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#296: How do I start to date? A counter-intuitive primer.

It’s day 3 of the Captain Awkward Pledge Drive. Get weird, pretty little short film for a dollar!  Try to spot Intern Paul in the back of the crowd scene at the end!

Everyone who has contributed so far should have received a Vimeo link to stream and download the movie. I hope you guys enjoy it.

Onto today’s letter:

Ahoy Captain!

Add this to the never ending stack of e-mails you get from the shy, awkward, nerdy guys who don’t know how to deal with women. I started reading your column after seeing it linked on another website, and I found your advice in the number of posts I’ve read to be quite good. The comments seem to be good to, so hurray for community! On to the problem.

I’m 23 and I have never had a girlfriend. In fact, I’ve never been on a date. This isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to ask girls out, they just always say no. In fact, I’ve been rejected about 100 times without any woman ever even viewing me as good enough for a first date. To say I have a problem with rejection would be like saying the Mariana Trench is kind of deep. I really want to date and experience that part of life, but I don’t know how to go about it. Each time I get rejected it makes me remember all the other rejections, and I feel absolutely crushed.

I have a lot of reasons why I would make a great boyfriend; however, I also have a number of things that make me insecure — I have a bit of acne for example. I see lots of beautiful women out on the street, but I am not at the point where I can approach them and start up a conversation out of nowhere. I am currently trying online dating, but it is a disaster; women won’t even respond to my messages. I cannot think of a worse feeling than writing a nice, witty message and being completely ignored. Sometimes I’ll see that they even looked at my profile, and they still won’t send me a polite “I just don’t think you’re the right guy for me, good luck though” message. I’ve received differing advice on how to approach online dating with half of the people telling me to not spend more than 30 seconds on any message because 99% of the women will never respond, and the other half saying I should write nice, thoughtful messages to maximize my response rate. So far, neither approach has worked. I got my profile critiqued, and I have been told that it is pretty good, yet I’m still not getting any responses! My profile picture isn’t great, but I rarely get my picture taken, and I don’t want to be one of those people with the self shot mirror pic. I’ve considered getting professional pictures taken but that seems over the top to me.

I try really hard to keep my chin up and focus on all my positive qualities, but it is extraordinarily difficult when I can’t even get a single woman to think, “He seems fun and nice, sure I’ll respond and see if this goes somewhere!” I have many friends that are women, and the only thing that they can suggest is that I need to feel more confident and less desperate. I try to fake the confidence and hide the desperation, but it isn’t going to go away until I can get a little affirmation that I’m attractive and worthy of dating. I know this should all come from within, but I’m a nerd and my statistics don’t look good. It is a challenge to feel confident and not desperate when the data indicates that the problem is me and the ticking of the clock grows ever louder in my mind. I’ve considered PUA stuff, and not being concerned about how women feel about me approaching them, hitting on them, and talking to them but that just isn’t me. I don’t want to be a pushy, aggressive creep — I don’t think I could be if I wanted to — but I need to be able to get some success, and I don’t know what to do. No one I know is having the trouble I’m having with dating, and the more failure I have the more I want to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. Please help!

Thanks,

Statistics are Valuable Except-in Mating Examples

Dear Statistics:

I feel like this is a well-covered topic here, so you’re in luck.

First, it’s a good sign that you have female friends and that you’re rejecting PUA stuff. Yay!

Second, your description of “lots of beautiful women on the street” makes me picture a movie montage where you look at all of them and think about how you are nervous and can’t have them or even go up and talk to them and it’s kind of sad.

You have women friends, so you know there are shy, awkward women like you. And people who definitely made it through the high school college years without finding romance or a sexual connection and who are figuring this all out as adults, like you. And some who don’t feel on top of their mojo like you.  And some who are throwing themselves into trying to date like you are and having no luck. Or doing hilarious, brave, awesome things and coming back and telling us about it. Everyone has something they are insecure about – could be bad teeth, could be their Bruce Wayne-like pile o’ money, could be getting over an old relationship, could be acne (which I also suffer from as an adult. Want to talk dermatology?). While we’re here, this is probably the most straightforward, basic advice on dating I am capable of producing, and here is Commander Logic’s guide to Geek Relationship Fallacies.

That’s it. That’s all of the advice. Try to be a bit more confident. Even if you don’t feel confident, don’t vomit your insecurities all over people. Keep trying to meet  more people, and some of them will be maybe-friends and some of them will be maybe-romantic partners. Don’t act entitled or cling too tightly when you do make a connection. It will take time and patience and a lot of it is based on luck. Rejection/lack of connection is the default setting, and actual connection is rare. You can’t really control whether someone will like you, so stop setting other people up as someone who has magic powers to accept and reject you and focus on your own feelings about whether you like them. Try to enjoy yourself and spend time only with people who are as cool as your friends.

And remember, each person you approach is a new person – she’s not responsible for all the other rejections. She can’t see all the other rejections and doesn’t know about them unless you project insecurity all over her and introduce her to your shame monster. So even if you don’t feel like this is true, each conversation/message/crush is a totally fresh start and the more you treat it that way the more successful and happier you’ll be. Your brain is being a jerk to you when it says “This will be like all the other times, you’ll see.”

So I’m going to give you two more pieces of advice that don’t usually crop up in the dating threads.

1. Seek out women’s stories & creative work. Take 6 months of your life and watch movies made by women, read books by women, read comics by women, read blogs by women, listen to music made by women. After the 6 months are up, keep reading work by women when and as you find it interesting, but for those 6 months really make it your project to get to know as many women’s stories and perspectives as you can. Ask your bevy of female friends for suggestions. I don’t know if or why this will work, I’m just having a thought that maybe it will help you divorce the idea of women & romance & dating & rejection & insecurity in an interesting, cool, fun way and feel like you’re learning something new. You may not like certain stuff, and I don’t want you to go to the bookstore and say “Give me Twilight and everything with a pink cover and some shoes on it!” Read the good stuff and have fun with it.

2. Maybe no one will ever love you or desire you. Maybe that’s not going to happen for you.

(Probably it will! But maybe not).

If you knew that was a real possibility, what would you do with your life to make it as awesome and happy and fulfilling as possible? What kind of time would you invest into your friendships, family, community? What hobbies and activities would you pursue to make yourself feel more connected and less lonely? What kind of care would you take with yourself in terms of exercise and eating good food and reading good books and constantly learning and growing and making yourself interesting and happy? How would you go after your dreams? How would you approach your career and work to become truly great at something?

Cool. Go do that stuff. Stop sending OK Cupid messages into the void for a while (OK Cupid will be there when and if you want it again). Remove the pressure to be a guy who “approaches women” from your life for a while. See who you meet when you are in pursuit of becoming your most awesome and happy self. It will probably take a while and dumb random luck will be a factor.

Love is awesome and worth having and worth seeking. You’re not stupid for wanting it. It’s just…well…”Mama” pretty much said it all here:

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About JenniferP

Chicago filmmaker, teacher, and blogger.

610 comments on “#296: How do I start to date? A counter-intuitive primer.

  1. Hey LW, if you’re out there.

    “Maybe no one will ever love you or desire you. Maybe that’s not going to happen for you.”

    I have a hunch you’re going to read that and you’re going to have a really hard time seeing past it no matter what. If that’s the case, please just disregard those two sentences. You’re lovable. It’ll work out if you keep earnestly trying and are patient and a good person about it.

    • There’s a thing that I read about and practice called stoic meditation, it’s about sitting down and contemplating all of the things that we’re scared of, poking our own tender places, I am going to die, my parents and everyone I love are going to die, before I die, I might get very sick, there is nothing to stop my lover from leaving me, etc. I think it is useful because if (or when) those things happen, the emotion of experiencing them is less overwhelming, I have practiced. I might not know exactly what to expect, but I have an idea.

      “Maybe no one will ever love you or desire you. Maybe that’s not going to happen for you.” feels the same to me. If LW can sit with it, can poke that sensitive place in himself, can become more okay with the idea, it will probably help him be more calm about the entire love situation and less desperate in his interactions with ladies.

      • That’s a really interesting stance. I’ve found in my life that doing the opposite of stoic meditation is better, and taking on a sort of solipsistic fatalism helps my emotional stability. Yeah, everyone I know (myself included) is probably going to die, but there’s also nothing I can do about it, and thinking about it makes me really sad and unhappy, so why keep going over stuff that makes me unhappy that I can’t fix rather than going out and doing stuff that makes me happy?

        I saw Elin’s comment and just want to second that tweak. If those sentences are upsetting, the meaning can be changed to “Imagine romantic love, sex and dating all ceased to exist as things in the world and as ideas. What would you do …” to get to the point the Cap’n was driving at while sounding a little less gloomy.

    • Seconded – don’t read it like it’s The Terrible Truth, just see it as a thought experiment. Or try rewording into “Imagine romantic love, sex and dating all ceased to exist as things in the world and as ideas. What would you do …”, etc.

      • Right. Imagine a scenario where you’re not obsessed with this. What would you do? How would you handle it?

    • I’m trying not to think about that part because if I knew I was going to be alone forever, I would blow my brains out! My life wouldn’t be awesome and fulfilling; it would be over.

      • I understand that it’s an upsetting prospect, but is it really true that there is nothing else in your life that makes it worth living? If so, that’s actually going to be a gigantic problem repeatedly in your life, even if you’re dating someone. Right now it probably feels like if this one gaping wound of romantic love were fixed everything would be fine, but in reality you’re bleeding out from another wound (or several) you can’t see. Love does not fix hating your life, but not hating your life can fix a lack of the kind of love you want.

        • It isn’t that nothing else makes life worth living; it is the notion that you can live an enjoyable and happy life when completely deprived of 30% of what makes us human. How long can one survive when your soul is sinking into the yawning maw of the abyss? A person can no more easily live without love than live without water. The only difference is you die faster without water. Most everything in my life is good, but I am human. Connection and affection are basic human needs.

          • I don’t think the idea is to live without connection and love. For example, at the moment I’m in a similar boat to you – would like to have a relationship, but don’t and currently nothing on the horizon. But I have close friends who love me and my family are there for me and a circle of great acquaintances.

            The Captain wasn’t telling you not to have love and connection – just saying that /romantic/ love and connection isn’t the be-all and end-all, and if it wasn’t going to happen right now or soon, what’s good about being you?

            Do you volunteer? Do you write, produce any kind of art, cook, build things? Do you really rock at air guitar? Those are all awesome parts of the human experience that romance/not romance can’t deprive you of. So dive into those things and make your life as full and awesome as possible without letting the romance/not romance thing dominate.

          • 70% is a passing grade, dude. You don’t shoot yourself in the head over a C-. And, like Jo says, I’m pretty sure your friends count as affection and connection. I know it hurts. It totally hurts, and I’m sorry. People who are right for you are out there, but it may always be hard to meet them. You should have fun in the meantime. It is possible, truly.

            (There are other people on this thread who don’t have partners and do not feel they are dying slowly, so maybe you could be more respectful of them? Just a thought.)

          • Ah, this clarifies your earlier comment, which I responded to below.

            LW, connection and affection are not the same as romantic love. I am not dating anyone, and have not dated anyone in several years. I’m not happy about that — I, too, would like to find a life partner — but that doesn’t mean that my life has been devoid of connection and affection for the past few years. I love my friends, I love my family. We talk, and we laugh, and we experience things together. Sometimes I am sad that I’m not dating someone. Those times, I focus on doing things that make me happy with my life whether or not I end up dating someone.

            I think it might be time for a little tough love here. “Your soul is sinking into the yawning maw of the abyss”? No. Lots of people don’t ever find romantic love. Some people don’t even experience romantic love. I don’t know how you allocated 30% of what makes us human to romantic love, but that number? It is made up. You know what’s a fundamental human experience? Being human. That’s it!

          • ‘ it is the notion that you can live an enjoyable and happy life when completely deprived of 30% of what makes us human.’

            You can quite easily, it turns out.

            I’ve had a few relationships. Some of them were just about OK, some of them were trainwrecks that ended badly. ‘I could try selling this to a magazine but they’d reject it as too implausible’ badly. I realised that the reason I kept ending up in unsatisfactory – or truly catastrophic – relationships was that I was so desperate to be in a relationship at all that I was failing to notice all sorts of red lights. So… I made a conscious effort to stop seeking out love, and work on making the rest of my life so awesome that I didn’t mind if that one thing was missing from it.

            So here I am, a couple of years on, a fat eccentric woman years past her best who may never find someone to love her, and… oh, wait, that’s not true. My friends love me. My friends are always there when I need them. I have the best Christmases ever hanging out with members of my chosen family. Feel a little down? I get multiple offers to pick me back up again. Life feels empty? Not when I have to make a conscious effort to get a weekend day to myself, rather than playing games or hanging out with my friends.

            I am never lonely. I am surrounded by people who care about me, and I about them. Sure, it ain’t the fireworks and the agonising, fragile highs of the first days of a new love, but what it is, is… better, actually.

            You don’t need romance for love. Get rid of that idea. Stop putting it on a pedestal, because it’s not the cure-all you seem to be assuming. If your life is empty, why are you surprised that nobody wants to share it? Fill your life with joy and love, and then a) you’ll be way more likely to find someone who wants to enjoy it with you and b) it’ll be no biggie if you don’t.

          • Hi LW,

            Let’s talk about self-presentation. These are theoretical interactions that would take place at a party or via a dating site.

            You: “Hi, I’m C.S. In my free time I am learning to cook Thai food and my dream is to be a Formula One racecar driver.”
            Me (playing the part of A Lady): “Tell me all about that.”

            vs.

            You: “Hi, I’m C.S. Here are the reasons I would make a really good boyfriend. Are you interested?”
            Me (panics and backs away slightly): “I am not the droids you are looking for.”

            It’s not fair to have to pretend to be all invulnerable and that you’re not looking for love – you can be looking! But people who are engaged in their passion for something are interesting. People who seem to be engaged only in a search for love – “Will you fit the lady-shaped space in my heart?” are not interesting.

            I am wondering what secret advice you think we have that we’re not telling you. We’re telling you everything we know about this.

            I suggest you a) go forth and read and listen to and watch a lot of work by women from all ages, races, gender orientations, and walks of life and b) take a break from trying to date and work on being an interesting guy who is passionate about (insert anything other than trying to be someone’s boyfriend here).

            “She looked at my dating profile and didn’t message me back, even though I sent a nice message, so now I feel hurt” is a warped sense of entitlement and giving other people – total strangers who happen to have vaginas – way too much power over how you feel about yourself. That’s not normal and it would be worth looking into with a pro.

            In love, I want to be wanted, and depended on, and counted on, and respected, and over time (like a long-term permanent commitment type of relationship) am ok being needed. But you can’t lead with need. It turns you into a face-hugger alien type of boyfriend, and while the initial latch may feel sweet you will always removed eventually, sometimes with great force and prejudice.

          • Connection and affection are basic human needs, but no human can get all of their needs there met by a single person. I would strongly suggest trying things to make new friends, or to deepen friendships that you currently have, before you keep asking people out to date. In addition to the issues with people running screaming in the other direction from the desperation, I don’t think the relationships that result from that dynamic are very healthy.

            Being asked to be the sole provider of emotional connection for an s.o. is exhausting, and it creates an imbalance if the relationship is the most important thing in the life of only one of the people in it. The odds are good that it will take time to build up to being that important for the second person, and the difference before you get there can be painful and put a lot of strain on the relationship. Imagine what it would be like to be at the two month mark, finally having found your connection and someone who provides you with affection, a lifeline, and then to realize that your girlfriend is prioritizing sharing her affection with her parents, or her friends, or is focusing more on her job than your relationship for the moment. Those are totally reasonable and expected circumstances that early on, but if she’s the most important thing in your life right away, and she prioritizes other people at first, it’s going to hurt. If you can hang with friends who provide affection (and even love) while she’s off being affectionate with her friends then I think that once relationships start happening for you they will last longer.

            The other thing to consider as you try to make friends and date people, is that there is not a master list of qualities that you can take on to be a good boyfriend. My boyfriend is a good boyfriend for me because he thinks I’m funny (some my humor is an acquired taste), because we’re sexually compatible, because I think that he’s interesting when he talks about stuff even if it’s not something that I share a deep interest in, because he gets me on an emotional level, and so on. If he were to date my best friend it would be a disaster because he procrastinates too much and doesn’t save enough money for her, if he were to date my sister it would be a disaster because one of her favorite relationship activities is sports. And those are people that I love, who share my values, people with whom I have a lot in common. But we’re individuals, and our relationships with each other and with our significant others are all unique things that change over time.

            All of your relationships, including those with friends, will be stronger if you approach them individually and try to make meaningful connections with people. It’s a lot easier to provide and receive affection in both types of relationship when you’re approaching each one with the perspective that it’s special, and that the person in it is special to you and fits with you uniquely, not special or beautiful or friendly in some generic sense of the word that could apply to any person off the street.

          • > 30% of what makes us human.

            As a demi-romatic asexual: Not cool, Dude. I’m just as human as anyone else here.

          • “when completely deprived of 30% of what makes us human.”

            As an aromantic heterosexual, I want to agree with Adelene and say that it’s not cool to disparage other people’s humanity based on your particular needs and desires. I’ve been without a romantic relationship going on a decade now, don’t really want one, and I still feel pretty darn human.

          • Wtfromantic ace here and – yeah, yeah, the guy’s been banned, but I still find it kind of ironic that he was whining that hard about being omg attacked!!! when what he said about people like me, Adelene and Aris Merquoni was worse than what anyone in this thread said to him.

            Sincerely,

            Less than 70% human, missing a biological imperative and basic human needs… but I really do prefer you call me Kaz.

      • Ok, so I’m going to tell you something that I haven’t actually told any other human being.

        For background, I was this letter writer. The stuff about confidence and work performance is not really relevant to what I want to say today, but I talked in my letter about how I was engaged in a project that, if we were successful, we were going to win a major blow for justice and make life materially better for several thousand people.

        Well – we didn’t. We lost. We failed. Things are not better for those people and they are marginally worse. I lost my job. My whole life shattered into pieces around me.

        And here’s the thing I’ve never told anyone: during most of the TWO YEARS OF MY LIFE that I devoted to this project (making many personal and professional sacrifices along the way) I thought just like you are thinking about your problem. I thought that if we lost, if we failed, I’d just have to kill myself. There would be no alternative. Life would be so not worth living that I’d just have to end it. I even had a method all planned out, if you can believe that.

        Well, obviously it didn’t work out that way, because I am still here. Why? I guess one reason is that I didn’t want to give my political opponents the satisfaction of laughing over my death. I personally heard them laughing about the fact that some of us cried when we got the news we’d failed, so I figured they probably would have laughed if I’d killed myself. Screw them anyway. I didn’t want to give them the chance.

        But the bigger reason, the most important reason, is that even this — even losing at the most important thing I’ve ever done, the thing I gave up two years to work for, the thing that mattered to me more than anyone else in the world, the thing I thought I’d succeeded at until the moment I found out I hadn’t — even that, it turns out, just wasn’t that bad. Not bad enough for me to give up. Not bad enough to die.

        So, why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just that stubborn. Or, maybe nothing is actually that bad when it comes down to it. I have had other shitty things happen to me in my life. My mom died really suddenly and unexpectedly when I was in my early 20s. At one point, I was so poor that I was essentially homeless and had to beg my dad to take me in. Then a few months later he kicked me out. This thing that happened to me a few months ago, losing this fight — that was bad, about the same level of bad as my mom dying in terms of the grief I went through (am still going through) over it.

        But NONE of these things has been as bad as the fear of a bad thing. ACTUALLY LOSING that two year fight that meant more to me than anything else was not as bad as MY FEAR of losing it. Actually losing was bad, sure. But it wasn’t kill-yourself bad. It was just grieve-a-lot bad. “Just” I say — that’s still pretty bad. But it’s survivable bad. It really, really is.

        But think of it this way. At what point in your life could your fear possible come true, that you will “never” find someone? Not until the day you die, right? And at that point you’ll be dead, so what’s the difference?

        Try to let go of that fear. I swear to you this is the truth: in the three or four months since I got the WORST NEWS I COULD EVER GET, I have been, on balance, happier than when I was living in FEAR of getting that news. Isn’t that weird? Isn’t it kind of dumb? I mean, I feel a bit stupid now for putting myself through all that.

        Don’t get me wrong: losing like this sucks; grief like this sucks. I spent about two weeks wallowing in it in my apartment. And then I decided that was enough. Being in my town was too hard on me, too many memories of all the hopes that had been shattered, so I left for a couple of weeks. I visited my family and my good friends in another city and I let them surround me with their love. I ate good food and I saw cool films and I made merry. And when I got back I started on some new adventures. I got a bike and I’ve been riding it around even though I am really fat and out of shape. I got involved with some new projects. I started seriously gearing up to get a new job, and to change careers — something kind of like that job I was doing that made me so unhappy, but different enough that I think I won’t have the same confidence problems. I do feel I’ve found my calling; and I’m so excited about that.

        Somehow in the face of the greatest grief I’ve experienced since my mother died, I have come to fiercely love life, and why? It’s because when the THING, the HORRIBLE THING I was afraid of actually happened… that gave me the freedom to let go of my fear.

        So maybe you can find a way to let go of your fear too. I hope so. I hope you don’t have to have a HORRIBLE THING happen in order to make that possible for you (I don’t think it has to be necessary though… I am kind of stubborn. Maybe you are less stubborn.)

        But yeah. Don’t let fear ruin it for you, is what I am saying. It just isn’t necessary.

        • You are super awesome. Thank you for posting this.

        • Great post, thanks for laying it out so cleanly and honestly and also for updating us. I’m sorry things didn’t go your way but glad you bounced back.

        • Brilliant. Here’s to the next chapter!

        • This is an amazing update — thank you for coming back and letting us know.

          • Thank you (and all the people above who replied to my comment, too). Being a part of this here online community has helped me a lot in these past few months when it comes to figuring out how to be happy and kind to myself. Jedi hugs all around!

        • You are very awesome. Your story reminds me of Dear Sugar’s column. Have you read it?

          A recommendation to both the LW & C.S. — even when terrible things happen, you will get through it because you realize you have to. The world does not end when that happens. Sorry, these all sound like cliches! I’m trying to say, my personal philosophy is when something bad happens, I have learned that I have to keep going because I can do nothing else. Fearing something will happen will not help you in the long run.

        • You are wildly successful at commenting.

          • *beam* Thank you! I’ve enjoyed reading what you write since you were at feministe so it means a lot coming from you, piny. :D

        • You really truly are awesome. I had something that I always feared happen today — and it happened, and I failed, and I’m still and still kicking, and I’m going to be okay. And I’m glad awesome people like you are here to light the way. :)

          • Oooh, sorry to hear it, but I’m very glad you are okay! As, of course, you were probably always going to be. Go kick some ass!

        • I love this whole comment – thank you for writing, and I’m so happy you stuck it out and are making a great life for yourself. It makes me want to do the same!

          • It turns out that, even though it’s hard, there’s so much joy in it that somehow it isn’t actually that hard. Isn’t that something?

        • This comment is good and you should feel good. Seriously.

        • This comment just saved me from a lot of misery. Thank you.

        • Resilience: you’ve got it! Your story has inspired and encouraged me. Hitting the bottom does give you depth and perspective, and the ability to rise back up and know that you have survived it.

      • This, I think, is the crux of the issue. It is okay to not be happy about the idea that you might not find someone to spend your life with, but if you think that there is no way to be happy or fulfilled in your life unless you have a romantic partner then that is a much bigger problem than the fact that you’re having trouble finding said partner.

        LW, we can’t tell you why you’re having trouble dating or what you need to do to attract women. It may be that you’re doing something that is turning women off; it may be that you’re just unlucky and haven’t met the right person yet. There are no guarantees in life except this: you are going to spend the rest your life with yourself. If you are happy living your life with yourself — you have hobbies you enjoy or a job you’re passionate about or friends you love to pieces or volunteer work that fulfills you — then finding a partner becomes a bonus instead of a requirement. And if you’re not happy with life and with yourself, then that’s probably making the idea of coupling up with someone seem all-important, because you’re thinking of it as a deus ex machina for your general unhappiness (“If I just meet someone, all of my other problems will go away/not matter!” Except not. Because you’ll still have a job you hate, or will not like yourself, or will have unsupportive parents, or not enough money, or whatever other issues are making life feel not-great right now.)

        I know that you’re thinking “I’ve already tried self-improvement, and I still ended up alone, so if I keep focusing on me I’ll be alone forever.” Maybe you will. But you might also end up alone even if you keep focusing on how you need to find someone if you’re ever going to be happy. Ultimately, you can’t control whether you meet Ms. Right. But you *can* control your level of happiness and fulfillment irrespective of whether Ms. Right comes along. Don’t work on being happy because it will make you more attractive to women. Work on being happy because it will make you happy. Life is seriously way too short for you to wait for something outside your control to happen before you focus on enjoying life. Go live your life. Love will happen, or not, and it will be okay either way.

        • I don’t think it; I know it. Love/affection/sex is a biological imperative. I enjoy most of the parts of my life, and I try to keep myself occupied and entertained as much as possible. However, I still have to go to sleep at night and there are still periods of time during the day where my mind is free to wander and think and feel. I feel a frigid, aching emptiness that is all consuming.

          As long as I am active and engaged and doing everything I possibly can to avoid thinking about anything related to relationships and dating, I’m perfectly fine. If someone so much as mentions their dating, or relationships, or I see a couple holding hands or kissing on the street, I collapse in on myself like a neutron star.

          Obviously, avoiding all reminders of what I’m missing is impossible. The icy grip of loneliness is always one step behind me and if I stop for one second, I’ll be ensnared. We all have to sleep, and there is no worse a time than when I must lie down and let my mind wander as the loneliness that I spent a whole day running from sucks the very essence of my soul from my body leaving me shivering and alone.

          • If this is how you feel, then you really, really need to see a therapist. That’s not intended to be mean, it’s a genuine piece of advice that I sincerely hope you take. What you are describing is not a healthy way to feel or think, and the solution is not finding someone to date in an effort to stave off the icy grip of loneliness. The solution is to address why you are feeling an all-consuming emptiness.

            You keep speaking in absolutes, as though you know things about the necessity of romantic love that are true for human beings generally. You don’t. There are many people out there who are not coupled up. We are not all experiencing what you are experiencing. There are many people out there who never date — I have family members in their 60s about whom that is true. They have not experienced what you are experiencing. Stop thinking of the depths of your unhappiness about being alone as a fundamental human imperative, and start thinking about it as a personal reaction that you can work to change and overcome.

          • Wait, I’m a little confused – are you the LW? Because if so, I think if/when you end up in a relationship your expectations of what a relationship should be is going to run head first into the cold wall of reality. Yes, love is great and wonderful, especially at the beginning when the fires burn the hottest, but what you are describing is how love is in movies and fairy tales, not real life. You can insist that it’s 30% of life or a biological imperative or whatever all you want, but that doesn’t make it true. Relying on someone else to complete your life for you is a good way to poison a relationship and sets the stage for particularly awful breakups.

            I think this line of thinking is super unhealthy. It’s romantic, sure, but in my experience true romantics do not make for very satisfied people, because real life is never as good as the ideal.

          • As someone who is re-entering the dating world after a long dry spell, I can tell you that if I encountered someone as a potential romantic partner and discovered that he (I date men) placed this much importance on love/affection/sex, I would run the other way. It’s too much pressure to live up to being The One and to know that, if I decide that maybe it’s not going to work out, you’re going to “collapse like a neutron star.” I’m not saying this to undermine the importance of what you’re feeling–I have spent many a night alone and desperate and wondering if I was going to die without ever touching someone sexually again. I get it.

            But I am saying that if you put too much of your focus on the horribleness of being alone when you don’t want to be, you might be putting too much weight on each email/meeting/conversation to be The One That Saves You.

          • If you are this unhappy, I agree that therapy to explore why you have elevated relationships to such a degree will be far more helpful at this point than a relationship ever will be. I can’t speak for all women, of course, but my personal view is that being in a relationship with you would be terrifying. If we are dating and you are that unhappy and terrified at the prospect of not having love, what happens if I screw up? I do something stupid or cruel or casually hurtful, and I disappoint you and you do….what? The idea of being in a relationship with a landmine is so very, very scary and unpleasant. And say we fall apart, which happens, and I am not happy in the relationship and yet I am afraid to get out because of what you might do. I don’t want to stay in a relationship out of fear. If I wanted to save people, I’d become a doctor.

            About four years ago I was in a relationship with a man who made me very, very unhappy. He was inconsiderate and selfish and in many ways unkind and dismissive, and I kept trying to Fix Us because he was making me so unhappy, but then he ended it. I got a breakup haircut and got a great new job, and eventually found a new boyfriend who is wonderful and smart and much nicer and my best friend, and then two years later I was unhappy again, in some of the same ways as when I was with Selfish Ex. And I realized: yes, Selfish Ex was a jerk, but oh my goodness, New Boyfriend was not, and yet crying! And anger! And…wait, this looks a lot like depression. Point is, good relationship, bad relationship, single, I am unhappy because I am unhappy, not because of my relationship status.

          • The icy grip of loneliness is always one step behind me and if I stop for one second, I’ll be ensnared.

            This is why you can’t get a date. You’re not approaching women as people—finding out if you have stuff in common, seeing if you enjoy each other’s company, exploring whether there’s any spark. You’re approaching them as the magical beings that will save you from a fate so horrifying that you’d apparently rather commit suicide than learn to live with it.

            Everyone you meet can smell that on you immediately.

            Your desperation means that when you approach women, they can tell that you’re less interested in them for them than you are for what they represent to you, i.e. an escape. It also means that they aren’t allowed a low-key getting-to-know you period; they have to decide immediately whether they want to sign on to be the Key to Fixing Your Whole Life. When you ask someone out, you might say, “Do you want to get coffee sometime?” but what you really mean—and what she hears—is, “I’m begging you, please, be my life raft!” Most people don’t want to take on that kind of pressure for their loved ones, and literally no one wants to take it on for a stranger.

            People here are telling you to concentrate on other parts of your life and learn to be OK with being alone because you need to understand deep down that it will not be the literal end of your world if one more person doesn’t want to date you, and the best way to do that is to prove it to yourself.

            I’m really sorry you’re so unhappy, but there’s no trick here. There’s no shortcut. I think even if you were in a relationship, you’d be so afraid she’d leave you that you’d risk driving her away. Only you can resolve your crippling fear of loneliness, and only by resolving it can you hope to find love.

          • LW, I think it’s fair to write off all the comments urging you to say you don’t REALLY need a relationship. But don’t write them off for some contrived idea like “I’m biologically this way and I believe in SCIENCE!” You can’t logic and science your way through this one.

            Instead, write off the dismissive stuff exactly because it’s dismissive. You get to want whatever you want. And all you want is a relationship, and that’s a fair thing to want. And you don’t seem the type to stomp on what other people want or need to get what you want, so you should pursue it. You seem like the kind of guy who wants to treat other people nice and be treated nice in return. It’s possible, dude.

            Don’t listen to what the averages and the norms are either. I didn’t have a date until I was a few years older than you. Keep hope going and eventually something will work out.

          • You’re doing a fine Veruca Salt impression, except instead of a golden goose you want a girlfriend.

            There’s nothing less sexy than referring to love/affection/sex as a biological imperative, or mating, because it sounds like what you’re saying is that you are an animal who is owed the chance to get your sperm in someone. You reduce both parties to a reproductive system and basic biological function. Following that logic, you are owed offspring, and you are owed the chance to make as many offspring as possible. It’s very entitled, like a child saying they want a golden goose.

            Sure, almost everyone wants a golden goose. But in this case, the golden goose has a mind and feelings and can choose their companion. Golden geese don’t want to stay with bratty children like Veruca Salt. A temper tantrum waiting under the surface because you have no golden goose will not convince them to flock around you.

            It sucks that you are feeling the icy grip of loneliness. Many, many of us have, for many years. And many of us realize that that dark time was crucial in learning to be a more worthwhile person, which in turn made us a much better partner for someone very important to us later in life.

            Stop thinking of this as a biological imperative. You have a sentient mind, capable of willpower, reasoning and wisdom. So does the woman you may eventually meet and spend years of your life with. Learn to be the best person you can be for her sake, if not for your own.

