Hello all you love-cobras of contagion, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to give you the DLC to find your OTP. This week, we’re getting in people’s heads. How do you respond when everyone has a preconceived notion about you based on how you look? And why can’t you get that one ex out of your head… no matter how much better your life is without them? What does it take to get some closure?
It’s time to dive into the psyche and start rooting around until something twitches. Let’s do this thing.
As someone who grew up poor and in the hood, I would like to say thank you. Your work is really beneficial to people like me who never really got completely good advice on dating. The hood is not the place to learn social calibration or emotional intelligence. But it is a great example of toxic masculinity and not what to do.
Due to my background and my size (I’m 6’1 and pretty athletic, weight lifting is a hobby of mine), I have always been thought of as a thug or angry person. Part of it just because of my personality, my energy level, loud voice, and tendency to be direct whenever there is a problem. (I developed this way as a result of my neighbourhood. People always thought I was mad or threatening them. When I spoke at a normal level people would think I was angry due to my voice. I ended up being louder to enunciate my emotions through tone.)
Throughout my life I was always accused of being a thug or violent due to my neighbourhood and looks. It became a source of insecurity for me, along with lack of money. Now I don’t think I would have had a problem if I went to school with people in a similar situation/class.
However, thanks to me excelling in academics, I was put into these “smart” classes/schools, in other places, where most of my classmates were lower middle class or higher in financial status. I never really had much in common with them and they generally avoided me or made jokes based off of where I was from.
They would always say I’m gonna kick someone’s arse or challenge me to strength contests. I understand that they were probably trying to be friendly, but superficial jokes only go so far. Most of the time I played along and embraced the persona they gave me every once in a while, much to my cringe and embarrassment. Kind of how when a stereotypical frat bro meets another guy from his fraternity, they are loud and obnoxious.
Likewise, the hobbies they had were mostly because their parents paid for them and I couldn’t relate, let alone afford, the video games, music lessons, holidays and etc. They were always talking about these things, and it was hard making friends, let alone finding a girlfriend when compared to them you seemed boring. (Not like I had much money for it anyways.)
I worked on my insecurities as I grew older and pulled my life together to what it is now. I’m at uni, have a job, dress better, read social cues better, and dial back on my use of slang. I even met friends through free hobbies like volunteering, clubs, and casual sports.
However, one thing I have never been good at is dealing with condescending people, sarcasm, and people who generally try to shut me down. (Not in a love rejection sense, but kill my good mood or positivity.) My problem is “ Nice guys™” and “Nice Girls™” around me always try to find my insecurities and pick at them.
They keep implying that I am not worthy, on their level, or a thug. I generally don’t give a shit but there is a limit to my patience and how many times they can disrespect me. Especially because they keep doing this around women I am interested in or in front of groups of people I may be trying to network with for a job opportunity.
The whole idea behind it is I can’t cause a scene without looking like the big buff guy bullying them or ruin the mood for the crowd. They try to undermine my words, actions, or try to pick at me for my looks. In the end they just call me violent for being annoyed or mad. In the case of some “frenemies”, that I have to deal with due to mutual friends, they try to bring up my past mistakes in front of a girl I may be talking to.
They also point out the fact I never had a girlfriend (I’m 21) like something is wrong with me. I genuinely have been trying, but it is difficult due to my circumstances. I’ve transferred schools a lot and have been busy working night shifts. Likewise, I seem boring to those around me sometimes.
It’s usually because there are usually girls with long established friends who are more interesting to them (I’m usually the “new” guy) or guys who brag about their expensive hobbies that they have had the money and time to develop since they were young. (Like if a girl was talking to me and this other guy comes along playing a guitar or talking about his holiday travels, her attention shifts to him kind of thing.)
Likewise, some of these people keep trying to push me to date the more unattractive girls around me. There is nothing wrong with them, I’m just not attracted to them. (And no I don’t have a skewed sense of beauty. They themselves admit that even they wouldn’t date her or her personality is unattractive, but somehow I’m a perfect match. Implying I’m not on the “level” of the women I am attracted to or they were there first.)
I’m not even thinking about levels or trying to ask these girls out, I’m just trying to get to know them like a normal human being and figure out if I’m attracted later.
The guys that usually pick fights are overweight/obese, frail, short, or are passive aggressive hypocrites. They basically use the backdoor friendship gambit or say they are friendly around girls. (I’m not trying to body shame, but rather pointing out a trend I noticed.)
