​Ask Dr. Nerdlove: The Neediness Problem

Illustration for article titled ​Ask Dr. Nerdlove: The Neediness Problem

Hello Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that knows it's dangerous to go alone. While we help you find your co-op partner in the MMO that is life, it's time to look at a couple of common questions about dating etiquette in the 21st Century.


What are the rules for texting someone after you've gotten their number? Just how many times do you contact them before you call it quits? And what do you do when someone tells you they're too busy to see you and you catch them out and about on Facebook?

Let's navigate these troubled waters and see just where love takes us, shall we?

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

Earlier this week, I think my friendship with a potential mate ended. I met her online back in February, got to know her for about a month talking on Facebook, and then we hung out in person a few times the next couple of months. I'm not sure if I would call them "dates"; I never kissed her, but there was handholding and cuddling involved. Things seemed to be going really well.

But then she got a new job, where she worked around 50 hours a week. Over the next couple of months, I asked every week or two if she wanted to see me, but she said she was busy. I finally decided to send her a message talking about my feelings for her and asked if she would like to go on a date with me. She said "yes". I was overjoyed at her response.

Over the next month or so, I kept asking every week or two if she wanted to hang out. She said she was busy every time, which I believed. She was still working a lot, went to a lot of concerts, etc. Eventually, after one of these "busy" messages, she told me that maybe it would be better for me to find someone who can hang out more and that she felt bad for always being flaky. This really upset me because I didn't want to lose her before we even dated. I told her that I would wait for her, I know she's busy a lot, I'd stop asking her to hang out, and she could just let me know when she wanted to see me. She said that was alright, but reminded me she doesn't have a set schedule.

A couple of weeks went by and I started to feel depressed. I saw pictures of her hanging out with other friends and doing fun stuff that she posted on Facebook and it made me angry. On Monday night, I asked if she wanted to hang out sometime this week. She ignored it (which happened every so often) and on Tuesday I sent her a text saying "I don't know why I even bother asking. You don't even care." And I coupled that with a FB post that said "Some people have time for their other friends and hobbies, but not for me - feeling neglected."

She texted me later that day, clearly very angry. She said "you really are something". To which I responded "I haven't seen you in over 4 months". Her last message to me was "Just leave me alone." Then she deleted me as a friend on Facebook. I quickly apologized for the FB post, said that I just wanted to see her, and seeing her having fun with other people, while not seeing me, made me angry. I told her I would leave her alone, but that she could text me whenever she wants if she can forgive me.

I don't think I really have a specific question here. I would just like to hear your take on the situation. Right now I'm confused at what happened.

I Got Nobody

I hate to say it, but it's a pretty simple story, IGN. She didn't like you that much and she was really hoping you'd get the hint.

Women are often socialized to be indirect. A direct "no" or refusal is frequently seen as harsh, rude and needlessly hurtful; as a result, there exists a great number of ways of indicating refusal without actually saying the words. These are known as "soft no's". One of those soft no's is simply never being available.

Hard truth time, IGN: you weren't really on the path to romance. Hand-holding and cuddling is nice, but you weren't really dating. You were hanging out - platonically. The fact that neither of you would classify what you were doing as "dating" is a pretty good clue that this wasn't on the road to romance. So too was the fact that after several not-dates that you didn't have so much as a good-night kiss.

Now, I don't doubt that she was crazy busy; with a 50 hour work-week, a person's social life is going to fall by the wayside. But. Even someone who is crazy busy will make a point of carving out time to see people they really want to see. And as much as I hate to say this: you weren't that high up on her priorities list.

Unfortunately, you didn't help yourself by constantly poking her about getting together. Not only were you showing her that you weren't getting the hint, but by asking over and over again, you were coming off as more than a little needy and neediness is the Anti-Sex Equation. The best thing you could have done was to take the second "I'm busy" as a sign and leave the ball in her court.


What sunk you though, is the passive-aggressive text, followed by the equally passive-aggressive post on Facebook. I get that you felt hurt - she's saying she's busy and here she is out having a good time with people who aren't you. That's going to sting! A lot!