          • I have to agree with Copy Curmudgeon on this:

            “Your desperation means that when you approach women, they can tell that you’re less interested in them for them than you are for what they represent to you, i.e. an escape. It also means that they aren’t allowed a low-key getting-to-know you period; they have to decide immediately whether they want to sign on to be the Key to Fixing Your Whole Life. When you ask someone out, you might say, “Do you want to get coffee sometime?” but what you really mean—and what she hears—is, “I’m begging you, please, be my life raft!” Most people don’t want to take on that kind of pressure for their loved ones, and literally no one wants to take it on for a stranger.”

            My mom (yes, my mom) just went on a date with a guy like this. His wife died in February and he made it clear that he is looking for another wife to take care of him ASAP. He called my mom six times the next day looking for another date. This kind of stalker-ish desperation is scary to women and not a good sign that a dude is going to be a sane significant other to have. This guy wants a life raft now and whether or not my mom would have been interested in him or not, she isn’t now.

            You have to go into this being casual-ish. Maybe go in assuming it’s not going to pan out and that you’ll move on the way that you have from everyone else who said no, but you can’t attach immediately to any female that crosses your path like a barnacle hoping she’ll save you. That scares us and makes us wonder if you’re going to be a stalker or some other creep. Maybe you’re a good guy at heart, but if you set off the inner alarms on a woman on day one, well, she’ll be too busy running to find out.

          • Another reason your very urgency may be sending women running the other way is that it screams “Stalker in the Making”. These days, both men and women are leery about starting a relationship that looks like a) the other person would be too gung-ho too fast (defined as a lot faster than they would reciprocate), and/or b) it would be a hard one to get back out of if they decided it was not right for them.

            Maybe you, personally, wouldn’t actually become a stalker, even if you fell hard for a woman and she didn’t reciprocate — though frankly, even in your letter you give off mixed vibes in that regard. On the one hand, you’ve consciously eschewed the whole PUA approach, and I think your basic values sound good. On the other hand, you want this sooooo badly and you feel like it is unfair when someone skims your profile and moves on without a word, which does hint of entitlement, which is a core stalker attitude. And if you’ve got it in your head that you need to get yourself a woman or you’re gonna have to kill yourself to end your despair, god knows what you’ll kid yourself is justified to hang on to a woman who has said a little yes, then wants to change it to no.

            When you read/watch/listen to things from women’s perspectives, think about this: men are, on average, bigger than women. Statistics on rape are horrific. Almost (do I even need that qualifier???) every woman alive either has been a victim of domestic violence and/or rape and/or has had a controlling partner and/or has been stalked and/or knows multiple people who have had one or more of those delightful experiences, including ones that involve hospitalization.

            And yet, for women who want to be with men, we *have* to open ourselves up to men, let ourselves become emotionally and even physically vulnerable to them in order to enjoy intimacy. So, yeah — anything that hints of treating us like prey, like objects to be acquired, like anything other than full scale complicated (sometimes emotionally messy) people with the right to our own wants and desires and the right to say no to a guy either up front or along the way without him getting all pissy… that makes a lot of us run the other flippin’ direction. Because there are other guys out there for whom that is *not* the price of admission. And we’ll take one of those, please, over a guy who makes us feel like going on even one coffee date will put us at risk.

            So, when you consider approaching a woman, think about it your approach from *her* perspective. Is she in a setting where she will feel safe receiving your overture? Are you coming on so strong that she feels like any encouragement will acquire her a barnacle for the evening/make her feel like she needs to leave to shake you off/get her followed out to the parking lot? Believe it or not, a good way to test the waters with a woman is to smile at her in a friendly way, then look away. Then look back after a while, and if she looks your way again smile again. Keep it low key. You won’t be risking your ego so much, and she’s less likely to feel like prey.

            I am *not* saying for a second that there is anything wrong or pathetic about wanting what you want, or wanting it so badly. You’re right: most, if not all of us do. The kicker is that you *have* to de-prioritize getting it in order to get it. This is somewhere where being too goal-oriented backfires.

          • Okay, so just off the top of my head, a list of a few people who, to my knowledge, never had a successful long-term romantic relationship:

            Walt Whitman. Joan of Arc. Quentin Crisp. Edward Gorey. Emily Dickenson. Hypatia of Alexandria. Alan Turing. All the Brontë sisters. T. E. Lawrence. Mother Teresa. JESUS OF NAZARETH (well, unless you’re into the Gnostic gospels).

            Failures all? Like, would you say that Elizabeth I was a much less successful human being than Henry VIII because she never married and may have been a virgin all her life while he had six wives and multiple mistresses?

            Romantic love isn’t the only kind of love that’s important in life, and it certainly isn’t the only measure of a person’s worth or contribution to the world.

            If you’re feeling this depth of loneliness and emptiness, I say this as someone who’s currently single and chronically depressed and understands how hard both of these things can be: explore your options for therapy and medication. Because (a) absolutely everyone in the world is painfully lonely and has dark nights of the soul sometimes, but (b) having them every night is not normal or healthy, and (c) there is basically no way that any romantic relationship, no matter how fulfilling, is going to be able to fill all the empty places in your heart and soul, and it’s kind of a horrific weight to expect someone else to have to carry.

          • I\’ve never been on a date or in a romantic relationship in my life so far, and I\’m pretty okay with that right now. Nevertheless, what you\’re saying sounds VERY, VERY familiar to me. And now I can sleep at night and I can talk about pain and joints without wanting to curl up in a little ball and die. My life is better for that.

            The reasons I felt that way haven\’t gone away, but I went to a therapist and got some medication, and now I can get through my day without feeling like my soul has been sucked from my body. Have you considered seeing a therapist?

            Either way, all of the Jedi Hugs, and I hope life improves for you.

        • “Ultimately, you can’t control whether you meet Ms. Right. But you *can* control your level of happiness and fulfillment irrespective of whether Ms. Right comes along.” So true.

    • Thirded. One of my best coping mechanisms when things are rocky is looking at my worst-case scenario vis-a-vis whatever issue is making things hard, and figuring out that/how I can survive that and even manage to be somewhat happy. It is *not* pessimism/fatalism, not setting myself up for failure — It is a matter of looking my monster in the eye, finding a way to say “I can cope with that; it’d suck but I could cope with it,” and then not dwelling on it (to the point of denial, almost) while I get to work on the things I can do to avoid going there.

      I think this fear is lurking (perhaps not so deep) in his mind anyway, so it’s better to drag it out into the light, and do as CA says.

  2. “I have a lot of reasons why I would make a great boyfriend;”

    Ohh dear. He’s one of us.
    This has been said here a million times, but it’s a useful message so I’ll just up and join the echo chamber: You can’t logic someone into feelings. It’s infuriating to us geeky types, but something we must try to learn and accept.
    I got the feeling that you’re looking for a woman, any woman, as long as she has a pulse. Or not. And that way lies a surefire disappointment. First of all, women can smell it and we want to feel special. And it won’t be fulfilling for you either, because ‘has two x chromosomes’ is not what makes a true partner. I second the Captain’s advice to take a break, and make a nice life for yourself. You most likely won’t die alone and unloved if you let the desperation fade away for a little while and focus on loving yourself. It’s not a bad thing to look, but it’s a good idea to lay back and open yourself up to be found, every once in a while.

    • I’ve tried taking a break and that didn’t work. Women just aren’t going to approach me even though I try to make myself approachable. I’ve never had a woman come say hello to me.

      I’ve spent years focusing on myself and while the whole world is dating and finding love, I’m going to sleep in an empty bed. No holding hands walking down the street; no long looking deep into each other’s eyes; no cuddling up together and enjoying the warmth and comfort that loving human touch provides.

      Waiting to be found means I’ll be waiting for Godot.

      • I hate to crash the pity party, but there are a lot of people who would like to have partners and don’t. *raises hand* This image you are constructing where everyone in the world is happy and has this thing they want (in my head it looks kind of like a deodorant commercial with bouncy smiley people) is just not accurate.

        It sucks, not having what you want. Believe me, I know! But, focusing on that the way you are doing, to the exclusion of other more positive things you could think about and do, is a CHOICE – and it’s one you don’t have to make.

        I’m sorry if this sounds harsh. I am trying to think of a way to make it less blunt, but — here’s the thing, I have been where you are, unhappy with the way my life is and SO MISERABLE about it that I couldn’t see any alternative to just… being miserable forever. Things got better for me when I realized that my patterns of thought, what I dwell on, are a choice, and I can choose to change them. Sometimes it’s tough because you form habits, and it’s not easy to just change habits overnight, but it can surely be done.

        So, look: good news! You can choose to think about this differently. Next time it occurs to you that you are unhappy because you don’t have a partner, instead of throwing that pity party (the booze is good I know) think “okay, I don’t have what I want in this area of life. What’s one thing I do have or can have/do, that I can go enjoy right now?” No fair using numbing type things like video games or actual booze. I’m talking a sunset. A bike ride. A nerdy board game with a friend. A spontaneous road trip! A special home-cooked meal! Throw yourself into life. Seriously. Live the hell out of it. You don’t deserve anything less. It may or may not get you what you want, but it’s better than sitting around waiting for Godot. You already know how futile this is.

      • C.S. are you the Letter Writer? Because if you are, you’re only 23, which I’ll get to in a second.

        The ‘taking a break’ didn’t work because you weren’t actually taking a break, you were expecting women to come up to you and then were disappointed when they didn’t. What you need to take a break from is from the expectation of dating. Is that totally counter-intuitive? You betcha! But you don’t seem to like yourself very much right now, and it might help you to focus on what’s good and loveable about you, and what makes you happy, rather than rail against the world.

        Now, if you ARE the LW and ARE 23, then wow, do I relate to how you’re feeling. I was SO ALONE when I moved to Chicago at 21; I didn’t even have a group of fabulous friends, like you do, and would go days without talking to anyone. I’m a touch-friendly kind of person, and I got so starved for touch that I thought I would crawl out of my skin. I had also not had someone who let me call them a boyfriend, and I had only been kissed, so I’m up one on you there, but I also was a virgin for a loooong time after that.

        When I finally did get out into online dating, I got rejected, too. I was too fat, too smart, too feminist, too brunette, too northside, too geeky, too whatever for a lot of those guys, which was fine because a lot of them were too whatever for me.

        In the dark nights of my heart, when my friends were pairing off, dating, getting married, etc., I would wonder if I’d be alone forever. What was so wrong with ME that no one wanted me to be their Person? I’d be such a great Person for someone! But then I’d sleep, and wake up, and work on being a great friend, worker, passionate player of board games, home cook, and all around nerd.

        I finally found love at 29, and if that sounds like a really long time from now (I know it does!) it was less for my now husband who was 26 when we fell in love. He almost didn’t message me because I was older than he was and our OKCupid match was in the 80s. Shows what OKC knows.

        The greatest gains come from risking and acknowledging the risks. I fell in love and married my Person, but I may still die alone because life is unknowable. Maybe he’ll get hit by a bus tomorrow. Maybe he’ll fall out of love with me in the future and we’ll divorce. Happiness is not guaranteed, but I will always have the wonderful time we’ve already shared together, and I’m going to work to make it last as long as I can.

        Make your life as wonderful as it can be alone, because that is ALL you have control over. Then everything else is a bonus.

        • Regrettably I am the LW. I am not even sure how what you say is possible. You are telling me to pretend that the basic human needs that have gone unfulfilled forever can just be completely ignored. How is this possible?

          I am making the rest of my life as wonderful as possible, but 65% is still a failing grade. There is just so much I can do to avoid the overpowering physical aching that comes from being alone. If you’ve ever gone more than a day without eating you know that dull ache in your stomach; I have that feeling all over.

          • Dude, just being single does not cause that feeling. I don’t think that never having been in a relationship is your real problem, and I’m darn’ sure that getting into one is not the solution.

            No relationship should be entered from a place of misery and a desire to be cured. That way, only bad things lie. A single person should not feel like a half-person in search of someone to make them whole, and if that is how you feel then you need a therapist, not a date.

          • Hey LW,

            Just a few points:

            1. 23 is not forever. I know it may feel like it, but really, you’re very young and have a whole lot of life ahead of you.

            2. Romantic love? Not a basic human need. I know, this seems counter-intuitive because we’re trained all our lives to believe it is. And to be sure, I would count love under the header of things that are needed, but you can find other types of love in other sources that will build you up in the form of friends, family, or your faithful pet. Romantic love is, let us be frank, a want. Sexual activity is a biological urge, but not something you need to survive. I know there’s that ache there, and the want is so bad that it seems like a painful and yawning need. But the difference between this and going without eating is that you’re still here. And there are plenty of others that survive while going without, just look at the aromantic/asexual community!

            This will probably sound harsh, but you are over-dramatizing (you are not the only one who has done so in this area, because believe me, as a past over-dramatizer I have been where you are). Here’s the thing, you are putting a LOT of importance on this (45%? oh goodness) and that is going to really put a damper on your prospective romantic life. Women pick up on that sort of pressure and find it intimidating. Being made responsible for such a large portion of someone’s happiness is scary. It also makes it hard for any relationship/romantic interaction to live up to your expectations.

            Just… chill dude. No really. You’ll be okay. You’ve got a lot of people on here rooting for you. But you’re skewing things very heavily and I think it’s a detriment to you, in no small part because it’s making you think and act in a more defeatist manner. Just… let go of it for a little while. Get some time to gain a new perspective. You’re not a failure (for if you are, the rest of us single folk are as well). You’re not running out of time if you do so. As I said, 23 is very young.

            Captain Awesome is terrific and gives wonderful advice, but I’d also like to point you to http://www.doctornerdlove.com/ Written by a guy who has been exactly where you are (he was known as the ‘guy that never got girls’ in his friend group), broke out of the thought patterns that were hindering him, and writes advice specifically geared towards problems that nerdy daters have.

          • Dearheart that is a hulluva lot of mope and despair you’ve got going on there. And I JUST SAID that I’ve had that achy lonely feeling. I know that achy feeling. We were buds. We’d go out for pizza (ALONE) and to the movies (ALONE) and surf the internet (ALONE) and play solitaire together and lay in bed wracked with sobs, my achy loneliness and I. I didn’t even have friends to talk to about my achy loneliness, so gold star to you for having friends!

            Consider my whole story an ‘it gets better’ thing. The achy loneliness can go away. It really, really can. And it went away NOT when I met HusbandLogic, but long before that when I had friends, work, and fun. I was a complete person when we met, and godforbid we ever break up, I will be extremely sad, but a complete person still.

            I saw upthread that you were trying to attach numbers and logic to this (30%, 70%, now 65% etc.) and as a fellow logic-person I acknowledge that this can help make you feel more in control. But hear this now:
            No one here is telling you to ignore your desires or pretend they don’t exist. All we’re suggesting is to redirect those desires in a constructive way.

            Just like we were telling Bruce a couple of questions back: YOU HAVE TO LOVE YOU FIRST.
            So consider what it is that you want from your hypothetical Person and see how you can get some of those needs met elsewhere, while you’re working on you.
            - Talk about your day? You’ve got friends for that. Talk to them on the regular.
            - Hugs? Again, friends, though family is better if you’re near.
            - Emotional support? Sometimes I’d call my mom and say “Mom, I just need to hear that you’re proud of me.” I did that right up until I met my person.
            - Unconditional love? Consider a pet. I know it’s not the same, but we’re talking about an experience every day where someone is purely happy to see you.
            - Orgasms? Honey, if you aren’t taking those into your own hands (so to speak), there is nothing I can do to help.

            No one is grading your life. Really. The fact that you’re awake, typing, theoretically clothed (hey, the internet is blind!), and maybe had some coffee or toast today is a rollicking success! Breathing in and out? AWESOME. Heart beating? GREAT. Rolling your eyes at me? FANTASTIC. Keep doing it, and you are succeeding (excelling, even!) at living. Okay?

          • Hi LW!

            I’m sorry you are so unhappy, however, I have to say something about this belief that a romantic relationship is a basic human need. That is completely wrong, and you might be suffering as a result of holding this belief.

            I am single by choice. I am an artist and I focus the vast majority of my energy on my art. I am a very happy, functional person.

            I do have excellent platonic connections with friends and family, and once in a great while a casual sex partner, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have been in long term relationships and they are not for me, at all.

            So here I am, human, functioning at a very high level, as a singleton, which means your idea of “basic human needs” might not be so much accurate.

          • Love your last paragraph, commander, especially the eye rolling part.^^

          • Very young in the grand scheme of things, yes. Very late to the getting started with dating party though.

            Friendship is great, but it isn’t love. It doesn’t satisfy that deep down need to feel loved, at least it doesn’t for me. My family isn’t really a family, and I have not had any contact with them in years. When your mother is a thieving addict, you come to the realization that family isn’t always there for you. I’m definitely over dramatizing a bit here, but I really don’t think I’m too far out of line. I don’t have any idea how I am supposed to lose the desperation when there is a gaping hole where love and affection should be. I cry when a friend hugs me. Seriously.

            I have a therapist. She’s the 4th in as many years. Therapy doesn’t fix a lack of affection. And like I said in the letter, it is very hard not to have a defeatist attitude when the statistics are so depressing.

            I’ll check this guy out though.

          • C.S., you\’re smooshing three things into one. Yes, love, sex, and affection are all human impulses, though ones that different people need in different amounts. But they\’re not the same thing, and you don\’t need all three right now from the same person. It sounds like you\’re really lonely right now. Can you reach out to your friends for companionship? I know that won\’t solve the sex problem (masturbation?), or your desire for kissing and cuddling, but I have found that friendship can help a lot when I\’m single and lonely.

            I understand how you feel, I think. I have been that lonely, in almost physical pain from the lack of kissing and hand-holding and cuddling up on the sofa, not able to watch my friends with their SOs. Then I got a boyfriend, and well, it didn\’t get much better. All that stuff was nice, but it didn\’t fill the gap, because I was still lonely.

            In terms of practical advice:
            -Try to work through some of the loneliness and desperation. For me, therapy was really helpful. If you\’re not therapy-inclined, or you can\’t afford it, then make a point of having a variety of social events and some friends who you can hang out with one-on-one. I found that hanging out with a good friend even once a week helped a lot with my loneliness.

            -When I would have trouble sleeping because I felt lonely, I would think about going somewhere to meet new people. Imagine going to a party, or taking a class, or volunteering, and how I would make new friends and maybe even meet some awesome boy or girl who\’d be interested in me. I almost never got any sort of dates out of these things, but I did make new friends, and eventually I did meet someone and we dated for three years and we\’re still friends.

            -I\’m not sure whether this is a problem of yours, but a male friend of mine is in a similar situation right now, and part of his problem is that the only girls he is interested in are ballerinas. I\’m being literal here. He only likes girls that are tall, thin, high cheekboned, and have the sort of body that comes from years of serious dancing, which has meant he\’s almost exclusively attracted to ballet dancers. I have another young male friend who will only consider conventionally attractive white women with private school degrees. Neither of them are having much luck. Obviously, you can\’t control who you are attracted to. But if your candidate pool is small and widely sought-after, it\’s better to accept that you may be in for a long wait and try not to become bitter or angry.

            -And on the flipside, don\’t start dating someone you have no attraction to because you\’re that desperate for a companion, because that\’s not fair to them, and it\’ll most likely end in unhappiness for both sides.

          • Friendship is great, but it isn’t love. It doesn’t satisfy that deep down need to feel loved, at least it doesn’t for me.

            Honey, I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think finding a girlfriend will satisfy that for you either. This is a feelings-about-yourself situation, not a feelings-from-other-people situation. From what you’ve said about your mother, it sounds like you maybe didn’t have the most stable, unconditional love as a child? That kind of a start can be hard to recover from, and can make a person feel like they don’t deserve love and they’ll never get love. And it’s a rough but true fact that the more you feel like this, the harder you are to love and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You need to break that cycle, and it’s not a cycle that you can break by getting a girlfriend, it’s a cycle you can break by learning to love who you are.

            I’m not going to repeat all the things people have said about taking a break from looking for a girlfriend and working on being awesome instead, because people have already said them and you’ve already told all those people that they’re wrong. And you’re using your smarts and logic to explain why. So, as a scientist, I’m going to try to respond to your smarts and logic with some of my own. I have two things to say.

            1) A priori reasoning (i.e. sex and love are a biological imperative, therefore I can never be happy without it) is a great first step, but it can’t hold a candle to actual evidence. And the evidence is that there are people, lots of people, people on this thread, people I know, people way older than you, probably people you know if you look, who don’t have sex and romantic love and who ARE happy. And as sad as you feel, you can’t reason that evidence away.

            2) Your approach hasn’t worked. You are not happy. So, if you want you can stay in your comfort zone, keep telling all the people on this thread why they’re wrong, and keep doing what you’ve been doing, OR, if you’re ready (or even if you’re not), you can maybe believe the people who’ve been telling you how they found happiness, and try something new. Maybe everyone on this thread is wrong and it will never work. But you can’t know until you try.

          • Wait a second, dude, upthread, romance was only 30% of your Final Life Grade. If you’re going to make up random numbers to Win this Discussion with Logic and Science, you don’t get to change them when it’s convenient. Unless there’s some other 5% box on your imaginary Life Rubric that you also haven’t told us about, which I highly doubt.

            For the record, I’m 26, a girl (probably ought to start calling myself a woman at this point, eh?), and I’ve never had a boyfriend, sex, OR kissed someone. So if we’re playing a numbers game, I totally have you beat. But that couldn’t be any less the point here. It’s all in how you choose to look at it. Sometimes I feel sad about being single, sure. Sometimes REALLY sad, since I have depression and anxiety, but those aren’t caused by my singleness. All my friends are basically paired off and starting to get married, and that can be tough. But I am absolutely not going to wait to be happy until I find My Man, because that’s a really difficult and sad way to live. I might never find a guy I like that much/that way and who also likes me that much/that way. And that’s ok.

        • Thank for mentioning that feeling of being “starved for touch.” I am a touchy, cuddly, affectionate person, who is in the middle of a much-needed Break From Dating. But the lack of cuddles (not sex, not romance, not companionship, cuddles) is absolutely brutal.

          It’s so comforting to know I’m not the only one who has those feelings sometimes.

      • Since Commander Logic already said that you didn’t stop trying, you only tried in a different way, I won’t pile on. I just found the literary reference very telling. You do realize they had not a single goddamn reason whatever to a) know that Godot would not be coming ever, or b) to wait for him at all? Why did Vladimir and Estragon wait for him? To what end? None whatsoever. They didn’t need to pile him with a huge load of vague expectations he most likely could not have filled, and they certainly didn’t need to put their entire lives away to wait. They could have chosen differently.

      • Oh dear. Oh, DEAR. You are deep in the brain-muck on this one, I see. You sound not unlike myself at 23! (Spoiler alert: met my husband two years later, started dating him three years later, yadda yadda happy ending so far.)

        A few things:

        1) Every species has its mating rituals. Humans like to pretend that our only mating ritual is the physical display portion, but that’s only part of it (unless you are one of the Super Hot Elite, who then have trouble showing people that they’re more than just a pretty face). The rest of it is The Display of The Awesome.

        So what are you AWESOME at? Because that’s a good place to start. I mean, pete’s sake, my now-husband got my attention by doing hilariously bad impersonations and, I shit you not, doing yo-yo tricks. He made an impression! (Another example: dude I never looked at twice in college turned out to be a bloody amazing saxophone player, something I discovered when I went to a bar where he was playing. Suddenly he was REALLY HOT.)

        So a) figure out what your awesome is, and b) figure out what venues operate as the best showcase for your awesome. Online dating sites, for example, are good for people who best display their awesome in pictures and in writing, so I know people who have done really well there due to being able to project their awesome via writing, or, you know, being hot and having a great profile pic. If pictures and writing are not good showcases of your awesome, you are not going to get a lot of luck here.

        2) I am sorry to tell you, OH GOD I AM SO DESPERATE FOR SOMEONE TO LOVE ME is a real boner-killer for any gender and sexuality. When you radiate misery, you’re just terrible company, and when you approach someone and all they have to know you is that radiated sense of “COME HANG OUT WITH ME, WE WILL HAVE A MISERABLE TIME”, you are gonna get turned down. I know; I generated that exact vibe for YEARS and it got me exactly NOWHERE and oh, God, I was miserable. And it’s hard to turn off because, well, it’s what you’re feeling!

        Which is where the venue thing comes in again. Are there places where you do not feel yourself radiating woe and misery and desperation? Activities? Groups of people? If so: there is your starting point. That is where you go. You need a break from feeling horrible. Spend as much time not feeling horrible as possible. This is not for dating. This is for you. You sound miserable and you need less misery.

        3) Is casual conversation with strangers something that only happens when you are attempting to approach women, or are you one of those people who can go to a party where they only know the host, and walk away hours later with the life story of everyone in the room? I ask because I have historically been TERRIBLE at talking to strangers and the only thing that has improved that is practice. If, like me, you have a history of going to parties, discovering that you know nobody, and ending up lurking in the back pretending you’re social by petting the host’s cat, then you need more practice talking to other humans for general social purposes before you get into DATE ME PLZ mode.

        4) Right now you’re not getting any reward out of talking to women, since the only reward you’re after is GET DATE GET DATE GET DATE. Shift the reward: give yourself three points apiece (based on how you think you did) for each of the following:

        a) Analyze for Commonality. Figure out what you have in common with this other person.
        b) Commonality Question.* Ask the other person a question related to the thing you appear to have in common.
        c) Compliment. This often goes hand in hand with the Commonality Question; either one can go first. You get bonus points for adding in an indication that you are interested in this topic.
        d) Follow-Up Question. This demonstrates your listening comprehension.
        e) GRACEFUL/CASUAL EXIT. By which I mean that if at any point before this, you get the OH CHRIST GET AWAY FROM ME vibe, smile, say “thanks”, and mosey off. Alternately, if you discover very quickly that this person is screamingly bad company, ABORT MISSION and still give yourself full points for extricating yourself.

        (Of course, the first four can be lather/rinse/repeated if things are going well, but only then.

        Example from real life:

        a) This woman has a Doctor Who t-shirt. I like Doctor Who!
        c) “Love the t-shirt!”
        b) “Where’d you get it? I’ve only seen them at WisCon.”
        d) I’ve never been there, did you like it?”
        e) “Cool! Thanks for the tip, great talking to you!”

        I will generously award myself full points for each, a total of 15 points. Once I get to 100 points, I am totally going to go get ice cream, because while points are their own reward to me, ice cream is a TANGIBLE reward and I like it.

        So just play that game for a while, at best while you’re in your happy venue. You will become used to speaking to strangers– maybe even strange women!– in a no-stress venue and a no-stress situation, and at worst you will still get a few points toward your tangible reward and another bit of practice. At a party you could pick up enough points to get, like, FIVE tangible goals. Your end-goal here is to get so used to talking to people that it ain’t no thang, and to reward yourself along the way because that shit is nerve-wracking and internal encouragement is necessary.

        Note: this is good even if you are actually totally Captain Suave. It’s not just practice, it’s making it so that you have no pressure re: talking to people.

        5) Make sure your handshake doesn’t suck. It’s weird, but I have been completely thrown off when I shake a funny, attractive dude’s hand and it turns out that he has a completely limp, shitty handshake.

        6) Just CHILL on this whole thing for a while, and work on your awesome, on finding your venue, and on getting as many points in your conversation game as possible. If you’re not getting dates anyway, you may as well stop, improve what you can, enjoy everything you can, and start again later.

        Good luck, dude. And believe me, even though 23 feels ZOMG SO OLD NOW MUST PAIR OFF, you have PLENTY of time.

        * This, for me, has been the hardest part; for the longest time my version of starting a conversation was to approach and then bleat out the first thing that came into my head. I only learned how this worked when I had a kid and all of a sudden I found myself talking to random strangers who were also parents: “How old is your kid? Is he sleeping through the night yet?” And I can easily pair that with the compliment on the adorable kiddo. My point being: commonality is freakin’ easy to spot when it is an external small person, and I have been getting better at this on non-parenting commonality since.

        • PomperaFirpa, I <3 you so hard for this comment and will be linking to it FOREVER. This is the most concrete, best, simple, easy, follow-able advice for social interaction ever.

          Watch your inbox for a guest-posting invitation. SRSLY.

        • That’s an interesting game. That won’t feel so contrived? One of the things that I have trouble with in terms of online dating is the fact that I feel like everything is so formulaic. Maybe I’m overthinking things.

          • I hate to say this, because we’re all overthinkers, but yes, I think overthinking things is a big part of this. But more than that, you’ve said you have trouble meeting people and have trouble extending your social circle. The way to get better at things is to practice, and practice is often formulaic. We’re socialized to believe that socializing should come naturally to us, but there’s no reason it should, any more than any other thing some people are better at than others. If socializing isn’t something you’re great at, then the way to get better is to find a formula and repeat until you’ve improved. Same as with any other skill.

          • Can you articulate which parts of it feel formulaic to you?

          • Yeah, it feels like I could create a computer program to send out initial messages on OKCupid. In fact, I wrote one up that I thought women would find interesting…

            *Interesting and well-crafted, grammatically correct greeting.* *Exclamatory observation about similar interests in X, Y, and Z!* *Thrice-rewritten attempt at witty humor.* *Profile-specific and thought-provoking question designed to elicit a response?*

            *Random closing statement,*

          • Yeah, you totally are. But look, online dating is weird, because you get no rewards to encourage you in your task. If they designed this shit like a video game, I would have aced it, I guarantee. (Video games, unlike online dating, is designed to reward you for participation and for small achievements and to keep you playing.)

            And, look, if your current group of friends is older than you are, the Talk To Other Humans game will up your chances of meeting people that could turn into new friends, young singleton friends. The big thing is to always make sure you have something in mind that you have in common with a person before you say anything to them, and if at all possible to make the compliment portion about something slightly removed from the person.

            The other big thing is to keep it casual and not to push for more. There is a line between being friendly and being a creeper. The more you practice and pay attention to the other person’s body language, the better you’ll get at navigating it.

            As a side bonus, this will help improve your feeling of disconnect re: the universe in general and with yourself. You’re concentrating on things that interest you and that you like, and that other people like. You’ll probably have a lot of random, weird conversations about dogs.

            (Incidentally, at a party, “how do you know [host]?” is generally the easiest question, because obviously a thing you have in common is that you both know the host.)

            Good luck! I will doubtlessly run into you at some point when both of us are lurking in the back of a party with a drink, talking to the host’s cat so we don’t feel quite so socially inept.

          • Hahaha, yeah I can see where that would get old. I’m job searching right now and face some of the same issues when writing cover letters. But I guess I feel like the best cover letters are the ones where I’m really genuine about how much I like the organization and where I really do feel like my skillset will help the organization out, even if it helps me to convey that information via formula. And every once in a while I do actually get interviews, which gives me the some positive feedback, even if the process overall is soul-destroying.

            But anyway, I may actually be using Pompera’s formula the next time I have to interact with people I don’t naturally click with. Because sometimes the formula helps elicit the information you need to make the more spontaneous stuff happen.

          • LW, you are playing both sides of the deck here: you are arguing that because of Logic and Statistics and Biology, you are doomed to misery, but when someone suggests that you do something logical and methodical to get better at social interaction, you are worried that it won’t feel organic and romantic. I’m not trying to be snarky here, but do you truly want advice when you wrote to the Captain? Or did you want more to get it all off your chest? I ask because your repeated arguing against people’s well-intentioned advice is odd behavior for someone who wants said advice.

          • Something else that can help with the awkward/formulaic/overthinking aspects of this part of dating: Acknowledge The Awkward. Seriously. I’m getting the impression that you think the only way to get women interested in you is to present this united front of confidence and never unsure of yourself. And that’s true, to some extent– the Captain and several commenters have advised you to Be Confident and to not project desperation and overthinking at the women you’re interested in. But I want to talk a bit about what Being Confident actually means and doesn’t mean.

            Being Confident, to my mind, means trying your best to like yourself, and even if you can’t accomplish liking yourself (and believe me, I know how hard it can be to like yourself!), to at least project an air of liking yourself to the people you encounter. It means not being so wrapped up in anxiety and insecurity and self loathing that these are the only things you can think about during interactions with potential romantic prospects (or, in former-me’s case, people in general. I’m not completely better now, but I’m a bit better!). It means setting aside these worries about whether a person likes you to think, for a moment, about the interesting aspects of their personality, the things you can converse about, and whether YOU actually like THEM.

            Here’s what Being Confident does not mean: It does not mean always saying the right thing, or looking suave and cool and under control, or never making bad jokes, or always even knowing what to say to someone. It does not mean having 100% perfect command of those social rules that seem to be intuitive to a lot of people but which people like me (and possibly you, LW?) have to learn, slowly and painstakingly, through years of trial and error. Being Confident does not mean appearing to be perfect socially adept guy all the time. It just means appearing to be interesting guy who likes himself.

