Ask Dr. NerdLove: How Do Fix Someone Who’s Afraid To Date?

Hey Doc,

So basically I met this wonderful guy over the summer. I’m a graduating senior at college and he’s in his second year of a three year grad program at the same university.

Background on me- I had 2 relationships in high school. They were long term and pretty intense. I was completely in love and I have just had experience with love and relationships. 1st two years of college I was super single, did not even have a sex drive. Junior year I started using TINDER and BUMBLE and all that good stuff and I was hooking up with a couple of guys and just exploring my sexuality. Also I’m a short Latina, as nerdy as they come.

Background on him- He has tons of childhood trauma and a complex relationship with his mom, mental health, friends, girls who hurt him, etc. Like he flat out told me he doesn’t know what love is and believes he never will know. He has a stutter so his insecurities follow him every minute. He was also a jock in high school and a frat boy in college, so he’s the tall cool athlete antithesis to me. lol.

So in summer we sort of clicked and within 2-3 weeks of talking, we started hooking up. I knew that he was different than the other guys I had hooked up with. We really met each other at an intellectual kind of level. On the surface it didn’t seem like we had much in common, but here we were, still going back to each other. He made it clear that he didn’t want a relationship or anything, so I mentally knew I wouldn’t be to him all that I might one day want.

So Fall starts, the school year starts, and we keep talking, seeing each other, going on dates, staying over his place, etc. Mid semester he brings up wanting to be exclusive, but a few days later he kinda freaks out and we agree to just keep going like we were. By the way, throughout this whole time, neither one of us was seeing other people. We talked everyday and saw each other regularly. For his birthday in late October I surprise him with a camping/cabin weekend (I rented a car and everything) and we just have an amazing time travelling with one another. After that he says he really wants to be my boyfriend and we’re both so happy to kind of admit to each other that we really like each other and want to be with another. Highs and lows happen, but the lows always bring us closer together.

In December, he came to Miami (my hometown) to visit me for New Years. He met my friends and family and even though it was all pretty scary, we kept being solid. By this point I know that I’m falling in love with him but I am just enjoying that process. While on the beach, he asks me to be his date to his brothers wedding in March, and I feel so good to start the semester with that since we both felt confident in our relationship.

Fast forward to now. The wedding was tons of fun and it was nice to formally meet all of his family from his dad’s side. We’re pretty steady and just incredibly happy. We both express gratitude and care to one another constantly and it’s such an incredibly solid and healthy relationship.

The thing is that I am absolutely fucking in love with him. I know myself. I have fine tuned my intuition. Even my best friends sees how in love I am. Half of me has this great hope that this is it, and we will keep being happy and grow together and half of me is terrified of how crushed I’ll be when I inevitably lose him.

The other thing is that he has expressed being so traumatized with the concept of love that I am certain that if I tell him, even if he feels strong feelings for me, he’ll freak out and go into a crisis, push me away mode. I don’t know how to explain how I know that, but I really do. Maybe he’ll need space for awhile and I’m fairly certain he’ll come back to me eventually after that, but I don’t know if I can handle someone reacting that way when I tell them I’m in love with them.

The other thing is that I am graduating, so in his mind he has always kept this in mind and made it kind of like a mental expiration date. I have told him many times that I want to stay here in Boston after I graduate (love you Florida but nah no thanks) and I am applying to jobs here, but I understand how he is still defensive about that, and wants to keep those walls up just in case I do leave.

So I do think that he is trying to keep his walls up to protect himself and that he is trying his best to not fall for me (he is also big on control and freaks out when he’s not in control, especially of his feelings). I totally get that and respect that. So I do think that if I were to accept a job here and start looking for apartments, etc, he would start to address those walls and maybe take them down. I think he’s absolutely worth the wait. I try to be patient for him because I know that his trauma and his mental health often just makes all this stuff harder for him to handle.

But my mental health is now at stake. I can’t listen to music without breaking down, I have to cry and sit with my emotions everyday at night before going to bed, because being in love with him and keeping that inside and having to suppress that all the time is literally the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. It’s so overwhelming I can’t concentrate on my work. I know he would never want me to suffer silently when just telling him would bring me relief but I keep wanting to put him first and wait until he’s ready.

Should I wait until I find a job, apartment, etc here in Boston and reassure to him that I will be here and I want to keep being with him, or should I tell him now?

Stuck In Limbo

I pay a lot of attention to the language choices people make SIL. Call it a hold-over from having been an English major, but I find that word choice tends to provide insight into the writer’s state of mind.

Here’s what I’m seeing over and over again in your letter:

I think
I’m certain

All of these are describing – not your relationship with him, not even his state of mind but your assumptions about his state of mind. You’ve built up a very elaborate scenario in your head that, quite honestly, doesn’t match up with the rest of what you’ve told me.

I think you may have done what so many people have done before: you honed in on a conditional statement your partner made back in the early days of your relationship and you’ve treated it like it’s set in stone. And y’know, it’s good to pay attention to somebody’s limits and boundaries – especially when they’ve established them early on – but the thing you have to remember is that things change. What may have been true at the start of a relationship – or even before you started dating – doesn’t necessarily remain true when you’re both deep into it.

