.
Personally, I’d suggest cutting him off entirely and possibly even bouncing him from the stream. I don’t think he’s going to respect any decisions you make without creating a shitload of drama for you. But here’s the thing: no matter what you do, you’re going to have to stick to your guns because there’s going to be a hell of a tantrum coming.
You’re going to feel guilty about this, but you have to remember these magic words: it’s not your responsibility. Yeah, it blows that he’s lonely. That’s not your responsibility. You didn’t volunteer to be his only social outlet, he dumped this on you. You are not responsible for his life, his emotions or — and this is important — whatever he does when you cut him loose.
He’ll make a fuss. Ignore it. He might threaten self-harm. IGNORE IT. If you think he’s serious, you can always drop a line to the MPs where he’s stationed but he is not your responsibility.
It sucks that you got stuck in this situation, FS. Now it’s time to dig yourself out and learn from it so you don’t make the same mistakes again. Good luck, and let us know how it all goes.
Dear Dr. NerdLove, I have a problem I’d like your thoughts on.
I’m growing a bit concerned about my sexual fantasies/desires or just plain interests that have been swirling in my head for sometime.
First off, I would say that I have a racial preference for asian females. I’m not much of an anime fan and the only asian flicks I watch are old Jet-Li and Jackie Chan movies so I don’t think it counts as a fetish. I don’t know why I have it, but I do. It really manifested itself in high-school. My school was situated in a Vietnamese majority neighborhood so as a result my school was populated with some very attractive Vietnamese girls. To be honest I don’t know if this a problem per se because this probably resulted in me forming my closest friendship I have right now in my life with an Asian woman. Long story short I went through the whole best friend pining for his female friend bullshit thing and after years of this we had long, blunt heart to heart and now our friendship is closer than ever pretty much to point she is my number one friend. So maybe the above issue is much ado about nothing.
The other one that I noticed is pretty embarrassing for me to discuss and I have had it for a while like since i was a kid. But I have to get this off my chest and tell someone before I lose it. Here it goes. I have a fetish for cosplay bondage stuff. To be perfectly clear I’m talking like Batgirl or Wonder Woman or whatever costumed heroine in sexy peril. In fact it has been the dominant fantasy of mine for a long time now. But the thing is I don’t like rape stuff or bdsm porno crap, or to be more accurate the really hardcore and realistic stuff at least. The only explanation I have for that is because of the nature of my job as a first-responder. I have worked on real rape cases, bad ones like the end result was serious life threatening injuries to the victims and I don’t want reminders of it. But even before I got into the medical field that kind of thing always made me uneasy and yet if I put on an old episode of Wonder Woman, an old Batman 66 series episode with Batgirl or anything like that where the Heroine was in a perilous situation, it always gets my attention.
And finally and most embarrassingly of all especially considering what I do for a living. I have recently within the last few years found myself being attracted to or interested in women in wheelchairs. (It explains why I have a large collection of Birds of Prey comics and pre new-52 Batman comics with Barbara Gordon Oracle on my bookshelf). Believe me, I can cut the irony with a butter knife. I have medical training, I should and do know full well the difficulties paraplegic women have to deal with and yet I find myself occasionally being fascinated by them anyway. To point where I’ve looked up pictures of attractive disabled women and even out of curiosity reading testimonies from female paraplegic bloggers detailing their sex-lives. Wow, I can’t believe I just admitted to that, but I had to do it, I can’t keep this stuff in anymore. I’ve got to know what’s up with these thoughts, and frankly the only therapist I can afford is the doctor that’s got every LT, Captain and Chief that I answer to on speed dial.
I’m hoping there is reason for my desires. Am I destined to be with a paraplegic asian woman with a taste for weird cosplay bondage sex? I’m joking, by the way, but do what I do long enough, you start to believe in crazy coincidences.
Alright FF, we’re going to take this in “least troubling” to “most problematic” (and damn if writing that doesn’t make me twitch).
Let’s start with the basics of fetishes and interests and where they come from. And the truth is… nobody fucking knows. Talk to five kinksters who are into spanking, say, and you’re going to get six origin stories. The best guess anyone has is that something happened at just the right moment that you fixated on it sexually and boom, it turns your crank.
The thing about most kinks, interests and fetishes is that there’s often a difference between us and what turns us on. We tend to assume that who we are is perfectly consistent at all levels and therefore any deviance from that identity is a sign that the identity is fake. And considering that, in this sex-negative culture, we tend to equate the kind of sex we are into with the kind of person you are, then being interested in anything outside of basic vanilla starts calling your decency into question. Good people have “good” sex, after all.
Consider all of the hew and cry about “what does this mean about women??” over the popularity of the 50 Shades of Grey books. Does the fact that millions of women were getting turned on by shitty writing and bad S&M mean that women want to be dominated by rapey dudes? What about a guy who’s into rough, violent porn? Obviously he’s just a step away from acting it out in real life, right? Spoiler alert: not really.
It’s not just a case of “tell me what you jerk it to and I’ll tell you who you are”, it’s that we often like things that may be completely perpendicular to who we are as people. Sexuality and sexual desire are fucking complicated and often crazier than a bag full of weasels on an ether binge.
We get turned on by the damndest of things. Some people love transgressing or inverting social norms and love being sissified, or or love age-play or taking opposite roles from their daily life. Some people get a charge off doing something taboo or out of character for them, which is how you can find the staunch feminist with rape fantasies or a Jewish person getting turned on by Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. It can feel weird and upsetting, but it’s actually really normal. We just don’t talk about it much because we tend to assume that deviance = “bad”, full stop.