But here's the thing: you weren't in any position of moral authority in her life. You weren't super-tight friends. She hadn't flaked on you to go with someone else. She had no commitment to you, overt or implied. Blowing up at her was the last nail in the coffin. That was the point that signaled that not only were you not getting the hint, but you were going to make a public spectacle over it. That's not attractive under the best of circumstances.


Here's a basic rule of thumb: one refusal could be anything. Two refusals is worrying but not necessarily conclusive. Three is a very clear message, and that message is that she's not interested. The best thing that you could have done was to take the second refusal as a hint and just left the ball in her court. The best thing you could have said was "Hey, I know you're busy, but I'd love to see you again. Get ahold of me when your schedule opens up." And then you move on and get involved with other people.

Getting hung up on one person - especially someone you're not even dating - is called "oneitis", and it's the death of your dating life. I'm sure she's a wonderful person, but there are many, many other people out there who are just as awesome; if she's not into you, then go find someone else who is.


So next time, catch the hint early and be willing to accept that she doesn't like you as much as you like her. Leave the ball in her court and move on. If she digs you, she'll come to you.

And the next time you're interested in someone? Make sure that you're on a date, not an ambiguous "might be a date, might be platonic" hang-out.


Good luck.

Good Evening Doc,

You know I have been a fan of your blog for about a year now and you have written some interesting approaches on how to talk or even approach women, but sad to say I don't think these rules apply to me. I have made a fool of myself when it comes to trying to talk to women.

For example I meet this wonderful woman when I was leaving my building to go see Guardians of the Galaxy. She recognized me from seeing me at C2E2, so as we were talking about DC comics vs Marvel comics she ends up continuing having a conversation with me all the way to my bus stop. By the way the bus stop is about four blocks from the building but she continues to chat about comics and about what will the new star wars movie look like even while I am at the bus stop. I get her number and I just dont know how to talk to her through text. I mean I am a little nervous but I just dont know how to text to a woman.

I so scared that I am going to fuck things up that I have not text her in a week. I know most of your posts tell me to be myself but for some reason being myself is what fails me. I try your approach on how to talk to a woman that is your friend and well that failed badly, I try the approach women that I find interesting just like in your blog and well I get the number but I dont even get a text back.

At this point I have lost all faith and stop trying, and I remember reading from one of your posts that if you stop trying so hard a woman can come to you, well I don't believe that. Look, I don't know how to read women, I don't know how to text them, I can't tell if like the same things or are even interested in my sorts of shows or hobbies or etc. I can't even tell if they like me or if they want something from me, which has happened before.

I have quite a few problems but lets focus on this girl I am scared of texting back, or is it too late for me to text her at all.

Confused, Confounded, Edgy and Ejected

I feel you, C2E2, but you're kind of digging your own hole here. You're so nervous that you're afraid to take a single step - even one as simple as texting somebody.


Now, here's the thing about rejection: it's not that bad. Don't get me wrong: it hurts. In fact, studies have found that it actually affects the parts of your brain that sense physical pain. But it's not going to destroy you. In fact, in many cases, rejection is the best friend you could have. It simplifies things immensely: you know how she feels, and she's not into you. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - in fact, most of the time, it's just a sign that the two of you weren't compatible in the first place.

But in the case of the woman you met at the convention: dude. She recognized you, struck up a conversation with you and gave you her number. She couldn't really give you a clearer sign that she wants to hear from you again if she wrote it out on poster board and marched with it outside your house.


Now, I get that you have some serious anxiety when it comes to dating. One of the things that can help is feeling like you have some structure - something that you understand so that it's not so mysterious and intimidating. So let's focus on something very simple that will help you gain a feeling of control and is relevant to your current situation: the rules of texting.

It's actually fairly simple when you get right down to it. Texting - or instant messaging or other forms of contact - is like tennis or volleyball. You start the conversation - that's your serve. She replies and expands on the topic - that's her return volley. You bounce it back and forth until one or the other of you misses the volley - that's the end of that conversational thread. Either you start a new conversation - you serve again - or you don't. Maybe she'll start one instead.


Now, you've let things go for long enough that it's a little difficult to just pick up the conversation you were having on the way to the bus. But you can start a new conversation. And I'm going to help you out with this.

