Ask Dr. NerdLove: Is My Casual Relationship Getting Serious?

Hello all you fluorescent bed goats, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that can guide you through the Lost Woods of Love.


This week, we’re navigating those tricky grey zones and mysterious moments when you aren’t sure if you’re making progress in your relationship or if you’re just hopelessly lost. What do you do when it seems like your strictly casual, no-strings relationship is developing some strings? What’s the right path to take when your crush loves you one moment and hates you the next, then loves you again? How do you get quit of your abusive ex when she’s threatening to torment members of your family if you leave?

Sometimes finding the path is more than NORTH, WEST, SOUTH, WEST. Let’s do this.

Dear Dr. NerdLove:

Let’s start with the basics, I’m 25 and recently had my first sexual experience. Frankly, it was my first experience, period. I’m not sure how I feel, how I should feel or what to do.

More than a year ago I met this girl at work. I got to know her and liked her, so I asked her out. She rejected me, but we still wanted to be friends. I’m an emotional person so I gave myself space until I felt I could be her friend. It worked, for a time. I stopped being nervous around her, I didn’t think of her that way. Months went by like normal until I went out with some friends, her included, and I ended up having to stay at her place.

I’ve slept in the same bed with female friends before, but this was different. She pulled me close to her, she leaned on me, she pushed herself against me. My heart was racing, I didn’t get much sleep that night. My instincts were telling me that she liked me, but she had already told me that she did not think of me that way. One night we were both drinking and I tried to confront her, but she beat me to it. The definition of “one thing led to another” happened. I knew that this was just physical. She confirmed for me that we were NOT dating. In fact, she told me she had no feelings for me more than once. She had a bad experience with her last relationship and decided that she could not be with someone for the time being.

That was five months ago. At the time, I would have liked a committed relationship, but since I was moving to the west coast, I wasn’t in a place to start something. A friends with benefits relationship worked for me for that moment in time. After about a month of us sleeping together, it was pretty clear that I was developing feelings for her and I was having a hard time with a strictly casual relationship. Because of what happened in her last relationship it made sense that she would not, could not be with someone for the time being.

We still continued sleeping together, but something changed. The lines between the time we spent as friends and the time we spent as lovers became blurry and less defined. This started to feel like an actual relationship. I don’t know if it was because this was the first casual relationship either of us had, that she was changing her mind about me, or I was just seeing what I wanted to see.

In the end, it didn’t matter. I was moving to another state so, whatever our relationship was, it was temporary at best.

Now she is coming out here to visit for a couple days. My instincts are telling me that I should ask her just what we are and could this ever be a real thing. But when I look at this from an outside perspective, I see myself as that person who falls in love with the person that took his virginity.

Am I deluding myself in thinking that we could have something? Should I listen to my instincts? By asking her if there could be an “us”, am I retroactively ignoring her when she told me it was just physical? I don’t know what to do.

Tied Up And Twisted

First of all, TUT, there’s nothing wrong with being in love with the first person you slept with. Hell, having your first time being with someone you love — even if that love is something that developed after the fact — is great. Having feelings for her doesn’t mean that you imprinted on her like a gosling; it just means that she’s somebody that you care for.

Now all things considered, TUT, I think you’re putting a little too much emphasis on what she told you at the beginning of your relationship. The fact that you agreed to terms at the beginning doesn’t mean that they’re inviolate, handed down on stone tablets from God on high.

Before we get into your specific situation, let’s talk a little about the care and feeding of a casual relationship. If you and your partner want to keep things casual, you want to have some rules in place. The first is, obviously, the two of you need to be on the same page about just what kind of relationship this is. If one of you sees this as strictly about the two of you banging on occasion and the other thinks that this is the slow road to something more serious, there’s going to be disappointment and heartbreak in your immediate future.

Part of this involves making sure that you’re working from the same playbook and have the same expectations of one another. You want to make sure that your definition of “casual” lines up with theirs. For example, it may seem to go without saying that this is non-exclusive. Say it anyway. Plenty of people have been shocked to discover that their casual play partner is banging others when they haven’t because they thought that “casual” meant that they weren’t going to move in together or get married.


Similarly, you want to be careful about the way you conduct your relationship. The way you act often sets the tone and mood, and those can run counter to the nature of the relationship you want. This isn’t to say that you don’t hang out, get meals together or do fun things together… but actions come with implications and you can inadvertently create expectations that may run counter to what you agreed upon.

