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Ask Dr. NerdLove: Should I Choose My Crush Or My Arranged Marriage?

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Hello all you concupiscent piranhas of death, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to help you start the New Game+ of your love life.

This week, we’re navigating the thorny world of feels vs. reals and making the calls that might change your relationship forever. How do you try to take a friendship to the next level… without losing your friend? What do you do when a sudden, new crush makes you question your engagement and upcoming wedding? And what do you do when someone who ghosted you suddenly comes back into your life like nothing happened?

It’s time to load up the save file and start over with your new stats. Let’s do this.

Hey Dr NerdLove,

About a year ago I lost my most recent job as a quality assurance tester. I didn’t care about it too much at first but a couple months turned into about a year and I started to drift into what I can only describe as depression. Through a lot of trials and tribulations combined with some therapy I managed to recover from this and I felt amazing. I had never felt so confident in my entire life. Currently I am in school and working to become a video editor because It is something I feel passionate about. I currently live at home with my parents and I want to leave. I go to school and do Lyft part time. I enjoy Lyft because it lets me meet people and have more social interaction. I have felt really good about life. In fact I came to the conclusion that life really doesn’t seem all that complicated and clarity is wonderful.

Here is where the girl comes in. I’ll call her MJ (She likes weed). I met her in class and we really hit it off. Ever since then we have been hanging out pretty regularly. The first time we hung out we met for coffee and we had a great conversation. She asked me If I wanted to attend an art show with her later on in the night. I went with her and we had a really nice night. We drank, danced, looked at great artwork etc. After the night was over and we were saying our goodbyes, I said to her (This is two weeks after we met in class and had been texting each other a lot) “I would really like to kiss you.” She said “You don’t want to do that yet.” I said “I understood” and we still continued to hang out over the next few weeks. She has told me to my face that she really cares about me and I said the same to her. We go out to eat, go to movies, share each other’s company doing nothing etc. Everything has been great. I feel like I have found a real female companion which is something I have not had for a really long time. I haven’t been on that many dates in my life and personally I’m not a huge fan of the whole dating meta. I keep telling myself to just “Be myself” and don’t “try” to get into a relationship, just let it happen etc.

A lot of people say that men cannot be friends with women but I really think that is untrue. We didn’t talk for about a week recently and I felt bad, almost like I had lost a piece of myself. Then she texted me and asked if I wanted to go for drinks and we did and it was a great night together as friends.

My question is: Should I keep pursuing this MJ? Should i continue this “Friends First” route? If we both care about one another but we aren’t necessarily in an intimate relationship, is this a bad thing? If I left out anything please let me know. I have a lot going through my head right now and I just wanted some sound advice from someone knowledgeable on the subject. Thank you for your time.


Trying to Figure it All Out

There’re a few questions embedded in this, TFAO, so let’s start untangling this particular knot, shall we?


First of all: you did everything right with MJ. You made your interest clear, you asked for permission to make a move, you took her demurral with good grace and the two of you have continued to be good friends since. It’s a shame that she wasn’t interested in a relationship, but as far as attempts to transition a friendship to romance go, you nailed it from start to finish. That’s something you should be justly proud of.

Second: no, relationships don’t “just happen.” They’re something that you have to pursue and work to achieve. Nobody is going to just wake up and realize that they’re in a relationship; folks had to put effort in. Someone had to make that move, someone had to be the first to set up the first date and so on. Even if you’re taking a more casual approach instead of actively looking for a partner, you still have to make the effort not just to date but to be datable. Just being yourself isn’t a dating strategy in and of itself.


Now, should you keep pursuing this as a potential romance? Hell no. That’s a great way to lose a friend. MJ has made her position clear: she’s not interested in dating you or sleeping with you. She cares about you deeply, likely even loves you… but it’s not the kind of love you’re hoping for.

And that’s fine. Because what you have here is a close, intimate friendship with someone who’s clearly pretty awesome. That’s something to be celebrated, not just because it brings something amazing into your life—especially at a time when men in particular are dealing with an epidemic of loneliness. That’s something to be valued… as opposed to seeing it as somehow inferior or second place to romance.


