Hello all you horrendous love treats, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that’s bigger than Knack II.
Last week, we were talking about a guy who wanted to find casual hook-ups. This week, we have an inverse of the problem: she wants some no-strings attached sex friends, but the guys she meets all seem to want something more serious. How does someone end up sending the “I want a serious relationship” message when that’s not actually what they want at all?
And from another reader: when does your responsibility to an ex actually end?
It’s time to get hype.
Dear Dr NerdLove,
I’m a 25 year old woman. I know I’m not Victoria’s Secret model hot but I’m also aware I’m good looking. I’m told I’m “unique” (eye roll), and I have diverse interests so I usually don’t have any problems getting along with people unless I find them absolutely boring. But anyway...
I have a weird problem: people only wanting to get into a relationship with me. It’s absolutely not what I’m looking for. Although I’m incredibly sexual, I don’t have “romantic feelings”. I literally can’t catch feels and I’m too busy and interested with my own life right now to attend to a serious relationship. I even go so far as to tell them I won’t be their girlfriend but I’ll help them find one, then we’ll just nix the sex part of the relationship and stay friends. If it ends with the new GF, well... they know where I am *finger pistols and awkward wink*
The first couple dates tend to go like average dates. I’m told, however, that I throw people off. Lots of “you’re not like most people I date, “wow no one’s understood me like this before,” “I’m so used to people playing games and I’m glad you’re not like that,” “this is the most fun I’ve had on a date in forever” type of statements.
But after they relax there’s great rapport, we have chemistry and dates last hours with talking and flirting. I don’t hide that I’m still “dating” other people, I also don’t get jealous if they see other people either; my only concern is that they use protection.
Well fast forward a month or less... we’re good friends, the sex is great or getting better, cuddling is on point, we’re having fun and then out of nowhere I get the “what are we?” question or worse, a profession of love.
Which is confusing to me because I thought we discussed this? Which leads to a weird ultimatum of “date me or GTFO.” Which, whoa dude, I mean if they were getting too attached and wanted to fall back to just being friends, sure. I mean it would suck for me but I value them as a friend more than getting off so after a minor mourning period of losing a fuck buddy I’d adjust and be a friend.
So what really sucks for me is that instead of doing that, they just axe me out of their lives all together. That’s what really hurts, I mean I thought I had a friend but apparently all guys see in me is wifey material and when I decline their visions of romance and a relationship they throw everything we had away.
Everyone else I know seems to be having the opposite problem and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong? Or what I’m doing to attract guys like that even with my many warnings. The guys that are more willing to just hook up are usually pretty gross, and not my type at all if I’m being completely honest here. I’ve even tried guys that are single dads or super busy with work in the hopes that they’d be to busy to get on my case, but that’s a no go.
I’m getting really frustrated. I can make acquaintance friends really easy but finding someone that can handle my personality is really rare. I know it’s nobody’s responsibility to make sure I’m not lonely, I’m happy with my life and hobbies, and my friends have people. But it still sucks and I don’t know what solution there is.
I’ve been debating getting into a relationship for the sake of sex and intimacy and just trying to dodge any concrete future planning, and when it gets too serious maybe make them dump me so they don’t have to feel any version of heartache? Then maybe we could just be friends that occasionally have sex, like I wanted all along.
If I’m upfront about my not wanting something serious and my inability to fall in love, is it then their problem if they continue to harbor delusions of being “the one” that can change me? I get it, I thought I was in love many times before, before I realized it was the constant sex and offerings of food that kept me. So I know feelings can be confusing, but I also really want to get laid consistently with someone I can trust.
Friends with benefits
Hey Needs It Bad… haaaaaaave you met FWB?
OK, that out of the way: you’ve come to the right place, FWB, because back in the bad old days… I was exactly one of those guys who frustrate you. No, for real. This is like someone from my past writing to me in the future.
Part of the Secret Origin of Dr. NerdLove was my falling for someone who was incredibly up front about the fact that she was not open to dating anyone. While she would totally enjoy the time we had together, we weren’t going to be in a romantic relationship.
I, needless to say, didn’t believe her. As far as I was concerned, she was damn near perfect and by God I was going to change her mind about this shit. And why not? At the time, I had the perfect job and now the perfect relationship. All I had to do was just hang in there long enough and I’d prove that I was so wonderful that she couldn’t help but fall for me.
Fast-forward six months and first I lost the perfect job, and then the perfect girl dumped me. Why? Because I didn’t believe her when she told me that she wasn’t going to fall in love and didn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend. Incidentally, you can watch all of this happen in the documentary 500 Days of Summer.
So, what’s going on here?
Well, part of it is cultural. Even in this day and age, guys still don’t believe that women might just want to bang like men do. It’s taken as holy writ that women catch feelings like we catch colds and that regular banging will eventually lead to commitment because a woman who just likes to fuck? Well, there has to be something wrong with her. And let’s be honest: some dudes see a woman who says “No, I just want no-strings sex,” and hear “IT’S A TRAP!”