However, when the girls aren’t listening they are busy talking about which one is hot/fuckable or bragging about their sexual exploits, “Locker room talk.” (They remind me of the guys in my neighbourhood.) One went as far as being proud that he had sex by agreeing to write essays for an exchange student, who didn’t know English and was at risk of being sent home if she failed.
I also have had women’s girlfriends who attack my personality and say that I’m not good enough to date their friends. When in reality I have already been going out with her, or she just gave me her number, etc. Guys are always saying you can’t really be mean to a woman’s friends if I want to make things work. Because if you do she is gonna badmouth you and do whatever it takes to drive you off. (Which has happened to me.)
Most of the comments are usually that she could do better or that I must be planning to manipulate, pump, and dump her. In general it is always that going out with me is a bad idea because I must be “dangerous.” (And yes, I try to be aware of situations where the girl is uncomfortable or if the conversation has run its course, and walk away or apologise.)
Later on when I try to tell my harassers to stop, or establish boundaries, they always come out with the “You are getting angry for no reason and raising your voice,” “Don’t be violent,” “Hey I was just joking,” “I never meant it like that,” “Listen I’m only making fun of you because I’m insecure myself,” or “I’m depressed and have a tragic backstory.” Then they spin it around and say that I threatened them and got angry when they were trying to act civil.
It is always excuse after excuse from these bastards. I’m really peaceful and I’m not violent. I am well aware of damage I could do if anything ever turned physical. I try not to stoop low enough to insult them back because they then spin it around and it makes it easier for them to claim I bullied them. Every time they depict it like they are the victim and I’m the villain.
I’m almost always told to apologise to them because they cry wolf (and yes, I always consider if I was acting out of line and apologise if I was). It feels like my thoughts or feelings don’t matter and usually the girl I’m talking to will choose to not cause a scene or defend her annoying guy/girl friend.
How do I handle these types of situations? Especially when I’m trying to get to know a girl better.
— Not a Thug
Let’s start off by acknowledging the elephant in the room: you don’t specify your racial background, but a lot of the ways people are responding to you sound like they come down to racism and classism. Unfortunately, there’s really no way of dressing or behaving that can make people stop being arsehats and — more importantly — them acting that way usually means they don’t deserve your time or attention. Haters are gonna hate and arseholes are gonna arse.
You can, however, learn to handle your classmates, friends, and people you’re spending time with. The first thing I would suggest you do is find role-models that you can pattern yourself after, especially in ways that help mitigate the way your size and strength can intimidate people. Look at Júlíus Hafþór; when he’s not being The Mountain, he’s a veritable teddy-bear (and adorable dog daddy).
Look at the way that Mike Colter plays Luke Cage as someone who’s imposing but gentle (until it’s time to not be nice).
Much of that comes down to body language. Having a genuine, friendly smile and open, welcoming body language helps convey warmth and companionability. So too does being aware of your height and distance from people. When you’re tall and broad, it’s possible to loom over folks when you don’t mean to. You don’t want to slouch or slump over, but sitting down or leaning against something can help convey a relaxed, friendly air while also making you seem less intimidating.
Dress can also be a part of this; people aren’t as intimidating when they’re dapper as hell. The way you dress is like an outward signal of who you are as a person. By dressing up sharp, you help establish people’s first impressions of you. Whether this means rocking a vest and shoes or letting your geek flag fly is up to you, but it helps you craft how people see you.
The next thing is that you should stop playing into their jokes about your size, strength or temper. It’s one thing to play “agree and amplify” when someone is trying to clown you while you’re flirting with a woman at the bar. It’s another when you’re dealing with the people you see and interact with every day.
By playing along, you’re essentially giving them permission to keep making those jokes. As far as they’re concerned, you’ve told them that they’re not wrong and that you’re cool with them seeing you this way.
Instead, what I’d suggest you do is adopt a slightly disappointed frame; an exasperated “really, man?” sets them up as being an arsehole and defangs their ability to deflect it onto you by saying you’re angry or threatening.
But let’s talk about the biggest issue you’re facing here: you’re coming to a lot of this from a place of insecurity and feeling of undeservedness. You’re still occasionally framing yourself as someone who’s lesser because you don’t have as much money or haven’t had as many opportunities to be “interesting” and none of that’s true.