A lot of the ideas that we, as a culture, have about whether “men and women can be friends” come from some pretty shitty places. To start with, it assumes the worst in men; not only does it assume that sexual attraction is the only reason why men would associate with women, but that guys can’t control themselves when they’re attracted to someone. The idea that sex “always gets in the way” is insulting. It presupposes that not only are men perpetually horny, but also that we’re powerless before our boners and can’t compartmentalize attraction from basic human socialization.

And then there’s the idea that friendship is somehow lesser than romance or that emotional intimacy must be tied to sexual intimacy. Part of why so many guys get stuck in The Friend Zone* is because we have few emotional outlets and few emotionally intimate relationships outside of our romantic partners. Since we are so unused to that sort of relationship, we tend to round it to romantic or sexual attraction, instead of treating it as just a close friendship.


* (Standard DNL Disclaimer: There is no Friend Zone. There are just people who don’t want to date or sleep with you.)

You have a good thing going with MJ, and the fact that it isn’t romantic is just fine. Being friends with her is going to be good for you both in the short term — awesome friend is awesome — and in the long term — developing your emotional intelligence, having a greater appreciation for the distinctions between romantic love and love between friends, etc. Let this be what it is. Appreciate it for what it is. Enjoy the support, the companionship and all the great things that come from having a close friend. Just look for romance elsewhere.


Good luck.

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

I (26M from a fairly conservative South Asian family) have been arranged to marry this girl (23F) since January this year. She’s currently studying overseas in med school so while we’ve met in person once, most of our communication has been via text and voice calls. She’s nice enough, a bit feisty, but when we talk, it’s mostly related to med school and she doesn’t really sound “mature”. I’ve gotten to know her parents reasonably well (they live back in the motherland), and while they’re nice folk, I’m getting a conservative vibe from them as well.

I’ve also been working with this amazing girl (25F) for the past 10 weeks. During this time we’ve gotten to know each other on a very personal level (she knows about the whole arranged marriage situation). She’s funny, feisty and is currently on a self-imposed Guy-atus after dating someone who cheated on her.

My issue is that I’ve started developing feelings for my co-worker over the past few weeks and I don’t know what to do about it. This is obviously something I can’t discuss with my parents (who despite always stating that I get a say in the matter, are probably not going to take too kindly to this) or my “betrothed”, but I feel like if I mentioned this to the co-worker, she would think of it as a betrayal and me taking advantage of her vulnerable situation.

I don’t know what to do here. Help.

Tearing Me Apart

You’re in a tough situation, TMA, and a lot is going to depend on exactly what it is you want and what it is that you’re worried about.


Now what makes things a little different from other circumstances where somebody’s developed an inconvenient crush is the fact that you’re in an arranged engagement.

I have a few friends who’ve chosen to set up arranged marriages, working with their parents and a matchmaker to find someone who would make a good partner for them. And while it wasn’t necessarily easy, it’s certainly worked out for them.


One of the things that makes arranged marriages unique is that you’re far more conscious of the fact that you have to work at them. Unlike a lot of modern couples, there is no feeling of “love is all we need, love will get us through this, love will keep us together.” Any relationship takes a hell of a lot of work to succeed, but when you think that love alone will do all the heavy lifting… well, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of unnecessary heartache and conflict.

Since couples who’ve chosen arranged marriages didn’t necessarily start from a position of romantic love — respect, sure; attraction, yes; love, not so much — they come from a place of understanding that they’re going to have to put in the effort to make things work and that love will come from that work.


But just as what we consider to be “traditional” romantic relationships aren’t for everyone, neither are arranged marriages. And if you’ve grown up in a Western country and surrounded primarily with Western values, going with the tradition of an arranged marriage may be uncomfortable for you.

(And incidentally, Kumail Nanjiani’s semi-autobiographical movie The Big Sick is an interesting exploration of just some of those conflicts.)


