Image: Getty

Hello all you lust-macaques of the InterTubes, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that’s the strategy guide for your open world dating sim experience.

This week, we’re tackling the strange, new and different, the questions you never thought you would encounter. How do you handle online dating… when you have a brand new face? What happens when the number one conflict in your relationship requires a spoiler warning? And how do you make sure that you have someone’s consent when they’re too shy to talk to you?

It’s time to ditch the side quests and critical path the storyline for your love-life. Let’s do this.

Hi Sir NerdLove,

It’s coming up on two years on my relationship with my girlfriend. She’s amazing. I love her. She’s kind, sweet, funny, has follow-through and is insightful. The sex is great, fun. She and I see eye to eye on many things, such as kids, marriage, and various social issues. We share a lot of similar interests (we met via Twitch). I’m thinking fairly seriously about marrying her.

However, we do have a few issues. One of the ones that’s most vexing is spoilers. Yeah, spoilers. She takes a hard line on spoilers, she stays off social media, mutes people, waits until she has seen/played the thing. However, this makes things somewhat difficult when we talk about shared interests. Like, to the point where I can’t talk about a video game because, at some point in the vague future, she *might* play it. I’m neutral on spoilers, but it’s become really hard to talk about shared interests if she hasn’t played/seen it, and then I’m stuck not sharing stuff I’m excited about with her. I mean, I can find other people to be excited with (like, you know, the internet) but it’s...sometimes a really big bummer not to share my favorite stuff with her because of this.

I know this is a super silly thing, but is there a happy medium with the spoiler averse? I feel like there’s some sort of way to grow in terms of communication from here.

Thank you,

S. P. O. I. L. E. R. S.

Funny thing about spoilers: they don’t actually ruin our enjoyment of an experience. In fact, in many cases, knowing the outcome builds tension and enjoyment in ways that you never expected. Sunset Boulevard famously starts with a shot of the corpse of the narrator, and as the story progresses, we feel the tension because we know that his death is coming.

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In other cases, knowing the end means that we can enjoy the journey to get there more than we would the first time around. Understanding the twists from, say, The Usual Suspects, Fight Club or The Sixth Sense means that you can see how the story builds up to the reveal.

While there’s definitely something to be said for being surprised by the media we consume, there comes a point where trying to avoid spoilers becomes an exhausting enterprise. Doubly-so if you have any sort of meta-knowledge, whether it’s an awareness of the game’s tropes (looking at you, Red Dead 2) or simply understand storytelling language.

And when you’re so spoiler-averse that you’re avoiding spoilers on the off chance that you might play or see it? Well, at that point, you’re now not just interfering with your own enjoyment but that of the people around you. Because if they have to be on their toes about spoiling a game or movie or book — one that came out quite some time ago, especially — then you’re making it harder for them to express their enjoyment.

So my suggestion is an expiration date on spoilers. It’s fair to, say, not want spoilers for a movie or game that only just came out that you’re looking forward to. It’s not entirely unreasonable to ask to remain relatively unspoiled for something that you’re planning on playing in the near future — let’s say, three to four months.

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But if the thing you’re trying to avoid spoilers on is a conditional desire — I may want to play this in the future — well, while that doesn’t make it fair game for someone to spoil it willy-nilly, if it’s past the three month mark, it’s unreasonable to impose those restrictions on others and make a fuss if you do find out some detail about it.

But that’s just my opinion. I’m curious to hear what others think in the comments.

Regardless: your girlfriend is welcome to whatever policy she wants on spoilers, but there quickly comes a point where it’s just a pointless stance for its own sake that actively starts to impinge on the enjoyment of others.

Good luck.

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

My question relates specifically to online dating and the pictures we use. I recently had facial reconstruction surgery due to an injury. While I’m assured by my friends and family that my face looks the same, there are slight differences that are definitely noticeable to me, and to others when I point them out. Now, after several months of recovery, I’m ready to get back into the dating scene, but these days that means apps and online dating, and that means pictures.

It doesn’t help that I’m naturally pretty camera shy, so I only have one or two good pictures of myself post-surgery. Which brings me to my question, how do I deal with this in the world of online dating? I don’t want to be dishonest to the people I may end up going out with. Do I disclose it and just get it out there ahead of time, commission a photographer to take headshots, or am I just overthinking this?

Sincerely,

Facially Impaired

You need some current pics, FI.

The trick to online dating is that, by necessity, it is built on trust. When you’re putting yourself out there on a dating app, you’re making yourself vulnerable by choice. You’re saying, intrinsically, that you know that there are fakers out there, people who’ve fudged the numbers, who’ve put up misleading information or even created completely fake lives, but you’re still trusting the folks you contact to be who they represent themselves to be.

And they’re asking the same of you.

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Now there’s a certain amount of obvious polish that goes on; when you’re putting up a profile on a dating app, you’re presenting yourself in your best possible light. You’re not necessarily going to say “Look, I’m basically a trash gremlin whose definition of acceptable adult attire involves whichever pants have the least noticeable stains” (though kudos to you if you are; there may be folks who’re actively looking for their own Oscar The Grouch). You’re going to pick the photos and write your profile that tell the best story about who you are. But “who you are” should be an accurate reflection of “who you are now.

This is one of the reasons why people get annoyed by profiles whose information is out of date. It may have been accurate once, but it’s no longer a reasonable portrait of who they are at this point in time. We’re all different people as each year moves on, and it’s worth sharing that with the people we are trying to date.