One of my favorite ways of getting a woman interested in texting me is to drop a little playful intrigue - something to bait her into wanting to text back. Sometimes it's something silly like "Hey, you just popped into my head, so I wanted to say 'hi'. And stay out of my head," or "Hey, $NAME, I think I just saw your evil twin. At least, I'm assuming she was your evil twin. Unless you grew a goatee?"


Yes, it's obvious text bait. But it's also humorous enough to merit a response and that's ultimately what you want. Don't be worried about weird power games like "don't show too much interest". Playing "I'm so much cooler than you" is a losing proposition. Be honest: you're interested in her. There's nothing wrong with that. You just don't want to go overboard and go from "interested" to "needy".

Let's take your specific scenario. Your goal is two-fold: you want to remind her of who you are and why she liked talking to you, and to start another conversation.


So I'd suggest you say, "Hey $NAME, it's C2E2. I just saw $SOMETHING_SPECIFIC_RELATED_TO_WHAT_WE_FIRST_TALKED_ABOUT and it made me think of you, so text me back!" It's short, snappy, and just interest-grabbing enough that if she's still interested in talking to you, she'll reply. This gives you the opportunity to refer back to your conversation - and about having seen her at the convention - which will help remind her of who you are. I'm also a big fan of using call-back humor - bringing up jokes that you both made when you were together - as a way of re-establishing yourself in her memory. It's much easier and more effective than saying "Hey, it's Jim from last week - I was the one wearing the Doctor Who t-shirt? No, Jim. Jay-eye-em…"

After that, you simply use text as a way to continue the conversation. Don't get too hung up on justifying why you texted; you wanted to talk to someone you think is cool. That initial text is just about getting the conversation started.


You were having an easy time talking in person - text is even easier; you have even more time to put thought into what you're going to say! You don't have to worry as much about saying something without thinking or just blurting things out - having to write it down engages a part of your brain that doesn't normally fire up when you're talking in person.

Don't get too worried about how long it takes someone to text back - you have no idea what they're up to. They may be busy, or they may not have heard the text at first. Instead, what you want to guage is how detailed and involved their replies are. The more they write back with each volley, the more invested they are in the conversation. It's when they start giving shorter and more terse answers that the conversation is winding down. That's when it's best to simply say "OK, I've got a thing, I'll talk to you later!" and then text them again the next day. Hanging in a conversation until it dies completely is a bad idea. It's better to end things early and leave them wanting more than to ride it all the way into the ground.


Before the conversation comes to a close, you have an opportunity to ask her out. The easiest way would be to say "Hey, I'm having a great time talking to you. Would you like to continue this in person, perhaps over drinks?" Then suggest a specific time and date at a local bar or coffeeshop. Another option is to say "You know, there's this $COOL_THING going on this weekend that I was planning on going to and I think you'd love it. You should come with me."

(Obviously, have an idea about what's going on in your area that you'd like to go to; this is where things like your local alternative weekly paper come in handy.)


Here's a basic rule of thumb when it comes to texting: you get one unreturned text per day. So if you send her a text and she doesn't respond? Give her a day - at least 12 hours, but up to 24 before you ping her again. This allows for issues of "my battery died", "I was in class/driving", "I couldn't get to the phone", "I was with my friends and it'd be rude to ignore them" and other understandable reasons why someone might not reply back immediately. Better to let the other person reply at a time that works for them than blowing up their phone demanding a response.

And as I said to IGN above: one unreturned text is happenstance. Two unreturned texts is worrisome but not necessarily a problem. Three unreturned texts is a sign that it's time to move on.


But all things considered? I think you've got a pretty good shot, C2E2. It's no guarantee, but I think you can still pull this off.

Good luck.

Have you ever reignited a flirtation that went cold? Pulled a potential relationship out of a nose-dive into the Friend Zone? Share your thoughts and theories in the comments section, and we'll see you in two weeks with more of your questions!


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 podcast. His new book Simplified Dating is available exclusively through Amazon. 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.



And remember kiddies, aside from money; the sexiest thing people will find is confidence. Why? People are lazy and would rather have someone who'll make the tough decisions. If you're nothing but a writhing mass of nerves, no one's going to want to date you (unless you're a wealthy writhing mass of nerves ripe for wallet exploitation.)