If, for example, your outings together are full of low lighting and soft music, you’re setting a specific sort of mood. You may still be having bed-rocking, wall-thumping sex like a pair of coked out rockstars, but that mood lighting and atmosphere says “romance,” not “two people having no-strings fun.” Similarly, spending lots of time together, having those long, deep and meaningful conversations all promote a level of closeness and intimacy that’s often found between close friends and lovers, not people who like to get freaky. That is a great way to end up catching feels… something that the two of you agreed you didn’t want to happen.


But the most important rule is that you keep the lines of communication open. The fact that you’re casual doesn’t mean that you don’t have needs or concerns or that you don’t ever talk about your relationship. A casual relationship is still a relationship, and relationships live or die on the ability for everyone to communicate clearly and openly with one another. If you have concerns or needs that aren’t being met, you should feel like you are allowed to express them. If you have questions about the relationship or you find it’s going in a direction you aren’t comfortable with, you should feel empowered to bring it up.

Case in point: your relationship with your friend with benefits, TUT. You’ve discovered — as many people have — that sometimes lines get blurry and what seemed like a strictly physical thing is becoming more and more emotionally intimate. Now you’re in an awkward spot where you aren’t sure just what the hell is going on between the two of you.


And to be honest: if she was serious about things being casual, then she should’ve ended things when she realized that you were getting attached to her. Her continuing to hook up with you, knowing how you feel, sends a message. It may not be a message that she intended to send, but it was sent nonetheless.

So now you have to balance what she said versus what she does. She told you one thing — that she doesn’t have feelings for you, that she can’t do a relationship right now and that this is strictly casual — but the way she acts implies something completely different. That puts you in an uncomfortable and uncertain place. The fact that she said “This is what we are” at the beginning doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to check in and see whether that’s still in effect or if her feelings have changed.


Because hey, that does happen. A lot of great, loving relationships started out as a strictly casual, we-are-never-getting-together sort of hook-up when everyone involved realized that they fell in love despite themselves.

To be frank, her coming out to visit you certainly implies more of an investment than a strictly casual fling. I’ve had plenty of casual relationships with folks in other cities or states, but those were more of a “if we happen to be in the same place” arrangement. Her coming out specifically to see you? That doesn’t say “casual” to me, that says “starting to be invested.”


So when she comes out, muscle up and tell her that you want to have that Defining The Relationship talk. Let her know that you feel like things are changing between the two of you and you want to know if you’re right or if you’re completely off your nut. So you want to check in with her: has she changed how she feels about your relationship? Is she more open to something serious, or is this still strictly physical for her?

If she says that yes, she’s changed her mind, then hey, yahtzee! Now you can start figuring out just where you two are going from here. If, on the other hand, she says that things haven’t changed… well, that sucks. But at the same time, at least you’ll have gotten an answer and you can move forward.


Good luck.

Hey Dr. NerdLove,

Long time reader, first-time emailer! I’m a 23 year old dude who in the last few months ran into a girl that just constantly perplexes me. She seems really eager one minute then super deflated the next and I’m not sure what to do about her.

I have a mild case of alopecia which tends to flare up over stress which has led to me having mild bald spots and major insecurity issues, meaning I’m pretty non-existent on the dating scene. I accept that; I’m usually the best friend and never the boyfriend.

A few months ago when I left my last retail job I stayed in touch with a girl — “Alpha” — who I worked with.

About two months into working at that job, I ended up walking Alpha home after a work night out. She had gotten insanely drunk and was aggressively hitting on me on the way home. Seeing as she was a) drunk and b) had a boyfriend, I said no, of course. After that night, however, we became good friends and would generally spend lunches together.

One night Alpha told me that she had feelings for me and that she was mad I never accepted her advances when I walked her home that night. I explained why and said that, now that she was single, I’d be willing to date and see where it went. This led to her telling me she liked me, loved talking to me, and kept thinking up of all these dates we could go on.

Everything took a turn for the worse one night later. Alpha was at a nightclub with a mutual friend of ours — someone I’ve known since I was 5. I was out with my friends that night, but my friends decided to call it a night early. Being drunk and knowing the girl I like and was kinda-sorta-maybe dating was out at a nightclub that I have to pass on my way home anyway, I decided I’d stay out a bit longer and have some fun with her.