You may not have been as fortunate as some of your classmates, but that doesn’t make you lesser and it certainly doesn’t make you less interesting.
Being new and having different life experiences doesn’t make you less interesting, it almost always makes you more interesting to folks. Yeah, you’re coming into groups who have established connections and relationships, but the fact that you’re new and different gives you something they don’t have: novelty.
You’re different from the people they’ve known. You have stories and experiences that their friends and peers don’t have. You are someone from outside their social circle and that means that you have the benefit of bringing a fresh and different perspective.
Your biggest issue is that on some level you seem to feel that you don’t deserve to be where you are or that you don’t measure up to the people around you. But the facts that you haven’t been on the holidays that other folks have, or learned how to play a musical instrument, doesn’t mean that you’re any less interesting than anyone else.
Being interesting is as much about your intellectual curiosity and the way you convey your interests and passions to others as it is about having a checklist of accomplishments.
And honestly: you’re as capable of developing your hobbies and interests as these guys. You don’t need expensive lessons in order to learn how to play an instrument. If you can get ahold of, say, a second-hand guitar or your university has an instrument-lending program, then you can find lessons for free on YouTube.
But if you accept this outlook that you don’t (or can’t) measure up, you’re ceding ground you don’t need to give. You’re coming to this from place where you don’t feel deserving of other people’s interest or attraction. It isn’t that these guys are coming along and stealing women’s attention from you, it’s that you’re giving up because you don’t think you can be interesting.
That willingness to give ground is what’s hindering you with those Nice Guys™. The reason they give you such shit is because you make them feel insecure. They know that they don’t measure up to you and so they’re doing whatever they can to drag you down. They’re poking at you in places where they can tell you’re insecure because they can’t compete with you on any other level.
The key to handling them is to recognise your worth and their lack of it. They’re harassing you in order to make themselves feel better. You have a right to establish your boundaries and tell them to step off. The key isn’t to just be non-reactive, but to remember that what they’re trying to do is to lower your value.
When you are aware of that, and you’re secure in your own worth, it’s easy to flip things on them. When you react to their insults, it’s a signal that they’ve hit you in a place where you feel that this insult had validity. After all, their digs and insults only work if you agree that there’s something to them. Are you going to get upset if a five-year-old calls you a big poo head?
Same thing with these dudes.
Respond to them with that in mind, with the bemusement at seeing a 5 year old trying to bring you down, or a Chihuahua nipping at your ankles. That mix of amusement and vague annoyance verging on exasperation undercuts both the effectiveness of their barbs and their attempts to frame you as a big dumb angry thug. The less you give them, the harder they have to work and the worse they look.
When you come from a place where you’re secure in your worth and confident in yourself, then their insults only make them look bad… and give you a chance to work your charm on the women you’re into in the process.
For example, if they start bagging on the fact that you haven’t had a girlfriend before? Look at the woman you’re talking to — not at the Nice Guy™ — give her a smile and say “Well, what can I say? Haven’t met the right girl yet.”
On the other hand, you can flip things on them by calling them out on why they’re trying to drag you. When they try to clown you, you can ask them, with all due concern: “Do you have anything better to do than work out your insecurities around me?”
What shouldn’t do is let them get away with their excuses. If they tell you it’s just a joke, then ask them, calmly, to explain the joke. Jokes are humorous after all. What, exactly, is the punchline here? Where’s the humour? They didn’t mean it? Then why did they say it that way? They’re only picking on you because they’re insecure? “That’s your problem, not mine. Go work on that.” They have a tragic backstory? “That’s nice, so does everyone else. Still not my problem, still not an excuse.”
Now the women and friends-of-friends you’ve been dealing with are a different story. Women are frequently very protective of their friends, sometimes a little too protective. In those cases, the best thing to do is to charm and befriend them. What you need to show them is that you’re a man of integrity, someone who their friend would be proud to date.
The more that you can show them what an awesome guy you are, the less of a problem you’re going to have with women trying to chase you away from their friends.
At the end of the day, NaT, your biggest issue is your perception of your own worth. The more that you can accept that you are in fact awesome, that you deserve to be where you are, and that you’ve worked your arse off to get there? The less of a problem the haters and Nice Guys™ will be.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
My girlfriend broke up with me after 5 years of being together. At this point we were living together, we were working in similar fields and had a lot of common interests. There was talk of marriage, a future, kids. Everything seemed perfect, both our families and most of our friends agreed.