In your case, it’s who you are, post this injury. And in fairness: any differences may only be noticeable to you because you’re intimately familiar with your face. But it’s still your face as it stands now. It’s the face that people who want to meet up with you in person are going to see. So even if these differences are so minor that they’re only noticeable after someone points them out, it’s still better to err on the side of honesty and let folks see you as you are.

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And honestly? The stress of “how will they respond if they realize my photos are out of date” isn’t worth it. This way, you aren’t going to spend the run-up to your dates worrying that they’ll be put off if they see you — even when that anxiety is complete bullshit.

Get yourself some new photos, FI. You’ll feel far better and more confident about the people you’ll be meeting when you do.

Good luck.

Hello, Doc,

Long introduction, short question. I’m sorry.

I’m a 26 years old guy who’s not much of social person. A few months ago, I decided to try Tinder to meet girls, improve my social calibration and get experience in dating. It seemed like a low stake and easy way to guide my brain into “talk to people” state. Anyways, I matched with this woman, who is 36, and talking to her was pretty hard for me from the start. Despite my efforts, her replies were short and abrupt. When I was sure that this match was done, I threw an invitation to drink tea together thinking she was going to deny or just leave me without answer. “I can’t know for sure if I don’t ask,” thought I. “Ok, when?” said she.

Our first two dates were kinda nice, kinda cute, kinda meh. They didn’t go well but were not too bad either. She wasn’t very talkative and I wasn’t able to lead the conversation. While silence itself doesn’t bother me, it’s not a good thing to have during a date when connections should be made. She did show some signs of interest in me but didn’t elaborate on them. Then we couldn’t meet for about a couple of months because we both were busy. We had some text exchanges which were short and abrupt as well. She initiated about a half of these exchanges. Recently we had a third date and it was really, really good and I’m starting to like this woman a lot. But the way she acts is puzzling me.

She’s 36 but when I’m with her I feel like she’s 19. I feel like she’s a little bit infantile (in a good way) and shy or closed off. I can’t quite wrap my head around it. On our third date there wasn’t much silence (in big part because I was able to pull my head out of my anxiety bubble and just let my mind flow). And she became a lot more open to me. She laughed at my jokes and made jokes herself. It got me thinking that she is probably into me but might not be comfortable in opening up so I need to lead the dance.

During the date I was proactive in establishing physical contact. For instance, a gentle push at her upper back during an uncomfortable situation at a doorway, playful touching during fooling around in a store or grabbing her hand at a very busy crosswalk and guiding her through the crowd. (She’s very short and I was legitimately worried about her safety. Heck, I was even worried about my own safety.) After the crosswalk I kept holding her hand and we joked that the sidewalk is slippery and I’m scared to fall. At the end of the date I went for a good-bye kiss. At first, she leaned back slightly and I thought she was dodging me, but then she leaned closer to me, lowered her head and smiled like a shy cartoon character. I slowly got close to her face and we kissed. I think it was very cute and romantic. But it made me think about consent.

Was it bad that I went for a kiss after only saying that I had a good time? Considering things will go further, how can I ask for her consent without creeping her out if she gets shy when I try to be more intimate? Whenever I made physical contact with her, I didn’t ask whether she minded it. I was paying attention what body part I touch and for how long I keep the contact for it to be appropriate. Holding her hand was ironed with a joke, but it wasn’t asked for. And the first try to kiss was a bit blunt.

I guess the answer would be just ask for the consent, own the awkwardness, be patient and more attentive to her. I rarely meet people like her. Usually I’m the quiet one who needs some push to get going. I feel like I’m on the right track but if you have any advice, I will appreciate it.

Best regards,

In Cute Uncertainty

The key to getting consent and making sure that it’s enthusiastically given is, simply, asking.

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Now there are a lot of ways to ask for consent, especially for physical contact, and not all of them are verbal. For example, if someone were to hold out their arm to another person with their elbow slightly cocked, then it’s a fairly clear indication that you’re asking them to walk arm in arm. If you hold your hand out to them with the palm up, then it’s pretty clear that you’re asking if they would like to take your hand.

If you want to be especially sure that they understand that you’re asking, then you can always simply say “May I?” in a light voice.

But the surest way to know if someone is consenting is just to use your words and ask them. And yeah, sometimes it can feel awkward to ask “Can I kiss you?” But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, asking for consent — for a kiss, for a touch, for considerably more — can be hot as hell if you do it correctly. Imagine, for example, that on your next date, after an emotional high-point — you’re laughing, having a good time, standing close to one another — you lean in and say “I want to kiss you so badly right now.” Or “What would happen if I kissed you right now?”

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And then you wait, giving her the time to decide: does she want this? Or is she going to give you the wave-off? She may say “no.” She may say “Let’s find out.” She may lean in herself and kiss you instead. But in all of those cases, you’ve gotten a clear answer from her. You’ll know, one way or another, whether she wanted to be kissed by you.

That same logic applies to other activities. “What would happen if I kissed your neck?” “Would you like me to touch you?” “Should we take this back to my place?” When you make asking for her consent part of the play, then it’s not an awkward interruption. It’s part of the dance, an act of mutual seduction.

But what if she doesn’t say anything? What if she’s so shy and embarrassed that she flinches away? Then you take that as a “no”, and all you have to say is “I understand and if you change your mind…” and leave it at that. Because if you give her the space to decide, shyness or no, then you’re giving her the space to say “yes” in the future. Trying to push the issue is a great way to get a “yes” that she may not be ready or willing to give.

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By letting her decide, you create the possibility for her to decide that the answer wasn’t “no” but “not yet.”

Good luck.


Did you use misleading photos in your online dating profile? How have you asked or been asked for consent? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.

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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 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.

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He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.