I get there and Alpha immediately runs away from me and hides in the girl’s bathroom. Obviously, her friend and I are confused. Alpha messages me and tells me I’m weird for showing up. At that point, I just left and figured things were kinda done with us. I’d never felt more embarrassed in my life.

A week later I get a text from her saying that she ran and hid because she didn’t think I actually had real feelings for her. When I showed up outta the blue, it made it all real and she freaked. I told her that she should tell me these things, that I’m not that experienced dating, that I’m freaking out a little too and that when she just acts crazy like that it made me just feel like she didn’t care.

After this things got weird. She stopped being super keen about the idea of us. I’d ask her out on dates or to just go on a walk and she would constantly tell me she doesn’t know her roster for work and will let me know when she’s free. Meanwhile, she posts updates to her social media about how she’s going out with friends, so I’m starting to feel like maybe she’s not interested in me anymore.

However, one night Alpha and I actually hung out, and she told me that she had stalked a female friend of mine recently on Facebook because she had tagged me in a meme or something, and she got furious at the thought of some other girl texting me. At this point I’m losing my mind, I can’t get her out of my head, we were having great times when we went out but it was getting harder and harder to get to those times because of her “not knowing her roster”.

It eventually gets to a point where I just decide to stop texting her. Hey, I got the hint, she’s not interested. She never texted me asking why it’d been 2 months since I messaged her or why I left her on seen outta the blue, so I assumed my intuition was correct.

But last week, my friends and I were drunkenly walking the streets at 4 AM and I heard someone call my name. It’s Alpha. I try and be nice to her and say hello, and she immediately freaked out at me telling me I’m a C. U. Next Tuesday for leaving her on seen. I tried to tell her why: because I felt she wasn’t interested in me. She told me it was because she was depressed and that I’m an asshole for being so insensitive.

At this point I don’t know what to do, do I try reconcile with her? If she was telling the truth, I’d feel awful about doing what I did. I didn’t stop talking to her because I wanted to, but because I felt like I had to.

We both have been invited to a mutual friend’s party in two weeks, and I just need some clear advice on what to do here. Should I just cover my losses and go back to being a hermit or maybe try to hash things out with her?


A Patchy Boy

Ok my dude, I am going to give it to you straight: you don’t want to try to reconcile with her, you want to run like all of Hell and half of Hoboken are on your ass. One of the things that you want in a potential partner is someone who has good judgement and high emotional intelligence. This woman… doesn’t. Frankly, she’s a hot mess with the emphasis on “mess.”


The fact that she goes from hot to cold THAT wildly is a bad sign; doubly so if she’s prone to getting absolutely shit-faced and acting like a fool.

She is ten pounds of trouble in a five pound sack and not the fun kind. This is the kind that thinks “Before He Cheats” is a great way to handle relationship problems and who will freak out at you because you took her lack of interest in you as a lack of interest.


I promise you: no matter how hot she is, no how horny you are or how great you think the sex with her could be, it is not going to be worth the misery she’s going to throw your way.

You deserve far better than someone who’s the emotional equivalent of Action Park. You can do better than this.

Good luck.

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

I’ve been in a relationship with someone for a year and a half. It started well; she was funny, spontaneous and everything went so calmly for three months.

Six months in, she started to tell me about her trauma from childhood (abusive father) and her mental illness. She has a condition called “Misophonia”, which is a sound disorder. She get triggered (upset, disgusted, aggressive) at the sounds of breathing, eating and coughing.

I tried to be very kind to this woman, but she became increasingly abusive, rude, calling me names when we fight (over nothing, mind you). She pushed me once during an argument and asked me to leave the room because she can’t stand the sound of me breathing.

I actually thought this woman could be my wife despite her problems. She got pregnant by mistake and had an abortion. She blames me, because I said I didn’t want a child, but of course I would be responsible for the both of them if she decided to keep it. Her parents and friends pushed her to get the abortion, but she blames me.

We’re both 32 years old, I am a medical doctor and she’s in banking with a PhD but she had to go on sick leave for the past few months due to misophonia. That’s possible in Germany.

