Hello, all you disturbing pheromone wolves, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to help you remaster your love life for 4K and help your relationship look and feel the way you remember it when it was new.
This week, it’s all about what it takes to make a relationship work… and when it’s time to leave. What do you do when an age gap in your relationship didn’t feel so important at the start, but now it’s all you think about? How do you find a relationship when the only people who are interested in you are emotionally unavailable? And what do you do when moving with your boyfriend is starting to give you nightmares?
It’s time to refine some old experiences with new controls and visuals.
Let’s do this.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I have read your answers before on Kotaku and your responses have been really good. Honestly talking to my friends has given me conflicting and confusing answers and is generally not helpful, so finally, I figured I need to reach out to someone who actually knows what they are talking about.
So some background on me, I was quite late to the dating game, only having my first real girlfriend at the age of 26. I have been with her for the past four years. At first I didn’t take things too seriously, I had just got off a string of failed romances and assumed that we would be over within a year or so. But things ended up turning out great, we got on really well together, we basically never argue, we laugh together and basically have been really happy. As things went along we ended up moving in together when I got a job (a job she helped me get) in a new city.
The problem is for the last three years of so these insidious thoughts have kept creeping into my mind every few months and have been getting more and more frequent.
You see, she’s eleven years older than me. At first, I didn’t see that as a problem, but as the years have gone by it’s increasingly dawned on me that an age gap exists between us.
One of the problems with talking about this issue is that it’s impossible for me not to sound incredibly shallow (probably because I am being shallow) but one of the problems is her looks. As the years go it’s becoming more and more apparent how much older she is than me. She’s not ugly, but when I go out and see my friends with girlfriends around their own age or see other couples together I become incredibly jealous.
I’m glad this is anonymous so I can admit this next part: recently I’ve been having these dreams where my girlfriend’s face has been replaced with my mum’s. I’ve had the dream about three times now over the last six months. It creeps me the fuck out and I feel icky when I wake up. It’s strange because she doesn’t look anything remotely like my mum (they’re not even the same race).
The age gap also means I sometimes feel more like a child in the relationship than on an equal level with her. When I hang out with my friends, we’re all about the same age, but when I go to see her friends I often feel like a kid around the grown-ups. I really hate that feeling.
This manifests itself every few months. I will go through several weeks of going back and forth on our relationship. I wonder if I’m just being shallow and acting like ‘the grass is greener’ OR am I putting off the inevitable and I’m too scared to break up with her because I’ve never had any other relationship before and I’m scared I won’t meet someone else. I’ve never been with anyone else so I have no frame of reference.
These fears just keep coming back, and it’s like every time they do they come back stronger and I really want it to stop. If I do break up with her and meet someone new am I just going to be in this exact same situation several years down the line? It’s frustrating.
Like I’ve said, these problems are literally the only two I can come up with for our relationship. In just about every other way we’re compatible and I’m worried that I’m just going to be throwing away a great relationship over a few minor hang-ups.
From May To December
OK, I think someone needs to call the bell hop because there’s a LOT of baggage here.
None of this is actually all that complicated, FMTD; in fact, it’s all fairly obvious—so obvious, in fact, that you’ve actually touched on some of the reasons yourself.
But let’s start with the easiest one first: yes, the age gap is a problem for you, just not for the reasons you think. The issue isn’t age so much as it is the difference in power and experience. It’s like you said: you don’t feel like an equal in your relationship. Because you don’t have as much experience—life experience, social experience, relationship experience, and so on—you feel like the junior partner at best, and you’re finding yourself relying on her. She got you the job, she helped you get situated in your new city… I’m willing to bet she’s also the one who either found your place or that you moved into her place.
And while some folks are cool with feeling like the kept man or being the more passive or submissive partner of the relationship, it clearly isn’t working for you. I suspect that this became more pronounced over the last couple of years. Having someone else taking care of you when you were a relatively fresh-faced 26-year-old can start to grate on your nerves when you’re in your 30s and feeling a little less like a kept man and more, well, like a child.
I mean, it doesn’t exactly take Dr. Freud to figure out why you’re dreaming about your mom’s face superimposed on your girlfriend’s body; you feel infantilized in a way that you don’t appreciate.
That, I suspect, is the bigger issue than whether she’s as hot as your friends’ partners. It’s less the visible age—though that’s clearly also a factor—but also what it represents to you. To some folks, an accomplished, experienced, cultured older partner is something to be proud of. You, on the other hand, are feeling like you’re stuck in a world where you don’t quite fit in.
And that’s a legitimate feeling. That’s entirely understandable.