But another part is the people you’re dating. From the sounds of it, you’re dating younger guys, occasionally guys who don’t have much relationship experience. Odds are, these are guys who aren’t necessarily used to a woman sharing their interests and who aren’t used to dating someone as confident or up front as you. And this is no slight to those other women: being up front and secure in what you want then just putting it out there can be scary for everyone.
But then here you are: you’re brassy, you’re straight forward and you get them. You are, in all likelihood, the easiest and least stressful relationship they’ve ever had. To that kind of guy, you are basically a unicorn. Unfortunately, instead of embracing the situation as it is… they feel like they need to lock this down. They want to round that unicorn up, tame it, ride it until its heart meter fills and they can put it in their stable.
Some of this is due to inexperience. A lot of people (myself included, way back when) will find a situation like this and feel like they have to grab it with both hands. They believe that this is a once-in-a-lifetime situation. They think they’ll never find someone this awesome that’ll make them feel this good and if they miss out, then they will go to their graves believing they missed their One True Love.
There’s also a fair amount of social programming involved. A lot of people feel like every relationship needs to have the potential to be their last, and have a hard time dealing with the idea that some relationships are temporary and just for fun. As much as we like to talk about guys just wanting sex, a lot of dudes also start a friends-with-benefits relationship and catch feels.
Some of this comes down to the difference between a fuckbuddy and a friend with benefits. In a fuckbuddy relationship, the relationship is about the sex. In a friends with benefits arrangement, you’re friends… who just happen to have sex. Some guys can handle that. For others, the combination closeness and emotional intimacy and occasional bed-rocking sex means that they can’t keep maintain the necessary emotional distance.
So what can you do about all of this?
One thing is to make sure you’re not setting up a dating frame. Part of what’s confusing these guys is that you’re acting like a traditional relationship: the long dates, the longer talks, the flirting, the post-coital cuddles… to a lot of people, that’s going to feel like y’all are headed toward a fairly standard relationship. You’re saying one thing, but the way you’re acting says another, so it’s pretty understandable that wires are getting crossed. If you say you’re not a couple but go play house in Ikea, people might understandably get confused.
So it may help if you make more of an effort to keep things casual if you’re not sure about the guy. I know you want that closeness that comes with a friendship, as well as the occasional fun naked time. But if you want to break this particular cycle, that closeness may have to be something they earn over time if they show that they can handle it.
The other thing you can do is focus on dudes who’re your type but who also have a bit more experience under their belt. They may be older. They might be more emotionally mature. But someone with a little more life experience may be more compatible with what you’re looking for right now.
You may also just have to ruthlessly compartmentalize—some friendships for the closeness and intimacy, some for the sex, and never the twain to cross. It’s not easy or efficient, but it may be one of the ways you can meet your needs. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to guarantee that somebody won’t catch a case of the feels and repeat the cycle. You can only do so much; your potential partners are going to have to do their share as well.
There’ll always be guys who swear they can keep things casual… right up until they can’t. There’s a certain amount of trial and error that you just can’t get around, unfortunately. But there are guys like that out there.
Your advice has helped me for a long time and now I feel like I’m in uncharted territory here. I’m a young gay woman with a break-up problem.
Very recently I broke up with my girlfriend of six months, Jenny (not her real name). Jenny is a wonderful person and we’ve become close, but I knew she was in love with me, while I didn’t feel the same way and could not foresee a strong romantic future with her, feeling more like we would work better as friends. After deciding I needed to break up with her, I possibly made a mistake of waiting a couple weeks to actually do it so that it happened after her birthday and after she finished some stressful school projects. Meanwhile, I have a friend, Tanya (not her real name). Tanya and I met while working professionally on a freelance project, and we subsequently became friends almost exclusively through text, seeing each other (never alone) maybe three times since we finished the project months ago.
In the couple weeks leading up to breaking up with Jenny, it became clear to me that Tanya and I had a lot of chemistry and that I could see myself dating her. Once I made the decision to break up with Jenny, my ideal plan was to remain friends in whatever way worked best for her. Then after a month, following another professional engagement I had with Tanya and assuming I still felt strongly about her, I would ask Tanya out.
This plan seemed fool-proof and even kind in my mind: have a healthy break up, give myself and my ex time to grieve, then proceed to move on and date a new person.
However, things changed when I actually broke up with Jenny. She was absolutely devastated, more so than I feared she would be. This was the first serious relationship she had had with another woman, and I don’t think she had been in love with anyone like she was with me. And yet I broke her heart. She tried to bargain with me and ask if there was a way we could come back in a week and rethink it, or if it was something she did or didn’t do that she could fix, but I assured her that my choice to break up had nothing to do with her actions, and that my feelings would not change, as I didn’t want to give her false hope. But as careful as I tried to be, she was still devastated.