            To that end, in online dating (and maybe in real life dating too? to be honest, I’ve never really had what I consider a successful dating experience with someone I didn’t meet online, so I can’t really speak to that), here’s a sentence that can, I think, humanize you and help you get responses: “Sending out initial messages on this site is always a bit awkward, but your profile really caught my interest”. Or something along those lines. Seriously, when I did online dating actively, the messages I sent out to guys with a line like that in it were the ones that got the most frequent responses, and the messages I (a conventionally attractive but awkward and nerdy lady, FWIW) responded to most frequently were ones from guys who had that blend of seeming to actually like themselves and be interested in me as a person, and acknowledging that dating and social interactions are awkward and unintuitive. Embrace the awkward.

          • Its an awesome game. I play something similar all of the time. I think of it as the gratitude game, where I find things in my environment that I’m grateful to be experiencing. More often than not, it’s a people. The challenge is to thank the person for their awesomeness in my world. Sometimes I can manage to open my mouth, sometimes I chicken out. All of the time it improves my view of the world.

            It is only contrived if you don’t mean it. If you actually are finding commonalities and enjoying talking about them (welcome to human discussion, btw) it isn’t contrived. Even if you do give yourself a gold star later for noticing the tattoo in latin. If you are trying to find an angle and you aren’t actually a Dr. Who fan, then it’s contrived and weird.

          • So, chiming in on ‘contrived’ – it doesn’t matter as much as you might think. I went to a seminar on giving positive and negative feedback in the workplace, and there was an exercise where we followed the steps suggested to give a compliment to the TOTAL STRANGER sitting next to us. Obvs, this was contrived; the recipient of the compliment KNEW the compliment was being given as part of a training exercise – but most of them felt good hearing the words anyway. The important thing was that the compliment wasn’t a lie, even if not offered spontaneously.

            I found this very useful – maybe my ‘delivery’ of a message isn’t as important as I think, and the content can carry some weight? So even if it feels stilted, if the only way to pay a compliment is to rehearse it first – that’s better than nothing.

            (I know this is a late offering to a thread that goes some interesting places, but I thought this might be of interest.)

        • Okay, OHMYGOD PomperaFirpa I love that idea so fucking much I’m going to print it out and tape it to my office wall. Right now. GOD, the idea of giving myself points for successful interactions with strangers takes so much of the anxiety away for me! My god! I am using way too many exclamation points because I am so fucking excited about this plan that I want to go seek out a (usually stressful for me) new-people situation and try it out. Seriously.

          • YAAAAAAAAY I am glad to help! AWKWARD INTROVERTS UNITE (BUT ONLY IF WE ARE FEELING UP TO IT, IT’S OKAY TO NEED OUR SPACE)!

          • I totally agree — so much less all-or-nothing, get the babe or you’re a great big zero!

          • True story, I once had an conversation quite like PomperaaFirpa suggets with a stranger and went almost skipping to my husband afterward all “I HAD A SUCCESSFUL HUMAN INTERACTION!!!” Best feeling ever.

            That this is a fun story I tell should tell you what you need to know about my ability to small talk with randoms.

        • PomperaFirpa, #4 is the coolest thing. I’m not trying to get dates like the LW but I am horrible at and terrified by talking to strangers (or even acquaintances!) and would like to get better at it. I’m totally going to try your game!

          • Thank you!

          • I’m really late here, but just wanted to 100th the love for this awesome small-talk-points-game. I know it is designed for and by awkward introverts but I am a super-extrovert, love public speaking and have been described as ‘intimidatingly confident’ (of course we’re all awkward on the inside, right!?) and I can’t wait to use this technique! A really great thing happened here today.

        • Also good point re: kids. I’m having one in the fall so I’ll presumably start talking to lots of parent-type strangers shortly thereafter. I think your game will help me get through that or even be good at it! Thanks x2.

          • Holy cow, congratulations, that’s awesome! I hope it helps. I will say that parenthood is kind of like the Marines: you get all the dross beaten out of you until you end up pure gold. It’s kind of horrible, but you end up being still yourself, but a really bad-assed version.

            This article went over how Target figured out that people’s habits change dramatically when kids enter the picture because it’s such a time of upheaval, and how they exploit that. I think that improving your social skills would be a much better change than “shops at Target”!

        • My God, who are you? Are you a wizard?? This is like, the best, most useful advice for Partying-While-Awkward I have ever heard. This sounds like something I could actually do and also sounds like an effective strategy. This would work on me if someone else did it. I love you forever, internet stranger!

        • This is an amazing comment and I am printing out and pinning it on my wall. Seriously.

    • Pulse optional!

      Sorry, I can’t let an Izzard reference go unremarked-upon.

  3. LW, I used to be your distaff counterpart. I was a girl who never really dated in high school or most of college, and it was a little painful since I always had this idea of how great it would be to be loved and desired and have an awesome boyfriend. Sometimes there were pity parties wherein I would bemoan my lack of partnership and how it wasn’t fair because I’d make such a GOOD girlfriend.

    Somewhere during the course of college I realized that this really wasn’t healthy, and this realization was supported by my group of friends. So I looked into becoming content as a single person, fine with the idea that even if I didn’t have a significant other I had hobbies, family, a career I was pursuing that held my interest, jokes, entertaining media, family, yadda yadda. I worked on making myself believe that I did not need a relationship for validation, and gained reassurance that the lack-of-relationship wasn’t a referendum on how awesome I was or wasn’t. I gained confidence, though some of it was certainly through the means of “fake it till you make it.”

    And you know what? It not only made me feel better (which was the most important part, to be sure) but I seemed to actually catch a little more attention from the opposite sex. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was projecting confidence, rather than my insecurities and desperation. At the tender age of 23 I received my first kiss (your age! remember, you’re far from alone in starting a little later) and it was all the more enjoyable because I wasn’t tying heaps of my self-worth into it, so much as I was able to enjoy the ride and the short relationship that followed.

    I know it’s really hard to break away from an idea that a relationship will make everything better, but the Captain is right. You need to divorce yourself from the idea that you need a girl to make you a whole person. You’re already a whole person, one interesting enough to have friends to back him up, and once you come to appreciate that others will as well.

    Oh, and for the record? Ain’t nothing wrong with being a nerd. You seem to get a little down on yourself for the nerdiness, possibly seeing it as a hindrance. But there’s nothing bad or even less attractive about being prone to interpreting data or analyzing your favourite sci-fi shows or what-have-you. I say embrace it as a positive point.

  4. On the possibility, however remote, that one may very well be alone for the rest of their life, I can give what advice has worked for me: I am okay with being Not Okay with that.

    Meaning, I am not thrilled to admit that I may never find the person I am looking for, but I have come to peace with that possible outcome. You would be amazed how liberating this idea is. The notion that I might be Forever Alone! was one of the myriad things that kept me chained to a bad marriage for years. I find my newfound re-spinsterhood is pretty good, actually.

    And I do firmly believe that, no matter what you’re selling, desperate won’t sell it for you. Put on a great show just for you–get super-hot stylin’ and go out like you are nine kinds of awesome. Not for the ladies, real or imagined, but for your self. Good luck, and listen to the Captain and company–they are the best.

    • Ahhh that is one reason why I finally got out of my marriage. For the longest time it was There Could Be No One Better Out There! until I realized that even if that was true I’d still prefer not to be with him.

    • This.. Just before I met Current SO, I had come to the point where I decided I was going to be Okay With Being Single. Not “Okay With Being Single Right Now Because I Know Eventually Someone Will Be With Me” but really and honestly okay with the prospect of being unattached, completely and for good.

      This not only helped me deal with my status but it helps in my current relationship. If things, Gord forbid, go to shit, I know that I will be okay because I Am Okay With Being Single. I will be sad, I will Cry The Ugly Cry and I will wipe my nose on my sleeve, I will cry more, I will listen to sad mopey music and then I Will Be Okay.

      And knowing that has helped me not be such a horribly insecure girlfriend. I’m insecure, still, but not nearly the same extent as I once was when I thought that being unattached (because I am NEVER alone) was The Worst Thing Ever.

  5. It sounds like what you’re asking is “how do i eat an elephant”? You seem like someone fun to be around. I imagine you could have laid your thoughts and feelings out in even greater detail. That’s the elephant.

    I’d love to see you doing whatever it is your passionate about and inviting women to enjoy that with you. If you like Firefly, make plans to watch it with other Browncoats and invite a few women that you like to join you. If you like bowling, get some of your friends bowling and invite a few women to bowl a few frames.

    Two reasons for this. One, your search stops being an evaluation of you and your worthiness as a perspective mate, date, etc. It now becomes, does she feel that this particular activity is fun? Much less pressure. Two, it stops being about the rest of your life and is only about the activity you planned out.

    Women will still reject your plans for any number of reasons. They don’t want to, they have other things going on, they don’t like what you like, etc. The important part is when a woman says yes. You and she are sharing something you both think is fun and both agree isn’t a life altering decision. These kinds of events give rise to inside jokes, knowing looks, friendly arguments about nerd canon.

    These are the kind of environments that relationships are born in. Two people find that they like each other more and more as they learn about each other. My relationship with my wife started because I stole her twizzlers while we were at a mutual friends house. From there we ended up talking about all kinds of things and realized we enjoyed spending time together.

    Most likely the nervousness and awkwardness will never go away. Learn to embrace it. Now when I get nervous, I take it as a sign that I’m on the right track. It will lead to some spectacular failures, but that’s where you learn.

    I’m rooting for you.

  6. I love the Captain’s response and all the comments thus far.

    LW, you sound like a pretty good guy to me. I think the advice of letting this issue sit for a while, and also of working on reframing women as people and not a sort of solution to your problem, will work really well for you.

    I imagine this is very hard to let go of right now, but do your best.

    I don’t know if this will make you feel any better, but while reading your letter I thought you seem like someone I’d enjoy talking to. It made me think that if I were on OKCupid (I’m not, as I’m married with kids!) I’d definitely give you the time of day.

    Someone above mentioned “stoic meditation”, but I also recommend regular meditation and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (check out this guy’s 1-2 hour course–quirky but on target: http://jayuhdinger.com/blog/success-does-not-equal-happiness/). Even at just 10 minutes a day, I find that practicing opens things up for me: I’m happier and, interestingly, change comes into my life at astonishing speed. It might be a good way to approach that letting go and reframing.

    Best wishes, LW.

    • Although, having seen your further comments… this love and coupling up thing is definitely too important to you right now. Way too important. The many wise folks here are right. Would you die without any love or connection? Maybe. Without romantic love, which is very different? You really shouldn’t.

      Human connections and romantic love are totally separate. And no one can complete you but yourself. Never. My husband does not complete me. He is an extra good thing in my life, but I am and was solid on my own.

      I know it’s hard to not care when you care so much, but try that meditation thing and any other way you can to let go. And although it is obnoxious when Olds like me say this, 23 is really very young; a lot can happen in six months much less years. You don’t have to get this tied up NOW.

      Your words about your situation are pretty dramatic. See if you can move back from this drama; it’s not realistic and is just going to make you feel worse. (Check out some of the distortions you’re subscribing to here: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2009/15-common-cognitive-distortions/)

      Also, us humans tend to fixate on one thing that we is going to solve our lives. If I lose twenty pounds, I’ll be happy. If I get that better job, I’ll be happy. If I find love, I’ll be happy! You can be connected and fulfilled without love, and assigning all your negative and sad feelings to the lack of romantic love is another distortion.

    • P.S. WOW good thing I’m not actually on OKCupid!

  7. Once upon a time a friend of Mr. C. was in the bad part of your neighborhood, LW. Any single, breathing woman he met was evaluated for dating (and eventual marriage-ability), and he tried really really hard.

    Too hard. He was so painfully, obviously desperate that women would avoid him. He wasn’t a stalker or meaning to be creepy, but the earnest hopefulness made him annoying to be around; and because he was a decent guy the women in our social circle didn’t want to be rude to him.

    It took me a while to notice because by the time I met him Mr. C. and I were engaged, so friend behaved in a more normal (albeit almost stereotypically geeky-awkward) way around me. A mutual friend clued me in, and I think applied the clue-bat to looking-to-date guy. Mr. C also did some ease-up-dude coaching.

    The good news is that the clues took, he relaxed a bit, stopped looking at every single woman as potential-wife, got active in other hobbies/activities, went on some dates, and is now happily married.

    • Yeah, this. I mean, if the not-too-subtle message you’re really sending out is WILL YOU SLEEP WITH ME? PLEASE? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE? HOW ABOUT YOU? YOU? then about ninety-odd percent of the women you meet are going to have to react to that with NO. NO. NO NO NO NO. NOPE. NOT ME EITHER. NO. NO! Desperation isn’t just a turn off–people tend to react to like with like. You’re courting harsh rejection. If you were cool, they still might not sleep with you, but they’d be cool back.

  8. “If you knew that was a real possibility, what would you do with your life to make it as awesome and happy and fulfilling as possible? What kind of time would you invest into your friendships, family, community? What hobbies and activities would you pursue to make yourself feel more connected and less lonely? What kind of care would you take with yourself in terms of exercise and eating good food and reading good books and constantly learning and growing and making yourself interesting and happy? How would you go after your dreams? How would you approach your career and work to become truly great at something?”

    This paragraph is the best dating advice ever. One of the major stumbling blocks I’ve experienced in dating is trying to get to know a guy who is obviously trying to “bring his A-game” and is constantly thinking about how his “dating strategy” is working and the impression he’s making and will I like him. This always has the effect of making me check out, even if he seems like a really nice guy, because there’s no interaction there – it’s all about him. The best dates I’ve had are with guys who are both interested in my life and are interesting as well.

  9. LW, I am seconding the Captain’s advice to consume media produced by women so, so hard. Let me tell you why!

    Like you (and like me, and like a lot of other commenters), the guy I’m seeing had a hard time finding people interested in him. What we all DO have, though, is a whole lot of cultural and societal expectations about what our relationships SHOULD be like, if only we find people interested in us. The guy I’m seeing has told me that sometimes, he struggles with “but books and movies and TV and music tell me our relationship should look like this, but I don’t want that.” The more media you consume from people with different perspectives, the more you’ll learn about the infinite number of ways there are to be in a relationship. There’s no one right answer!

    I feel like I’ve seen a lot of versions of this question — and that’s not even counting the millions of times I’ve asked an unfeeling universe the exact same question. And LW, you are doing so many things right! I know how much it sucks to do things right and still not get what you want, believe me. There is no easy solution to this, and I’m sorry about that. But what you can do is 1) do awesome stuff for you, because it makes YOU happy, and 2) consume awesome things and learn from them.

  10. The line about seeing all of the beautiful women in the street reminded me of a story.

    There was a guy at a coffeeshop where I briefly worked who had been single for a long time (always? not sure) and really wanted to be dating someone. He complained about this sometimes, and our shift manager said to him, “Just approach every women like a possible date. If you ask a hundred girls and 98% of them say no, that’s still two yeses.”

    LW, and anyone else out there: just so you know, THAT IS TERRIBLE ADVICE DO NOT TAKE IT. Even on OKC it would be terrible advice. Similar to what Lontra described above, people can sense when your interest in them is a little too charged and a little too desperate. Especially women, who often have to develop fine instincts of this sort, even if those instincts are counterbalanced by the injunction not to be conceited and presume interest. I had thought the coffee shop guy might be interested in me, so I dropped a casual mention of my boyfriend, and he immediately ceased all overtures of friendship. That is, we were civil and all, but he didn’t make any effort to get to know me or hang out and get a beer as he had done pre-boyfriend-mention. The conversation I overheard between him and the shift manager just confirmed that he was not a dude who was interested in women as people, just as dates.

    Which is too bad. Because if he’d been a cool guy, we might have hung out. I might have invited him to meet other friends. Maybe one of them would have wanted to date, having seen that he was a cool guy (which he wasn’t, so hypothetically speaking).

    So, I feel like this has been said above and in previous posts and more, but I don’t think we can echo it enough. Don’t worry about being “attractive and worthy of dating.” Don’t worry about how and when to approach ladies. Just hang out, make wonderful friends, be a wonderful friend, live a rich and full life. Date your friends, by which I DON’T mean pretend to be friends with people you want to date, and DO mean share the interesting and hilarious and beautiful times with people you like and who like you. Be well.

    That advice never gets old!

  11. The common thread I read in these types of letters is the belief that a romantic relationship equals human connection and a reprive from lonliness.

    This is not true.

    Think of it in terms of employment. When you don’t have a job, all you can think about is getting a job. You work on your resume, dry-clean your interview suit, conduct practice interviews with your friends, all that stuff. Then comes the magical day when you get an offer. You are thrilled with your new job for a while. Eventually, reality sets in. Waking up at 6am to catch the crowded early train is annoying. Your boss is a micromanager who corrects your punctuation in casual emails. Your cubemate is a loud phone talker. The lunch room refrigerator is a biohazard and someone keeps using your coffee cup.

    Pretty soon, you’re hitting happy hour to tell anyone within earshot about how much your job stinks.

    You problem might not be being single; it might be forging connections with other people. If you can’t do that outside of a relationship, you probably can’t do that inside of a relationship.

    • “The common thread I read in these types of letters is the belief that a romantic relationship equals human connection and a reprive from lonliness.//This is not true.”
      Oh my word YES. Like the LW and so many of the other commenters here, I have had periods of near-crushing loneliness. From age 23 until around 27 (which is when I made some major lifestyle/thought-habit changes), I had no local friends. I was still in touch with a few good friends from college, and I’d found an internet community to “hang out” in, but there were no friends or family anywhere near me. For most of those years, I worked in a teeny tiny office, and had only 3 coworkers all of whom were old enough to be my parents (needless to say, we had little in common), so I didn’t even have a large variety of coworkers to chat with every day. There were moments during those years when I cried myself to sleep and moments where I thought I would surely die alone if things didn’t change soon. But! Even at my lowest point I never let myself forget how totally miserable and scared and, at MANY times, profoundly lonely, I was in the relationship that preceded my mid-20′s. There I was, in a serious romantic relationship! I lived with my partner and we were (well, he was) making plans for our future, it was everything I (should have) wanted but I felt more isolated and alone and lonely than I’ve ever felt at any point in my life (because my ex was an abusive jerkwad, among other reasons). Being lonely when I was single was nowhere near as bad as being lonely in a bad relationship, is what I’m trying (and probably failing) to say.

  12. I have tons of guy friends in a similar position as you, LW.

    They’re all really fun and awesome and have qualities that would make them really cool boyfriends. But they’re also insecure. But so is EVERYONE.

    Here is what I always tell them when they’re feeling down about their dating circumstances:
    Hey, I know you feel really shitty about your life because of this. But before you start feeling down on yourself and start thinking you’re the only person in the room who no girl wants or whatever you need to remember that all those “beautiful unattainable women” are just about as insecure as you.

    When I go out on the town looking beautiful and hot and mysterious it doesn’t matter how desirable I look or guys make me feel there is always that little jerkbrain of mine screaming, “You’re ugly, everyone is staring at your acne, everyone is looking at your fat legs in that dress.”

    I know girls who never had a serious relationship because they’re too busy feeling bad about themselves and sleeping with random guys and saying, “All guys want is sex.”

    Here is something to give you some hope though,
    All of my guy friends who are awkward, insecure, and have problems going up to women have had a relationship that was fulfilling, and even multiple ones.

    It just took a while. It took a lot of them getting their life in order. A lot of them graduated from college, got a job, met a girl at the coffee shop. Some of them got their life in order, graduated from college, decided to try online dating and met a girl (sometimes kind of far away) who loved all the things they loved. They all had good relationships. It just took awhile.

    But as a girl who is socially awkward and gets hit on a lot. And does a lot of rejecting.
    I can guarantee that if next time you go out and you see a girl who seems a little uncomfortable, or looks like she is feeling insecure. Go up to her, give her a compliment. It’ll make her night. You don’t even have to try and pick her up. Just tell her your name.

    I met a guy at a bar once and he had a shirt with a polar bear on it. He wasn’t the most attractive guy – to me at least. But he was lamenting how he didn’t know how to talk to girls. I pointed out these two girls in 50s style polkadot dresses and told him to go talk to them. He told me he didn’t know what to say. I said, “Point at your shirt and ask them how much they think the polar bear weighs. Then say, ‘enough to break the ice,’ after their answer.”

    He was sure it wasn’t going to work. But assured him it would.

    It did. That was the first night he’d ever talked to two girls at a bar. And I’m pretty sure they hung out together all night. And I could tell they both were into him and they weren’t even annoyed by him in the slightest.

    • This is awesome. I kind of want to go to a bar with you now.

    • That is like the complete opposite advice I’ve gotten from every woman ever. I’m always told not to go up and compliment them because it is creepy. The last thing I want to be is a creep.

      Another problem for me is the fact that all my friends are older than I am. Significantly older. I don’t have a group of friends in my own age group. Being the super nerdy overachiever that I am, I tend to gravitate towards people that are at least 10 years older.

      • Women like sincere compliments. I would choose just one thing to compliment (or comment) a person on. Is she wearing a cool shirt? A band you like? Ice breakers. Is she wearing an awesome shirt, have a great smile and cool glasses? Choose one, save the others.

      • “all my friends are older than I am. Significantly older.”

        This may be part of your problem. When I was 23, I also had older friends, and most of them were married or at least coupled or even having kids. Even the single ones were just in a different place with this stuff. Sometimes, it made me feel crappy about being single and nowhere close to those life stages, even though I shouldn’t have been comparing myself with 30+ year olds (or with anyone, but that’s harder).

        I’d suggest seeking out activities that will help you to meet people your own age. Many of them will be in a similar place with dating, feeling like they’re not having success and they don’t know what to do — and many of them will not want anything resembling a serious relationship, which may help you to take the pressure off of yourself.

        Hanging out with other people your age, who are happily single and enjoying life, may help you to enjoy your own life more — and it might present opportunities for a better dating life as well.

        Like many nerds, you’ve probably spent most of life wishing you could be friends with older people because you wanted to have mature, intelligent conversations — but you’re finally at the age where lots of smart, nerdy, educated people are your exact age and available to be friends.

      • My experience as a woman is that most of a time, a single sincere compliment is fine. When someone sees says, “awesome Portal earrings!” to me on the bus, I’m happy. And then usually, if they use that to segue into talking about computer games, I’ll cheerfully join in. If I’m not interested in talking, I’ll just smile politely and look away. Usually the thing that makes unsolicited compliments creepy is when they’re:
        1. overly sexual– “nice shoes” is fine, “you have a great smile” is usually fine, “nice tits” is not okay with me. And any compliment accompanied by staring at my chest or leering is gonna be off-putting.
        2. in an inappropriate context– if I’m obviously busy with something, or if it draws a lot of attention to me, I’ll shut down. Or if I’m waiting on your table, or the intern at a fundraiser you’re attending, or a similar context where I can’t brush you off. And a lot of women will react pretty badly to compliments from strange guys if they’re alone, like on a dark street or in an elevator. Basically, don’t interrupt people’s work/reading, and don’t put people in a position where they have to worry about potential consequences of saying no.
        3. the creepiest thing for me is when people won’t back off if I try and make it clear I’m not interested. I like compliments and I don’t even mind when the drunk guy on the street corner at 2 AM asks me out, so long as he backs off when I say no. If you compliment a woman and she ignores you, or gives a quick acknowledgement and then turns away, or picks up her book or phone and starts to tune you out, then just drop it.

        • Agree with this so hard. Where the giving-of-compliments thing gets potentially uncomfortable is when a dude walks up to me in a bar and has no conversational game beyond the compliments. Excerpt from actual conversation at actual bar last week:

          Dude: Great hat.
          Me: Thanks. I love hats.
          Dude: It looks really good.
          Me: Um…thanks…it keeps me from having to do anything with my hair…?
          Dude: You’re really pretty.
          Me: I’m also really uncomfortable. Bye.

          Versus a conversation about the same hat (I really do love that hat) from yesterday at the airport:
          Dude: That hat is awesome. You look like Indiana Jones.
          Me: Thanks! That’s always been my life goal.
          Dude: I kind of wanted to be an archaeologist as a kid because of that guy.
          Me: Me too! Where would you have wanted to go for a dig?

          Thus an entire conversation about history and art and our favorite eras ensued. It was fun and easy and required my opinions and thoughts in order for it to be interesting to him, rather than just to sit there and look pretty in my hat. Compliments are wonderful ice-breakers but terrible conversational topics.

          • How do you make that transition though? I am terrible at having a conversation. I have this little reel of things going on in my head over and over. “Don’t say something stupid. Will they find this interesting? Oh god, they aren’t laughing at my joke! Are they trying to end this conversation. I’m terrible at reading body language does that foot turn mean they think I’m crazy? This pause is going on way to long, what should I say? I know, I’ll take a sip of my drink.” I’ll stumble my way through a bunch of conversations at a party and then I’ll try to sneak home and hope that no one notices I’m no longer there.

          • Analyze the second hat conversation for commonality statements, compliments, and questions. If you are always responding to what the other person has said with what it means you have in common, then you’re in good shape.

          • Just figure out a way to ask people what they think about things. People love talking about their own opinions, and as it turns out, teh ladiez are also people. Dude at Airport could just as easily have asked *me* where I would want to go for a dig. I’d have answered. And part of making that transition is coming up with an approach that allows for that transition before you ever even speak. Dude at Bar sort of shot himself in the foot from the beginning because, really, where is there to go beyond my hat when all he has mentioned is my hat? Indiana Jones was genius – who doesn’t love Indiana Jones? And there are a million ways that could have gone, Indiana Jones to Star Wars, Indiana Jones to John Williams-scored movies…I could go on. If you start out with something that is Universally Awesome, you’re guaranteed to have at least a couple of minutes of conversation. And the more of that you have without dying, the more your jerkbrain will STFU about how bad you are at conversation.

            So a challenge: for the next month when you are out in public at bars or restaurants or coffee or at your new awesome meetup, try complimenting a woman on something she’s wearing or carrying by comparing it to something equally awesome. Her necklace? Reminds you of your favorite piece of art. The bag she’s carrying? Totally makes her look like she’s a gangster-movie hitman. That tattoo? Makes you think of X book. And then ASK HER ABOUT HER OPINION. Have you seen that piece of art? Yes? Cool, let’s discuss that piece. No? Well, here is a two-sentence summary, what kind of art do you like? Speaking of gangster-movie hitmen, what’s your favorite gangster movie?

            And guess what? If it doesn’t work, if you’re getting blank stares or open hostility, work on formulating your own version of this sentence: “It was great talking to you – have a nice night!” And then you get to walk away and never talk to that jerk again. Her actions? Reflect on her.

          • How do you make that transition though? I am terrible at having a conversation. I have this little reel of things going on in my head over and over.

            That reel is not your friend. I know it’s not as easy as that, but can you try and turn it off? Maybe you will say something stupid. Everyone says stupid stuff sometimes, and I guarantee nobody is noticing it as much as you. (When was the last time you were talking to someone and thought what they said was stupid? People just don’t spend their attention in conversations judging the other person’s utterances for points like a gymnastics routine. And even when you do notice a bit of awkwardness/silliness, you don’t stand there for five minutes judging them – you move on to the next sentence.)

            Don’t worry if you’re being interesting. You’re obviously an interesting bloke – let them decide if you’re interesting in a way that appeals to them. If you’re compatible, great! You can have a great conversation about stuff of mutual interest. If not, that’s OK and not a judgement on either of you – I know many great people who are objectively very interesting, but the stuff they like is not stuff I care about. It’s not a bad thing. It just means we aren’t compatible interest-wise. (That said, if you’re passionate about something, that will often make it interesting to other people – I have one friend who got me really invested in the politics of Anglican synods, and I’m an atheist.) Trust that the conversation will find its own level. Try not to worry if they want to get out of it, or get distracted analysing body language. If they want to leave, they have the power of ‘I need to get a drink/go to the loo/say hi to someone’. It’s not your job to manage their reactions and decide for them whether they’re having fun.

            As far as finding things to say, people like talking about themselves. Ask them things. If you’re at a party, ask where they know the host from. If you’re at an activity, ask them how they got involved in the activity. Ask them if they have pets. Ask what they like to do for fun. Ask them how long they’ve lived in $city. (Not all of these at once. The idea is that their answer will spark follow-up questions, or uncover things you have in common. If you don’t have anything in common, or they answer in monosyllables, you can go get a drink/go to the loo/say hi to someone and try again with someone else. Eventually you’ll find someone you have stuff in common with.)

            Another thing: are you getting to know women your age you aren’t attracted to? Get to know them. Find out if you have things in common, if they’re potential friends. This gets you some fun new acquaintances or even friends, and also practice in getting to know women as people, without the Elephant of Are You My Future Girlfriend stealing all the air in the room.

          • I would like this comment to be nested once more, as a response to C.S. saying that he’s bad at body language and picking up disinterest.

            I recently watched Luther (which: amazing overall!) and I was struck by a scene in episode 2.1 in which the serial killer of the week is chatting up a lady on the street. Her acting in the scene is a perfect example of the body language that you should be listening to- she may as well be screaming “I do not want to talk to you, leave me alone, go away, DO NOT WANT!” at the top of her lungs, except she feels stuck into being polite. So, what you want to watch out for: hesitance to make eye contact, single word answers, not providing any new fuel for the conversation, leaning away or looking anywhere but at you, continuing to walk and trying to avoid you (if you are talking to someone on the street, which, seriously, just don’t, because no matter how nice you are, the last 287 strangers who tried to strike up a conversation with her on the street were sleazy, so she’s predisposed against getting to know you).

            Seriously- just keep rewinding and watch that scene, like, five times (it’s available streaming on Netflix and I’m sure other places online). Awkward pauses in a conversation are fine (and PomperaFirpa’s script is the BEST, most AMAZING advice, and I say this as an extrovert who loves talking to new people), but if you get a response like that, it’s time to exit stage left.

            Also, again, don’t take it personally if the person you’re talking to doesn’t want to talk to you. She doesn’t know you, and so the onus is on you to prove that you’re someone she’ll be comfortable talking to. If you’re wondering what she may be thinking when a total stranger talks to her on the street: this link is a really good place to start. A lot of other really good links have been suggested, but I haven’t seen the Shakesville Shrodinger’s Rapist one mentioned yet.

            Read all the links. Spend some time to sit with what you’ve read before you start reacting to them. Nobody’s attacking you, people are simply pointing out that there are seven billion+ people on this earth, and all of us have subjective experiences of our shared reality that are shockingly different from all the others, but are shaped by common factors. Getting a handle on some of the commonalities of those shared experiences can only enhance your understanding of the world, and give your empathy a step up.

            All those suggestions to consume more women’s stories are for that purpose- not so you will Understand All Women, but so you can start building your tesseract and seeing the world through more lives.

        • Yes, yes, yes–ten thousand times yes. Casual and appropriate with no expectation of NOW I WILL SIT HERE AND LET YOU TALK AT ME is fine; #2 or, god forbid, #3 are not at all fine.

      • Here’s a tip: a good casual compliment is about something that the person did on purpose. “I like your shoes” is fine to hear from a stranger where “I like your legs” would be overly personal.

        • THIS.

          Initial compliments should be more along the lines of “I like you as a person, i.e. your choices and actions and conversation and jokes!”, not “I think you are incredibly attractive” because at first you really, really, really need to indicate that you are noticing these women as people, instead of as the sum of their sexual attractiveness.

          “I think you are incredibly attractive” comes later, after it has been established that you have noticed that she is a person and that you are paying attention to her as a person. But never, never, never “OH MY GOD YOUR BOOBS ARE AMAZING” or the like. Specific sexual compliments are utter death.

        • Yeah, I find looks-based compliments/comments from strangers to be INCREDIBLY creepy and off-putting. It’s like they’re saying “HI I HAVE EVALUATED YOUR APPEARANCE (without of course knowing anything else about you) AND YOU MEET MY STANDARDS. JUST THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW.” No, I didn’t want to know! What did you expect me to do with that information, exactly?

          Compliments about something I did or chose are different because there’s not those overtones and it’s not making the interaction all about my appearance and their attraction (especially when it is the first (only) interaction with them ever and thus setting the tone). Like something I’m wearing (I picked out the item and chose to wear it today, presumably! Maybe it’s a souvenir shirt and you can ask if she went to [place or event] and what it was like) or something I did/made. And it should also of course be something you sincerely think is cool or interesting.