One of the things I’m always telling people is that the Defining The Relationship talk isn’t carving commandments in stone tablets on the top of Mt. Sinai, it’s the start of a conversation. The rules you establish at the start of your relationship may work for you then, but relationships grow and change, just as people grow and change. What works for you then may not work for you now, but if you treat them as inviolate and inflexible, you make it impossible for your relationship to grow along with you.

And that’s kind of what you’re doing right now. You’ve taken things he said early on before you two were dating or as deep into it as you are now and treated them as if they were handed down from on high.

But let’s look at how he’s acting:

  • Starts by saying he doesn’t want a relationship – ends up in a relationship with you.
  • Asks to be exclusive
  • Acts exclusive even when you two haven’t explicitly agreed to it.
  • Goes on vacations with you
  • Invites you to meet his family
  • Invites you to be his wedding date
  • Constantly expresses care and gratitude for you

Call me crazy but that kinda sounds like love. Now maybe he’s afraid of the L-word1 itself, it’s hard to say. But it’s hard to say because you aren’t willing to talk about it with him. You’ve pre-rejected yourself based on things he’s said that don’t sound like they apply any more.

So what you need to do is stop talking to a loudmouth with a blog and talk with your boyfriend. It’s time for the Awkward Conversation, where you sit down with him and talk about your relationship, where it’s going and where you want it to go. And it may be easier to frame it as talking about your relationship than just saying “Bee tee dubs, I’m in love with you”, because hey, this way you’re talking about things at a step removed. Once you feel more secure about where things are going and what the future holds for the two of you, maybe then you’ll feel empowered to actually say the words instead of thinking them at him as loudly as you can.

And to be perfectly frank, it’s better to start having that conversation now instead of waiting until things are juuuuuuuust right. Because, SPOILER ALERT, they will never be just right. Until you confront the Days of Future Past vision you’ve got going on in your head, you’re always going to find reasons to put things off. It’s easier to keep kicking a scary conversation down the road than to have it, but that just makes it impossible to move past it.

So, it’s band-aid ripping time, SIL. It’s scary, it may sting at first, but it’s better done quickly and getting it over than it is to drag it out and make things more agonizing.

But honestly? I think you don’t have anything to worry about. I suspect that if you actually muscle up and have this conversation with him? His response will be “OH THANK GOD SOMEONE SAID IT.” Because I suspect he may have the same worries that you do.

Good luck.

Hi Doc, my best friend is driving me crazy.

He is obsessed with women. He constantly talks about women’s bodies. Last week he even showed me his preferred type of eyebrow shape. WTF?! I have been a wing-person for him in the past, and when he sees a pretty girl, he doesn’t say anything. So when he goes on dates, he takes drugs so he can be “confident and outgoing”. Basically, I think he’s read so many dating articles on how to flirt with girls, that he can no longer be authentic.

Technically this is not my problem, but I don’t think I can continue being his friend because of his super unhealthy relationship to women. I will tell him “your hair looks nice” or “I like your outfit” and then he’ll turn around and say that women don’t find him attractive and don’t want to have sex with him. He’s gotten laid before and after a couple times, the women stop being interested. I believe this is because he treats them as objects in bed and can’t contain his excitement.

I don’t know what to do. I feel that if I confront him about the way he treats women that it will make his self esteem worse because he is sensitive to criticism. But at the same time, he keeps blaming women for his lack of sex and relationships, when it’s really his fault because of the way he treats, acts and behaves around women.

And if goes without saying, but his negative feelings about women, are just projects of his own negative feelings towards himself. What would you do in this situation? When I friend is getting in their own way and is blind to the cause?

Friend In Need

Being a friend isn’t always about support and just being there for someone. Sometimes being a friend means being the person who’s going to dopeslap someone upside their head when they’re being stupid. And while yes, it sucks that he’s sensitive to criticism and has low self-esteem, sometimes sweet words aren’t going to work to change somebody’s mind. It’s easier to brush off compliments – especially when one feels like the person giving them is biased – than it is to ignore the application of the Mallet of Loving Correction.

So here’s what I think you need to tell him: “OK, I will give you the blunt truth about what you’re doing wrong. Are you ok with this?” When he says yes, then you follow this up with “I want you to understand that I’m saying this with love and caring for you and I want you to understand I don’t think you’re a bad person but HOLY GOD YOU’RE BEING AN IDIOT. The reason you’re having these problems is because you’re being an inauthentic asshole and it’s pushing away the people who’d otherwise love to connect with you. If you’d let go of all the bullshit that you seem to think you need and just try being authentic and giving with someone, you might get people to stick around.”

And then you can slap a copy of New Game + into his hands and tell him to study it like gospel.

Honestly though, FiN, there’s not really much you can do to force someone to change their ways. I tend to side-eye the fuck out of Alcoholics Anonymous for a multitude of reasons, but the one thing they get right is that people won’t change until they’re ready to. Sometimes that means they have to hit the proverbial wall. Other times it means that well-meaning friends need to smack the stupid off them instead of giving the more pleasant-if-not-as-helpful bromides that we tend to give instead, less we offend them.

If you do confront him over this, remind him that the issue isn’t that he’s a bad person or that these are things that are intrinsic to him. The problems he’s having are the choices he’s making, and he can make different choices.

But to quote the sages: even when choosing not to choose, you still have made a choice.  And he may choose that path because he’s not ready to change, yet.

Good luck.

  1. No, not lesbian

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