Hello all you glorious Twitternet pervert herds, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to be ported to the Switch.
This week, we’re air-dashing through dating dilemmas and charging your relationship’s recovery moves. What’s the polite way to handle the guy who keeps insulting your education in front of your girlfriend? What if you’re pretty sure he’s actively trying to steal your girlfriend? And how do you find love when the folks who are most interested in you only like you because of their fetishes?
It’s time to gird your loins and insert coins. Let’s do this.
So I’ll just be completely honest and upfront with you from the jump, I’m not exactly what you’d call a “smart” man, not like special needs or anything, just, a little slow. This isn’t some sort of “you’re your own worst critic” thing either. Despite putting in a lot of effort during high-school, certain topics just eluded my grasp, mostly math and science courses. I struggled throughout high-school, and didn’t even attempt college, instead settling for a string of terrible jobs that I absolutely hated, but ultimately paid the bills.
That being said, I’m actually doing really well right now, despite being kinda dumb. I have a job that pays very well, I live in an apartment that’s not a total crap-sack for the first time since I was 18 and living at home, and I have a very seriously cool partner. Her name is A, and she is the smartest, and most fiercely independent woman I’ve ever met, which for me is “The Dream” you know. Plus she’s super tall, which I am into in a real way.
Now for the reason I’m emailing you, I recently met A’s friends. We’ve been taking things pretty slow, as she had been in an an extremely abusive relationship during college, and has been extra cautious ever since. So me meeting her friends was a big deal. It’s at this point I’ll mention that her and all of her friends are all college grads that went to a very prestigious university near my city. Almost all of them work in either a technology related field, or in the medical field, and are ridiculously smart. Now you would think my not having gone to college wouldn’t matter to a bunch of grown ass adults, and it didn’t, except to one of them. We’ll call him George.
During the dinner, things were going pretty well, everyone seemed to like me just fine, and I honestly liked them. However, it eventually came out, that I never went to college. This is when things took a turn Doc, George latched on to this little fact, and spent the rest of the night making jokes at my expense. It was to the point where things were getting awkward, and he was not relenting. Now to describe George is to describe a meme, he is obese, has a very patchy “beard”, showed up wearing khaki shorts and a fedora, and more than once referred to the server as m’lady, (screw you Joel McHale). Now I very much tried to be the bigger person, but then he called me a retard.
I must have had a horrific look on my face because everything just stopped, even George got the hint at this point, because his face turned white as a sheet. I have a niece that’s disabled who I absolutely adore, and he very much crossed a line that he will never come back from in my eyes. A realized what is about to happen, grabs me and starts pulling me away, but not before I lay into this neck-bearded pud. I said some things that I am not very proud of, especially because I myself was overweight when I was a teen, so I very much know that struggle. She takes me outside, tells me to go home and cool off, she’ll try and explain to them what happened, and she’ll text me later.
Later that night she comes back to my place, apologizes for George, saying that the reason he’s like that is because he’s a little protective of her. When pressed on this she admits that every six months or so, whether she’s single or not, he asks her out. She lets him down as gently as possible, so as not to disturb their group dynamic, but in the process he has seen this as being lead on, and has become increasingly bitter about the whole situation. He actively tries to drive the men off that she dates, and she admits he has been successful in the past. The guy’s an ass, but that has no bearing on how I feel about her, which I explain. Then she asks me to apologize to him for what I said. I tell her that if he apologizes to me in person, I’ll do the same, and we can move on.
I don’t think I can do it. The thought of apologizing to this basement dwelling 4-channer makes me so irrationally angry, that if I’m forced to I might throw a chair at him instead. A didn’t say this but it’s pretty clear that her friends are a deal breaker, she considers them family, and she really wants us to get along. So what do I do? Do I swallow my pride, and apologize to this human Twitch chat room, or do I stand my ground, and give up probably the coolest woman I’ve ever dated?
Dumb and Angry
You’ve left out some critical information, DaA. A told you that George of the Bungle has driven off boyfriends before. What you don’t mention is “how”... but I suspect you’ve just witnessed it. George here strikes me as the type who knows that A has fallen for one of the classic Geek Social Fallacies, the most famous of which is “ostracizers are evil” but only slightly less well known is: “All of my friends are friends with each other!” He’s in the friends group because he latched on like a barnacle with boundary issues and is about as hard to pry off. While he may be the equivalent of a fedora with legs, he is savvy enough to know how to leverage this.