I think the disconnect you’re having is that you can still care for someone, still enjoy their company and still have a good time with them… but your relationship with them simply isn’t right for you any more. That doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong or that you haven’t worked hard enough at this, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t have gotten into it in the first place. All it means is that you’ve outgrown the relationship. What was right for you four years ago isn’t necessarily right for you now. People are always growing and changing, and that means that sometimes what they need in a relationship changes too.
It’s like I always say: not every love story is meant to be an epic poem. Some are meant to be a short story. Some are just meant to be a dirty limerick.
And if I’m blunt: it’s very rare for your first relationship to also be your last one.
The issues you’re having aren’t minor, FMTD; they’re pretty significant. But it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong, either with you or the relationship. It sounds to me like you’ve grown past this relationship and you’re ready to move on to one where you feel more like an equal instead of the junior member.
So my suggestion for you would be to take what you’ve learned from this relationship—both in general and about yourself—and apply it to your next one. Just make sure it’s one that feels more equitable, no matter how much of an age gap there is.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I don’t know where to start, but I am having some major inner turmoil about my relationship. I have been with my boyfriend for almost 7 years. We were friends first, lost contact, and then reconnected via Facebook. He was living 4 hours away on the other side of the state living his best life in his hometown, which is a very touristy and beautiful location, so he worked seasonal jobs with a sometimes ample shoulder season between gigs. We happened to reconnect just as I was about to have a week off for the holidays. I decided to head up with friends who were going up for New Year’s so I could spend some time with him and see where things might lead. Well, things were great! We had a major instant connection and chemistry. We practically spent the whole week I was there in bed. I was sad to leave and return to work when the time came, but we left things pretty informal—we weren’t exclusive and I would try to come up at the end of January when I had my next 3-day weekend.
Well, between when I left and when I was going to head back up, he was injured on the job and eventually let go (he was working in a right to work state, so he could be terminated without cause). I went up as planned, and at the end of the 3 days, I thought, “Heck, why don’t you just come with me back to where I am living and spend some time at my place and we will see what happens?” Now, probably not the wisest choice, but we thought we were in love! He still had friends in the area, so he was excited to reconnect with them. And he had nothing better to do. He ended up getting a job and staying. Now, this created a problem with my living situation (I was sharing a house with a longtime friend and some of her family members and boyfriend), which was already in turmoil and a whole other long-ass story. So, we had to find a new place to live, which was difficult because 1) it’s expensive where I’m from and 2) there was a very low vacancy rate at the time, so we kept getting passed over due to income and credit score requirements for more appealing tenants. At the last minute, we found a room to rent in a friend’s house, which is where we have lived...for the past 6 years.
This wasn’t our initial plan. We thought we will take this opportunity to save money and move out of state to somewhere with a better cost of living. Plus, he doesn’t really hate the area where we are living—he likes to be closer to nature. But, there have been a few roadblocks. Namely, he kept on quitting jobs and at one time was effectively unemployed for nearly two years while he tried to get a Twitch presence going. He finally got a job when I finally lost it and told him he needed to bring in money. I had accumulated almost $10,000 of credit card debt covering his share of the expenses and was understandably upset over this. So he got a job—when I finally just did an application for him at a chain home improvement store that I knew was hiring. He got the job and worked it for 2 years until four months ago when he quits without really talking it over with me. I knew he was unhappy, and I said I support you finding something else, but to please have another job in place before you quit.
Now, this would normally just be another disappointment in what was becoming a long line of disappointments and debt, but TWO MONTHS BEFORE he quits, our landlord/housemate had asked us to be out after the new year. We were going to use this as the chance to finally take a risk and move out of state since we had saved some money and figured it was perfect timing. So, I told him, please just get something so we don’t drain our savings in the next four months. He told me he applied for a few jobs, but nothing panned out, and he just stopped looking as far as I could tell.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to grapple with leaving my hometown and applying for jobs out of state to see if anything sticks—and sliding more and more into a deep depression and not dealing with it or my chronic anxiety appropriately (aka I’ve been drinking a lot of wine and not working with mental professionals to get medicated and therapied). My depression and anxiety have, over the years, also made it impossible for me to deal with the problems in my relationship: we have had sex maybe twice over the past year (and not much more than that the year before), he is also obviously depressed (drinking and smoking a lot of weed, stays up all night, then sleeps until 2 pm), and I can’t rely on him to contribute financially or in service (seriously, trying to get him to do dishes or clean or take care of everyday errands while I work is impossible—he always forgets to do these, which could, of course, be due to depression).