          • Seconding everything all the commenters here have said about appearance-based compliments: to be safe, go for complimenting clothes and accessories, and do it sincerely and lightly. Mean what you say, but don’t linger on it like you expect her to blush and stammer or, god forbid, compliment you in return – just be matter-of-fact and move swiftly on.

            I’d make an exception, though, if the really eyecatching thing about her appearance is her blonde/red/bright pink hair. I myself have hair which has been described as ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ – long ~flowing blonde curls~ – and about half the times I meet someone new, the first thing out their mouths is ‘Oh, you must be Cerberus. My, what lovely hair you’ve got!’ Which manages to be both an appearance compliment and an action/choice compliment, because hey, while the colour and style are natural, I do have to work to get my hair under control (moisturising anti-frizz conditioner <3), and I do appreciate it. Hair is just impersonal enough to slide, I think, though of course this may vary from person to person (see Women: Not A Monolith comment below).

          • Yes! And the only caveat about compliments on choices/actions is when complimenting someone’s shirt (or pants, or hat, or whatever) is to make sure that when you’re saying “I love your shirt” it doesn’t sound like you mean “I love your tits in that shirt.” Which is the way I usually hear that sort of compliment coming from a stranger.

          • Addendum to Cerberus’s comment: And of course complimenting the hair should not be accompanied by reaching out to TOUCH the hair! I mean, you wouldn’t think it needs to be said, even, but I’ve had people do that once or twice. ಠ_ಠ (I’ve heard that some people, black women especially, have to deal with strangers trying to, like, grope their hair, a lot more for some godawful reason. I mean, what the fuck, look with your eyes, not with your hands!)

      • Compliments should be free. A person who gives you a compliment and doesn’t seem to need anything back from you besides a few words of conversation can be really nice.

        Compliments that ask for a lot in return can get creepy, though, it’s true. Especially if you’re asking someone to respond to your compliment by assuaging any insecurities you might be feeling, because that’s exhausting and, honestly, it’s asking for a lot more than the original compliment was worth. It’s also true that comments about a person’s body can accidentally throw you into “I need you to respond to my sexual attraction” territory. Telling me that you like my smile in a way that doesn’t seem to be asking much in return is an advanced conversational skill. Telling me that you like my big black straw hat is much easier to do neutrally.

        • This. Mentioning to someone as you leave the train that their shirt or bag or book is awesome, and then walking away never to see them again, clearly not requiring any response? Very cool. Mentioning this to them and using it as an obvious gambit to start a conversation? Always turns me off. (But some other women wouldn’t mind!)

          • This. I’ve twice gotten compliments from strange guys out in public in situations where I felt flattered rather than harassed. In both cases they were walking by – not leering, not checking me out, just walking – looked over at me, said something nice (You have beautiful eyes!) and then kept walking. They didn’t break stride, wait for a response, or look back to see if I was following them, or anything. I could have said ‘thanks!’ and started a conversation if I was interested, but there was absolutely no pressure to do so. In both cases I chose not to start a conversation, but I smiled for the rest of the day.

            I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as a ‘technique’ – it’s just something that sticks in my memory so strongly that I thought it bears mentioning.

            The usual ‘women are not a monolith’ disclaimer applies. :-)

          • After reading the very good discussion a couple of threads down, I should clarify that those were the only two times I was happy to receive appearance based compliments from strangers. It was by far the exception and not the rule – those guys were not looking for *anything* in return from me, not even an acknowledgement that I’d heard them. GemmaM is right, this is an advanced social skill!

            Compliments on things someone is carrying/wearing/doing are a much safer route, and more likely to lead to friendly conversations anyway. Just please, for the love of pete, learn to recognize a polite ‘thanks, but I’m not interested in a conversation right now’ response and leave it at that. If you’re worried about biffing it, drive-by compliments are a great way to start.

          • Re: Women Are Not A Monolith, and also on the effectiveness of Keep Walking, I have to relate a story that could have been a creepy street harassment experience, except it wasn’t. I was biking home from a work event, through a pretty dangerous neighborhood. I looked pretty bizarre, because I was wearing Fancy Work Event Dress hitched up around my waist, paired with bike shorts and giant snow boots. I was waiting for the lights to change when I heard a man shouting “Hey! Hey you!” I wasn’t sure if the yelling was directed at me or not, and I didn’t turn around to acknowledge it, but kept staring straight ahead because I’ve trained myself not to respond to that kind of thing. Eventually, he shouted “WHITE GIRL ON THE BIKE!” and I turned around to see a very old, very homeless man standing on the sidewalk. He held eye contact for a second and then said, “Yeah, I like that!” Then he turned around and walked away.

            Honestly, maybe I should have been freaked out and maybe a different person with different experiences would have been. But I spent the whole ride home laughing to myself, because it had been so important to this old homeless guy to let me know that he liked “that”. I don’t know what “that” was exactly, my bike, my decidedly odd combination of clothing, my overall demeanor? I think the real reason I didn’t feel threatened or objectified at all was that he walked away as soon as he was sure I had heard his compliment!

            Again, not recommending this as a technique and shouting at women on the street is generally ill-advised, but context is everything. This was, objectively, a dangerous situation and I would not have been wrong in worrying about my personal safety. But even a homeless man yelling at me from a street corner in a bad part of town while I’m alone and relatively vulnerable can change a potentially frightening interaction into an amusing anecdote by walking away and expecting nothing in return for a compliment.

          • So glad I’m not the only one who’s had an experience like that! I think this is evidence that it’s really all about intent. The guys in these stories are saying, in essence, “I think you make the world better by being in it, just thought you should know.” Which is actually a compliment! The same words from a different speaker could very easily mean “I judge people based on their attractiveness to me, congrats, you passed my test”, which is really NOT a compliment.

      • That is like the complete opposite advice I’ve gotten from every woman ever. I’m always told not to go up and compliment them because it is creepy.

        This here looks like a great teachable moment in Women: Not A Monolith. Each woman is a whole human being with preferences and interests that are different from those of each other woman. So. Anadelis and paintedlady are women (I assume) who wouldn’t mind if you gave them a compliment in a bar as a way to strike up a conversation. I am a woman who would hate if you did this. We are all different, and that’s why there are no rules, no special combination of buttons to push or achievements to unlock before you win the game (and the girl).

        I will say, however, that for all that I don’t like when strangers talk to me, all the complement-giving advice in this part of the thread still looks pretty solid to me. I wouldn’t love it if you came up to me and tried to talk to me about your own t-shirt, but if you took my lack of interest gracefully and left me alone after that, I wouldn’t hold it against you either. The most important thing, I think, is to meet women as whole human beings, not as potential dates. Wait until you know whether or not you even like someone before you start considering them for a position on your staff (oh god, I can’t believe I just did that. I’m leaving it there. You can’t stop me).

      • Re: potential creepiness, I would strongly recommend that you try this approach while at a place where people go to meet other people. That is to say, a bar, a party, a convention, whatever. Don’t do it to the only other person on the subway car, or to the wait staff, because you may find that you have engaged someone in conversation who is conversing with you solely because things might get BAD (from a work point of view or a personal safety point of view) if they weren’t polite.

        Also, don’t punish anyone if the conversation doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not your fault, and it’s not her fault, and walking away agreeably when there’s nothing else to say is a great skill.

      • Here is my theory on compliments, for what it’s worth: it’s like personal space.

        Public actions, publicly spoken words / widely distributed written words, and visual declarations of sports team / political / geekery affiliation inhabit the realm of public self. This is the personal-space equivalent of standing eight feet away or more: public space, space you easily share with strangers. Pretty much anybody can comment on these things.

        Written words, spoken words at a reasonable level, clothing / accessory choice, hair style, and facial expressions inhabit the realm of social self. This is the personal-space equivalent of standing four to eight feet away: the realm of new acquaintances. Commenting on these things as a cold opener is always going to depend on the person, the situation, and how suave your approach is; it may be okay, it may be really bad. I generally save these things for people that I have already been talking to for at least two minutes, or for people with whom I am already sharing a social experience (parties, play groups, concerts, etc.).

        Neutral body parts (hands, hair– not the hair STYLE, the hair itself– feet, eyes, face, etc.), anything spoken sotto voce, and perfume / aftershave / any-applied-scent choice inhabit the realm of personal self. Commenting on these things as a cold opener is REALLY going to depend on the situation and the person, and in general I wouldn’t recommend it before you’ve been talking to someone for a good ten minutes.

        More private / sexual body parts (pretty much anything in bathing suit territory), whispers, and personal body odors inhabit the realm of intimate self. Do not, under any circumstances, use these as a cold opener. Ever.

      • Read this. The blog owner’s description: “This is going to be the list of Street Luv. This is going to be a list of ways men can approach women that are not uncomfortable, dismissive, humiliating, condescending, privileged, ignorant, or generally sexist bad sauce.”

    • That polar bear story is the cutest thing ever. Break the ice, indeed.

    • That’s a great story. You did a nice thing for that guy!

  13. LW, do you love yourself like you want to be loved? Are you supportive of your decisions? Do you allow yourself to fail? Are you easy on yourself whenyou fail?
    Because there is one way to feel less lonely and incomplete: when you become the person you are looking for. When you take care of your needs, work on your dreams (no fulfilling your wishes by proxy, aka women who love you!) and when you become the nicest, kindest cheerleader for your life and happiness. Friends or partners can help you along the way, but they can never be the solution – not even romantic partners.

    • Is it possible to love yourself? I’m not really sure it is. I like things about myself, but I don’t love myself. That is something that I can’t comprehend.

      • Well, what I mean with “love” is what I described: are you kind and loving towards yourself? That’s important because I’m quite sure that’s a feeling you miss. And I promise, if you are the person who is the proudest of you and the nicest to you, you will feel whole.

        • That reminds me of the line from Desiderata:

          Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
          Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

          You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
          you have a right to be here.
          And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

          When I find myself being really super-uber-critical, I use “be gentle with yourself” as a mantra.

      • Is it possible to love yourself?

        Yup. 100% possible. Even when you don’t start out loving yourself. Even when there are things about yourself that you don’t like so much. Even when you go through a period of hating yourself. You can love yourself.

      • My dog loves me. My love for myself is rather similar.

        Speaking of, if you’re in the position to own a dog responsibly, it might not be a bad idea. Socializing a dog gets you out of the house, and dog parks are a good place to socialize, because you’ve got the topic of conversation built in.

        If you’re touch-deprived, you might find a way to address that separately from seeking romantic love a (non-creepy) massage, perhaps?

        • All good. Definitely. And a guy who unabashedly loves and cares for his dog is demonstrating to women that he is capable of such things.

          That said, if you can’t love a dog, for God’s sake don’t go this route. People who walk their dogs who clearly can’t stand the fact that they’re doing so? VERY UNATTRACTIVE AS HUMAN BEINGS.

      • Try using Heinlein’s definition here: when you love someone, their welfare is essential to your own.

        So, how well do you tend to your own welfare? Do you take care of yourself?

        Then think this through from a potential partner’s point of view.
        - If he can’t/won’t take care of himself, is he looking for someone to take on the whole task of tending to his welfare? (Would you find such a project appealing? If not, then why would she?)
        - If he can’t/won’t take care of himself, what’s he going to do when *she* needs someone to take care of her? (You haven’t learned on yourself, so you’ve got no practice taking care of people, so when her cat dies will you figure it out and be there for her? Or will she be on her own with that?)

        Also: you know what you’re doing now is not working. The unanimous advice you’ve gotten is “change what you’re doing.” And you’re insisting that no, no, you can’t possibly change how you do things and if someone would just give you a few tweaks you could totally make your way work. No, dude. If you want what you claim to want, you’re going to have to change your approach to get it. So take stock, here. Do you want to find a true love enough to step out of your comfort zone? If yes, then take some of the good advice you’ve been offered. If no, that’s ok too, but stop misrepresenting your priorities to yourself.

      • Wow, there’s a “I can’t love myself, why won’t anybody date me?” theme going on around CA these days. What the hell.

      • Yes, it is possible to love yourself.

        I think *for me* it may be that loving myself is acknowledging my self-worth. Other people may describe it differently, and that’s cool. But I do love myself, metaphorical warts and all.

      • …Ah. Here’s your problem.

        Yes, the healthier and happier people are, the more they think, “I like being myself. I think I’m a good person. It’s good to be me.”

        THIS is the actual wellspring of happiness in peoples’ lives. It isn’t actually from other people. Other people can contribute to your happiness, but the essential decider of whether it works or not is you.

        Think of yourself as a cistern of water. That water is happiness. Sometimes people come along and love you and pour water in, and you get a little more full. Sometimes you have a crappy day where you screwed up and you decide you suck as a person, so you dump some of that water out.

        Right now you are so thirsty and desperate for someone to come along and pour love and happiness in you because you have a leak in you that says, “I’m nothing, I’m awful, nobody loves me.” And you interpret that dryness as a lack of anybody coming along and pouring happiness in.

        But human history shows us happy people who are asexual. Or unlucky in love. Or willingly celibate. Or hermits who go sit on rocks in the wilderness. People who enjoy their lives and love themselves. So it’s possible to generate and hold your own happiness.

        Your problem isn’t that you go to a party and try to chat up people who reject you; it’s that you do so thinking, “I’m stupid, I’m awkward, god, why did I say that, she must hate me, I’ll be alone forever.” You’re dumping your own happiness on the floor.

        Your work with your therapist should be on plugging up the leaks: on learning how to be kinder to yourself, to stop thinking of your life as this endless desolate wasteland, and to find meaning for yourself instead of waiting for someone to pour it into you. Because even if the best person in the entire world pours happiness into you hour by hour, it’s not going to work unless you learn how to hold on to it and let yourself be loved.

        • I really love this metaphor. I am going to commit it to memory for the next time I have one of those days when I’m tempted to dump out water.

          • On days when I feel really desperate, thirsty, and unloved, I stop and ask myself: where the hell is the leak this time? Where am I thinking that I’m awful, or a screw-up, or whatever? Because the days I’m most sensitive to rejection or unkindness are days when I’m not holding my own happiness in.

          • Exactly, staranise. That’s what I was trying to express.

        • Seconding the love for this comment. That’s awesome.

        • Hah! My mama calls that “filling the bucket” – she used it all the time growing up. My brother and I would get into a fight and she’d stand in the middle of us and ask, “Are you filling each other’s buckets?”

          • Yeah, I think I picked the metaphor up from a Sunday School class sometime. It just didn’t ring 100% right with me, because the point of the exercise is not to need other people to fill up your bucket. Sometimes you have to stop taking a chisel to the bottom of the thing, and just being okay with yourself is enough.

          • @staranise – sorry, lack of a nested reply option, but, she was a Sunday school teacher, so that absolutely makes sense. And I agree that the point of the story was/should have been to learn that happiness comes from within, but I think it’s also true from the angle of “things you say and do to others affect them” – she was big on talking about how our actions could either empty or fill each other’s buckets, so we should choose to fill them.

        • I used to date a guy a ton like the LW. He had some scintillating qualities, and I was young enough to be bad at recognizing the gaping maw of insecurity thing. And at first, it seemed like I could plug that leak. But gradually I realized that the leak showed up again if I needed the smallest amount of alone time, or if I failed to read his mind about what his emotional needs were. And when this had worn my heart away I realized that no matter how hard I tried it would never be enough for him. And I broke up with him, and he was miserable, because couldn’t I just love him the way that he needed to be loved?

          Maybe I couldn’t. Or maybe no one could but himself.

    • Serious question: What is the difference between loving yourself and being a disgusting egotist? Because whenever I see “love yourself” I can’t figure out the difference between that and “be a self-serving egomaniac,” which I definitely DON’T want to do. I mean, the human brain is programmed to be self-serving, so shouldn’t I be extra hard on myself to counter that?

      • One significant part of it is the difference between “I want X” being sufficient reason to do X, and ‘I want X’ being the only consideration when deciding to whether to do X. Another way of looking at this same concept is to consider that you are a person whose needs and wants are important, but you’re not the *only* person whose needs and wants are important.

        Also, I’m pretty sure you’re way off base with that “human brains are programmed to be self-serving” thing – that’s more of a cultural meme than anything actually supported by empirical observation as far as I’ve read, and my own experiences support the opposite idea; it’s much, much more common for me to have to talk myself out of doing nice things for friends when I can’t really afford to than to have to talk myself out of doing anything antisocial, even though I’m generally all about doing my own thing and not worrying too much about that kind of social norm.

        • Thanks for replying.

          I feel pretty ashamed of having needs and wants at all. Maybe this is an overzealous attempt to get away from “prioritizing my needs and wants over everyone else’s” that goes way past “considering both” and into the zone of “self-loathing.” Idunno. I do not believe that considering others’ needs requires self-love (if it does, I’m by default the biggest jerk ever), so I guess it is just a way to stop that self-love being nasty egotism (maybe; you did say it was only one part of the issue). But what if I just don’t love myself in the first place, and then I won’t be egotistical either way? Plus I can still consider others’ needs for good measure. Besides, why are my wants and needs important or okay or deserving of consideration at all?

          By “the human brain is designed to be self-serving” I mean cognitive biases, like confirmation bias (we automatically ignore or forget data that doesn’t support what we already believe, because we are right, of course!), or the tendency to rewrite memories to portray our own actions in a more favorable light. i am pretty sure these have been proved with science? It’s not just bad people who do these things, it’s everyone because brains are imperfect, like how you can look at certain still patterns and it really seems like they are moving because your brain uses heuristics to interpret things.

          • > Besides, why are my wants and needs important or okay or deserving of consideration at all?

            Because you’re a person, same as any other person whose wants or needs might be met. In a sense, making a special rule that your own needs shouldn’t be met is just as egotistical as giving special precedence to making sure they are – in both cases, you’re setting yourself up as different and special.

            > I do not believe that considering others’ needs requires self-love

            You’re right in a technical way, but just considering other peoples’ needs only goes so far – just wanting to meet those needs, or even having the intention to meet those needs, is useless without the *ability* to meet them, which taking care of your own needs provides.

            Meeting needs and satisfying wants isn’t a zero-sum game, basically. It’s not just a question of whether you get what you want or someone else does; it’s also a question of how much stuff there is to go around, and people who have their needs and wants met are generally better at producing stuff that people who don’t – it’s hard to do a good job of planting the crop that will feed everyone next year if you’re starving and weak now, even if that’s your only goal.

            > cognitive biases, like confirmation bias

            Those don’t add up to being self-serving on their own; they only reinforce patterns that are already there. Yeah, if you believe that you’re better than other people, they’ll lead you to tend to keep that belief – but if you believe that you’re worse than other people, or that ‘better’ and ‘worse’ are silly categories to apply to people in the first place, they’ll reinforce those beliefs, too.

      • Uhm, I can’t really emphasize with this, but maybe we are coming from very different angles or something.
        There is a difference between “I do what I want no matter who gets hurt” (e.g. getting really drunk and smashing windows all over the city, harassing people and so on) and “I take care of my needs because no one else can do that for me and it really helps me feel better.”

        Someone please help explaining?

        • One thing is that it really DOESN’T make me feel better. Look, I drew a picture. It is disgustingly mediocre. I can’t just pretend that it isn’t in order to feel better. Look, society. It is corrupt and depressing. I am not going to pretend that it isn’t in order to feel better. Even if I tried to pretend those things, I cannot lie to myself because I already know I am lying. Ah, so my point is, I don’t see how I can love myself without being a self-aggrandizing exaggerator because there really isn’t anything much to love (yes, I already do volunteer work, but if I were proud of it that would mean I think I’m better than everyone who doesn’t, so uh, that’s bad, and if I base my self-worth on it, what happens if I have to give it up?). Also, when I say “disgusting egomaniac” I mean someone who goes around saying “I’m so great, look at the awesome thing I did, I am the best ever, my stuff is the best,” not someone who punches you and breaks your stuff.

          So somehow this subthread got onto needs, but my need is to feel like I am worthwhile and not worthless, and I don’t feel that way, and there isn’t any evidence I should feel that way, and saying I should “because it feels good” is going at it backwards and sounds kind of hedonistic, which suggests to me prioritizing my pleasures over others’ needs, which is the bad thing I initially wanted to avoid.

          Going off on a tangent, I’m kind of like my own close friend in that I care about stuff just because I did it. But that’s no excuse to waste the internet’s precious time, you know? And my actual friends maybe don’t necessarily care. And if no one else in the entire world cares, why should I care? It’s all my fault for not being amazing in the first place.

          • You seem full of self-hate and self-deprecation and I can only take so much a day so I am going to answer only one more time for the moment.
            Self-love isn’t something you are supposed to do externally “Hey Jane, look how gorgeous I am! Isn’t that gorgeous?” No. Well it would be fun if you did that together and reassure each other that you’re cool and if you mean it, then that’s okay! But that’s not the point of self-love.

            So somehow this subthread got onto needs, but my need is to feel like I am worthwhile

            Yes! That’s good, that’s the right track!

            So I assume no one told or showed you regularly that you’re cool. That’s really sad because you deserved that because everyone deserves that. Not based on any accomplishments, but because people need love to grow. They need to be themselves to feel okay.
            Like you already discovered it’s strange to start with “Really, I am cool.” when you do not think that at all. But you are right. In the beginning, you will only pretend. If you fuck up, you will say “I take responsibility, I fucked up and I will do it better next time. I am allowed to fuck up because that’s what being human is all about.” And then you let it go and go on with what you were doing and don’t beat yourself up about it. Because that is not fair to yourself. And also? If you want to talk about being self-centered: “I am the worthlessest worthless human being that ever worthlesst” – that is self-centered. But “I am okay. I am not perfect, but I deserve love.” – this one is not. This is basic human decency (ha!) towards yourself. And you need that, you really need that to not feel like shit.
            Another angle: would you go to your friends and tell them they don’t deserve love until they accomplished this and accomplished that? No? Do you maybe like them because of what they are? You do not have to like you instantly because of who you are, but:

            Let this be a present to yourself. To assume for one week straight that you are okay. That you deserve to make mistakes. That you deserve to take care of yourself and be loved. Without shame, without shaming yourself. If you are beating yourself up, stop it. Think about something else. Do something for yourself that feels good and pretend if you can’t yet believe it that you deserve it.

          • Okay, I understand if you can’t deal with my issues enough to reply again/soon/at all. But if anyone has the spoons to answer:

            Am I supposed to be all modest and humble on the outside and be going “I am the best ever, I am so awesome” on the inside? I am not good at having starkly different things going on on the outside and inside.

            [blockquote]So I assume no one told or showed you regularly that you’re cool. That’s really sad because you deserved that because everyone deserves that.[/blockquote]
            That’s a thing that happens? Maybe everyone deserves that but certainly no one is entitled to it, right? This is far outside my realm of experience but I figure I am just not awesome enough. Anyway I am probably too old for it to make a difference even if it happened now. There is a lot of internalized bullying to overcome from being bullied for 12 years.

            Yes, it is self-centered to want to talk about how or whether I personally am worthless and my needs and stuff like that. I am supposed to talk about this with my friends but they are busy and have their own problems, and also acknowledging that I have problems is, I am told, friend-repellent. But I can’t expand it into a more general conversation that might be less self-centered because I don’t think other people are worthless or even that it’s my place to be judging them like that. So, I apologize for having this conversation at all, and I’m sorry for having problems, but I do have problems, so I can either talk about them or not. Some problems might actually go away from being ignored, so maybe I should just not talk about it.

            When you say “fuck up” are you talking about fucking up at liking myself? I’m still working on the “deciding that liking myself is rational and a good idea” stage so I’m not even in a position to fuck it up yet. Just because I “need” to feel not-worthless doesn’t mean I’m actually not worthless.

            Re: treating oneself the way one would treat a friend: A friend once told me I was really nice to everyone but myself, and I acknowledge I have a double standard for myself vs. other people! (Also that is one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten, the first part at least.) I don’t think society would function without that double-standard because we’d be constantly nagging and auditing each other, or else never take any responsibility for ourselves. Does that make sense to anyone?

            Anyway, thanks for listening!

          • ‘if I were proud of it that would mean I think I’m better than everyone who doesn’t’

            I’m confused by this statement. I’m an excellent dancer, for example, and very proud of this. I like showing off my dancing skills, and teaching other people how to dance. I can’t even imagine thinking, because of that, that I’m better than people who don’t dance as well as I do.

          • ‘Just because I “need” to feel not-worthless doesn’t mean I’m actually not worthless.’

            So, I remember feeling like this. And being told repeatedly that it was not true did not help me; I had to move to a new living place, find new friends, give up expending my energy on other people rather than on myself, spend more time on the things I myself loved, before I stopped believing it. So basically my advice is ACT LIKE YOU BELIEVE IT IS TRUE (i.e. spend time taking care of your own needs and wishes FIRST), even though you probably don’t believe it at all, until you believe it.

            Because, no really: The statement above is empirically not true. It is in fact impossible for it to be true. You have worth. By virtue of being alive and being human, you have worth. Even if you were a terrible person who murdered puppies, you would have worth. I don’t mean to be an asshole, but you are not the One! Special! Exception! In! The! Whole! World! to this rule. You just aren’t. I wasn’t that exception when I was depressed. My friend wasn’t that exception when she was depressed. No one is that exception. No one has ever been that exception, and no one will ever be that exception.

            What this statement is saying, essentially, is, “Just because it hurts less when I stop hitting myself in the face with a hammer doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be hit in the face with a hammer.” Which . . . no, actually. On some level it doesn’t even matter whether you believe that you have value as a person or not. If you can just call a cease-fire for a while with yourself — just say, “Okay, I can’t love myself right now, but I can try to not actively hate myself and take care of myself” — it will help. Turn outside of yourself as much as possible.

            ‘I mean, the human brain is programmed to be self-serving, so shouldn’t I be extra hard on myself to counter that?’

            When I started getting more okay was when I got so exhausted that I couldn’t give a fuck any more. I got fatter and stopped expending energy to be nice to other people, but I also unconsciously started taking care of myself better, because my survival instincts actually started kicking in. “Not hating yourself” is as much a survival instinct as “eat food,” “sleep,” and “run from angry mammoths.” (I also went to therapy! Therapy seems like a good idea for you too.)

            So, NO, you shouldn’t be extra hard on yourself to counter that. That’s the mental equivalent of starving yourself because you enjoy food. It is a. nonsensical and b. probably going to kill you at some point.

            As far as talking about your problems being a friend repellent — okay, maybe. But sometimes you have to lean really hard on your friends so that you don’t sag into a pool of your own self-loathing and drown in it. What you are asking of them is not trivial, which is to say: it is not because you are a flippant person who doesn’t value other people’s time and resources that you are asking for help. You are more or less asking them to help save your life. Metaphor time: You still have to walk that tightrope by yourself to the other side of the gorge where happiness and cookies and daylight are, but it’s a hundred feet up and a fucking slippery rope, so you saying “Hey I would like to not have solid rock below me as I am making this terrifying crossing, please and thank you” does not make you demanding or unreasonable. It is okay to ask your friends for help. Even help that’s really hard to give.

            I would suspect (though I do not know) from your self-description that you are the kind of person who invests all their efforts in other people and not themselves. So think of it this way: From your friends’ point of view, you are not working off some massive debt for being an icky person, because to them you are just . . . a person. They can’t see the inside of your head and all the thing you know/believe to be wrong with yourself. (It is true! Because even if you think these things are obvious? Your friends have lives and things they have to do. They cannot afford to spend every minute analyzing you for things that might-could be wrong with you, even if they were inclined to do so (and if they are inclined to do so, that means they are terrible people so get some new friends.)) From your friends’ point of view, in fact, you are just a person who tries really hard to be nice. So if you need them to be nice to you in turn sometimes? That’s okay. Also, it is often much, much easier to give than to receive. If you always try to be the giving, not-demanding friend, it can rob your relationships of the reciprocity that relationships need to function.

            And, it’s possible that you may end up needing to find some new friends. This is not the end of the world. I did it while I was repairing my psyche after a bout with depression; some of my pre-depression friends hung around, and some didn’t. Some people will be able to cope with you needing help, and some may not. (Though, admittedly, I still am fearful about putting emotional demands on an relationship too early on in the process, because it can be like setting an anvil on a bridge made of straws. But sometimes it’s a bridge made of straws on top of a pile of bricks, or a bridge made of straws with titanium wires threaded through them, and the relationship maybe shifts or changes a little but does not break. If you’re clutching an anvil, sometimes you just have to set it down somewhere so your arms don’t give out.)

            And in conclusion: If it doesn’t help, it doesn’t help, so just ignore me and go on about your day.

      • Psssst: Meerkat. Watch this! http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

        Loving yourself for me is a combination of:

        1) Being happy in your own company. You might like others and need to spend time with others, but you’re ok by yourself.
        2) Taking good care of yourself. Eating. Sleeping. Going to the doc when you need one.
        3) Being okay to speak up when you do have needs. Everyone has needs. Yours are ok.
        4) Being able to see your good qualities and accomplishments and enjoy and be proud of them (not in a telling everyone you’re the greatest way, but in a “I’m pretty good at that” kind of way) and not let your jerkbrain have the upper hand in seeing only the things you “should” be doing or haven’t accomplished yet.
        5) That doesn’t mean brag or rest on your laurels, that means not entering every conversation with yourself (and others) with the litany of what’s wrong with you.

        Sortakinda.

        • That’s cool, I think I have #1 down because I am a massive introvert. But one thing about #3 is, how do you trust your own judgement about it? Like, can I really tell a “want” from a “need”? Do I need down-time or am i just lazy? As much as I don’t think some random person or general opinion would be a good judge, I can’t say I am an impartial judge either. So what if my idea of “taking care of myself” looks really indulgent and selfish to someone else who is working harder?

          Another thing is, how do you survive a job interview if you only think you’re “pretty good” at something? I hate job interviews, because they don’t care about quantifiable qualifications, they just want to hear how incredibly passionate you are about self-sealing stembolts, and also about how you are extroverted and a good communicator and really fun to have a beer with (I am not terribly fun to have a beer with). Actually, coming off as confident but not a disgusting braggart is something I have no idea how to do, which come to think of it, mirrors my original question of how can I love myself without being a self-serving egotist.

          Maybe it’s just a perfectionism thing.

          • Yeah, it’s a perfectionism thing.

            Your wants are ok to have also. And I forgot to say above 6) Forgive yourself when you fail at something.

            You’ve hijacked this thread pretty well. Think about sending in an actual question sometime? (I mean, maybe you have, my inbox is very very full of not-yet-answered things).

            Edited: People who are interested can respond to Meerkat’s questions. Meerkat, read the answers you get, think about them, go and use them if they’re useful to you. If you still have questions formulate one and email it in and we’ll give them their own thread instead of growing this one.

          • OK, job interviews are something I am very good at (which doesn’t mean I think I’m better than you! :)) If you find them difficult, I’d suggest you prepare yourself with specific and concrete examples you can use in answers to the most likely questions (or to questions you’ve been asked before). Prospective employers DO like to hear you explain how you solved x problem or dealt with y person using an example from a previous job or, if you haven’t had many, a situation from your life. ‘How do I handle difficult people? Let me tell you about how I dealt with my mother over our wedding….’ This isn’t about your qualifications, it’s about your life experience. And it isn’t about being perfect or the best ever at something, it’s about how you personally demonstrated, one particular time, the quality the potential employer is looking for. (Bonus tip–the weirder or more unusual the story, the better, as long as it’s absolutely true.)

          • My therapist pointed me toward this article by Lynne Forest on the three faces of victim.

            Here’s a relevant quote:

            [Rescuers] like Sally have an uncon­scious core belief that might go some­thing like this; “My needs are not impor­tant … I am only val­ued for what I can do for oth­ers”. Of course, believ­ing these ideas requires that she have some­one in her life she can res­cue (a vic­tim). How else will some­one like Sally get to feel valu­able and worthwhile?…A [Rescuer's] great­est fear is that they will end up alone. They believe that their total value comes from how much they do for oth­ers. It’s dif­fi­cult for them to see their worth beyond what they have to offer in the way of “stuff” or “ser­vice”.

            Self-love to me means acknowledging that you have the right to be loved. That when you screw up, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure that no one could ever love, but just human and therefore fallible, and you’ll keep trying to do better. It means paying attention to your needs–emotional, physical, mental, spiritual–and taking steps to meet them (always with the caveat that pursuing self-care doesn’t cause harm to others). This means getting sufficient sleep, exercise, healthy food, quality time with people who love you and enjoy your company, time alone to enjoy your own company or simply rest when you need it, doing activities that feel rewarding and make you happy, etc. Taking care of yourself without second-guessing whether this is a “want” or “need.” It’s okay to indulge in “wants” too. It’s about moderation and give and take. And again, when you fall down (metaphorically), you don’t beat yourself up for succumbing to gravity, instead, you pick yourself up and tell yourself you’ll take better care of yourself next time, do better next time, whatever. It means recognizing abuse, particularly emotional abuse, whether internal (why hello, jerkbrain) or external, and learning to break those patterns and establish healthy, supportive routines that build you and others up instead of tearing people down. It means learning to believe that you are a competent human being who can take care of yourself, which includes asking for and accepting help, and helping others when you have the means to do so (and they ask). And that you are able to perform many tasks and have the capacity to learn and grow.