Have you ever heard the phrase “All’s fair in love and war” before, DaA? George of the Bungle here has. He has also likely read Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” — especially this particular line: “If your enemy is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.” He’s trying to do two things. First: he’s trying to drive home the idea that you’re the wrong social class and an idiot and make A (and you) feel like you don’t belong there. Second: he’s trying to needle you into… well, doing more or less what you did. Granted, I don’t think he expected it to turn into Free Ass Beating Day, but y’know, these are the risks one takes when he tries to stir up shit.
Problem is that it ultimately plays into his hands; now he gets to play the victim in the name of “maintaining the group dynamic.” So you’re left with an unpalatable choice: swallow your pride and apologize or stand your ground and lose an amazing relationship. Except there’s a third choice here: flip the script. You never want to take on a conflict on ground your opponent has chosen, so make them come to you instead.
Right, that’s getting a little too “Rawr rawr this is WAR Mrs. Peacock”. Let me explain: George here is hoping that he can push things without actually crossing the line from “missing stair” to “actively toxic to the group.” But just as he is needling you and attempting to play the class and education card against you, you can take a page from his own playbook and needle him right back.
So first things first: yes. George should apologize to you and I’d advise you to make that a condition of your apologizing. But you are going to apologize. In public. In front of her friends. And you’re going to say “I’m sorry I said those things, it was uncalled for. But when people throw words like ‘retard’ around, I think about my niece. She’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever known and when I hear people dropping slurs like that, I think of the people who’ve bullied her and called her that to her face and sent her home crying, wanting to know why people are so mean and… well, I’m sure you can understand why that sort of behavior is completely unacceptable.”
Is this how I normally tell people to apologize? Nope. Is it a little passive-aggressive at the end there? Yuuuuuup. Is it gonna make him look like the asshat for dropping the r-word? Oh hell yes.
Next: you change your “weakness” to a strength. See, the last thing you want to do is compete with George on his own ground. He’s trying to set the terms and drive a wedge between you and A by bringing up your differences. This often leads to a trap; by getting irritated by his jabs or arguing against them, you’re letting him set the terms. In either case, you are granting that there’s some sort of validity to what he’s doing. You’re agreeing that there’s something shameful about having not gone to college or for being blue-collar by taking what he says as an insult.
So, again, you need to disarm him by taking his weapons away. You do this by utilizing some verbal judo and playing Agree and Amplify.
Take this scene from the movie Roxanne as an example:
In this scene an asshole at the bar is trying to provoke Steve Martin’s character with a fairly obvious taunt. Martin’s character, on the other hand, turns the whole thing around by agreeing and amplifying; yeah his nose is big but really, that’s the best you can do? Over the course of four minutes and 20 jokes, Martin has won over the entire bar and made the guy look like an idiot.
This is what you’re aiming for: stealing ground out from under George and making it clear who the “hero” is in this situation. See, he’s hoping to look clever by calling you dumb and making you get flustered. But if you were to, say, agree with him and then turn it up to 11, suddenly he’s the asshole.
He mocks your lack of education, you say “Ungh. Me Grunt no understand hat boy fancy word. Why hat boy try talk above Grunt?” He makes a big deal out of your being blue collar and you can go all Beverly Hillbillies on him, talking about how shitfire, now that you’re in the big city, you’re just not used to all their high-falutin’ ways but have they seen your apartment’s concrete swimmin’ hole?
Taking his material and exaggerating it to the point of absurdity is a subtle, humorous way to disarm him; if he tries to go back to the less obvious, less over-the-top insults, then he looks like he’s out of ideas. But at the same time, he can’t really go any bigger because how’re you supposed to top “I’m just a simple caveman, frightened by your superior ways”? And by doing this, you make it clear that he’s acting like an asshole without directly calling him out.
Plus: do it right and it’ll make A’s friends laugh. But instead of being the butt of the joke, you’ll be the one delivering it, and George won’t have a way of responding.
You may feel like he needs to catch some hands, but getting violent is going to be a drastic overreaction to a dude mouthing off. Insulting him directly only works in his favor because it makes you the asshole — especially when you’re mocking him for being fat. You’re a relative newcomer to the group and you haven’t been part of it long enough to have insider privileges that include things like “picking fights”. He was there first and A isn’t ready to admit that sometimes the fact that he’s already in the group doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s a dick. But the more that you can make A’s friends laugh with you over this, the worse George looks.