As we were getting closer and closer to our move out date, I figured let’s plan to move to Reno since he has family there that we could stay with them while we secure jobs and get sorted. Now, it isn’t my ideal location, but there is a large university there where I could probably get a job (I have worked at a university for almost 9 years in an administrative capacity) and it would be an easy move since it’s not too far from where we are currently living. So, I apply for a job similar to my current one, get a phone interview, then I get called in for an in-person interview. When I get this call, I fucking panic. Like, legitimately PANIC, and all my untreated depression and anxiety really come to the surface and I have this really visceral reaction to the thought of maybe, possibly being offered a job in a place that I don’t think I really want to live. (Yes, I know, I could have always declined the offer if it was made, but hi, hello, I am not thinking rationally). Thankfully, I have reached out to the appropriate medical professionals to deal with my mental health and I have an appointment in a week to see a psychiatrist. However, I withdrew my application because my reaction was intensely negative, I just thought it was the only thing I could do, so now that’s off the table. Which, TBH, I am kind of relieved about, but I also haven’t told him about.
However, now that I am in this mental state, I am really questioning everything and not sure it’s wise to uproot at this point (I obviously need therapy and medication, which takes time to work), especially for a person who can’t keep a job, doesn’t have a career or education he would like to pursue, doesn’t have his own car, doesn’t have his own bank account (any money he receives just goes into my account), hasn’t filed taxes in 10 years (yeah, I know, I wasn’t sure how to bring all this up), who hasn’t bought me a birthday or anniversary gift with his own money in years, who I barely even talk to anymore, who I disagree with on gun control laws for Pete’s sake.
All this being said, I really care about him and he is a kind-hearted person. He is very relaxed and go-with-the-flow, which helps counteract my high-strung-edness. I do love and care about him, and there is a lot that I like about him (I honestly have never felt more comfortable with anyone else), but I just don’t know if I am in love with him anymore. Plus, I feel kind of betrayed and taken advantage of, although I don’t think he did [anything] maliciously. But, I also feel bad that he effectively moved here to be with me and now I am backing out of moving with him. Now, I’m torn between breaking up with him or giving him some ultimatum (like move to Reno by yourself since you hate it here and us living here together hasn’t been healthy for either of us and stay with your sister and brother-in-law, get a job, get a car, get your own bank account—start being a fucking adult without me supporting your whole god damn existence, and then we can evaluate our relationship and moving forward). How would I break up with him, though? He has no support or resources here and is depressed. Do I get him to Reno or his parents or some safe space and then go from there? Plus, we have to be out of our place in A MONTH. Everything is coming to a head and I know there is probably some amount of fear guiding my thoughts. I keep telling myself that anxiety is a liar, but what exactly is my anxiety lying to me about? Do you have any advice?
Anxiety is frequently a liar, AFU, but sometimes it’s your Spidey-sense, screaming at you that there are things that you need to be paying attention to.
And in this case, what it’s telling you is very simple: DO NOT MOVE TO RENO WITH THIS MAN.
I’m going to tell you something that I suspect you already know: you moved far too quickly when you asked him to move in with you. You were both more than a little fuck-drunk and rolling with the oxytocin/dopamine speedball that comes at the start of a new relationship, and you made a decision that, honestly, you should’ve kicked down the road until you knew each other better.
If you’d taken a bit more time, you would’ve learned more about your boyfriend’s habits and personality quirks and things that would, in other circumstances, likely have been dealbreakers. Yes, his easy-going, go-with-the-flow personality may make a great counterpoint to your haute-tension Type-A existence, but that laid back personality came with an equally laid-back attitude towards things like responsibilities. And jobs. And financial security.
That ain’t a good look on anyone, but especially not a potential boyfriend.
But things unfolded the way they did and now here you are, having a panic attack at the mere thought of pulling up stakes and moving to an entirely different state so that he can get his shit together.
Spoiler alert: he ain’t gonna. Not as long as you’re carrying his ass like a healer in a team of nothing but DPS glass cannons. Notice how he didn’t get off his ass and get a job—any job—until you gave him an ultimatum? Notice how he later quit that job with no warning because fuck it, that’s why?
That’s your future with this dude. As long as you’re his fallback position, he’s gonna keep playing the slacker role that even Seth Rogen ditched years ago,
I get that you care for him. It’s admirable that you worry about the fact that this particular baby bird doesn’t seem equipped to leave the nest… ever. But you’ve already sacrificed years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars of debt on him. You can’t keep supporting him until he’s ready to fly because he never will be until he has to be.
If it helps, look at breaking up with him as your way of helping him move to the next stage of his life. But in reality, you’re helping yourself. Your responsibility to him doesn’t extend so far that you should be damaging your future (and hell, your present) for his benefit. Like the saying goes: you gotta put your own oxygen mask on before helping someone else with theirs.