On the other hand, the fact that you have a crush on your co-worker doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, outside of “you’re a human with a sex drive.” Being in a relationship isn’t magic; being in love or being engaged doesn’t act like a “Protection Against Attraction, 10’ Radius” spell. You are going to find yourself attracted to other people, even develop infatuations and crushes on folks, regardless of whether you love somebody else or not. It’s part of the human experience. As I’m always saying: the fact that you’ve made a monogamous commitment just means that you’ve chosen to not sleep with other people; it doesn’t mean you won’t want to.

We’re novelty-seeking creatures, and the thrill of the new and different is always going to be there. But that’s literally all it means. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean that your relationship is a lie and it — importantly — doesn’t mean that you need to act on it. Attraction may be a hell of a drug, but it’s not a command. Like I told Crushed By a Crush the other week: it’s just a feeling. It will fade away on its own, especially if you aren’t adding fuel to the metaphorical fire.


Now it could be that part of what’s spurring you on here are the perceived differences between your fiancée and your crush. One of the bigger differences seems to be how much you’ve gotten to know your co-worker vs. how well you know your fiancée. It’s much easier to feel connected to someone when they’re in your immediate proximity. Exposure and familiarity are part of how we end up being attracted to people; the more we get to know somebody, the more attractive they become to us. It’s a little harder when you can’t spend that same amount of time with your fiancée, both because of the distance, but also because she’s going through med school.

The question of what to do is going to depend entirely on exactly what it is you want out of this situation. Are you uncomfortable with the idea of an arranged marriage? Would you prefer something that feels less cold and businesslike? Or are you committed to your engagement and wish you didn’t feel this way about someone else? If it’s the former… well, that’s something you’re going to have to discuss with your folks and your fiancée. If it’s the latter, then the best thing you can do is take the time to get to know your fiancée better and build that rapport and connection with her. You can take that energy you get from your crush on your coworker and plow it into your relationship with your fiancée. You’ll have to make an effort to bridge the gap and talk about more than just medical school.


All the subjects you’ve talked about with your co-worker? Talk to your fiancée about them too. Get to know her as well as you’ve gotten to know you co-worker. Draw her out, talk about the things she’s passionate about and the things that bring joy to her life. What does she love, what does she dream about getting to do, what are her hopes for the future?

It won’t be easy — especially with the distance factor — and it’ll take time. After all, you’ve had 500+ hours to get to know your co-worker. But this can work.


If that’s what you want, in any case.

Take some serious time to think about just what you want and what you’re willing to do — or give up — to make it happen.


Good luck.

Hello, Doc,

I am in an open relationship. It’s been going strong for a few years. However, I suddenly started flirting with a mono person. I told them about my ongoing relationship and they told me it was OK, that they were single and as long as that was the case, it would be fine. Our flirting escalated until they quietly stepped it back. I thought maybe they were simply not interested, which is very much OK. I didn’t mind until recently I learned they started going out with another person at the same time they stepped back our flirting.

Now, we’re not in a relationship and I don’t think I should feel entitled to this kind of heads up. However, the truth is that it hurt me. Not them dating someone, them hiding it from me. They are becoming flirty again and for the first time in years I’m not sure if communication would help matters or not. Should I just drop this? Should I tell them how I feel? I fear that starting down this path may lead them into believing I’m interested in a mono relationship. Please help.

Kind regards,

Bider Man

Dude, you said it yourself: they didn’t owe you a heads up. You were flirting. That was it. If you two were starting to go on dates, then it’d be nice if they let you know that they were seeing other people too, but it’s not required. Until you have the Defining The Relationship talk, you should keep in mind that you aren’t exclusive and they may be seeing other people too.


If knowing whether someone you’re seeing is also seeing other folks is important to you, that’s something you need to bring up early on, especially if it’s going to be a deal-breaker for you. But if you don’t say anything? Then you can’t really be that surprised when they don’t say anything either because honestly? It’s their business, not yours.

So if you’re going to pursue something with them — something beyond flirting for fun — and this is going to bother you, then you can ask for them to give you some advance warning if someone else is in the picture. But I think it’ll be better for you if you let this past hurt go and let it be the past.


Good luck.

Did you go from friends to dating? Did your relationship survive an inconvenient crush? Did you get ghosted only for them to come back into your life? 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.