One thing you shouldn’t do, however, is try to drive a wedge between A and George. You especially shouldn’t poke George about A or tell him to butt out. Getting all Big Moose telling dudes to “stay away from your girl” makes you look insecure and it’s just going to piss off A when it gets back to her. Because it will. Because let’s be real: George is a squealer.
You know George isn’t a direct threat to the relationship. A’s not attracted to him and she’s not going to date him. To some degree, he already knows this, which is why he keeps trying to drive her boyfriends away. His only edge is that he was there first, so if you take a metaphorical or literal swing — even if he richly deserves it — then he looks like the victim.
Is it worth asking A why she puts up with George’s behavior or why she lets him try to run off her boyfriends? Sure. Once. Unless George escalates, you get one opening before you start looking insecure or like you’re trying to make her pick sides. The more you bring it up without an obvious inciting incident, the more you’re going to run the risk of triggering the “my friends all get along and if they don’t that’s a problem” issue… and then George’s seniority wins.
And don’t forget: you may not have A — or her friends’ — education… but you also don’t have their crippling student debt. You’re actually in a better position than they are; many, if not most of the best paying jobs out there are actually blue-collar. So while George is mocking your lack of a college degree, you aren’t going to be spending the rest of your life throwing 2/3rds of your paycheck down a hole. Remember that the next time George tries to poke at your “weakness.’
Hey Dr. NerdLove,
My dating life is bogged down with some pretty fun (and by that I mean not so fun) obstacles I just don’t know how to deal with. I’ll start off by telling you that I’m a 26-year-old, I’m non-binary but I’m AFAB and get coded as female most of the time as I’m pretty feminine. I think I’ve got a cute face and I have a habit of making others laugh with puns and sarcastic humor when I’m nervous (which is generally always). However, I’m definitely not the most attractive person in the world by most folks’ standards. I’ve had salt-n-pepper grey hair since high school that I’ve recently begun to embrace by shaving my head and getting rid of all the dye. I’m 5'10", 5'11" on a good day. And I’m around 270 lbs.
My issue isn’t that I feel ugly at all! In fact, I love myself. I love being big and tall and taking up space and demanding attention when I wear heels and tower over everyone. I’ve resisted as much body shaming and hate as I can to where I’m now in a place where I’m comfortable with my body and am actually quite political about the subject. I consider myself a fat positive activist and that makes me very aware of how people treat me because of this body. In the dating world, I seem to have two options, and neither are desirable: “I don’t want to date a fat chick”, or “I’m totally into BBW”
I can’t stand the term BBW. I can’t stand feederism. I can’t stand men who make a point of being into my body. Mostly because 9 times out of 10, they don’t care about me as a person, and only want to fetishize my body. I know what I like sexually, am very upfront about it, but so many men who want to go out with me are just looking at me as spank bank material and not a real person with feelings and passion and junk. I’ve only had one long-term relationship, and it was very toxic and abusive and he used to get made fun of by his friends (and me, back when I was insecure and looking to pick a fight) for being a chubby chaser. What I want is a long-term relationship with someone who loves every aspect of me, but is respectful of my boundaries with not wanting my body to be the main reason you like me.
I’m not a person who can go to a bar and meet people, as I have issues with my mental health where I can’t drink in spaces I don’t feel 100% safe in. None of my friends really have my shared interests of video games and nerdy stuff so when I go out with them and meet people they know, I have nothing in common with most of them. I’m also really not into casual sex, as most of my casual sex encounters have been pressured or full of BBW-loving that makes me uncomfortable.
How does someone like me traverse the dating scene with all of these “high standards” I have? How do I go about finding this diamond-in-the-rough who is attracted to fat folks but doesn’t fetishize our bodies?
I guess I should point out also that I’m not straight and am also very much into the idea of dating women and gender non-conforming folks, but the issue I’m writing about tends to be more of an issue I have with the male portion of society.
With lots of love and respect,
Large and In Charge
I totally get being hesitant around folks who only see you for your size and the bullshit that comes with it, L&IC. From the dudes who think that fat women are easy and/or desperate to the ones who only like you because of your size, it can feel intensely dehumanizing.
On the other hand, though, there’s a lot to be said for someone who thinks the things that set you apart from conventional norms are exactly the things that make you sexy and special. The tricky thing is that most relationships start based on primarily physical attraction because, well, a person’s exterior is the most visible thing about them. It’s a little hard to find a dress that really emphasizes your Fields Medal.