Breaking up with him and letting him go to Reno on his own is the best thing you can do, for him and for yourself. He’s had more than seven years. Now it’s time for him to fly—so kick him the fuck out of the nest. It’s on him to figure out the rest on the way down.
Hi Dr. NerdLove,
My problem is that I seem to only attract women who are emotionally unavailable.
Married women seem fond of me, another in recent times was asexual gray romantic and wanted it to be me that she developed feelings for but never could, several were getting out of abusive relationships, a few just said they were broken without offering any further exposition.
Most recently I really got to like a woman with major depressive disorder, but she cancelled all our dates and declines anything but texting. I feel like that’s just as misleading as if she’d said nothing about depression at all. I think the implication with all of those things unless they say otherwise is that they’re ready for a relationship, and I feel lied to when they aren’t in any way, shape or form. I don’t fault them for it, just for their dishonesty, it’s a tough world out there, bad things have happened to a lot of us, or it’s just not the time.
Part of it is that I’m a lifestyle Dom and exclusively date from within the kink community. That being said though plenty of kinky people have loving, emotionally fulfilling relationships.
It’s frustrating when they wait until I’m liking them, often a lot, before declaring that they are.
I consider myself a fairly insightful person but I can’t really understand why this is happening to me. I hope you have some insights for me. I don’t even so much mind that they aren’t fully emotionally available right away and I’m totally willing to work with that. I just wish the response to that could be something other than being kept beyond arm’s length the minute life happens.
Not Just a Kink Dispensing Machine
A couple things, NJKDM.
The first is that yes, part of your problem is that you’re a lifestyle dom who’s dating exclusively within the kink community. Not because the kink community is nothing but emotionally unavailable and/or damaged people (it isn’t; in fact, people in the BDSM scene tend to have better emotional and mental health than folks outside it), but because you’re starting with a very limited dating pool, and you’re limiting it even further. If you’re expecting a 24/7 dominant/submissive component layered on top of your romantic relationship, you’re going to drastically limit your dating pool to people who are interested in that dynamic. However, as you’ve discovered, the folks who are interested in that dynamic and the ones who want to actually live it are going to be very different people. Just because something seems hot in theory doesn’t mean that folks are going to want to necessarily deal with the reality of it. 50 Shades of Gray (I know, I know, just go with me here) may have titillated a whole lot of folks at first, but the fact that it turned them on doesn’t mean that anyone actually wants to be Anastasia.
Hell, the majority of kinksters I know don’t do the lifestyle thing. Kink may be a core part of who they are, but even Groucho took his cigar out of his mouth every once in a while.
But by the same token, the folks who may want to live it may not necessarily be in a place where they can make it work. As with many things in life, just wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for you or that you’re right for it.
I think that’s the part that’s tripping you up. I think that you’re hitting the intersection between desire and reality and unfortunately, reality tends to win those particular contests.
I don’t think that these women, as a rule, are deceiving you. I think, for the most part, they’re making good-faith efforts to try to make it happen. They may well believe, in that moment, that they can get this to work, that either they are ready and able or that they will be sooner rather than later. But wanting doesn’t make it so, and the best of intentions can’t overcome reality. They aren’t deceiving you, they’re just mistaken about what they can actually accomplish. Someone who wants to try to make something work but can’t isn’t lying, it’s just that they’re unable to make that desire come to fruition. It’s frustrating as all hell… but it’s not a lie, it’s not deceit and it’s not malicious. It’s just pure, stubborn misfortune is all.
However, you don’t have control over their lives; you only have control over your own. Which means that your solution’s gonna have to come from what’s within your control.
When you’ve found yourself with a limited dating pool, you have two choices. You either work within the restrictions you have, or you try to expand your potential pool. If you choose the former, then you’re going to have to spend a little more time getting to know folks before you start to invest in them emotionally and think about potential relationships until you know (and they know) that they’re actually emotionally available.
If you choose the latter… well, then you have to figure out some compromises. That may mean expanding your search to meeting folks from kink scenes in other towns or cities. It may mean looking to scenes with overlap with yours, such as the poly community. Or it may mean starting to date outside of the kink community and having your dom/sub relationship be separate from your romantic relationships.
But there’s another thing that I think you aren’t considering here: the fact that these women are motivated to try in the first place. The fact that you have these women interested in you means that not only do they find you attractive but they also find you safe. You’re someone who they feel that they can try to be vulnerable with, someone with whom they feel they can try to make a relationship work. And considering that some of these are women coming from a bad place, that’s significant.
I get that the frustration is gnawing at your guts like a hamster with a gland problem. But being someone who women feel safe enough with and secure enough to try to explore this, even if ultimately it isn’t right for them or for you?
That’s something to be proud of.
Did you date someone with a significant age gap? Did you date within the kink community? 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 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 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.