            Please note that it is possible to be an introvert and be okay by yourself but not actually be happy in those circumstances because you beat yourself up for being alone, for not being good enough to have friends, for not being sufficiently charming or outgoing, or that you’re not good enough to hand with others, or whatever. Self-love, I think, means looking forward to spending quality alone time because you are actually happy to have time to yourself to reflect in your journal, putter around in the garden, enjoy that great book, or whatever.

            For example, when I am feeling very poorly and not functioning well, I can’t really focus at work. I keep surfing the internet and getting distracted and just can’t stay on task. I used to beat myself up for being a slacker, and what is my problem, and I am a useless, lazy employee that isn’t getting work done because I am selfishly indulging my curiosity instead of completing my daily work tasks. But then I realized that my inability to get work done on such a day isn’t *caused* by the websurfing. Instead, the websurfing is a *symptom* of my poor condition, and when I catch myself doing that, I should probably go home and rest. Mostly I don’t. Instead, I try to pick more basic tasks that don’t require much mental effort, and I forgive myself for the online lapses because they’re a symptom that I don’t necessarily have control over, anymore than I would be able to control projectile vomiting. Then I go home, rest, and try to go to bed early and start the next day with a clean slate.

          • Forgive me for being late, but if I may contribute, my definition of confidence without braggadocio would be as follows: “I am capable and lovable and generally awesome, but I don’t feel the need to talk about it constantly.” When you think that way, your positive self-perception will shine out in your non-verbal communication (whether you are aware of it or not), but you won’t be shoving it in anyone’s face. Put another way, confidence feels no need to assert its own awesomeness, but simply trusts that said awesomeness exists and will become evident to others by default. Confidence is also bolstered by not comparing yourself to others. If you can do X and X is a good thing, be confident about it. Don’t worry about whether your skill in doing X is “mediocre” compared to what others have done; just rejoice in what you YOU have done. You don’t have to lie and tell yourself that you are above average in something if you are not, but you should appreciate yourself just for what you are, rather than feeling you MUST be above average to be worth anything.

            As “guest” suggests, a great way to show forth your good qualities without any fear of overrating yourself is to simply tell honest stories about things you’ve accomplished. Describe what you did, then let your interviewer judge whether it demonstrates the level of skill he’s looking for or not. Interviewers will often try to draw out these kinds of stories — prepare ahead of time and have some ready to tell.

      • WARNING: Really long response incoming! Plus, there aren’t always transitions between paragraphs, because I’m responding to things from different parts of different comments of meerkat’s. Sorry for the occasional disjointed-ness.

        “Besides, why are my wants and needs important or okay or deserving of consideration at all?” Wow. Um, okay. Let’s start with the idea of self-love being “caring about your own well-being at least as much as you care about a good friend’s.” Would you say that above sentence to a friend, substituting “your” for “my”? I’m guessing probably not. Here’s the deal: if your needs go unfulfilled, you die. If too many of your wants go unfulfilled, you have a very unhappy life. You can either rely on other people to meet those needs and wants for you (I do not recommend this), or you can handle them yourself.

        For example, one of my wants is to learn to like my body. Could I live without that? Sure, I have so far. Is my life going to be a lot better if walking past a full-length mirror doesn’t fill me with despair and self-loathing? Indubitably. Will I be more fun to hang around with, and a better friend, if I manage it? I suspect so. Asking other people to fix this for me would a) be really awkward and b) not work. (Asking my husband for periodic reminders that he finds me attractive does help, but he’s not the prime force in my changing the way I think about myself.) Here’s what I don’t do: walk around telling myself that I have the greatest, awesomest, hottest, best body EVAR. What I do instead: when I catch myself thinking about how much I suck for having gained weight, I pull myself up short and go “Hey, my body can do amazing things, like [pet my dog, hug my friends, plant tomatoes, circulate blood, breathe regularly without constant reminders, create ELECTRICITY using just sugar and salt SRSLY!]. It doesn’t suck beyond the telling of it just because it’s bigger than when I was a teenager.”

        Returning to the “treat yourself like a friend” theme, would you feel ashamed of a friend for having needs or wants? Needing things is part of surviving. Wanting things is part of living. Seriously, if a friend confessed to you that zie needed to ingest liquids on a regular basis or else zie would die, would you think less of hir? Because that’s what needs are: things that you absolutely have to have.

        “Look, I drew a picture. It is disgustingly mediocre. I can’t just pretend that it isn’t in order to feel better.” You’re not supposed to. Loving yourself doesn’t mean thinking you’re perfect. I don’t draw well (ask any of my students). So the hell what? I’m not a professional artist. There’s other stuff I can do well.

        As far as there not being anything much to love: does your existence make the world a worse place? If the answer is “no”, there’s stuff to love. You’re allowed to feel good about doing volunteer work – positive opinions are not a zero sum game. Feeling good that you do whatever it is doesn’t imply that you look down on everyone who doesn’t. For example, you do volunteer work, and I don’t. I work full time and am in grad school part time. Occasionally, I sleep. Are you disgusted with me for not contributing to my community? Now, allow yourself to really feel good about what you do as a volunteer. Think about the positive impact that has. Sit with that for a minute or two. Has it caused you to look down on me, or on any friends of yours who don’t volunteer?

        An ugly truth is that we all prioritize our own pleasures over others’ needs, to some extent. Mr. Other Becky and I live in a small house in a middle-class neighborhood. If we rented a room in a boardinghouse instead, we could contribute several hundred dollars per month to life-saving charities. But we don’t do that, and it’s not because we’re horribly selfish people. It’s because we’ve made choices about how to spend our money in ways that keep us reasonably happy but still leaves some for us to contribute to good causes.

        “Am I supposed to be all modest and humble on the outside and be going “I am the best ever, I am so awesome” on the inside?” No. No, you’re not. You’re supposed to be all “I’m a pretty decent human being, with good points and bad points, and I’m cool with that” on the outside AND the inside. The good points are the places your awesome lives. Sounds like you’re a pretty good, supportive friend. That’s awesome! Acknowledging that about yourself is not the same as saying that you are the awesomest person who ever awesomed. It’s saying that you’re a good friend, and that’s a good way to be.

        “…acknowledging that I have problems is, I am told, friend-repellent.” I don’t have a tactful way to say this: in any case where this is true, that person is NOT your friend. Constantly talking about your problems can be friend-repellent in the sense that it makes you really boring and depressing to be around, but acknowledging that they exist? Suppose a friend told you, “I’m really feeling down on myself lately. Could we do [Fun Thing that will cheer me up]?” or even “Can we just talk awhile? I think it would make me feel better.” How would you respond? If the answer is “EW NO GET AWAY FROM ME YOU FLAWED REPELLENT PERSON,” congratulations! You suck. If it isn’t, what makes you think that it would be an appropriate (or likely) response from someone else?

        You’ve mentioned that you have trouble with the idea of treating yourself the way you would a friend:

        I acknowledge I have a double standard for myself vs. other people! … I don’t think society would function without that double-standard because we’d be constantly nagging and auditing each other, or else never take any responsibility for ourselves. Does that make sense to anyone?

        [Raises hand] Nope. I don’t get it. The suggestion is definitely not “Treat your friends as badly as you treat yourself,” nor is it “Absolve everyone of all responsibility for everything.” I’m guessing you do hold your friends to certain standards, like not being cruel, not lying about important stuff, keeping their word when reasonably possible, and generally taking responsibility for themselves (also when reasonably possible)? If not, you might want to start. If so, those are good standards to hold yourself to, as well.

        Re: “Do I need downtime or am I just lazy?” Honestly? It doesn’t matter. Will you function better if you get some down time? If the answer is yes, then that’s a legitimate and important thing, and you deserve to be able to give that to yourself. My idea of “taking care of myself” probably looks indulgent and antisocial to people who don’t know me well. Fuck ‘em. It’s my life, and it works a lot better when I have enough alone time. The people who know me get that, because they’ve seen what a trainwreck it is when I don’t.

        “I hate job interviews, because they don’t care about quantifiable qualifications, they just want to hear how incredibly passionate you are about self-sealing stembolts…” Yeah, they suck. Fortunately, there are books and web videos, and sometimes classes at the local library or YMCA or something, that can help you practice that kind of stuff. You also might want to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain for ideas on how to present introversion as a plus, or check out her website, which also has a link to her TED talk. (Also, Deep Space Nine FTW!)

        As far as really digging down into your problems, where they come from, how they manifest, and how to deal with them, not to mention the actual practicalities of what it means to love yourself, that’s a job for a professional. Therapy is awesomesauce. Look into it. (Please note: when I recommend therapy to people, as I often do, I am not saying “You are broken; go find someone to fix you.” I am saying “It sounds like aspects of your life could be a lot better/happier, and you deserve to have that happen.”)

        • Re: “Do I need downtime or am I just lazy?” Honestly? It doesn’t matter. Will you function better if you get some down time? If the answer is yes, then that’s a legitimate and important thing, and you deserve to be able to give that to yourself.

          I was reading this comment while I was at work and on my break, thinking about how tired I was and wondering if I was more tired than I SHOULD be–like, is it something unique about my body that I get this tired, or does everyone get this tired and just work through it, and I’m just lazy? So: Thanks for this comment. It helped me snap out of that line of thinking.

  14. The feeling Im getting from the letter is that LW is trying to date Women: The Monolith instead of trying to date a person who happens to be a woman. There was no mention of a particular person, only the vague group of Women As Dates. If you approach someone like that, they will see themselves as indistinguishable from all the others in your eyes.

    Romance is not a checklist; Eyes? check. Boobs? Check. Breathing? check. Wanna date? *crickets*

    I would recommend trying to find group activities where you can meet people who happens to be women and share your interest for The Activity. Its a great way to meet people, who might become friends, who might know people who happens to be women and who might be looking for people who happens to be like you.

    It might work, it might not. Love happens when you live your life. It doesnt always happen symetrically. But trying to find someone instead of a date might help you find a person with whom to go on a date. The distinction is important and I hope I didnt make my point too convoluted.

    Good luck =)

    • Yeah, I was getting that sense, too. I WANT A DATE YOU SEEM TO QUALIFY WITH THE BREATHING AND HAVING OF BOOBS AND SUCH is not an approach that demands a positive response.

      • As someone in a similar position to LW, I sometimes fall in the trap of treating women as a monolith because I never got far enough with 99% of the ones I’ve tried to make contact with via OKCupid or random events or whatever to understand what makes them unique. And once a particular woman has rejected me, there’s no point in worrying why That Particular Woman rejected me, since trying again with her would be creepy/stalkerish, and the next one will probably reject me for a different reason. All I can really do is try to find relatively common reasons why many of the women who’ve rejected me may have done so, and hope I don’t screw them up again when the next opportunity comes along.

        (I also find that the group activities I go to and enjoy never have single women at them. In addition to the gender bias that comes from the sorts of interests and where I work, the ones I’m most comfortable with have high barriers to entry which mean you don’t get new people coming in once you’ve already met the regulars. For example, my D&D group started a couple years ago with six people, of whom the only woman was dating someone else in the group, and has gained all of two people since.)

        • It seems like you’re only trying to contact women to date them. Getting to know women as friends tends to un-monolith them pretty well too. I bet you don’t see the woman in your D&D group as part of a monolith.

          All I can really do is try to find relatively common reasons why many of the women who’ve rejected me may have done so, and hope I don’t screw them up again when the next opportunity comes along.

          Beyond things like “don’t be creepy,” it’s not a test of your worth; it’s a test of your compatibility If a woman hates nerds, and you were too nerdy for her, the lesson isn’t “being nerdy is bad for dating“; the lesson is that you wouldn’t have been a good match for that woman.

          Fortunately you might be a great match for a nerdgirl. Worry less about changing you, and more about finding women who match the person you already are.

          • Well, yeah, I only contact women on OKCupid to date them, and in terms of raw numbers that vastly dominates anything else. As I said in the previous comment, D&D group has one woman, and the other groups I’m a part of have two or three.

            I’ve spent the last five years of my life getting rejected by nerdgirls. The reasons seem to be on a continuum between not wanting to date anyone at all and wanting to date a guy who’s more attractive than me. So I can see how one rejection can be a matter of compatibility, but when there are dozens or hundreds of rejections I have to come to the conclusion that there’s something I should change if I want to have a shot.

          • The reasons seem to be on a continuum between not wanting to date anyone at all and wanting to date a guy who’s more attractive than me.

            How do you know that second one? Because it’s harsh as hell if girls are actually saying that to your face. It sounds more like it’s something you assume when someone doesn’t give a reason for rejecting you.

          • If someone doesn’t give a reason for rejecting me, and then starts dating someone else, then that other guy has some quality that I don’t. And since that quality made someone want to date him, it’s an attractive quality. So the other guy has more attractive qualities than me, and more women have wanted to be in a relationship with him than with me, so he’s more attractive than me.

            Or the other way I get to this, which is more projection-y: I said in another branch that I don’t see why I wouldn’t want to date any woman I was friends with and was attracted to. So if a woman’s friends with me, and doesn’t want to date me, she must not find me attractive. And the person she ends up dating is someone she does find attractive.

          • “I said in another branch that I don’t see why I wouldn’t want to date any woman I was friends with and was attracted to. So if a woman’s friends with me, and doesn’t want to date me, she must not find me attractive. And the person she ends up dating is someone she does find attractive.”

            This maybe is more a product of your wanting very much to be in a relationship than a thing that is true all the time? Because I (a heterosexual woman) used to think like this about men, and then realized that actually, no, I have male friends who I definitely would not want to date. (And said male friends definitely do not want to date me!) Not because there is anything wrong with them, and not usually for any one specific reason, but just, you know, it would be weird, or they have all-consuming interests I think are fun, but can only take in small doses, or they feel the same way about my all-consuming interests, or we are just not into each other, for reasons neither of us can really articulate. However, I still value these friendships, because we still have interests in common and we have fun! You really can’t imagine (or don’t know) any women you could like and be friends with, but wouldn’t want to date?

            It sounds, generally, like you are searching for the elusive quality that makes you wrong for the women you have asked out, as if there’s a bug in your code and if you could change that, all the women who aren’t interested in you now would want to date you. I can totally see the attraction in this! I have, in fact, agonized over this. But that is not (in my admittedly limited experience) how dating works. There’s a reason they call it “romantic chemistry” — we are all funny-shaped molecules bouncing around, and certain combinations of people are just nonreactive, or only form very weak bonds. Sure, there are certain things that definitely make it harder to find a match, but for the most part, when those connections fail to happen, it’s not because you are some kind of horribly deformed molecule that will never find true molecule love. It’s because you haven’t yet found someone you will connect with well. But if you keep changing your conformation to be The Perfect Dateable Dude and ask out every lady molecule you meet, that will repel most of the people you want to make connections with, because having a giant desperation side chain hanging off your molecule of love will not make most people want to share electrons with you.

            I know it is really, really hard to Just Be Yourself and Keep Trying because someone on the internet told you to. But there’s nothing you can do that will make you instantly attractive, because there is no one way to be attractive. Find the joy in being yourself, if you can, and live awesomely rather than worrying too much about dating.

            (Also, I have to say, some of my chemistry professors would be horrified if they read this. Sorry, y’all. You see why I changed my major now, right?)

          • This thing where you compare yourself to other dudes and try to find what that one thing is is a less attractive quality of yours. Anyone who DOESN’T do that is automatically more attractive. I guess your logic works!

          • I do have to say, Errant, that nothing makes my little heart go pitter-pat like knowing a guy has tried to date and been rejected by every girl I know, and is asking me because hey, he’s desperate, so why not complete the set? I mean, it makes me feel so special, like he really likes me for me!

            It’s quite possible how you’re asking is a factor. There’s a difference between, “Hey, you’re neat and you like $thing! I like you, so let’s go do $thing together!” and “I am feeling super-insecure and have decided YOU are the lucky woman who will salve my wounds. DATE ME.” You will still get rejected with the first method, but it is more likely to get you turned down on your own merits, and not your method’s.

          • Kaesa:
            “You really can’t imagine (or don’t know) any women you could like and be friends with, but wouldn’t want to date?”

            The ones I know are the ones that aren’t physically attractive to me, or I know for a fact wouldn’t want to date me.

            “Sure, there are certain things that definitely make it harder to find a match, but for the most part, when those connections fail to happen, it’s not because you are some kind of horribly deformed molecule that will never find true molecule love. It’s because you haven’t yet found someone you will connect with well.”

            Patience is difficult. I’ve been trying for between three and five years now, depending on how you count, and I feel like if nothing changed it would take ten or twenty years before I even got into one relationship. But one relationship is still far away from a successful, productive, long-term relationship.

            JenniferP:
            “This thing where you compare yourself to other dudes and try to find what that one thing is is a less attractive quality of yours. Anyone who DOESN’T do that is automatically more attractive. I guess your logic works!”

            Why is trying to understand why people do the things they do and what I can do to have a better chance next time a bad thing?

          • ‘Why is trying to understand why people do the things they do and what I can do to have a better chance next time a bad thing?’

            Because your frame is ‘I want a girl, X has a girl, so he did something to get a girl, if I can figure out what that thing was and do it then I’ll have a girl too.’ I hope if you see it written out that way you can see where the problem is. Everyone else in this post is saying (if I may paraphrase a bit) that since women are not a monolith that logic makes no sense. If THAT guy clicked with THAT girl, how could that possibly help you get ANOTHER girl, with an entirely different point of view and set of things that turn her on? Furthermore, who wants to date someone who’s tailored himself to become a girl-getting machine?

          • No, because women don’t all want the same thing. Hair color, to take an easy example. Some ladies prefer blonds. You can’t figure out how to make yourself objectively more attractive, because there isn’t any such thing. And trying to please as many people as possible will make it more difficult for you to be yourself. Self-esteem and a strong identity are not objectively attractive qualities–there are people who seek out weakness and self-disgust–but they will help your soulmates find you.

          • If someone doesn’t give a reason for rejecting me, and then starts dating someone else, then that other guy has some quality that I don’t.

            Whoa there. A girl dating another guy is not dating him AT you. She’s dating Bob, she’s not dating Not-Errant.

            I’ve dated a lot of different guys in my life, for different reasons. I’ve dated a fat, short, working-class Irish guitarist and I’ve dated a tall, thin, middle-class Hispanic teacher. If you saw me with the first guy and thought “if I gain weight and learn to play Irish folk songs on the guitar, women will be all over me!”–you wouldn’t even be more appealing to me, much less women-in-general. You’d just end up constantly changing yourself chasing a baffling array of moving goalposts.

            But one quality that is pretty universally attractive is confidence. You’re a thin teacher? Don’t waste time trying to be a fat guitarist. Work what you’ve got. Develop and show off the attributes and talents you have instead of the ones you think you should have.

        • So, how about a freakish idea of getting to know women and learning what makes them unique even if they’re not going to date you? Learn how to make friends with women as people. If you’ve got a sister, a mother, an aunt, a female-cousin-you’re-not-going-to-hit-on, any of those, talk to ‘em. Talk to the women in your circle who are dating other guys. About normal-person stuff. About stuff they’re interested in. About stuff you’re interested in. Build friendships. Then maybe think about chatting up women you want to date. Walk before you can run.

          • Yes. This is exactly what I was going to say. I know men aren’t monoliths because I know lots of different men. And I’m not dating any of them.

        • Oh come on, Errant. Did you not read this thread? If the only reason you approach women is to date them, and if you approach women to date more or less indiscriminately, then you are not likely to have much success because people (which includes women) can tell when you’re not interested in them as individuals. Make friends with women, whether they’re available or not, whether they want to date you or not. Get to know a number of women individually with no motive beyond getting to know them. Spend time with women who have boy/girlfriends. Spend time with women who are too old for you, too young for you (but still adults), women you find attractive, women you find unattractive. Why should the fact that a woman doesn’t want to date you mean that you can’t be friends? I’m friends with lots of people who don’t want to date me. I don’t want to date most of them either. This doesn’t stop us from being good friends.

          I can see how one rejection can be a matter of compatibility, but when there are dozens or hundreds of rejections I have to come to the conclusion that there’s something I should change if I want to have a shot.

          Well, no. The only way to avoid getting rejected by lots of people is not asking anyone out. Most pairs people we meet will not be compatible romantic partners for one reason or another. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either person.

          I don’t see why I wouldn’t want to date any woman I was friends with and was attracted to. So if a woman’s friends with me, and doesn’t want to date me, she must not find me attractive.

          I can see how this would be frustrating, but you need to understand that not all people are like you in this respect. Some people would be happy to date/sleep with anyone the liked and were attracted to (I felt that way for a long time) but some people really want to feel an extra special connection with someone, or feel like certain innocuous habits are fine in a friend but would be really grating in a partner, or whatever. I’ve felt like this, so I get where you’re coming from, but not all people approach sex and romance in this way, so you should let go of the idea that someone rejecting you means there’s anything wrong with you.

          I also think that the more people you date, the more you get a sense of what makes another person compatible with you as a romantic partner vs. what makes them a good friend. If you don’t have much experience dating, you may think that you’d be happy dating any of your attractive female friends, but in fact maybe some of them have qualities that would make them really unsuitable matches for you, even if they were interested, but you can’t see it because you don’t have the practice.

          • “Oh come on, Errant. Did you not read this thread? If the only reason you approach women is to date them, and if you approach women to date more or less indiscriminately, then you are not likely to have much success because people (which includes women) can tell when you’re not interested in them as individuals.”

            I do not approach women to date indiscriminately. In person, I approach women to date who have the qualities that would make me want to be friends with them, and who I am physically attracted to. The vast majority of women don’t meet either of those. Online, it’s harder to tell these things, but I try to take a stab at women I have at least something in common with, and look like they might cute.

            “Well, no. The only way to avoid getting rejected by lots of people is not asking anyone out. Most pairs people we meet will not be compatible romantic partners for one reason or another. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either person.”

            If 99% of women were incompatible with me, that would make sense. But based on what I’ve seen, 100% of women are incompatible with me. So either I’m just a terrible person who’ll never be able to find love ever, I’m incredibly unlucky and maybe I’ll meet someone if I wait another twenty years, or there’s something I can change to make myself more attractive. I choose the third option, since that’s the only one I can do anything about.

            “I also think that the more people you date, the more you get a sense of what makes another person compatible with you as a romantic partner vs. what makes them a good friend. If you don’t have much experience dating, you may think that you’d be happy dating any of your attractive female friends, but in fact maybe some of them have qualities that would make them really unsuitable matches for you, even if they were interested, but you can’t see it because you don’t have the practice.”

            Agreed 1000%. I know one reason that I can’t be more discriminating is that I don’t have the experience. I need to get the experience, or I’m at a huge disadvantage compared to other guys my age, and that disadvantage becomes bigger every day.

          • Errant, if you’re going to work the percentages, then make the pie bigger. 100% of women you’ve met in your life to date have been incompatible with you. Read the thread. Read the linked posts. Read it for stories of women who have been in your shoes (some who are still in your shoes).

            Your choices are:

            1) Meet more people. Widen your social circle. We’ve already given tons of advice on how to do this and I’ve already given YOU SPECIFICALLY a tl;dr version of this.

            2) Take a break from a while (not a “everyone is rejecting me” break, but a “I choose not to date right now” break) and work on your own awesome. With a therapist, maybe.

            Also, read/watch/listen to more stories by women. It will just be good for you.

            Do you actually want advice at this point? If you do, awesome. We’ve already said all of the advice. But if there is some specific aspect of it that you don’t understand, ask away.

            If you just want to whine about how it’s not fair and argue with us about how none of it will work anyway, please stop posting in this thread. I’m sure you’re a much cooler dude in person than you’re coming off as here, and you do have some of the stink of C.S. on you that isn’t your fault, but the women of the internet owe you neither dates nor endless pep talks and I’m getting really bored with your posts.

          • You know, I’ve been saying I’m taking a break on pursuing anything dating-wise for July, and I should go actually do that. So I’ll consolidate a couple questions I’ve asked elsewhere, and a couple that are bouncing around my head loosely based on remarks folks have made, and then disappear.

            How do I separate “take a break from pursuing anything dating-wise” and “spend no effort whatsoever on expanding my social sphere or improving my life?”

            How do I bridge the gap between someone you see once every week or two at a random group thing and a real friend? To the extent that that involves one-on-one interaction, how do I bridge said gap with a woman without it seeming like I’m asking her out? (Do people really invite individuals that they’ve only met at a random group thing to do stuff one-on-one when it’s not a date?)

            How do I find geeky events and interest groups that aren’t 70/30 men or worse? Theater’s an intriguing option, but is there a way to get into it without an enormous time commitment over a period of several months?

            How do I figure out if an event or interest group or class or whatever other than on Meetup isn’t going to be almost all people who are a lot older than me? (On Meetup, I eyeball it based on the people who are going to things.)

            How do I tell the difference between “therapy’s helping a little bit, but it can’t do everything” and “therapy isn’t working and I do something significant to change it”? Is there much I can do in the second option other than a new therapist?

          • Errant, this comment-nesting thing is getting ridiculous, so who knows how the answers to your EXCELLENT questions will fall.

            1 )How do I separate “take a break from pursuing anything dating-wise” and “spend no effort whatsoever on expanding my social sphere or improving my life?”

            That’s kind of between you and your heart and your head and your groinal area. Go do cool stuff you feel like doing. Take a class. Try to improve a skill you already have or learn a new one. Make the goal “Improve skill. Talk to one new person for 10 minutes.

            2. How do I bridge the gap between someone you see once every week or two at a random group thing and a real friend? To the extent that that involves one-on-one interaction, how do I bridge said gap with a woman without it seeming like I’m asking her out? (Do people really invite individuals that they’ve only met at a random group thing to do stuff one-on-one when it’s not a date?)

            After you’ve met someone a few times (2-3) say “I always have a great time running into you. Would it be cool if I friended you on Facebook?” Also, often someone in the group will be uber-friendly and good at organizing and make the effort to friend you on Facebook and make sure you’re included in events.

            Maybe, since you’re on a break from dating, don’t ask women to hang out one-on-one right now and remove all confusion and pressure from yourself. Just hang out at larger events and have a good time and see if they try to invite you to more stuff and make friends with you. I know that’s the opposite of everything you’ve been told. But in the Werewolf example I used in this thread, I didn’t have to work at becoming friends with folks. I came a couple times, had fun, talked to people, and they decided to include me.

            3. How do I find geeky events and interest groups that aren’t 70/30 men or worse? Theater’s an intriguing option, but is there a way to get into it without an enormous time commitment over a period of several months?

            Well right now, since you’re on a break from trying to meet WOMEN to DATE, don’t worry about it so much. If you go to a thing with express “Will there be girls here?” intent and find it disappointing if there aren’t girls there, you’ve already kind of missed the point. Go to stuff that interests YOU. Theater is full of men and women and yeah, it is a huge time commitment, but you could find a company and offer to be the box office guy or the house manager for their shows that would be helping someone out a few times a month and you’d meet more people in general. It ONLY works if you have an interest in theater, though, right?

            Also, think about how girl-friendly the things you do go to are. Be the guy that says “Hey, not cool bro” when someone makes a sexist joke or whines about how girls are mean.

            Or, if you want to be sneaky about it, we have a thread up now (Home For Wayward Insecure Dudes) with a million recs for books, music, comics, games, etc. created by women. Pick a few things and read or listen to or watch them. Find something you are a fan of and start going to shows/readings, etc.

            4. How do I figure out if an event or interest group or class or whatever other than on Meetup isn’t going to be almost all people who are a lot older than me? (On Meetup, I eyeball it based on the people who are going to things.)

            I don’t know how to help you there. Maybe the people will be a lot older than you. A lot of my friends play bridge. With old people. It’s apparently a blast.

            5. How do I tell the difference between “therapy’s helping a little bit, but it can’t do everything” and “therapy isn’t working and I do something significant to change it”? Is there much I can do in the second option other than a new therapist?

            How long have you been with your therapist? For the first 2-3 months it can be really hard to tell if it’s working. It takes a while to dig deep enough and people often quit before they really solve things. Things I look for in myself when coming out of a bad patch:

            -Am I less short-tempered
            -Am I better able to handle daily tasks a little better (opening mail, paying bills on time, staying on top of dishes/laundry/emails).
            -Am I better able to handle difficult conversations/situations?
            -When the jerkbrain starts up can I tell it to shut up and be nice to myself?
            -Am I eating three meals a day and getting enough sleep?
            -Do I feel a little drained and wrung out after therapy, but in a good way?
            -Can my therapist and I jump into where we left off last time pretty quickly or do we make small talk for 40 of the 50 minutes because I’m avoiding stuff?
            -Is my therapist good at bringing me back to that good, hard stuff? (He is)
            -Am I tempted to cancel therapy not because I’m avoiding it, but because life has picked back up and I genuinely have better stuff to do during that time?

            Personally at this point my therapist will do a few sessions on, 6 months or a year off, a few session on again (it’s good to have someone who I don’t have to tell all the stories to from the beginning). It probably took a good year of going regularly to get to be ok.
            He and I also checked in pretty regularly – “Are you getting what you want out of this? What do you really want from me?” and sometimes we did change up what we were doing. Sometimes it was more about me telling stories and getting them out of me, sometimes it was more about tasks & assignments. If you like your therapist, maybe ask what else you can try?

            I hope that helps you.

          • @Errant – If you’re interested in working in a theatre and yet don’t have a whole lot of time to give, as a theatre nerd, I CAN HELP YOU!

            First off, like CA said, working in the box office and house managing (or more likely, ushering) is actually very useful and helpful and will yield results. My former roommate is an Equity stage manager at a local theatre and got a couple of dates out of an usher she met hanging out in the lobby before the show started.

            Also, if you have a mostly-professional-but-depends-on-volunteers theatre near you, this is perfect. Call and see when the next time is they need someone to paint/build a set, hang lights, organize the prop room, etc. I’m a professional scenic artist who has relied heavily on volunteers who can work a paint roller to get the most time-consuming part of my work out of the way for me, and I’ve met several people with whom I am still friends today (I’m in a relationship, so dating prospects are not a thing). There’s something about being stuck in a scene shop or on an empty stage for 6 hours on a Saturday that makes people drop the barriers they reserve for strangers.

            Even if you’re not 100% sure about how a local theatre uses volunteers, call them and see. If they don’t use volunteers much, they will probably be more than happy to direct you to someone who will be thrilled to see you – a lot of theatres help each other out. Even if they don’t do so explicitly, the chances that the girl who answers the phone works at a theatre nearby are exceedingly high. It’s a really great way to make new friends – I know I’m biased, but theatre people are pretty fun and uninhibited, so even if you’re shy, they will do most of the work for you.

        • Ok, Errant. Let’s sit down for a second and let the rest of this thread chill.

          You didn’t really ask a question, so I get that you’re probably feeling attacked right now. You just stated how you’re approaching trying to get into a relationship, and that it isn’t really working for you, and that’s making you feel frustrated and annoyed. Not being in a relationship when you want to be in one is frustrating, annoying, and lonely. I get that, because I’ve been there. BOY HOWDY have I!

          And then we all tried to help you by pointing out stuff you may be doing wrong, and that got on your nerves. Probably because being told that you’re doing stuff wrong is annoying, especially if you didn’t ask for help in the first place. At least, not directly.

          Now, if you DID have a question for the commentariat, can you tell me what that is? We all ARE actually rooting for you, and want you to find love and love yourself and your life. Really! (And I know I signed off this thread when it got all shirty, but if CS is still reading this, I hope he learns to love himself too. Really and truly.)

          And if you don’t have a question, that’s cool! Carry on carrying on! Good luck!

  15. To echo zweisatz’s comment, I’ve found you really can’t love others until you love yourself. Do what makes you happy. Spend time with friends. Enjoy where you live. If you have a hobby, do that. Don’t waste time pining.

    Whenever my friends (or myself) get a bit down about being single, I supply this song: http://youtu.be/p2hWIAKAGj0
    Definitely puts things in perspective.