The fact that someone is into your body type doesn’t mean that they don’t like the rest of you; they just haven’t gotten a chance to find out more about you. But when they do, they find out that you have layers that just make you even more appealing on top of a body that they also dig. To quote the sage: they may love you for your brain but they want you for your ass.
And in fairness: dating for people who are fetishized can be a fucking minefield. From the folks with Asian fetishes to devotees to feeders and gainers… it can be hard to feel secure in someone else’s attraction. Is it coming from a place of legitimate holistic interest? Or are you just a collection of attributes that they want to fuck that happens to be in the shape of a person?
What makes things tricky in your case is how society views fat people. Despite everything we’re learning about weight, obesity, health and weight-loss, society still treats weight as a moral failing rather than a data-point about a person… and that’s assuming they’re treated as a person in the first place instead of Fat. A lot of folks — men especially — treat fat people in general and fat women (and female coded people) in particular as something that’s done at them. The fact that this individual isn’t aesthetically pleasing to them is seen as a sin to be corrected at best, or an acceptable outlet for their cruelty at the worst. And people who are attracted to chubby and fat folks get the splash damage from this. As with your ex, younger people who are open about liking their partners nice and thicc tend to get hefty rations of shit from their asshole friends.
As a result, you get the Fat Person’s Dating Dilemma: the closeted chubby chasers who’ll fuck a fat girl but won’t be seen with them in public, the dudes who think it’s fun and funny to “go hogging” because hey “they’re desperate” or “they give the best head” and the fetishists that make dating a nightmare. (It can be slightly easier for queer women and femme presenting non-binaries because society allows for women to be open about having a wider range of what they consider to be attractive.)
Which brings us around to the question of: so… what do you do about it? How do you find someone who’s into all of you?
First: despite the popular idea, there are more places to meet potential dates than bars and clubs; in fact, most people don’t meet their partners at bars. The vast majority of people meet their partners through friends and social activities. So while your friends may not be into video games or your other nerdy interests, you do have options. What I would suggest is the same thing I tell guys who want to find dates but hate bars and clubs: take the things that you enjoy and find ways to enjoy them that bring you in contact with other people. Whether it’s volunteering for local geeky cons, tabletop nights at the gaming store or geek-themed MeetUps, there are plenty of places where you can expand your social circle and find some sexy singles in the process. And the great thing about going to these events that interest you is that not only do those shared interests give you an easy topic to talk about, but the similarities mean people will like you more. After all: we like people who are like us.
Not all, or even most, of the people you meet this way are going to be potential dates. At least not at first. Some of them may grow on you, just as you may grow on them over time; physical looks may be what triggers the initial spark, but few people date folks they’ve just met. The more you get to know somebody, the more attractive they become to you. So while your striking and nonconventional looks may not be to everybody’s taste at first, there are people who’ll find that it’s more appealing and more uniquely, awesomely you over time.
Online dating is also an option, and one I recommend using as a supplement to leveraging your interests; this also makes it easier to find queer and enby people who you might want to date.Granted, this does mean that you’re more likely to run into fetishists, but it also means that you’re likely to find people who just happen like bigger women or who like you specifically. The key is — as with people you meet in person — to see how they treat you. Are they genuinely respectful and interested in all of you, even if they think that you’re hot because of your build? Or do they only focus on how attractive they think you are, with extra asshat points for expecting a cookie for thinking so?
It may help to take things slowly at first. Not only does this let you feel more comfortable in general, but it gives you a little more time to suss out potential partners and weed out the folks who are only out to get into your pants. Most fetishists can’t hide very well at all, or for very long.
I will suggest that you don’t automatically write off people who are attracted to you for your size, at least, not right off the bat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally valid that you are uncomfortable with guys like that, based on your experiences. But as I said earlier, a lot of attraction is purely physical initially and grows as we get to know the other person. The right person for you may be the one who digs your body and is delighted to find out how much more you have to offer on top of that.
And one more thing: this isn’t a popular or pleasing option, but sometimes the only solution is time. A lot of the men who are attracted to big women have a hard time taking ownership of their attraction until they’re older and more mature. The secret “chubby chaser” in his 20s often becomes the more mature, confident, no-fucks-given guy in his 30s who doesn’t feel ashamed of being into who he’s into.
There are people out there who’re right for you, L&IC. It may not be easy to find them at first, but they do exist. And while nobody said finding them would be easy… in the end, it’s worth it.
Did you have to deal with someone trying to sabotage your relationship? Have you had to wade through fetishsts and afficionados to find love? 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 on the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is available on Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.