It might be important to add that we were each others first serious relationship also and therefore had blindly and foolishly fallen in love without any reserve and were at the point where we both thought that whatever happens, happens, and that together we can get through it, no matter what.
Well, we both hit a rough spot in our professional lives and personal lives: new deadlines, new commitments, a lot of more stress, issues with family members. This led me to depression, something that lasted about a year and I only fully realised what it was by the time I was getting through it.
During this period I had gotten overweight, extremely passive about almost never wanting to do something out of the house (while we used to be very outgoing) and generally being couch-locked most evenings after work. It even affected our love life to the point it almost didn’t exist by the end. Looking back it shouldn’t have come as a surprise she wanted to break up, but it’s how it happened that still bothers me.
One day she plainly stated that we have issues and needed to break up. I suggested to maybe work on it for a bit before just throwing away what we had. She initially agreed, but a week later told me she just can’t, she has already found a new apartment and is moving out within the next two weeks, also meanwhile she will be staying somewhere else. There was no real talk about the issues, no way for me to say I understand why and that I can work on it. She just left.
I found out out she started seeing someone within a week after moving out and now, half a year later is still seeing him. I tried keeping my distance. I tried reaching out twice during the last half year, never got an answer. No actually I got an answer, a few weeks ago I met her randomly on the street and she didn’t even say “hi”, she plainly and quite rudely said “please don’t contact me, live your life as if I don’t exist anymore,” and that was that.
During this period I have lost all the gained weight and then some more, I’m in the best shape I have ever been, the depression is gone. I stopped smoking weed, cut down on alcohol and even don’t game as much as I used to. Most of my free time now goes to sports, playing guitar, reading books and spending time with friends. Not only do I feel recovered from the depression, but I feel as if I’ve worked through a lot of issues I didn’t even knew I had before that.
Things at work don’t bother me as much anymore, things that used make me freak out I just see as mere challenges to overcome.
Female colleagues have started to flirt with me, and a few have even asked me out. If there ever even was the slight doubt that maybe my ex was out of my league, then tables have definitely turned. I asked someone out I had otherwise never dared and we have been seeing each other a few months now. It feels like it might turn into a serious relationship and I would want nothing more than to completely get over my ex and find someone new to share my life with.
But I can’t stop thinking about my ex. I have tried to read as much as possible about it. Tried talking to people about it. Tried to live my life for me, and to convince myself every day why I should be glad that the relationship ended and all the positive stuff that happened because of it.
But every time I manage to do that, it always loops back to how much I miss her and want her back. Just having a friendly talk with her might be enough, maybe, just even to realise that I don’t really love her anymore. But the way she just left without closure makes it impossible.
— Broken and Empty
Here’s why you can’t let go of your ex, BaE: it’s because you’re expecting something that you aren’t going to get. You want something that’s going to make sense out of her leaving you, a clear path from A to B that will explain things.
You want a story. A story that will make sense and give you permission to move on because there’s a satisfying reason for the break-up other than “she wanted out.” You want something that will make you feel… if not good about the break up, then at least something that makes it fair.
Except there is no fairness. She feel out of love with you. She was clearly done before she pulled the trigger and by the time she did, whatever affection and even respect she may have had curdled to resentment. Now she wants to excise that time you were together out of her life.
Which sucks. It absolutely sucks and you’re well within your rights to feel hurt and upset by it. But nothing she’s going to say or do is going to give you closure. You’re holding on to an idealised memory and looking for a narrative that will validate it and tie the story of your relationship off with a neat little bow. And that’s never going to happen.
The only way you’re going to get closure is to give yourself closure. Here’s your narrative: She left you in a cruel and callous way. It sucked, but it also gave you the boot to arse you needed to get your shit together. Now you’re better than you ever were and she’s stuck being herself.
You’re better off without her and whatever shit she’s up to doesn’t matter because she’s not the love of your life anymore. She’s not worth your time or mental bandwidth, BaE. She’s your past, so leave her there. You need to look at your incredible present and awesome future.
Did you have to deal with Nice Guys and frenemies trying to drag you down? Did you survive an ugly break-up and come out better on the other side? 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.
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 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.