  16. LW, I have a couple of pieces of advice:

    Get one of your friends to take a picture of you for your profile. I agree, a professional picture is going too far. What you want is a picture that shows you looking happy and pleasant. Somebody who’d be fun to hang out with. So a candid picture from some occasion when you’re having fun with friends is good.

    Second, the line about seeing all the beautiful women in the street made me a little nervous. When you do go out with someone, she may not be beautiful. None of us “deserve” someone who fulfills all our fantasies. But we do deserve to go out with a person who share our interests, a person we have fun with, a person who we can talk with for hours. Focus on that instead of on those “beautiful women.” Don’t divide women into “friends” vs. “women you want to date.” The women you date should be friends. If you’re not interested in someone as a friend first, why would they want to spend time with you?

    The Captain and especially Aaron deOliveira have given you some great advice that I hope you can listen to. Your replies sound like you’re in a panic, and I feel bad for you. I’m gonna differ from some of the people answering you and say that I, too, feel like love and relationships are key to life, and if I knew I’d never have another partner, I’d be pretty miserable. In the past I too felt like if I knew that, I’d kill myself. I don’t feel that way any more, but I do feel that it’s a major, major part of my happiness in life. So, I sympathize, but I also want to point out that things won’t change if you make that desperation the center of your life.

    Good luck.

  17. Okay maybe this is just me having recently broken up with someone, but here’s the thing: romantic love as presented by our culture isn’t, like, a real thing plopped down from the heavens to ruin our lives unless people like us on OKCupid. For huge swaths of human history, the most emotionally important people in your life weren’t necessarily the people who you had sex with, and domestic units and arrangements of mutual altruism were formed on different lines than sexual attachment and pairbonding. The human animal does pair bond, but very few humans now or in history seem to do it once for life, and the importance given to that connection varies hugely. Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage can be really instructive here – the expectation that the only relationship of comfort and mutual altruism is a one-on-one bond between a pair of romantic partners is recent and it’s conditional and it’s certainly not true for everyone to the degree depicted in our popular culture. I honestly think men do to some degree get the worst of this, though, because there are relatively few cultural spaces where forming and articulating strong emotional bonds is supposed to be okay for them, which forces those needs into a smaller and smaller part of life.

    I am sympathetic to the LW, because I have felt that same level of loneliness staring out from behind my eyes before and I might again, but from the outside, it’s pretty hard to get to like someone on the grounds that only you can fill the void in their soul instead of because you share taste in music and have a good time hanging out. Trying to split off the human needs that our culture tangles up in romantic love and get some of those addressed elsewhere can be a good first step. Therapy? Antidepressants? The Captain’s advice is all pretty good, because at this point the problem seems to be loneliness/despair itself, which is a crappy place to be but which can get better.

  18. Dear SAVEME (cute acronym, btw),

    I’m getting some mixed messages from the things you’ve said so far. For one, you seem to be conflating the near-universal human need for connection/affection and the not-universal need for a romantic/sexual relationship. They’re not the same thing. I have an aunt who is in her 60s, has never married, and hasn’t been in a serious relationship for at least 15 years. Not because she didn’t want to, but because that just never happened for her. Her life is not hollow and empty of meaning. She has awesome friends. She has family. She has hobbies she enjoys and cats (and nieces!) to spoil. You can have a good, full, rewarding life without a romantic partner.

    Are you in fact 23? Are you recently out of college? Because it’s very normal to feel lonely and disconnected at that point — you’re no longer living in a community where you see your friends all the time. Check out questions 91 and 153 for advice on dealing with that.

    Hard truth time: You are not entitled to a girlfriend, or even an OKCupid response. The thing that jumped out at me most from your letter was your saying that you don’t know how to deal with/approach women. Allow me to let you in on what seems to be a well-kept secret: we’re just people. I’m not being sarcastic. Truly. This is where the advice about taking a break from dating expectations comes in. If you can approach a woman, not as a dating prospect, but just as a person to talk to, you may find it a lot easier.

    So chill for a little while. Take a break from seeking romantic connections and just build regular connections. And really take a break; don’t just make it about letting women come to you. I’m not saying forever, just for a little while. I know it’s hard to stop going after something that you want so much, but you are not going to die from Acute Lack of Girlfriend in the next three months, I promise. Do fun stuff.

    I get that the Captain’s “think about how life would be if you never have a romantic relationship” thing is scary, so maybe try something different: imagine that you knew, with 100% certainty, that one year from tomorrow you would fall in love with someone who would love you back. What would you do between now and next July?

    Do those things. Seek out activities you enjoy. Go to game nights or contra dances or MeetUp events or whatever makes you happy, and talk to people there. This part is important: talk to people in general, not just the women. If I’m at a social event of some kind and there’s a guy there ignoring all the men and talking to any of the women who make eye contact, I’m going to avoid the hell out of him. Because that is a guy who isn’t looking for people he’s compatible with — he’s a guy looking for a woman, any woman. I am not a fungible commodity; I am a person. Back when I was single, I didn’t want a guy who wanted a girlfriend. I wanted a guy who wanted to be with me.

    • Thanks. That was the point of the acronym!

      I am 23… and a half. No, I am not recently out of college. That is a very long story and not worth telling.

      Just being people doesn’t really help me, since I’m terrible at meeting people in general. I’m the person who sits awkwardly in the corner that no one talks to, tries to get involved in the conversation/activity, gets pushed out, and then quietly slinks away hoping no one will notice I left.

      • You sound like me up until a few years ago. I’m introverted. I find it difficult to just walk up and talk to people. So I got a job that would require me to interact with people I didn’t know. It takes practice, but it’s since gotten a lot easier.

        One thing that my mum suggested to me is to have three things to talk about. Weather, a new movie, the news, architecture. Or zombies–everyone has an opinion on how to survive the zombie apocalypse.

      • Given that you do have friends, I’d guess you’re not quite as terrible at meeting people as you think. But that’s one of the pluses of going to something that’s specific-activity-oriented — built-in conversation topic. Are you in the US? Because, if so, there are currently lots of chances to do political volunteering stuff, where you can start a conversation by asking what someone thought of Mitt Romney’s speech to the NAACP or whatever else is relevant. As a fellow introvert, questions have often been my lifeline. “When did you start [doing activity]?” “I’m kind of awkward at meeting new people; are there any topics I should avoid talking to folks here about?”

        • Let’s just say that my friends are the last remnants of past social circles and current coworkers.

          • Meetup.com

            Go get you some…not friends, not lovers…new acquaintances who like the same stuff you like.

          • To pile on with what Captain Awkward said, if you happen to live a tiny town where you’ve run through all of your potential friends and meetup.com isn’t really a thing that works (it would have been spotty at best where I grew up), consider moving to a bigger place.

          • I live in the biggest place ever.

          • I like the idea of meetup.com. Or take a class! Not an academic one necessarily–is there something you’ve always wanted to learn? Electronics? Welding? Woodworking? Pottery? Or maybe you’d be into physical fitness–look around and see if there are small-group fitness classes near you–maybe martial arts or CrossFit or rock climbing. (My personal biases are showing. :) In my experience, small-group classes are a great way to meet friends–you already have something to talk about, since you’re there!

            But definitely approach it as “I’m going to learn something cool and interact with people socially”, not “Hey, there might be GIRLS there!”

      • When you try to get involved in conversations/activities, do you enter with an approach of ‘I want to learn more about these possibly-cool people’, or do you find it hard to properly listen to what they’re saying over the thunder of ‘BUT WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF ME’ in your head?

        I know when I was younger I had a habit of killing conversations (and probably burying the bodies to boot) by thinking ‘MUST JOIN IN. MUST CONTRIBUTE. MUST SAY CLEVER THING’, and in doing so tended to drag the conversation back into my comfort zone so that I could say the CLEVER THING when everyone else had moved on. This made me the highly unwelcome looming iceberg in the ocean voyage of social interaction.

        What worked a lot better was stopping listening to the voices in my head and starting listening to the conversation. I’d ask questions rather than telling (what I thought were interesting but in retrospect weren’t) anecdotes. You can be part of a conversation without saying much; but you do have to listen.

        • I’m an iceberg. I have a fear that by sitting and not contributing people are thinking “who is this awkward guy just sitting there slackjawed like an idiot not saying anything!?”

          • Questions are key. People who ask questions are fascinating conversationalists. (As long as the questions aren’t “Hot enough for you?” and “How ’bout them Mets?”)

          • There’s a huge gulf between being a slack-jawed gawp in the back of the room and Mr. Conversation Hog. Work on the listening and doing the little social interjection things. Smile, nod, frown at the sad bits, “um-hum”, “That sucks”, “that’s so cool!, what happened then?” Paying attention *is* a contribution to the conversation.

          • I can only speak for myself, here, but I assure you that when I encounter people who just sit back and listen, I think something along the lines of “Oh, Joe Schmoe over there’s actually paying attention to what I’m saying – that’s awesome!” or “Joe’s been awfully quiet; I wonder if something’s on his mind. Maybe I should ask him what he thinks about Topic X.” I know WAY too many people who love to dominate conversations so encountering someone who doesn’t have to always say everything that pops into their head is a relief.

          • a) To reduce your self-disgust, try TED talks The Power of Introverts. Being an extrovert is socially valued, in part because they’re entertaining and easy: they do a lot of the work in a conversation, making things easier for the rest of us (but simultaneously wreaking havoc on our self-esteem because we’re not like that and we feel like that is what we’re supposed to be). But would the world really be such a great place if *everyone* were an extrovert? There is a place for listeners, and mullers-over, and people who do their best work on their own. Instead of saying “I’m such a loser because I’ve got nothing to say” the whole time and missing what the person is saying because you’re busy thinking about how to respond, allow yourself to have nothing to say! Just be a good listener, and enjoy learning about what another human being thinks.

            b) If you are truly slackjawed and haven’t got a darned thing to say it is probably because the other person is not saying anything that is interesting to you! Which is fine… different strokes for different folks. It doesn’t mean they are a bad or inherently dull person OR that you are a total dud because other people are interested and your brain is fuzzing over… it just means you don’t have that spark of interest for that topic. Drift away in search of people talking about things that genuinely do interest you, WITHOUT feeling like you are a failure.

          • This is a bit random, and I get the feeling you’re not necessarily interested in suggestions that involve substantial time involvement, but maybe for anyone else who read your comment and saw themselves in it.

            I volunteer on a helpline. While we do have a particular focus, people can and do call us to talk about whatever’s on their mind, and you can end up hearing anything from an intense description of something traumatic to the minutiae of a lonely person’s day.

            It’s a bit of a running joke for us volunteers that we use the techniques we learned for this constantly when talking to our friends/family/coworkers, and yep, dates (current or hopeful potential ones). Because in the end what it boils down to is ‘pay attention, make it obvious to them that you are paying attention, and ask a question that leads on naturally from what they said’. Turns out this skill (and confidence in it) is incredibly useful in just about every context!

            You may feel that you’re terrible at talking to people and so something like this is the last thing you’d ever want to do, but the thing is, if you do go for it, you get specifically trained to do it. There is something utterly magical about actually learning active listening as a skill, and getting to practice it until you’ve got the hang of it. I only wish more people got to do this, but it seems to only happen in a few specific contexts. One day when I rule the world it’ll be in schools. Anyway.

            One of the interesting things about working on a helpline is that how cool, attractive or generally awesome you are is, well, 100% irrelevant. The conversation isn’t about you and your problems, or to assuage your ego and insecurities. It’s about the person calling. In some ways, that takes a huge amount of pressure off. You learn to stop worrying about how they might perceive you and focus on them. And after a few calls you stop worrying consciously about your technique, and learn how to just get into the right headspace so it happens naturally. Once you have it, you’ll always be able to call on that feeling/skill in other contexts (and of course outside of actually volunteering, you can freely bring your own stories and opinions into the conversation too).

            So yeah. OP or others who find it hard to quiet the ‘oh god what are they thinking of me’ voices, consider it maybe? It comes with some additional side benefits of, y’know, doing some really important and useful work for people who need it, a built in support network of (and instant camaraderie with) self-selectedly kind and interesting people, rock solid boundary managing skills, and many other joys (like a distinct loss of alternate Tuesday evenings, sigh).

          • Late to the game, but one of the best compliments I ever received was “You’re a great listener”.

    • Continuing with the “you are not entitled to an OKCupid response” theme — don’t know whether the original LW is still out there, or whether this might be useful to other perplexed guys, but I thought I’d share some of my experience. Since the LW likes to quantify things, I’ve given my best shot to putting numbers on this. These are just my own experiences; other people’s will certainly vary.

      In the offline world, when an unknown man approaches me on the street/on a bus/in the Home Depot parking lot/in a bar/at the grocery store and attempts to start a conversation (this is distinct from panhandling; most panhandlers I’ve encountered are quite polite), there are several ways it could go. Generally, my goal is NOT to become involved in a conversation. The reason(s) for this are unimportant. Maybe I’m an evil bitch who hates men, or maybe I’m just tired and don’t feel like talking to anyone.

      The response I most often use is to pretend not to have heard and keep going about my business. As far as this bringing an end to any attempts at interaction, it only has about a 25% success rate. The other 75% of the time, there are three major response types:

      1. Repeating the original statement/inquiry more loudly, possibly preceded by “Excuse me, I said …”
      2. Disengaging but becoming hostile, insulting, obscene, or threatening (“Stupid bitch, I was just trying to be nice”)
      3. Persisting while becoming hostile, insulting, etc. (“What, you think you’re too good to talk to me? Somebody needs to teach you a lesson in manners, you stuck-up bitch!” while continuing to follow me.)

      When I was younger and thinner, the first one was the most common; these days, the second one is. The third one is both the most frightening and the least common.

      If, instead, I engage for just long enough to deliver a polite and gentle “no”, there have only been two times in my life that the interaction has ended there. FYI, I’m 35. So essentially there’s a 0% success rate on that method. The most common response here is to treat my “no” as the beginning of a negotiation. (“Why not?” “C’mon, just give me a chance!” “Why do you have to be so heartless?”) This happens about 60% of the time. 25% of the time the response is #2 from above. 10% of the time it’s #3 from above. The remaining 5% of the time, the response is to become explicitly threatening in a way that makes me fear for my immediate physical safety.

      To recap: If I ignore, there’s a 25% chance I’ll be left alone (which is all I wanted), and a 75% chance that I won’t; odds are good that the response will be unpleasant. If I respond, there’s a 0% chance that I’ll be left alone, a 60% chance that I’ll get drawn into the very conversation I was hoping to avoid, a 35% chance of hostility, obscenities, and threats, and a 5% chance that I will be in danger.

      Online, the numbers change a little. The success rate of ignoring goes way up, above 50%. The success rate of responding goes up to MAYBE 5%. The chance of a response that makes me fear for my immediate physical safety goes way down but is still nonzero.

      Other people’s numbers will vary based on a huge range of factors. The accuracy of my numbers as they apply to me is not subject to debate, because the odds of somebody else remembering my life better than I do are very, very low.

      Given all of this, how unreasonable is it for me to simply not respond to someone’s advances?

    • Contra dances are the best!

      /drive-by comment

  19. LW/CS:
    I have a sister who is 40. She has never been on a date. Never had a significant other. Never had sex. Never had all of those things that we are constantly told over and over are necessary to having a happy life as a complete human being.

    Guess what? She is still living a happy life as a complete human being. She still has family and friends and pets who love her. She has a fulfilling job that keeps her busy. She leads 4-H clubs and makes an impact on her community. Did she plan to still be single at 40? No. Would she like a partner some day? Yes. But in the meantime she is living and enjoying life.

    And not to sound mean, but I’m in my 40s. I’ve heard your lonely cry over and over: What if no one ever loves me? from people under the age of 25. And almost invariably (everyone except my sister, in fact) they are partnered up (or at least have been partnered up at least once) by the time they are 30. But while they are passing through the time and growing up and learning to be someone who loves themself, it seems an endless age of wallowing in misery.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, CS. Love yourself, love your life, be passionate about something(s), and things will eventually fall into place. Just maybe not tomorrow or next week.

  20. It sounds like your friends aren’t really doing it for you right now. I’m sure they’re great people, but if they’re older than you are, and married or partnered, then they may not be able be the best resources for this stage in your life. So maybe the mission at hand isn’t “find a romantic partnership to magically make the loneliness go away,” but rather, “make new friends who are in the same place in their life that I am.” These friends can also be nerdy, introverted, single, etc. They can be dudes and ladies. But the key is that their function is not to provide love, sex, affection, stability, and happy ever after (a tall order, as others have pointed out), but to provide support, or giggles, or distractions.

    Because, as everyone else has pointed out, the skills for getting dates are pretty similar to the skills for getting friends. So maybe think about adding to your friend-group as practice for dating. And as a bonus, not only do you practice, but you get new friends, who can help you with the dating and support you through it.

    • Plus, it’s very common for people to meet potential dating partners through some sort of friend group or social scene. If you’re talking to someone because they share an interest, or they have friends in common with you, or you’re doing some hobby together or whatever, that should remove a lot of your doubts about “how do I know whether I’m being friendly or creepy,” or “how do I prove I’d make a good boyfriend” or whatever. If you’re in the same friend group, you’re talking to [Attractive Woman] because that’s what friends/acquaintances do.

      Hanging out with friends will give you a chance to show your personality and sense of humor in a low-stakes way. And you’ll be able to gauge which women in the circle you might be compatible with, rather than just hitting on every okay-looking woman because “beggars can’t be choosers.”

      Trying to date strangers can be challenging even for very confident people. I suspect that if you focus on making friends & building a social life, things might happen for you in a more organic way.

      • How do you make real friends when you aren’t in the college environment, though? It seems like everyone I know only really spends any one-on-one time with their romantic partners, and if I’m in any situation other than one-on-one I’ll get drowned out.

        And when I do get comfortable with someone to ask if they know any single women close to my age, they don’t. When someone likes me enough to invite me to parties with their other friends, there are no single women there.

        • Meetup.com?

          True story:

          I play Ultimate Werewolf (and variations of) a few times a month. I started back in January because some dude who seemed nice invited me to come play on OKCupid. He’s one of my good friends now. Many of the people in the group (which is easily 50/50 men/women and easily 60/40 partnered/single) have become friends and people I socialize with pretty regularly. They do something almost every night of the week – I have other friends and a romantic partner and several jobs so I don’t see them all that much – but I could hang out with them every night of the week if I wanted to. I know most of them are part of other Meetup gamer groups – board games, games involving spies and betrayal (Traitorous Tuesdays, or somesuch?) and part of a much wider network.

          Now, getting involved with the group did involve me showing up to someone’s house on a random Thursday and playing games with people I’d never met before. But they couldn’t have been more welcoming, and after one or two times playing I felt completely comfortable with everybody. They are a mix of loud, gregarious geeks and quiet, more introverted geeks.

          Since you’re a gamer, something like that might work for you to widen your social circle and get you in the habit of meeting new people. I’m lucky, because I live in Chicago, and it is awesome here, but seriously, Meetup was created so that people could show up to some low pressure thing where people could be sure that the others would be interested in the same kind of stuff and open to meeting new people.

          • There are a ton of game groups on Meetup around here, and I’ve gone to several, but if there are any that are remotely close to 50/50 men/women, I’ve yet to find them. The Mafia/Werewolf thing is an interesting angle in that it’s got an even more explicit social element, but there don’t seem to be any.

            I draw a distinction between “meet people” and “make friends.” Yes, you have to meet people in order to make friends, but when you’ve first met them they aren’t your friends. There are people in the groups I’m in where I know their name and one or two things they’re interested in other than the activity at the group, but that’s not a friend. A friend would be someone I do stuff with spontaneously on a semiregular basis, and talk to me one-on-one about significant things going on in each of our lives. So how do you bridge that gap?

            And since I see one-on-one time as important to close friendships, how do I make friends with a woman without it seeming like I’m asking her out? Other than physical attraction, the qualities in a woman that would make me want to be friends with her are the same as the qualities that would make me want to date her.

          • Errant, at the beginning, don’t worry about making friends, or dating. Meet more people. Find ones YOU LIKE. Hang out with them again. Making friends, like dating, already has too much of an agenda with it. You don’t know if anyone there will be a good friend because you don’t know if you’ll like anyone there enough to even want to be friends. Just get yourself out of the house, don’t carry unrealistic or entitled ideas about what will happen, try to “have a good time for 2 hours” and “meet at least 2 people you didn’t meet before.” If you have a good time, go back to the group thing a couple of times.

            Stop looking at ratios. YOUR MATH DOESN’T HELP YOU.

        • As an introvert who isn’t the awesomest at meeting people:

          OKC/the internet — I have made friends on Facebook, because they’ve seen me through mutual acquaintance and thought “hey, I like her style!”

          Joining things — Trying out derby, in my case.

          Joining more social things — This means kinky events, for me. I help run The Next Generation group for my community. I meet a whole lot of people now! And they’re often friendly people who make it pretty easy to chat (or who are open about how they’re awkward and shy too). This one is way less about sex than it seems, BTW. It’s mostly just another group of people with shared interests.

        • And when I do get comfortable with someone to ask if they know any single women close to my age, they don’t.

          If someone asked me this, I’d interpret it as “do you have any friends you want to set me up with?” Which is a very different question than whether those women exist.

          In addition to all the Captain and withywindling’s suggestions–try taking an adult-learning class, if you have the time and budget. Go for one of the fun ones like cooking or beginner-level art, and make it something you’d genuinely like to learn (both so you still get something valuable even if that something isn’t a date, and because your enthusiasm will show to the other students). In the last year I’ve taken adult-ed classes on writing, leatherworking, and hovercraft building, and I’ve met lovely people at them.

          • Excellent advice!

            Choirs and amateur dramatics societies are often heavily female-skewed and really happy to find new male participants, if that sounds fun to you. In the spirit of the excellent “award yourself points” question above, perhaps set a target of trying one new social activity a month? Then stick with what you click with.

        • I know group situations can be overwhelming and it can seem hard to actually make friends with anyone that way, but even as a slightly awkward shy person myself, every friend I have right now comes from some group thing that we were both involved in. (Meetup.com is great for this, as CA says, but pursuing other things you’re interested in, like writing or martial arts or playing an instrument or whatever, can work too, and then sometimes you just see a flyer for something that looks cool and you go. There are lots of ways to find things to do!)

          You can go to things that interest you and set yourself a goal of talking to at least X number of people that you haven’t talked to before (X can equal 1 at first). Some of the people you talk to you won’t click with, but some you will, and when the conversation seems to be winding up/one of you has to leave/whatever, that’s when you go “hey, I enjoyed talking to you, can I get your e-mail/add you on Facebook/whatever whatever?” Or sometimes they ask you, which is great because then you don’t have to do the scary part! Either way, then you can get in touch with them (or vice versa) later and make plans to go see a movie or play a game or whatever, and if all goes well, voila, you’ve got a friend you can hang out with one-on-one.

          Easier said than done, I know, but it’s incredibly hard to somehow arrange to meet people one-on-one before you actually know them at all. Plus, look at it this way: when meeting people in groups, the odds that at least one of them will be someone you’d like to hang out with are better.

          As a side note, more structured events where there is A Thing To Do which requires a certain amount of interaction might be easier for you than things that are just “let’s all meet up at a bar and hang out”-type socials–I know they’re easier for me. For example, several of my current friends I met by going to a game jam, which is a thing where you work with a group of people to make a board game or video game in some absurdly short amount of time. So there was a sort of obvious jumping-off point for our conversation, in that we were all working together to make a thing, and it was harder to get away with sitting awkwardly in the corner not talking to anyone (which is what I tend to do at less structured, more party-like social events).

          • I guess that’s most of my question to Jennifer above about friends vs. acquaintances… but people really invite individuals that they’ve only met at a random group thing to do stuff one-on-one when it’s not a date? Everything I’ve ever been invited to has followed Geek Social Fallacy #5 and invited absolutely everyone in a particular circle. And then it’s just another random group thing.

            I will however, second the suggestion of events where there is A Thing To Do. I’ve been involved in similar creative project type groups, and even when the thing you’re doing is boring and tedious you’re doing something boring and tedious with people.

  21. LW, I’m going to agree with you on one thing: you need people in your life who make you feel loved.

    You mentioned in an earlier comment that you don’t have any real family because your family totally sucks. And I’m really, really sorry about that. My family is much better than yours sounds like it is, but there was a point in my life where things were really rocky and I was on the verge of being disowned by them. I felt so abandoned and betrayed and deeply ALONE, and I had a boyfriend! A kind of crappy one, in retrospect, but if I hadn’t had a romantic partner at the time I might have just killed myself out of loneliness and despair.

    People don’t NEED romantic love. But love we do need. I’m sure at 23 you have heard at least in passing about “chosen family”, people who you are close to like family that you chose to replace/make up for a biological family that you lack, that sucks, or that just doesn’t totally GET you. What you are lacking, I think, is a chosen family. Maybe your friends are of that caliber and you just don’t see it/take advantage of it, or maybe you just aren’t that close with anyone, but either way, I’d focus on fixing that.

    Think about it this way: who in your life can you count on for support/comfort/help no matter how strange or personal or dire the circumstance? If you were hit by a bus tomorrow and woke up in a hospital bed, who would be the first people at your side? Who could you call in the middle of the night if you were having an emotional breakdown? Who can you ask for physical affection (like a hug) when you’re feeling down?

    I used to believe that kind of love and support could ONLY come from an actual family member or a long-term romantic partner, or maybe a best friend known since early childhood. And if I still believed that and then suddenly find myself without either, I would probably be as desperate as you are for the comfort and safety of a romantic relationship. In fact, I stayed in a pretty shitty romantic relationship in part because I felt that it was me and my partner against the world, and without him I would be all alone.

    But I was wrong. You’re right, no friendship is a total replacement for a romantic partner… but close, dear, true friends? They can give you most of what you need.

    So LW–do you have those people? Or do you not think about any of your friends that way? I think what you are longing for is deep connection, secure reliable love, and perhaps some physical closeness. Try to see if you can get those things from FRIENDS instead of desperately searching for THE ONE PERSON who can give you all of that plus sex forever and ever. Once you feel more secure and loved, maybe the desperation will subside a bit and your attempts at dating will become more successful.

    • There is one person in my life like that, but she no longer lives nearby. That has really been the hardest part recently. My best friend and activity partner lives hundreds of miles away from me, and she is out there living life with no problem adjusting. I on the other hand, am completely lost. I like my other friends, but she’s the only one I have that deep friendship with.

      • That sucks, man. I know how hard it is to have your support system far away. I don’t have any magic solutions, just

        A) Lean on her anyway, without being clingy. See if you can schedule a visit, or a weekly Skype chat, or something.
        B) Develop new (and eventually super close) friendships.
        C) Turn a few ok-friends into super awesome friends.

        Part B isn’t easy, I get that. You can do it though, using all the suggestions featured previously. Go out and do stuff you love in group settings. Preferably things that attract other nerdy introverts. Be patient. Be kind. Be a good friend.

        Part C could be difficult as well, but it could also be easier than you’d think. I’d suggest friend-dating some of your current friends. Do fun activities you both enjoy 1-on-1, in order to get closer to them.

        None of this is easy, I know. It’s scary stuff. But it’s doable, I promise.

      • CS- I want to second what Keely said. I think a huge part of the problem that you are experiencing (in addition to the insecurity/ desperation) is a genuine lack of love and support in your life right now. Which is awful and shitty, and I’m so, so sorry. But you can build that sense of love and support with platonic friends, instead of relying on a romantic partner.

        I would definitely recommend trying to deepen the emotional intimacy of some of your current friendships. You can do a lot of this by opening up and sharing your stories: of your childhood, of your goals and dreams, of scary and excellent things that have happened to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for small levels of support from particularly awesome people (i.e. I had a shitty day, can I buy you a beer and we can talk?) and with time, showing that you value someone enough to depend on them will lead to a deeper, closer, and more loving relationship.

        There are two advantages to building this emotional intimacy with people you don’t want to sleep with. 1) Because they are friends, you can do it with multiple people at once, instead of having to rely on just one person if it were a romantic relationship (unless you are poly!) 2) It is, in my experience, easier to build that level of intimacy with a platonic friends than with a lover, because the stakes are lower, so you will build self confidence and begin to feel a measure of success, which will raise your self-esteem.

        I haven’t had a partner I could rely on emotionally in probably 3 and a half years. But I have tons of love in my life from my friends and family. My friends and I cuddle, talk about our problems and joys, and tell each other we love each other. My friendships are, at this point, the purest and most supportive from of love I have experienced. I hope you can find the same thing.

      • Oh C.S., your friend moving away is an incredibly important part of what you’re going through. I’m 36, single and would rather not be but I’m otherwise pretty happy. 6 years ago, my best friend and favorite activity partner moved across the country. I was so lonely after she left. Grieving the change in the friendship is normal and probably necessary. You will make other friends who will help to fill in those holes and perhaps a romantic partner who will fill in some of the lonely places as well. It may take some time, but those feelings of overwhelming loneliness will pass. Keep living your life, reaching out to new people and deepening your connections with those you already know. So many other commenters have shared good advice on this front.

        Also, do your best to get a good picture for online dating. It really matters. Make sure it’s one where you are smiling and relaxed. If you have the means, look for a photographer that specializes in candid shots (wedding or engagement shoots are good to look at for samples of a photographer’s ability to get good candids). Call the photographer and explain that you want some good pictures of yourself for online dating but you don’t want them to look too formal or staged. See if you can set up a shoot where you are doing something you love. Maybe even involve a couple of friends so you can get some group shots. Even just setting up a meal at restaurant or your home with good lighting with some friends that the photographer shoots might work or go to the beach with some friends (and maybe even their kids).

        For touch needs (which are very real!) Consider getting regular massages, taking a dance class or hanging out/babysitting for some of your friends’ kids. All of those can provide platonic touch that helps ease that craving.

        I’ve had to come to the realization that I may not find the partner I would like and it’s a very tough place to be, but it is survivable and in fact, you can even thrive if you are brave about creating deep, meaningful connections in other parts of your life.

        Whether you end up partnered or not, you will come out the other side of this and you will feel better about it all some day.

        • For touch, I’ve found martial arts can be helpful too. I practice aikido and BJJ and the BJJ especially is thoroughly desexualized but can feel oddly physically intimate.

  22. Dude, being a lonely geek is hard. Being a lonely geek surrounded by older, fulfilled friends who want to “help” is super hard. Look, my entire family is full of strippers, drug addicts, trailer park living, tea party shouting losers. Trust me, I know about that orphan pain. I used to have a ton of older woman friends and I loved them. Eventually I figured out that I was trying to gain some maternal love and guidance that I never got at “home”. Listen carefully….they can’t help you with dating! They are from a different generation and just like childbirth the dating horrors fade with time. Look all of the advice here is good, but you probably are looking for a 3 step guide for dating for dummies. So, here is one.

    1. Definitely read women centered books and blogs. Try geek centered ones like the Blogness or Tamora Pierce.
    2. Go outside of your comfort zone. GO TO A CON!!!! or a bowling tournament. Go somewhere people with something in common with you, are having a fun time in an atmosphere of shared love.
    3. If you see someone reading, ask them about the book. If they are dressed in an anime costume you don’t recognize, ask them about it. If you don’t understand the movie, ask them about it. See the pattern? Totally not creepy, but remember a costume does not mean consent.

    Now, here is the heartbreaking reality. You are not going to fill up that loneliness with dating. What you are feeling as a need for a couple is a combination of need for love combined with horniness. Yes, go out and talk to girls, but find someone else to hug you. Your life sounds like it was a Lifetime movie of the week and no one woman could fix that. When you grow up deprived of healthy physical touching like hugs or hair ruffling; your body actually craves a physical skin to skin touch,(social work degree) Find some way to get healthy, non romantic touches. Go to your nearest Boys & Girls Club, or Teen Rec Center and volunteer (just don’t initiate a hug as a man). Join some sport team that does that man half hug when you guys win. BUY A CAT OR A DOG. Go to a support group – those places are like forced hugging orgies.

    Good luck and know that you are not the only one.
    P.S. Married for 15 years after meeting in a bar on the night I was taking my girlfriend out when she was struggling to decided to dump her partner. He asked me to play fooseball.

    • Yes, I definitely hear the “horniness” piece here too, and the just plain need for physical touch. I also thought about a pet. Maybe, also, a massage? I do NOT mean the “happy endings” kind, but just something to get the LW that skin-to-skin contact in a non-erotic way.

    • Haha, the bigoted conservative. I know that one!

      I’m trying to understand how #1 will help me.