My main issue here is, after all the abuse and mental pushing around that I went through — she’ll say things like: shut up, you’re not worth the effort, I just want the child back and you can fuck off, pay me back what I spent on trains to come see you — I decided to break up with her, but she just says no.

Three days ago she was begging on the phone and saying things like: “I am so upset I want to kill everyone in front of me, I wish my parents would die now,” and she’ll scream things like: “Why don’t you want me? I want to feel wanted! Want me now!”

This relationship is so complicated that I am sure the above makes no sense: all I want is to break up with this woman. I told her several times: leave me alone, get out of my life, I just want to be alone, please let me go. She won’t. I blocked her on every possible platform but she’d still reach my professional email and spam me with emails, even threatening to contact my relatives so I unblocked her momentarily.

Now we’re on peace mode because I kinda gave way to her and whatnot, but also on a constant alert due to me wanting to manage her emotional state. We live in different cities but see each other every week.

Oh, one important thing: she blames me for her losing weight, and her being clingy is because I “conditioned” her to be in this state so it’s my responsibility to take care of it. She’s also always mentioning wanting my “sperm” via freezing because I didn’t want the child and it’s my duty to give her back what I took from her.

Now that I write what she does I am seeing how this is a very absurd email. What do I do? I feel very bad for her but I just want to be left alone, I don’t want to hurt her but I have to move on with my life. She suggested that I go to therapy and whatnot - it’s getting out of hand.

I am sorry to have taken a lot of your time.



Holy hopping sheep shit, Z. No, I don’t think this is complicated. It’s very simple, really: this woman is a goddamn trash-fire and you need to dump he so hard her grandparents divorce retroactively.


I’m glad that you’ve been trying to get away because JESUS BLUE SUFFERING FUCKSTICKS this is a bad scene for you. This is a profoundly abusive relationship with someone who seems determined to burn down everything around her and take you with her.

The problem is that you aren’t taking this seriously enough. This has long ceased to be a problem that can be solved by peacing the hell out of the relationship and letting your friends buy you all the beers to help you recover from this. This is a shit-show of epic proportions and she’s starting to become an actual and honest to god threat.


Take, for example, that you keep telling her that you’re breaking up and she keeps saying “no.” Break-ups aren’t like launching nukes; you don’t both have to turn the keys to end the relationship. Break-ups are inherently one-sided. Someone decides they don’t want to be in a relationship anymore — for any reason — and ends it. The other person doesn’t get to veto their decision because she doesn’t feel like the reason was good enough or she doesn’t accept it.


The problem is that your ex — or soon to be ex — is not only not accepting it, she’s waging a goddamn harassment campaign to force you to stay. You’ve tried to be nice, you tried to block her out of your life, and she turned around and threatened to drag your family into her drama. This should be the sign that it’s time to drag out the great big fuck-off guns. It’s time to get the law involved.

You’re in Germany, so I don’t know whether you need to talk to the police first and file a report or if you can hire a lawyer straight away, but you need to get a restraining order on her immediately. The sooner you have a judge sign off on an order that says she has to stay the everloving hell away from you, the sooner you can excise this particular shit-show out of your life. She may well be the type that sees restraining orders as something that happens to other people, but at the very least having that order in place means that you have a swift legal recourse if she does make good on her threats to start harassing you family.


Meanwhile: cut her out of your life so thoroughly that it’s like she didn’t exist. Block her on every account you have and lock your social media down like Fort Knox. Contact your family and tell them that they may want to pre-emptively block her as well, just to be sure, and that under no circumstances should they give her any information about you.


You’re a reasonable person in an unreasonable situation. It’s time to take this shit seriously and get the authorities involved.


It says a lot about you that you’re worried about her and that you don’t want to hurt her. You’re a good man, and it’s a testimony to you that you’d rather not cause her pain. But not only does she clearly not worry about hurting you, but that is not your goddamn responsibility. Your primary responsibility is to your own health and safety, and that means getting away from her with a quickness.

Get the FUCK out of this relationship, Z. Now.

And write back so we know how you’re doing.

Did your casual relationship turn serious? Did you leave an abusive relationship? Share your story in the comments below and 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 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 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.



Now we’re on peace mode because I kinda gave way to her and whatnot

If you have to give in to someone in order for them to stop harassing you, you’re not in peace mode. You’re in manipulation mode. You’re in coercion mode. Peace is the absence of conflict, not the burying of conflict.