Now, this doesn’t mean that every dark desire is good to go and ultimately means nothing. It’s good to interrogate your interests and desires as to just what it is that turns you on about the fantasies running around in your noggin.
Take, for example, your interest in cosplay bondage. Some people — like you — get turned on by power exchange and power inversion. That’s part of the appeal of bondage and S&M or even things like ravishment fantasies, adult babies and age-play; you’re conceding power in a negotiated way. In your case, it’s taking someone who’s powerful and putting them in a position where they’re not. Seeing Yvonne Craig or Linda Carter tied up flips your switch because hey, hot powerful chick is roped up and helpless and your pants get introduced to Mr. Tingly. But at the same time, it’s done in a way that’s clearly not serious. Yeah, they’re tied up and at your mercy but nobody is actually being hurt and it’s clear they will have the upper hand again very soon. So there’s that delicious tension to be had, along with the knowledge that it’s safe, sane and consensual. Even rape fantasies are ultimately about consent because they’re scripted; it’s not just about someone being assaulted, it’s about the scenario going in a very specific way.
This, incidentally, is why the sub in bondage has the power, E.L James be damned. The sub is the one in charge to let the scene progress or to call it quits. So with that out of the way, let’s take it into the area of your other fetishes.
One of the things that makes fetishizing people — whether on the basis of race or ability — icky is that it’s ultimately dehumanizing. It’s one thing to find beauty in, say, brown skin or the texture of a person’s hair. It’s another when part of what makes you so into somebody is because you see them as a collection of stereotypes instead of a person. It reduces the person to being an object, rather than an individual with wants and needs and interests and flaws. They’re not a human any more, they’re somebody’s fantasy, disposable and interchangeable with anyone else who might meet the same look or culture.
Guys with Asian fetishes, for example, often are less into Asian people because they find that particular kind of facial feature attractive and more because of what they think about Asian people in general. Part of why MRAs and Red-Pill types wax rhapsodic about Asian women is because they see them as more “demure” or subservient, like women “should” be. Otaku who get obsessive with Japanese women often do so not because of the person but because of what she “represents”; she’s not an individual with wants and needs so much as a trophy, the ultimate avatar of their vision of moe and the like. It’s less of a person and more of the closest they can come to the waifu in their heads. Achieving this makes the guy special because he’s proven his awesomeness by the power of his fandom.
(This is, incidentally, also the problem with fetishizing geek girls. It’s not about the individual woman, it’s about how she makes the guy special because he’s a geek.)
Needless to say, that is both insulting and unpleasant as fuck for the women involved. This is also frequently an issue with paraplegics. There’s a sub-culture of fetishists known as “devotees”, people who are sexually attracted to folks with amputations, muscular issues, wheelchairs and other handicaps and disabilities. For a lot of disabled people, this is an issue; it’s hard enough to date with a disability. It can be especially harrowing to find out that the reason why Studly Goodnight asked you out isn’t because you’re awesome but because you have a prosthetic limb. It can be deeply humiliating to be reduced to one feature or facet of who you are.
But remember how I said sex is fucking complicated? That’s true here, too. Because for some folks, being objectified isn’t necessarily bad; we’re not just people, we’re also pieces of meat. People with disabilities are often sexually invisible; folks see the crutches or the wheelchair or whatnot and quit seeing the person. It can be empowering as hell to know that the thing that makes you different is also the spice that makes you that much more appealing to somebody.
Of course, this can have it’s dark side, too. Some devotees are interested less in the handicap and more in what it represents: a lack of power. Somebody needing you — literally, requiring your assistance — can be a turn on for people. Knowing you have that kind of power over someone can be arousing. And the motivation behind it can range from the benign to the disturbing. You may want to be a hero to somebody or you may like having that literal power of life or death over someone.
This is why it’s important to interrogate your desires, especially ones that seem most troubling to you. Are you, FF, into Asian women because you have a specific image in mind that you expect them to fit into? Or is it a case that they’re individuals but there’s an emotional association from growing up that adds an extra oomph to them? Are you into paraplegics because you like power exchange or because there’s something about them that you find beautiful or intriguing?
Even in areas where there’s overlap—power over someone via bondage and power over someone who isn’t as physically capable—doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Desire is just that: desire. It’s ultimately neutral. It’s how you act on those desires that define good or bad.
Being into somebody who’s awesome and also in a wheelchair isn’t that much different than being into someone who’s awesome and also a redhead, or has a particular accent, or has breasts of a particular size. It’s a bonus, not the whole of them. Dating someone with a handicap or of a particular ethnicity because you think that they’ll be easier to dominate or because they’ll be so grateful for someone showing interest, on the other hand, is bad.
Short version: You’ve got shit that turns you on that’s outside the norm. That’s not uncommon nor is it that big of a deal, depending on how you act on it. A sex-positive therapist may be able to help you interrogate those interests and let you get a handle on the whats, hows and whys. The fact that the one you do know is also in contact with folks who know you professionally isn’t that big of a deal—doctor/patient confidentiality is pretty damn sacrosanct. But if you wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to them, you could always check the referral directory from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. That can help you find a professional in your area who can talk you through some of this.
But like I said: desire is complicated but neutral. It’s how you act on it that defines it.
Did you have to reject someone’s unwanted friendship? Have you wrestled with an unusual kink or fetish? 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 bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write email@example.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 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.