      I’m quite afraid of talking to strangers. A couple years ago I had a breakthrough in therapy and I managed to tell this woman on the subway who had the most spectacular eyes that she had very pretty eyes. She gave me this awkward thank you, and I was so nervous after that I threw up all over the street. I haven’t done that since.

      I feel like if I ever give any woman a compliment she is going to look at me and think “This guy is such a creep. Why is he hitting on me? I wish I had my pepper spray.”

      • Decouple ‘compliment’ and ‘hitting on’. Don’t give people compliments in the hope of getting a relationship out of it; give people compliments to make their day.

        ‘Hey, those are cool earrings.’ Smile. Look away.

        Impression you want to give: ‘I am a generous guy who happened to notice a cool thing about you and requires nothing from you.’

        Impression you do not want to give: ‘I am thinking of you as potential love-of-my-life material, and if you give me the slightest hint of encouragement will glomp onto you and be impossible to get away from.’

        It’s practice in social interaction; and if nothing else, if you do it well you’ll be making a lot of womens’ days.

        • So I should be giving drive by compliments?

          • Yes. If you want to practice at it and have it come naturally when you need it. When you notice the things that people do to be noticed (what they’re wearing or carrying), compliment nice shoes. Consider it an exercise in desensitization– you are learning that talking to strangers is usually awkward, but is not a catastrophe.

          • You should be cultivating zen mind, grasshopper: Be willing to give the compliment and go; be willing to give the compliment and be told to fuck off; be willing to give the compliment and have a conversation. It sounds flip, and to some extent it is, but truly, there’s a worthy lesson in practicing detachment on this score. Working on giving compliments with no expectation gets you past the pukey feelings, and it lets you learn to read other people’s signals, which you need to give more attention than you do the part of you that feels like it’ll blow away if someone doesn’t LOVE YOU RIGHT NOW. Teach yourself that it’s not a one-shot game; life is long and complicated, and learning to roll with the punches doesn’t come easily for everyone.

            Also, the suggestions above that you get a sports or therapeutic massage (here’s a hint: if an ad references flowers, bathing facilities, and/or the ethnicity of its staff, look elsewhere) to help satisfy that primate desire for contact deserve rousing seconds. It isn’t love, but it’s a way to meet one of your needs while you work on being happier with yourself.

          • Drive-by compliments can be awesome! Two things to keep in mind, though: be sincere, and focus on things that the person can control about themselves. Body part compliments are fraught. “THAT IS THE AWESOMEST HAT EVAR!” compliments? Those are most often wildly appreciated, because if the person’s hat is interesting enough that it broke out of the random hatness around you and made itself known, that is probably what that person was going for. My favorite compliment I’ve ever gotten will sound really strange to most people, but for me it makes perfect sense: “You’ve been freaky before, haven’t you.” me: “Why, yes! that was exactly the intent!” *beams* (There was glitter and ultrabubbles involved, to differentiate from bedroom-style freaky. Not that if your thing is glitter in the bedroom that’s bad!) Hint: Practice this one on everybody, not just people of your preferred gender. Everybody likes sincere compliments. “Hey, I saw that blog post you did on [subject], I thought it was brilliant for [reasons]!” My little pod of coworkers is a happy mutual appreciation society because we’re all in the habit of actually telling each other when we think somebody’s done a bang-up job. This skill is transferable.

          • Also, keep in mind that there are crazy awkward people who are receiving compliments too. Back in my lower self esteem days I definitely had super weird responses to being complimented in public, especially if it was a body compliment and not a cool hat compliment. So if you had said something to me about how nice I looked or whatever before I hit approximately age 21, you probably would have gotten the weird looks and strange unintelligible response and “oh god, I want to run away now” looks. And it wouldn’t have been your fault for causing a weird situation or even had anything to do with you, it was all about kids who made fun of me in middle school and my totally irrational fears of a Carrie at the prom moment and my own lack of social skills. So don’t take one weird interaction as a sign that you did something wrong. As Max says, be zen about it.

          • I give drive-by compliments, and I used to be exactly as awkward as you. (EXACTLY. DOWN TO THE VOMITING.) The point is to make them easy to interpret and digest. Sticking to something someone is holding or wearing is pretty good for a start–”That’s an awesome book!” “Your shirt is really funny.” Then smile and walk away. I often time compliments to happen just before my stop. That way I get my awkward ass out of there, and there’s no pained conversation if the compliment isn’t received well.

          • Aaand just to clarify, since I hadn’t read what’s below:

            “Drive-by compliments” are NOT the same as street harrassment. If you’d be uncomfortable giving that compliment to a man, don’t give it to a woman. If you’re uncomfortable talking to men and therefore use women for all your socialization hopes and dreams, tell your therapist.

          • @ staranise- this is excellent advice. I give drive-by compliments to men and women, but it’s usually about an awesome article of clothing, followed by the question of where I can purchase said article. People seem universally flattered by this.

          • If your definition of “drive-by compliment” is to blurt “Nice legs” and then run away, then no, don’t do that. But a sincere compliment in passing can be a really lovely thing.

            Disclaimer: This won’t need to a relationship, or a conversation. But it will help with warming to people and seeing positive things about them. Personally, I’m predisposed to think well of people who gives genuine compliments while passing because it doesn’t come with the sense of “I think you’re pretty, so you should have a conversation with me” that some people exude.

            Example 1: I was waiting at a traffic light to cross a road, when a man who looked to be in his eighties edged over to me and said “You look lovely. You’re a beautiful girl!” and then edged back away to where he had been standing. It was a comment in my appearance, but he said it as though he were telling me my shoelace was untied, as though it were just something I might have an interest in knowing. His age probably coloured my perception of this (not in an age-ist “Senior citizens are sexless” way, but an average eighty-year-old is not much of a physical threat in any event), but really what stuck with me was the fact that he said it purely to say something nice, and didn’t expect anything back.

            Example 2: I was out with my class for our Christmas party, as was about half of our college. The pub was pretty packed, and I was standing next to the channel people were using to move. As some guy I didn’t know walked by with his friend, he caught my eye and said “You look awesome!” and kept walking. One of my male friends said that if he did that he’d come off creepy, but as for the little old man, tone counts; his was “You look cool, well done!” rather than something sleazy. Again, it made me feel fuzzy that someone would say something to make me feel good about myself without expecting something in return.

            Example 3: I was waiting in line at the checkout behind a woman wearing a dress with a really cool print. She seemed to be in a bad mood, and I’m awkward with casual interactions with strangers anyway, but after brief deliberating I said, “I really like your dress!” She seemed taken aback by the compliment, but also really touched. It’s not necessarily the specifics, it’s someone saying something nice to you when they don’t have to.

            I realise LW may not come back to read this, but for anyone who has similar concerns, a certain brand of “drive-by compliments” are certainly to be recommended!

            And as people have said, things people have chosen – clothes, accessories, books – make for better compliments than characteristics generated by chance and genetics.

        • Agreeing so hard with this!

          And I know that the thread has kind of imploded, but maybe this might be useful to someone anyway:

          Compliments can be powerful things. Not just for the person receiving it, but for the person giving it. Giving compliments forces you to focus on something positive.

          That’s why I once made a group of people stand in a circle and think nice thoughts about everyone present. I gave them some examples before we started, just so they wouldn’t get stuck on thinking it had to be Big Important Things. (“He makes me laugh”, “She’s so good at xyz”, “He always makes sure that xyz runs smoothly”, “I loved that joke she made yesterday”, “He really came through for me last week”, “She has the best taste in music”, even “She’s so good with people” and “He has such a good outlook on life”)

          But Drive By compliments are amazing, and can be done for different reasons:

          1) To improve your thought patterns, forcing yourself to notice good things about people.

          Here, you might want to choose random people and find something to compliment. (Note: you might not need to follow through at this stage. If you randomly choose a big scary person on the subway – I promise: it’s ok to just think your compliment about the excellent quality of their face tattoos.)

          2) To spread joy

          This is about making other people happy. It’s about weakening your filter for saying nice things.

          If you’re interacting with a stranger and notice something nice (What a funny t-shirt, what a great jacket….) – see if you can just say it right before you leave.

          I’ve done this when I’m getting off a train.
          *doors opening, getting ready to exit*
          Me: “I just have to tell you – that Pac-Man umbrella is amazing” *smiles, exits stage right*

          Warm-up possibility (though be CAREFUL with this): customer service staff. If you want to be sure that you’re not creepy, then stay away from personal compliments. I might feel awkward if a customer compliments my eyes, but not if they say they like my necklace. Again: the most important thing is that you don’t make this into a long conversation. I’m always happy when people say nice things to me at work, I’m NOT happy if they try to chat me up at a place where I’m paid to be nice to them.

          Added benefit: It feels nice to be nice to people. Do this with all kinds of people (i.e. NOT just people you Might Want To Sex). When I’m feeling crappy about myself, I’ll sometimes set a goal to compliment two people I don’t know that day.

          3) To practice social interaction.
          I can’t really add anything here, there are already great scripts in this thread. See the “Indiana Jones hat”-comment, for example.

          Bonus thing that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the comment:

          I’ve also had creative group projects where we’ve handed out forms with everyone’s name, and told people to write something nice about everyone. At the end, we collect the forms, pick the 10 things we think the person will appreciate the most, and make a booklet for everyone with all the nice things. It’s a great memory from the project, and I’ve kept ALL of mine. It is the best thing ever to find at the bottom of a box years later.

      • I think some of the conflicting opinions you’re getting here – as well as the reactions you’re having – are the PERFECT explanation as to why you absolutely should be consuming more women-centered/women-created media. Women are alllll people. I know, stupid, but it’s amazing how constructs lodge themselves in our brain and set up house there without our permission.

        “Women” didn’t get uncomfortable when you complimented her eyes, A WOMAN did. And for me, as a woman and as a person, I would get creeped out by a random stranger complimenting something about my physical person but not as much about something like an item of clothing or accessory because that is more a display of my personality that I’m putting out there for the world. That is me, but I am not all women, and there may be women who find that completely flattering. Either way, “women” didn’t do that to you. Just one woman. Who is a person. And there are many persons capable of being jerks. Although if you’re so nervous about getting shot down that you throw up, I would definitely work on some techniques to lower the stakes for yourself.

      • When you’re complimenting strangers, think delivery, content, and context. If I’d been sitting across from someone on the subway and he’d told me I had very pretty eyes, I personally would have responded awkwardly, because: (1) it immediately feels like he’s trying to pick me up and I’m not into that, and (2) now I’m stuck in a confined space with this person I don’t know, underground, and I don’t know what kind of a dude he is or how he’s going to react to my non-interest. On the other hand, a couple weeks ago, a stranger told me that he loved my messenger bag and asked where I’d bought it, and even as someone who pathologically hates talking to strangers, I came away from the interaction feeling pleased. It was okay for me because the dude was respectful and friendly (he apologized right away for startling me), he stayed well out of my personal space, he was genuinely complimenting my taste, and this was on a very busy street in the middle of the day. I had about a million possible escape routes if I’d felt the need to walk away, and it was easy for me to give him a polite response, chat for a minute, and then go on my way with everyone smiling. I got the impression he would have liked it if I’d stuck around for longer, but I felt no pressure to. That’s what made it a good interaction for me. He clearly had no further expectations than me saying ‘thanks’ and going on with my day.

        If you want to give compliments to strangers, like other people have counseled, do it based on something they’ve chosen rather than something that’s an intrinsic part of their looks. It’s much less fraught than the alternative. Be friendly, be in a public space with plenty of other people around, if it seems appropriate make the compliment something that you guys could potentially have a conversation about if you’re both inclined to chat (the Indiana Jones example above was brilliant), and be ready with a friendly nod+skedaddle or otherwise no-pressure retreat if she seems like she’s not into it. Thinking about it as a quick friendly comment that could make someone’s day is going to be better than thinking about it as a big scary mountain to climb where if you say the exact right thing, this woman is going to date you. More often than not, she’s going to say ‘thanks’ and you’re both going to go about your business, and that’s totally fine. That’s great!

        • (2) now I’m stuck in a confined space with this person I don’t know, underground, and I don’t know what kind of a dude he is or how he’s going to react to my non-interest.

          HOLY SHIT YES THIS. I don’t know how I missed that part the first time around, but I’ve been in that situation. It transitioned into belligerent “why aren’t you talking to me?” pretty quickly and into “BITCH!” when I fled at the next stop. And that was downright tame compared to the stories I’ve heard of other women who had guys masturbating at them on the train.

          Male privilege doesn’t exist, though. I’m sure that’s true!

    • “If you see someone reading, ask them about the book. ”

      I disagree! I am reading, I do not want to talk to you. Otherwise, good advice.

      • Word. I don’t care to be asked about my book by someone who hasn’t read it, or even heard of it. And it’s a bit rude to assume that a stranger who is reading would rather be having a random conversation with you. But if you’ve ~read~ the book and have an opinion on it, by all means, say something!

        • This, definitely. I’ve had some fun conversations strike up after finding someone reading (say) a Patricia McKillip book in public, and going “whoa hey she is one of my favorites have you read Alphabet of Thorn yet?” or similar. Somebody interrupting my book to let me know that there might be more book out there for me is far more welcome than somebody just interrupting my book to talk.

        • This! I hate people who interrupt my book reading with the assumption that if I am reading, I must be *bored out of my mind.* Srsly ppl, wtf?

          On the other hand, if it is clearly a fellow book lover saying something about “Oh, I didn’t know that was already out!” or “I’ve been meaning to get to that for forever, is it worth it?” or whatnot, I don’t mind that much. (Also, those are the people who tend to understand that you want to get back to your book as soon as possible, and they don’t bug you outside of the question.)

          But yes, to bring it back to the thread, it is about finding commonalities and not having expectations from the conversation.

      • Oh god yes. I once had a guy sit next to me at a bus stop and start blathering at me, even going so far as to congratulate himself for “saving me” from having to read a boring ol’ stupid ol’ book.

      • This! I do not want to be spoken to when I’m reading. I get crabby when my girlfriend does it, much less strangers.

        I was, however, once very entertained by a woman rushing up to me as I was waiting for a seat at a restaurant (alone) and reading something-or-other on my eReader. Very quickly and enthusiastically, she said, “Is that a Sony?” “Yes.” “Do you love it?” “Yes…” “Do you know you can download books for it from the library?” “Yes.” “OK, I just wanted to make sure! I’m a librarian!” And off she went out the door. That was ok. Everyone else? Can take a long walk.

  23. I think you might have an easier time of it if you looked at an activity or two that would put you in a position to socialize more with people closer to your age. Unless I’m on drugs, you said earlier that most of your friends are a lot older than you. Definitely keep those friends, but also try to expand your friend groups more to include people in the age group you wish to date. That will give you more chances to meet women you might like to date more gradually so it will be less high stakes and less intimidating for you both.

    I’m a geeky, awkward lady and thinking back on where I’ve met my boyfriends, well, it hasn’t been on OK Cupid or at the bar. I’ve met the men I’ve dated in my fencing group, or art class, or they were friends of friends that I met at group events. The trick for me has been to go out and meet people for the sake of meeting them, not because I think I’ll get a date out of it. Paradoxically, people have always seemed more interested in me when I was just out and being awesome and not scanning the group for a likely date. Meeting people can be really hard, I mean, I am a hardcore introvert (on a personality test I recently took, only 3% of the population is more introverted than I am) but it’s worth it, and easier done at fencing group or art class or someplace where 1. there is a built in topic of conversation and 2. people are more likely to understand my odd, geeky jokes and references (I was an adventurer once, until I took an arrow to the… oh my god, my knee… you stabbed me in the knee!)

    I would also try to meet new friends as a balm to the lonely, if I were you. I get that the lonely will probably not go away completely, but you can ease it if you want to. And I think you should try to ease that ache in any way you can– not by desperately seeking a girlfriend, but by getting emotionally and physically close to other people so that they can ease some of the lonely. My fear for you is that when you meet or talk to women, you’re bringing your lonely with you and being confronted with another person’s lonely is very intimidating. I mean, I see your lonely and I contemplate what it would be like to date you and I’m frightened and exhausted by the magnitude of your emotional needs. I can’t fill all of that and if I fail, will you leave me and if I leave you, will you be OK and now I’m having an anxiety issue and we aren’t even dating. So yes, it is in your best interests to ease your lonely and provide balm for your own soul in other ways and other places.

    Consider that your soul is thirsty. What you want is to go to the fountain that you see in the distance and take a long drink. But you’re having troubles getting there. So you stop by this guy and he offers you a sip of his tea. It’s not what you wanted, but it’s still wet and nice. So you go to the next person, and they offer you a sip of juice. It’s still not what you wanted, but it’s still going to ease the thirsty place inside of you. Then by the time you get to the fountain, you won’t bleed it dry with your thirst, but you’ll get to enjoy the water on your face and the coolness and know that if you had to leave the fountain, you’d still be able to get by because other people would let you sip from their glasses.

    • That paragraph about the thirsty soul is GORGEOUS. I have nothing to add.

    • I know people have jumped on the LW in other threads for using math, but here’s some math with some made-up numbers:

      Let’s say that there’s a game group with 20 single men and 3 single women. (For the sake of argument, everyone’s heterosexual) Two couples get together through that group. Now, 66% of the women in that group have found a relationship through that group… but only 10% of the men have. So, “Hey, you could meet someone in the group,” isn’t very reassuring for the man in that group who sees 17 other single men there and knows that if someone new and single showed up that he was interested in, he’d be compared to a lot of men who he perceives as being more attractive than he is.

      • Hi Errant. You seem new here. Are you new here?

        I seem to be opening a home for wayward insecure dudes this week. But I have to tell you, your Insecurity Math is wicked boring. It also has a weird, dehumanizing wildlife documentary feel to it: “Let’s watch as three new females are introduced to the group. They are immediately surrounded by the dominant males, who sniff their scent-glands and begin performing their competitive mating dance.

        Listen. Everyone feels weird and awkward sometimes. This thread is FULL of stories. The links in the many links are FULL of stories. Maybe read all of them, take 24 hours & think about them before you start arguing with them and asking us to feel sorry for you.

        If your social circle isn’t wide enough: widen it. It’s not easy and automatic after college. Ok. Widen it anyway. Use a mix of going to stuff outside your comfort zone and a mix of doing fun stuff you want to do anyway and see what happens. Does your city have a free weekly? Pick one inexpensive thing to do every week, go to it, make it a goal to meet one new person (not necessarily a WOMAN for DATING) and talk to that person for 10 minutes.
        If you have issues with anxiety and insecurity: see a therapist and treat those.
        If you feel like you’re always comparing yourself to other men and perceiving them as more attractive than you are and using that as a reason to not go after someone (some specific someone you click with, not Any Lady-Shaped Person), that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and pretty much on you.
        If something like online dating is working for you: keep doing it.
        If it’s stressing you out and making you sad: stop doing it for a while and do other stuff.
        Ask the women you know to recommend a book they think you’d like. Read the books. I’m going to write more about this soon, but I have some anecdotal evidence that men rarely ask women for pop culture recs and OFTEN take on an authority role in recommending stuff, so this quality alone will make you stand out.

        We feel you, I swear. There are no secrets we’re withholding. I swear.

        • OMG YES to dudes not asking women for pop culture recommendations. I am not shy about telling male friends about an amazing book I read or a TV show that they need to watch, like, immediately (imminent return of Breaking Bad! Everyone should be watching that show!), but my guy friends very rarely *ask* for recommendations, even the ones who are themselves big recommenders. A guy who asked me to recommend a good TV show or book would definitely get a big thumbs up.

        • Aaah, this is ALL THE TRUTH! This is a truth I did not identify until I read right now. I always feel like I’m being pushy about my pop culture interests (cartoons, all the cartoons) and I always feel like guys react with mild surprise when I make a spontaneous recommendation!

        • OH GOD THIS! Why did I never notice this before? Because I am a bossy nerd person who would loooooove to give recommendations, but it’s not a thing that I get to do very often, probably for this exact reason.

      • Okay, and what else might suck?

        Being the one woman who’s in a room full of men and isn’t in a relationship.

        Being one of the paired-up people who’s unhappy in that relationship.

        A lot of things.

        Yes, it is awful and scary to feel that you’re never going to get something you really want, like a relationship. It’s especially awful if you feel that reflects badly on you. But right now, we don’t have a better system to do this dating thing. I haven’t seen a proposal that makes dudes less lonely and scared, and also lets women keep themselves safe (although I’ve heard some intriguing ideas about enthusiastic consent, dismantling rape culture, and not slut-shaming women that might work). So until the magical day of better dating comes, we’ve got to work with what we’ve got.

  24. LW, can I ask you a question?

    When you imagine yourself with a girlfriend, what does she look like? Not on the outside. On the inside. What makes her different than all of the other girls you see every day. Than your female friends and coworkers. (Another way to think of this question might be, “What makes you message someone on OKCupid?”)

    You mention beautiful women on the street and women with pretty eyes on the subway. Physical attractiveness does not tell you much about a person. Forget that for now. Forget things like “She makes me happy” or “She completes me” or “She makes me feel like the best man in the world” because those are about you, not her.

    Is her favorite movie Back to the Future? Does she have a bookshelf full of astrophysics books? Does she want a cat or a dog or a parrot? Can she quote from Doctor Who episodes from the 80s? Does she like Shakespeare? Stephen King? B movies? Iron Man? Math? Sports? Does she get excited when a new restaurant opens? Want to see the world? Does she prefer pizza and The Wire at home?

    I’m not saying “Create a really specific checklist.” But this ideal woman of yours is a person, and I want to know what about her as a person you would like. What would you like to do with her, aside from really generic Hollywood-ized things hold hands in the park and snuggle in bed. Do you want to have happy arguments about who the best Starfleet captain is? Do you want to go paintballing and team up on strangers?

    • To be honest, I don’t have a list. As I’ve grown more desperate my list has gone from things I actually want to find to simply someone who has an interest in me. I assumed that I my failure meant I was setting my bar too high, so I changed my bar to be “is interested in me.” In terms of online dating, I pretty much message every single girl I find even remotely attractive. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that.

      • Maybe this is a bit like someone said, with her boss and the terrible ask out 100 girls and even a 98% failure rate is kind of like success? especially if you’re talking about physical attractiveness?
        Like, it seems like no-one ever is interested, but amplified because you’re asking a lot of people, and so you’re going to get more rejections because most people aren’t interested in one specific person. Maybe going back to having an idea of what you look for would mean that you don’t message every girl who’s even remotely attractive, but instead message the ones who you have something in common with or want for more than how they look. fewer messages sent, but maybe a higher chance of success?
        I do online dating, because I never have time to go out and meet people in person and also I’m a lesbian so there’s the whole ‘oh god, is she straight? gay? bi?’ thing before we even get to the whole is she in a couple, would she talk to me part. And I don’t reply to messages from people who I don’t have something in common with, even if they seem nice. Maybe the girls you’re contacting are similar,, and that’s why you’re not getting replies?
        I hope that makes sense – it’s clear in my head, but not so much written down, sorry

      • Okay, let’s start with something basic: Tell us something you enjoy doing.

        • I love playing music and singing. I’m a classically trained pianist, and I am teaching myself how to play guitar. I love crossword puzzles and useless trivia. I love to cook. despite my miserable grammar, I’m a published author, and I enjoy writing. I have an unhealthy obsession with politics and trying to explain economics to people who have no understanding of economics.

          • Classically trained pianist?! I think we just found your superpower.

          • Have you considered joining a community choir or finding something (like on meetup) in the nature of a jam session to join? I’m thinking of these as ways to get out and meet people and make friends/practice getting to know people (women people, too) in a low-stress, low-pressure environment, or at least what would be lower stress for social-anxiety-having me, where there’s a specific purpose that gives you a common interest and conversation topic. “Man, this new piece we’re learning is harder than the last one. What do you think?” and so forth. Or a writing group, where you go and share pieces of what you’re working on and talk about them as a group.

          • Dayum. That’s a nice set of things! So you might be interested in people who:

            - appreciate music and writing, and may or may not produce it themselves
            - enjoy sharing and hearing about small bits of trivia, on the “guess what I learned today!” level
            - have either a perfectly good understanding of economics or no interest in hearing about economics at all (because “let me explain to you why you’re wrong” is not something you want to be doing in any friendship or romantic relationship on a regular basis, so you might want someone who doesn’t trigger that part of you).

            Have you considered joining a local choir, by the way? Not as a way of finding girls per se, just because it increases your social circle. I find that joining a group that meets regularly is the best way for me to get a broader variety of social interaction.

          • Can I ask you what you find so appealing about the act of explaining something to someone else? This is a really great place to take stock of your own behaviors. As someone who works professionally in stats/econ I understand that sometimes in order to have any kind of discussion with someone you have to explain some econ to them. However, if you are explaining economics to people who have minimal knowledge of it, your discussion is going to be superficial at best. You aren’t going to learn anything from the conversation because they wont have a deep enough understanding to contribute, and they may resent your tendency to explain shit to them.

            I have to say that the part where I explain things to people is my LEAST favorite part of my job because it is so fraught with the possibility of making other people feel stupid. And that is never a good thing to do. There is also always the possibility that I’ll explain something wrong to someone who is smarter than me and then I am the one who looks stupid.

            Context is important here, so it may be that none of this is really a problem, but you may want to keep an eye on how much you enjoy ‘splainin things.

          • Do you seriously not know how sexy the ability to make music is??? Classical piano? Singing? Guitar? And cooking? Wear t-shirts about these things. Carry the guitar! Play at a coffeehouse! Or just go to a coffeehouse, where conversations about music will arise that you can competently (and comfortably) participate in, because you actually have opinions on the subject. Carry books about things you’re interested in to places where people who are likely to be interested in the same things you are are likely to congregate. Take cooking classes — not chef-quality classes, but ones sponsored by your local library. Join a writer’s group. Start a writer’s group. Get involved in local politics. If you have the qualifications, offer to teach a class on economics at your local library.

            Do not mansplain economics at random people. I became a lawyer in part because I’m good at learning complicated things and explaining them in ways laypeople can understand. So I understand the pleasure in that. But people don’t like being talked at. Participate in conversations that involve exchanges of knowledge and opinions, but not on an “I know more than you do” basis, or making it your mission to educate people who have expressed no desire for you to do so.

          • OMG dude. You are a classically trained pianist? In an urban center? OK, take it from a professional conductor, here is what to do. Offer to accompany people for free. Don’t worry if your sight-reading is rusty. It will not be as rusty as some of the other people volunteering. Find an amateur musical theater group or Gilbert and Sullivan fan club or community college or voice teacher or anything. Community choruses are looking for accompanists all the time; so are singers. Figure out what sites often advertise for accompanists and hang out on them.

            Then go accompany people! Bonus points: everyone will always be happy to see you, and never expect you to speak! And socialization is always easier when you have a function to serve or job to do. And the compliment-giving will be easy, just tell the other musicians that you think sounded good that they sounded good. Nobody EVER minds that. “Hey, you sounded really good today in rehearsal, how long have you been studying?”

            Just put it out there that you are interested in doing more accompanying, and sooner or later you will get some interest. There are never enough accompanists to go around.

          • C.S.- You sound spectacularly interesting and fun. There are lots of girls in this world who are compatible with your interests (including me, I would LOVE to find me a musician who could help me kick ass at trivia night). My advice is not to sell yourself short by having the only criteria be her interest. You are awesome. You deserve to find someone equally as awesome as you.

          • Dude. If you can cook, then come up with a party trick that makes the kitchen The Place To Be at a party, and when you go to a party, do that. As an awkward woman who is a professional cook and restauranteur, I assure you, you will instantly be popular at that party, and all you will have to do is smile and say thank you. Chocolate’s a good choice.

            I used to check in with the hosts to make sure I could use their stove and freezer, and maybe a cookie sheet or two if they have them. I’d bring a double boiler, a roll of parchment, a bag of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate, and assorted fresh fruits, nuts, pretzels, whatever. I’d slip into the kitchen when I ran out of crap to talk about, melt the chocolate in the double boiler, and start dipping things in it and laying them on the parchment on cookie sheets. Slip them into the freezer to set if you get ahead of the audience. I never had to say a word, people smelled the chocolate and just started drifting in. It’s awesome.

            Keys to a good party trick: It leaves no mess for the host. NONE. Any you make, you clean up. It smells AMAZING, and the smell carries. You can carry in all your own ingredients and equipment, aside from the absolute basics. You can also bring pre-made cookie dough and bake cookies, or whatever.

            …Gotta agree with Zed down below, though. You sound like you’re reducing women to our appearances, and your desperation, and that’s not good. You have got the break that pattern.

          • Excellent! Musician man, we have your awesome right here. Get in some venues where you can be musical with other people in order to share your awesome.

            You’re looking for people who, in a Venn diagram, will have interests that, while not entirely matching yours, have some significant overlap. In order to find those people, you will have to be in social situations that involve those interests.

      • Oh, have a list. Not a “checklist”, list, just a “this is the sort of person I would have fun being around, who might have fun being around me” list. That way, when you do approach people, you will be doing so because they are the sort of person you would have fun being around, who might have fun being around you.

        By contrast, currently when you approach people, you are sometimes doing so because you find them remotely attractive and they might be able to Heal All The Loneliness.

        Assume that people will pick up on your reasons for talking to them. Now pretend someone was approaching you and you got the impression that they were talking to you because they think you could be fun to be around, and also because you might have fun around them. Not bad, eh?

        Now pretend someone is talking to you and you think they’re doing it because they find you, remotely, to be attractive and also because they want you to heal all their loneliness. Even to you, I’m going to guess that the first situation sounds more promising.

        So have a list! Make it so that you really are talking to someone because they might be interesting, and not just because you don’t want to be lonely any more. Also, I second the advice given above about getting better at talking to new people, or even just strangers you don’t intend to meet again, about neutral topics that aren’t asking for or hoping for a date. Grow your skills and grow your friendships, and that way if the Heal The Loneliness desire ever does show through, it will at least look like a Heal Some Of The Loneliness desire rather than a Heal All The Loneliness desire.

      • I’m going to say this in the kindest way possible, LW, and I’m not trying to be mean: Nothing you’ve said makes me, as a woman corresponding with you on the internet, want to date you. You can’t say name one single quality your ideal woman would have, or one single interest you would like to share with her. What you have just said is that one lady is as good as the next, as long as she is “remotely attractive.” Similarly, “beggars can’t be choosers” tells me that you are so desperate you are willing to settle for a less desirable piece of meat – which in turn tells me a lot about what you think of these women.

        You seem to be evaluating their dateability solely by whether or not their appearance meets your standards. That’s… alarming. Instead, I’d encourage you to consider whether or not you have something in common with them. Maybe you want someone who plays a different, but complimentary instrument. Or someone who would go to Quizzo on Friday nights or have Trivial Pursuit parties, just you and her. Or someone who likes to talk about writing and will help critique your drafts. Or someone who will cook with you, or who can’t cook but is an awesome baker, or who will bring home recipes and say, “let’s try this tonight!”

  25. I know a couple of other people have mentioned it but I’ll second (or whatever) the suggestion to get a pet if you can. I’ve had my cat for a year, and she’s always there at the door when I get home, doesn’t mind being picked up and cuddled, curls up in bed with me at night, sits by me and purrs, listens when I talk to her – I know it’s not a person, but giving and getting uncodnitional love from something made a huge difference to how lonely and alone I’d felt before. And as bizarre as it sounds, and I don’t know why, but having my cat made me able to worry less about maybe never meeting someone (i’m 30, my younger sister got married four months before I turned 30, I’ll leave you to imagine the conversations and looks I’m getting from my family right now). Maybe because the cat will always be there, even if a person isn’t? And there’s always another living, breathing thing in my flat, even if it’s not a person?

    Plus, it gives me something to talk about, and a surprisingly large number of my casual acquaintances turn out to have cats, or opinions about cats, or a desire for a cat, or a strong preference for dogs or… And then we’re having a conversation, and next time I see them, we can talk about cats again, even if all we talk about is ‘oh god, white cat hairs on my black trousers again, why did I ever adopt a white cat?’

  26. I cannot think of a worse feeling than writing a nice, witty message and being completely ignored. Sometimes I’ll see that they even looked at my profile, and they still won’t send me a polite “I just don’t think you’re the right guy for me, good luck though” message.

    This bugs me. (And, upon reflection, it feels a lot like this is how you’re approaching the entirety of dating, so I think my comment can be generalized.)