What shocked me the most was when she asked if it was because of someone else - specifically, if it was because of Tanya. Jenny had been cheated on by previous partners, and it made her anxious and constantly afraid of it happening again. She knew Tanya and I texted often, and on the few occasions we did see each other, Jenny could sense Tanya was into me even when I couldn’t at the time. She did not mention any of this to me prior to this day, for fear she would seem paranoid, which I understand. I confirmed to Jenny that I have not cheated on her, and it’s just about how I feel about her, and no one else.
However, right after that, she told me she was in a relationship before where she suspected her boyfriend was cheating. Once they broke up, her former boyfriend and the woman she suspected was the impetus for the breakup began dating almost immediately - and it crushed Jenny, and caused a term of depression and amped up her anxiety. So it turns out my plan was not anxiety-proof. At the end of the long, tearful break up, we agreed to be friends, but she definitely need some time to process, which I’m hoping she genuinely takes.
So, I feel like I’m in an ethical dilemma. Protect my ex’s feelings and potentially her mental health but lose the possibility of seeing a woman I really like? Or do what I want and date this woman, but take the risk of further hurting my ex and any potential friendship we have?
Jenny is not my girlfriend anymore, and even if we became friends, it’s not her business who I date. However, she specifically said that the idea of Tanya and me dating would cause her a lot pain, and since I already broke her heart, to compound that with dating the one person she was afraid I was into could only make things worse for her mental health.
Because otherwise I would feel tempted to just rush into her arms, I talked to Tanya, especially since very recently through text she has been flirty, while I’ve been giving her a lot of mixed signals. I explained to her that although originally I intended to ask her out after some time passed, Jenny’s visceral reaction to the idea of us dating has given me pause, and even though we both want to date, I would need more time to decide what I think is right. Tanya understood, thankfully, so I have more time to figure it out and gauge how my ex is processing everything.
So what do you advise, Doc? I want to be cheesy and “follow my heart,” but I also want to do right by my ex and not be insensitive. Thanks in advance for any insight you have.
-Trying to Be Kind
I appreciate what you’re doing here TtbK, but there are two hard truths that you need to face:
First: there is no fool-proof break up plan. Break ups are rarely easy and never painless. Even when it’s one that needs to happen, or even just the natural end to a relationship, there’s going to be pain. Something that has been part of your life is ending, and that hurts. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The only thing you can do is make the break up as compassionate as possible and avoid needless pain.
Second: you aren’t responsible for someone else’s feelings. It absolutely sucks that Jenny is hurt by this. It’s good that you’re trying to be compassionate. It says a lot about you as a person that you’re worried about her. But I’m gonna have to bring out the chair-leg of truth here: you can’t let her having a sad control your future.
Let’s game this out a little. How long does Jenny’s broken heart get to dictate who you do or don’t date? A month? Three months? A year? Are you going to have to wait until you are 100%, positively, absolutely sure that she’s ok before you’re allowed to date someone else, whether it’s Tanya or some other person? What if she just plain never gets over you?
The dilemma you’re facing here isn’t unique. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve seen on both sides of the break-up who either used the “you broke my heart” bit on someone or had it used against them. And make no mistake: it’s a way of controlling one’s ex by setting the terms of the break-up. You aren’t “allowed” to do something because she’s been hurt like this before and how could you do it to her again you were so special etc.
I’m not saying Jenny is doing this deliberately or maliciously. I think she’s genuinely hurt. But that doesn’t mean that she’s not trying to basically keep you single. Whether she’s hoping it means you’ll come back to her or if she just is trying to put off not having you in her life, it’s still manipulative.
I have nothing but empathy for her. Having an ex dump you and immediately take up with someone else hurts like nothing else. Having it be the person they were cheating on you with—even though in this case that’s not what happened—is the lemon juice on the open wound for that extra kiss of eau d’ fuck you.
But the fact of the matter is that as much as the break-up may have sucked for her, she has to be the one to put on her big girl pants and deal with it. It’s not on you to be her combination shrink and break-up Sherpa. You don’t need to get her over this particular hill.
You’ve already done what you could to make this as clean a break as possible. If you’re worried about her, then you can provide her with numbers for a therapist or call her friends and let them know that Jenny could really use their love and support right now. But there comes a point where she’s going to have to be able to handle things on her own.
If you do decide to pursue Tanya—and you have every right to do so—then go for it. Do your best to avoid causing needless pain where you can. You may want to block or restrict what Jenny can see on your social media, for example, just so that she doesn’t end up ripping off the scab if she sees a picture of the two of you together on Instagram. But you don’t need to treat it like a dirty secret to keep from your ex.
You did your part. It’s on her to get her shit together, not you.
Did your ex dictate who you could date after the break up? Did you try to turn a FWB into something more? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. And meanwhile, 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? Writedoc@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 blogPaging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. 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.