    Women don’t reply because they are not allowed to turn people down — not directly, at least. Saying “I don’t think you’re the right guy for me” will most likely result in the guy attempting to scrutinize the reasons the woman gives for not wanting to date him. And, really, at that stage, you don’t deserve a response. After a first date, you don’t deserve a response. Two or three dates in, you start (maybe) to deserve some sort of explanation, although even then it’s questionable as to whether you’ll want to hear it. (“You’re not a good kisser.” “You smell wrong.”)

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but a multi-paragraph email is likely to get my attention. A very specifically targeted single paragraph email *might* get my attention, provided it’s — again — very specifically targeted. A generic email is, at best, going to lead to me trolling you.

    In all those cases, though, just because you’ve got my attention doesn’t mean I’m going to reply. I’ll check your profile, definitely — but, honestly, I’ve got a pretty decent set of criteria that you’ve got to fit before I even consider responding to you. And, since men tend to scrutinize women’s reasons for not being interested in them, I’m not going to tell you those criteria. (Some of them will result in people arguing with me. Others — like having a matching libido and *some* interest in my particular kinks — would just result in sexual comments that I don’t want to deal with.)

    • Word to all of this. “But my list says I would be a good boyfriend for you!” “I made a subjective decision that I don’t want you!” discussions are draining as hell.

    • This sounds incredibly rude and impolite. To say that someone doesn’t deserve a response sounds to me like you are taking their humanity away from them. Society works because of civility and if you can’t be civil, what is the point? I work in marketing where I get a lot of people trying to sell me services, and I always try to make sure I politely tell them thanks but no thanks. Hanging up on them is rude, and I feel like just ignoring someone who has actually made an attempt to reach out to you is much more inconsiderate. I’m not talking about the “Nice boobs, can I motorboat them?” messages.

      • CS, we can gripe all we want about the decline of civility and common politeness (and believe me, I do my share of that griping), but the fact is, the culture of online dating does not dictate that everyone respond to every message. What’s expected of you as a professional replying to other professionals is not the same as what’s expected of a lady with a dating profile who might get a whole bunch of messages. *You* may see that as rude, but the culture in general does not. That means that you are taking something personally that is not actually personal, which is what, I think, the commenters are trying to express. Lament the culture all you want, but don’t take a that as a referendum on you or your responses. Just because you find something inconsiderate doesn’t mean that everyone does, and in this particular context, popular opinion and social norms dictate that the behavior you find inconsiderate is not, by the generally-accepted standards, actually all that rude.

      • You’ve obviously never been a girl on a dating site, so let me tell you why many girls don’t answer all messages, or even all decent, well-meaning messages.

        A) many women get SO MANY messages that it’s nearly impossible to answer them all
        B) many men don’t take “no” for an answer–instead they try to argue with the woman about why she is wrong about them. Which rarely goes well, and sometimes ends in an entitled little fit where the guy calls you a cunt/bitch/whore. Not good times

        • Absolutely seconding this.

          I have encountered so many men who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They’d hit me up in the street, or the car park, or (once) in my old house where I’d gone to pick up my mail, and the conversation would go something like this:

          Them: Hi!
          Me: Hi…?
          Them: You’re cute! Let’s go for coffee!
          Me: No thanks.
          Them: Hey, you can’t turn me down, you don’t know me! You should go for coffee with me!
          Me: Really no thanks.
          Them: Give me your phone number!
          Me: No!
          Them: You’re not giving me a chance! *unwanted physical contact*
          Me: *freezes, panics, flees*
          Them: *shouts insults after*

          Happens online too, though thankfully without the unwanted physical contact. But it’s seriously creepy and unpleasant.

          The only way to guarantee not getting into such a ‘conversation’ is to not respond to the initial gambit.

          In short, the reason women aren’t telling you ‘no’ is that they have a lot of real bad experiences that came from giving someone even that tiniest bit of interaction. If you’d had a bunch of experiences where people pestered you and insulted you for saying ‘no’, would you still be willing to tell someone ‘no’?

          • Oh god yes.

            This is why I now ignore men who randomly start talking to me in the street, malls etc. because of too many conversations that ended up this way.

            I don’t say no, I ignore, because “no” is treated like a negotiation.

        • ABSOLUTELY. Nowadays I don’t even look at the guy’s profile if his message didn’t interest me, because I’ve gotten wayyyy too many “you looked at my profile and didn’t even write back. shallow cunt.” messages. EVEN THOUGH I WAS MEANING TO SOMETIMES. Literally. If I look at their stupid profile and don’t respond within ten minutes, verbal abuse gets hurled at me through the interwebs.

          LW, this is why you need to read more stuff by women.

      • Okay, if you want to know more about how to talk to women, start by listening to them. A bunch of people have told you to try consuming media made by women. A cursory 10-minute search of feminism 101 sites would tell you that what the two women above have said is true: women are not supposed to tell people no. We know, from having been women for a while, that our “no” is usually treated as a starting point for negotiations. Not responding to a message from a total stranger is no more rude than not returning a voice mail from a telemarketer. These women don’t know that you would respect their “no”. It’s safer for them to assume that you won’t.

        Nobody “deserves” a response from anybody. Your rights end where mine begin. Do you have any idea how many messages some women on dating sites can get? You are not entitled to their time. You are not entitled to their words. You are not entitled to have them even read your message. A stranger who says hello to me on the street is not entitled to a response from me. Rude would be if I cursed him out for daring to talk to me. A stranger who sends me an email is also not entitled to a response from me.

        When someone sends you a bulk mailing solicitation asking for time or money, do you send them a polite handwritten letter explaining why you can’t volunteer/donate just now, or do you throw it away? Throwing it away doesn’t deny the humanity of the person who sent it. It’s just a refusal to accept a false obligation.

        • Thanks, O.B.

          I knew this thread would end here, eventually. I tried to be really kind and not get into privilege and entitlement and explaining feminism in the original response. But we were always going to end up here.

          LW:

          My advice to you remains:

          1. Read, explore, seek more work & media by women. Make it a fun learning project for yourself to find 10 great novels by women, 10 great bands, 10 great movies, etc. Immerse yourself in a lot of women’s stories and see them not as people who are probably rejecting you but protagonists in their own stories. You don’t have to get why. And you don’t have to do anything I tell you. But I think it will be good for you and maybe fun and why not try it? You might like it. Ask your female friends for recs.

          2. Take a step back from dating, work on meeting more people in the pursuit of your passions, work on getting to like yourself better. The reason you’re having bad luck is that you have a sense of entitlement and an open wound’s worth of insecurities. Work on them in small, cool ways that many have suggested in this thread.

          • I’m going to avoid letting your discussion of privilege and entitlement taint the otherwise good advice that people have given. I have too much on hand experience with feminism thank you very much.

          • I have absolutely no desire to pick a fight with you and insult you. Why would you jump to that? I approach things by thinking how I would respond. I even politely decline free newspapers in the morning. I guess I’m too nice and should be more rude and impolite? I guess I should care less about wondering if she will think I’m a creep and just go for it anyway? I know I stated in my initial letter that the reason I don’t do the PUA approach is I find it incredibly distasteful.

          • Just FYI, statements like “I have too much on hand experience with feminism thank you very much” are not going to help your luck with the ladies. Maybe feminism means something VERY different to you, but to me, as a woman, it means that I deserve social, political, economic, and legal rights that are equal to yours, as a man. To me, as a woman, it also means that I have worth as a person and that my perspectives and experiences have value.

            Read that and then think about what it means, to me, as a woman, when someone says they have “too much on hand experience” with feminism.

          • I have too much on hand experience with feminism thank you very much.

            …Wow. Well, I just got hit with a clue-by-four about what’s going on here. WOW.

        • Awful analogies. When people try to solicit money from me on the street or on the telephone, I DO actually politely tell them no. You seem to spend an awful lot of time harping about entitlement and zero time thinking about doing the right/kind thing. I guess I believe in basic human decency and you don’t?

          • Hi, LW. Believe what you want about what I believe about basic human decency. KNOW that I believe that nobody has to answer random emails from strangers, even thoughtfully meant and composed ones, and that I think that your thinking about this is extremely entitled and warped, and would benefit from some thinking about people other than yourself and what their experience might be like.

            If you want to pick a fight with me and insult me, I will have that fight with you. It will be a good time and drive many page views. Let me know.

          • I guess I believe in basic human decency and you don’t?

            Well it sure is a good thing you wrote to her for advice about the ladies, then!

          • Wow. If this is how you write on OKC, no wonder you don’t get responses. Can you even hear yourself?

            Look, the thing is, many women on OKC or other dating sites have gotten a reasonable-sounding email, responded with polite disinterest, and gotten five more messages from the guy calling us names. This happens. A lot. So yeah, at some point we have to start taking care of ourselves and not putting ourselves in that position. I do not want to deal with that shit ever again, and so unless a message or profile is really interesting, I am not going to respond. There are also a lot of little cues I look for when deciding, and from all of your writing samples here, I wouldn’t respond to you at all. You’re creepy.

            It’s not about “believing in basic human decency” or not, it’s about what happens when the other person has none. And, frankly, when you start talking about what complete strangers owe you, you’re displaying none.

          • If this is all about you, it’s not very much fun for anyone in your life, including you. It’s like the people who ask about me (or any other person) as a lead in to talking about themselves. Are you interested in a woman other than as a life companion under your terms?

            What people are saying is that women have had too many experiences of telling guys no, and the guys hearing “she talked to me” as being the relevant semiotic information. If someone wants to talk to me about Jesus, I say “yo soy agnostica,” and if they want to argue with me, then I will be rude and cut them hard (most of the time, these are male gringo evangelists).

            If you would take no for an answer, then you’re like the Nicaraguans who take “yo soy agnostica” as a hint that their next comment is “buenos dias, adios.” But the culture that produces the evangelicals who take any reply as an opening, tend to be from the same culture that produces guys who take “no” as an opening, who feel like they deserve attention from women.

      • As bluntly as possible, CS: I need you to think about the experience of women, the ways we are socialized to always be nice and to give our time and attention even where we don’t want to, and the number of times that our polite “Hey, you seem cool but no thanks” gets a tedious “Why not?” or “You’re just like all those other selfish bitches” reactions. Like, dude, really? If this is how you react to a polite “no thanks”, how are you going to behave when I’m pulling your hand off my side-boob in the movie theater? That’s not specifically your fault, C.S., but you need to be aware of male privilege even in situations where it feels like you don’t have privilege (like dating for you right now).

        You will not only feel better, you will be learning to make the world a better place if you learn to detach from the idea that people on dating sites owe you ANY response whatsoever. Because that anger & entitlement you feel? (And it is anger, for sure). We can smell it. And it makes us withdraw.

        • Well, I guess we have a fundamental disagreement here, because male privilege is a myth.

          • Hahahahaha…awesome! Yes, we do have a very fundamental difference of opinion.

            Please, please, PLEASE, please use the word “misandry” in a comment so I can fill out my bingo card for the day.

          • …and now we have a better sense of why you are having trouble interacting with women.

          • Wow.

            Peace out, thread. It’s been real. And with a hat tip to the fine works of Mr. Scalzi I’m gone! BYE.

          • WE HAVE SOLVED THE PROBLEM OF WHY WOMEN WON’T DATE YOU

          • When’s the last time you were told that you shouldn’t dress that way or you’d be raped? That you should be polite to the person ignoring your wishes because he was only trying to be nice? How often do you get sexualised remarks called after you on the street? Called a bitch because you didn’t do what a guy thought you should do?

            I’m gonna guess not that often, and probably never. That would be male privilege at work, and you get to think it doesn’t exist because you have it, and so you don’t have to experience all the little ways in which women get firsthand experience that it does, in fact, exist. Much as we wish it was a myth.

          • I have trouble interacting with women because that all people are equal?

          • Ha. Wow. Okay.

            From the other stuff you’ve said on this thread, I can’t say this comment surprises me. I’m not going to give up quite yet (with no criticism of the commander implied). I’m going to try one more time.

            Here’s the thing. I don’t care (right now) if you think male privilege is a myth. You’re wrong, and your phrasing of it as a statement of fact was incredibly rude to our dear host, but I’m going to breeze by it for now and talk about why it didn’t surprise me.

            It didn’t surprise me because in all of your comments, even after people had pointed it out to you, you kept talking about “women” as if we were all the same, interchangeable and in no way unique. Thinking male privilege is a myth is one of the many side effects of not realizing that women are whole human beings. Having a terrible time getting women to like you is another side effect.

            So think on that. What do you want? Do you want your smug satisfaction that WOMEN, as a class, are all the same and all hate you? Or do you want successful and enjoyable interactions with complete human beings who share your interests and enjoy your company, some of whom may be women, and some of whom may, eventually, if you have enough in common and are nice and respectful and fun to be around, want to date you?

          • How is that any different from the things I have to deal with on a daily basis, Emily? It’s true that I don’t have to deal with those exact issues, but it isn’t as if I get to stroll through life in a bubble of complete immunity to anything and everything. Just because I have different problems as a man doesn’t mean I don’t have problems as a man.

          • C.S., check out the link commander logic posted. Seriously.

          • Male privelege doesn’t mean you don’t have problems. It just means that there are some problems, like making $.70 on the dollar, that you don’t have to deal with. I have problems, PLUS I get harassed all the time on the street. It’s like an extra bonus, if bonuses were vaguely life threatening.

          • Just because I have different problems as a man doesn’t mean I don’t have problems as a man.

            This is not what male privilege means, which you might know if you bothered to, you know, listen to actual women instead of mansplaining your unique misery all the time. Seriously, why did you write to this particular blog for advice?

          • Dammit. I was afraid this was gonna happen. I was hoping all these fine commenters were going to get past your objections to every piece of advice and really get you working through the bad cognitive patterns that have you trapped. You were saying a lot of things that sounded like warning bells for a man who resents women as a group, but I kept hoping that it wasn’t the case. Don’t you see that this right here is the heart of the problem??

          • Here’s the thing. Even running for a second with the idea that male privilege is a myth, that it is rude when women don’t respond to you on dating sites and they do owe you a response, clearly, as your experiences suggest, this is etiquette that most of the women on social dating sites don’t actually follow. There are two things that you can do with that information.

            1) Sit around and feel sorry for yourself and demand to the universe at large that it produce a woman who meets your standards and be mad at women in general for not responding to every message that they get.

            2) Work with that information, accept it as a social thing that you will have to navigate if you want to use an online dating site, and adjust accordingly.

            You’ve basically demonstrated in this thread that you’re taking approach number one, which is fine. As a human, you have a right to go that route. But, to be blunt, don’t expect a large number of people to find “sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself when faced with obstacles” attractive, or to get dates when you approach dating this way.

          • :(

            Now I feel naive for giving advice in good faith up-thread. If you don’t believe that male privilege exists, no wonder you can’t see your way straight to any healthy dating-type interactions.

          • ‘I have trouble interacting with women because that all people are equal?’

            That’s right.

            All people are equal, but you’re not treating them as such. You’re lumping all women into a single monolithic group of person-who-might-date-me rather than as individual human beings, each of whom has the right to an equal partner rather than a pile of issues in search of saving. And you’re treating your issues with dating as separate from your social issues in general.

            Have you ever tried talking to people with breasts in the exact same way that you talk to people without breasts? Treated them as actual people rather than potential dating partners?

          • ‘Now I feel naive for giving advice in good faith up-thread.’

            Yeah, me too :/ The talk about biological imperatives to mate did tip me off that we were going to end up here, but I was so hoping we wouldn’t. Meh. I feel a bit sad about the world now.

          • Seriously, how on earth did you decide Captain Awkward was the one to write to here? Have you read this site before?

        • Do you think misandry doesn’t exist? It exists like misogyny exists, and islamophobia, and christianophobia, and homophobia, and transphobia, and racism against whites/blacks/asians/hispanics/native americans/pacific islanders/etc. There is bias and hate against every group.

          • Fuck it. I was going to do a privilege 101 in this comment, but I can’t be bothered. We’ve given you our advice, you’ve told us all how wrong we are. Maybe you should move on to people whose advice you’ll listen to.

          • It exists. (There’s an argument to be had about the definition of misandry, but in this case I use it to mean feelings or actions of prejudice against the male gender.) There just isn’t as much of it – and, especially, not as much of it in the minds of people with power. If a housewife hates men, obviously that’s bad, but it doesn’t necessarily affect more people than, say, her husband. Whereas if a CEO or a senator hates women, his/her decisions will affect quite a few people. And statistically, more women are housespouses and more men are CEOs.

          • It is pretty damn dumb to ask for advice and then to close your mind entirely to that advice.

          • Oh, yes. However, there’s a difference between shitting on people who have power, and shitting on people who have no power. That you can’t tell the difference says an amazing amount about you.

          • There is bias and hate against every group, but not every group holds the reins in society. In general, in the United States, straight white Christian middle-/upper-class men hold the reins. If a woman hates men, she’s being prejudiced, but she’s not harming them as a group, because she has no power to. A man who hates women, on the other hand, has quite a bit of power. He could be the judge who refuses to prosecute a rape case because the woman was dressed “revealingly.” He could be the employer who pays his female employees 70% of what he pays his male employees. He could be the musician who writes songs that demean and objectify women, thus promoting a culture that demeans and objectifies them. He could be the television studio exec who demands that a new show use only thin, white, conventionally attractive women actors. And so on.

      • “To say that someone doesn’t deserve a response sounds to me like you are taking their humanity away from them.”

        And yet you describe your online dating situation as “Beggars can’t be choosers.” That is dehumanizing the women you are trying to date.

      • I think maybe you need to adjust your expectations for online dating vs. real world interaction. In the real world, yes, it might be impolite to simply ignore someone who said a polite hello to you (though context matters and women have lots of very good reasons for not responding to every stranger who says something to them).

        But online dating is not like the real world, it’s more like walking through a really crowded market where all of the vendors yell out “Prada watches! Real Prada watches!” and “Handsome man, come and look at these silk ties!” and “You like tea? Come try some of my tea!” No one responds to every one of the vendors yelling at them, because there are too many, and sometimes it just encourages them to get any acknowledgement, and also it’s understood that it’s not rude to just walk past a guy yelling at you about watches because once you do he’ll just be yelling at the person behind you. The norms of behavior on a dating site are just different than those in real life.

        So maybe just try to approach online dating with a different lens than you apply to real-life interactions: this is a place where it’s okay and expected for you to approach women you might be interested in and ask them out, and if you do so politely no one should get offended or upset. Conversely, it’s also a place where it’s okay for people to just not respond to your attempts to make conversation (or to respond once or twice and then stop). When I first joined one of those sites, I got something like 30 messages a day (that number went down dramatically once I was no longer fresh meat). I didn’t have the time or the energy to write back to every single person who wrote to me. Even now that I get only one or two messages a day, I only respond to people I’m potentially interested in. When I message guys, I tend to only get responses from people who eventually want to meet up. I’ve literally never gotten a response that was just “I don’t think we’re a good match, sorry!”

        And honestly, even in the real world no one is taking your humanity away from you by not responding when you try to start a conversation. It might be rude to just ignore someone trying to talk to you (again, depending on circumstances, it might not!), but no one is owed a response when they try to engage with a stranger.

      • Hanging up on someone is rude because you are already having a conversation with them. Sending someone a message on OkCupid isn’t having a conversation, it’s more like submitting an application to have a conversation. And people are allowed to have an “only successful candidates will be contacted” policy about that.

        Or, to think of it another way, declining to respond to an OkCupid is sort of like ignoring a ringing phone. You don’t get to know if I did it because my ringer was off, or because I’m too busy to respond, or because I looked at the call display and decided I didn’t want to talk to you. The conversation hasn’t started until both parties agree that it has started.

        I’m smelling a lot of entitlement coming off this comment, and I’m thinking maybe this is why your friends tell you not to give compliments to strangers? Because it’s one thing to reach out to someone, and it’s fine to do that, but when you do that you have to first be okay with the fact that that someone has a right not to reach back.

        • This is so totally spot on. It’s not a conversation until both sides agree to participate.

        • Well, or like applying to a job? Do you think you’re entitled to a rejection by phone, or do you understand that your prospective employer has better stuff to do–and, really, so do you?

        • For the benefit of anyone else wondering why women don’t respond on OkCupid, a partial list of reasons I have ignored OkCupid messages:

          1) The message was insulting, sexually inappropriate, or illiterate.

          2) The message had no interesting content. “Sup?” “Nice profile.” “Hi.” Um… hi yourself? (I might answer this if the guy’s profile was awesome, but otherwise, I feel like it would probably drag into a really long awkward conversation that didn’t end in a date anyway, and I’d rather spare both of us that.)

          3) I looked at the guy’s profile and there was a dealbreaker–his interests, politics, location, age, maybe I just wasn’t attracted to his looks. I didn’t write back just to say “no thanks” because of the risk that he’d take that as either a personal insult or a chance to start negotiating my “no.”

          4) The message reeked of “I might stalk/abuse/Darth Vader you” red flags–the kind that made me feel like he would be unsafe to date, and therefore maybe even unsafe to turn down. These are hard to qualify, but I know ‘em when I see ‘em. Things like:
          -Sounding like he doesn’t want a first date, he wants a guaranteed relationship
          -Ranting about how horrible his ex was
          -Any kind of “neg”
          -Saying “I know I’m completely not what you’re looking for, BUT I’M SPECIAL SO LISTEN.”
          -Being pathetically self-deprecating in the message, or oversharing about his personal woes
          -Expounding upon weird theories about dating or gender relations
          -Demanding a response
          -Giving me general creepy ooky feelings

          5) The message was actually awesome, and the profile was really nice, and I made a mental note to write the guy back… after I did just a couple quick things… Hm, now it’s late, I’ll write him back tomorrow. …Oh shit, has it been a month already? I’d just feel silly writing him back now. Darn.

          6) I abandoned my OkCupid profile some time before actually taking it down. Mea culpa and all that, but it happens. You find someone and/or you lose your interest in online dating, but you don’t bother to take down the profile, even though you stopped checking the messages months ago.

          Notice the conspicuous absence of “I thought I was better than him and wanted to spite him” on this list.

          • I occasionally get messages from people who clearly haven’t read my actual profile. I got a message from a guy a couple of months ago who had read enough of my profile to notice that I like kids and might want one someday, and said that wouldn’t work for him but I seemed cool otherwise and maybe we could work out a casual thing? And I was like, Uhhhh did you also see the part of my profile where it says I am in a monogamous relationship and only interested in making friends here? Because it has said that for a YEAR AND A HALF. I actually wrote him and said that, but I don’t always bother.

      • As politely as possible with the online dating and sense of entitlement – I second all of this SO SO SO MUCH. I got really disillusioned with the amount of sulky, manipulative , passive-aggressive bullshit in answering messages, or even the abuse I got if I looked and didn’t answer. It is not okay, and that feeling that women are not holding up some end of the bargain they didn’t make by not behaving correctly is deeply unsettling.

        Also, as unpleasant a reality as this is to face: what if it’s you? What if you’re really unpleasant in conversation, and your online dating profile is an accurate portrayal of you, but that person is romantically unappealing, and you give out a creepy entitled vibe in all your interactions? Straight up, WHAT IF IT’S YOU?

        What then? Will the heavens fall? Will the seas boil? Will dogs and cats live together? Nope. You’ve just got some fixing to do. Definitely figure out what you want in a partner beyond just “Has a pulse” and “Seems willing.” And then, instead of going out and looking for someone else who has it, find it in yourself. Become a great conversationalist, become well-versed in movies or literature or whatever, hell, if you’re interested in women, then for crying out loud read up on some feminist stuff and women’s world issues and politics and health. And the thing is, you can say how hard it is and how mean everyone is and how scared it all makes you, and honestly you are probably totally right because facing your own shortcomings and how cruel people can be and deciding to change anyway is going to be the hardest, most painful, scariest fucking thing you may ever do…but if you don’t do that legwork on being a better human being, the world won’t care what excuses you have. It will move on without you and you will still be lonely. So do the work.

      • Oh, economics-splaining guy, picture your classic supply and demand graph. Now apply that same visual to happiness: happiness is to a significant degree a function of the relationship between what you have and what think you’re supposed to have.

        Right now, you feel like your effort to connect with a woman via moderately-carefully crafted e-mail entitles you to a response. Since you are not getting that (supply and demand are not meeting up!), you are feeling resentful. You are interpreting it as a self-esteem-damaging diss.

        Women who do the online dating thing are telling you there are valid reasons to not respond: e.g., being deluged and not having time to do individualize responses, and experience with guys not taking no well and interpreting the individualized response as an invitation to argue. Plus, of course, there is the entirely subjective “I can’t identify a *reason* but that guy didn’t do it for me… and I feel no desire to make my rejection personal. They’re telling you that your expectation of an individualized “thank your for your thoughtful e-mail but I’m not interested in getting better acquainted” is not reasonable from the woman’s perspective.

        And what are you doing? You’re arguing with them. Reiterating your perspective. Not hearing theirs. Holding tenaciously to an expectation they’re telling you is never going to be satisfied, and for good reason.

        How about you listen to the women? Say “I didn’t realize that it was a self-protective thing, not a diss to me.” Let the expectation go, so you can sincerely let the resentment go.

        And consider listening to women in other contexts, as well.

        • Oh, economics-splaining guy, picture your classic supply and demand graph. Now apply that same visual to happiness: happiness is to a significant degree a function of the relationship between what you have and what think you’re supposed to have.

          Right now, you feel like your effort to connect with a woman via moderately-carefully crafted e-mail entitles you to a response. Since you are not getting that (supply and demand are not meeting up!), you are feeling resentful. You are interpreting it as a self-esteem-damaging diss.

          Yes, this. This is exactly what people are talking about when they say “entitlement”. It’s not even fun to feel entitled–everybody loses.

      • Look, when I used online dating, I tended to respond with a “Thanks but no!” if I got a longish, thoughtful message from someone I wasn’t interested in. But you would be really, really surprised at how often the following exchange occurs:

        Guy: “Witty opening, what we have in common, joke, hope to hear from you!”
        Me: “Thanks, but nope!”
        Guy: “You fucking bitch who is a bitch, no one would ever want to date a troll like you!”

        I am serious, that happened about 30% of the time, with the likelihood of verbal abuse negatively correlated to the length of the original message. There are men out there whose threatening behavior makes women wary of sending a negative response, ever.

        • Oh, lordy, responded before I saw the extent of this thread. It’s not going to sink in, is it? My sense of safety is not as important as your very delicate feelings, which you require me to consider before I consider my own.

      • I know of a woman who was stabbed and paralyzed for life by a man who didn’t like the ‘tone’ of her rejection online. She was seventeen when this happened.
        How’s that for taking away someone’s humanity?

      • When I first signed on to OKCupid, I sent polite replies to anyone who messaged me who I wasn’t interested in, to let them know no thanks but I wished them well etc. This lasted maybe a week or two. In that time I got one rude reply demanding that I explain myself, sigh, which was annoying, but what I MOSTLY got was men trying to continue to engage me in conversation in a way that was clear they were hoping I’d change my mind, was just ‘playing hard to get’, was setting them a test, whatever. It felt like as far as they were concerned if I was still talking they were still in with a chance.

        I guess they saw it as having nothing to lose so they might as well try to keep it going now that they’ve got one on the line, but from my end it meant having to enter an endless loop of polite rejections and it got much easier to just not reply in the first place. Although I still did very occasionally if the mood struck me.

        So yeah, you’re not owed a response from women you write to on OKCupid, and not getting one is not invalidating your humanity. Getting messages from strangers on a dating is *nothing* like maintaining a professional relationship with someone at work. There’s a completely different social context.

        If sending messages out into the void feels utterly crushing, online dating is not for you right now. Because yeah, that’s going to happen, a lot. Your chances will be better if you get some good photos up and if you are more discriminating in who you message. But they’ll probably never be where you want them to be, and silence will still be the default setting for rejection.

    • “I can’t speak for anyone else, but a multi-paragraph email is likely to get my attention. A very specifically targeted single paragraph email *might* get my attention, provided it’s — again — very specifically targeted. A generic email is, at best, going to lead to me trolling you.”

      And once again, more proof of Women Are Individuals and Different From One Another! When I was actively online dating, I would never reply to a multi-paragraph first email, even if I was pretty interested in the guy sending it, because I would feel obligated to write a similarly long email back and I just don’t have that kind of time. A couple sentences to a paragraph, showing genuine interest in me as a person, from someone whose profile, pictures, and questions section seemed intersting (oh the questions section! It is why I love OK Cupid! You can just weed out anti-choicers and slut-shamers and rape-apologists before even meeting them, at least some of the time!)– that was what was likely to get a response, and probably also a first date, from me.

      • Seconded. I tend to keep first contacts on OKC and other dating sites short but relevant to something from the person’s profile (i.e. sending a Star Wars fan a “May the Fourth be with you” joke). It doesn’t pressure the other person into a long reply and if the conversation fizzles out after that single topic is exhausted, no harm, no foul, and sometimes it will expand on its own to other topics over time. I would be put off by long emails, especially if the person talked about multiple things from my profile. That would feel potentially creepy, or that the random internet person was investing a bit too much in someone who might never reply.

  27. LW/C.S., I really feel for you. I was in that space for several years. Before I met my current boyfriend last year, it had been nearly six years since my last real relationship. I’d go on OKCupid dates or whatever in that time, but it never materialized into anything serious, and after a while it made me feel the exact same way you do- pathologically insecure and totally anxious. I agonized over wanting to be held and touched affectionately. I’d go to events alone and all I could think about was, “I wish I had someone here, different from my friends, who could enjoy this with me because they really knew ME.” At one point I asked every single guy I’d gone out with in six years (with whom I still had amicable contact), “Why not me?” and they all chalked it up to some internal shit going on with them at the time, or feeling anxious about dating themselves, which was reassuring, but didn’t really give me much peace of mind. I was totally convinced that I would never be able to have the kind of relationship I wanted, even though I was SO READY FOR IT and I’d be SUCH A GOOD GIRLFRIEND.

    I don’t really know where the shift happened, but at one point I realized that this wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and that I wanted to bring far more into my existing relationships with my friends and with the things I enjoyed doing, rather than constantly being sad about why I couldn’t find a boyfriend. I looked at each couple I knew and I thought really hard about whether I actually wanted what they had- and 9 times out of 10 the answer was a resounding no. I decided that from now on when I went on dates, I would take my time with everyone so I could see more than one person at once and really decide who was the most worth pursuing seriously. I met my boyfriend during one such round of a few people, and to be honest he was someone that I sat on my hands about a lot. If I’d been doing things my old way, I’d have written him off as not a possibility from date one. But once I decided that I liked his company, but I didn’t care if he was The One, that’s when I could more clearly see the things about him that were really attractive to me, and it gave me time to be more like myself around him. And as a result, our relationship now is different from (and better than) any other that I’ve ever been in, and different from (and better than) any other than he says he’s ever been in, and different from any of my friends’ relationships as well. (See the part above where I said I realized I didn’t want those anyway.)

    It also went a little beyond deciding that I didn’t want to be a certain kind of desperate-seeming person. I also had to really deconstruct a lot of the pernicious social tropes about relationships that we’re so flooded with every single day. Really, no one’s immune- I went to a college that’s well-known for being (arguably) a progressive feminist haven, and yet I have some college friends and acquaintances on Facebook that use it for nothing except to post wedding photos, engagement ring Instagram shots, bridal registries, etc. It’s really only recently in Western history that so much importance has been placed on romantic relationships- someone above mentioned Stephanie Coontz’ Marriage: A History, and I heartily second that recommendation. And the reason Captain Awkward strongly suggested that you spend 6 months consuming media exclusively by women (which I also think is a brilliant suggestion) is because so much of the popular narratives of “boy gets girl” that we think ought to happen have been set up by patriarchy and perpetuated by male authors, who give themselves agency while objectifying the women around them, and that’s really not always the way it happens (or should happen). If you read books and blogs by women, and listen to music by women, and watch films by women, you’ll have a selection of different narratives that can help you feel less bad about why you haven’t found The Woman You Deserve. Seriously, I AM a woman, and sometimes I find it necessary to go on months-long binges of media only by women, when I feel like I’m being oversaturated with messages about how I’m somehow still Doing It Wrong.

    As for how to talk to or approach women, I’m going to echo what everyone else has said, which is to find an actual reason you’d want to talk to a woman that has nothing to do with her appearance, and take her cues gracefully if she indicates she doesn’t want to talk to you. Personally, flirtation makes me profoundly uncomfortable, not the least of which because I am horrible at it myself- even if I am attracted to the person flirting with me, flirting back turns me into Al Pacino in Cruising. I am far more likely to respond to something like, “Where did you get that Cramps shirt? I’ve been looking for one just like it!” (oh hey, we have something in common) or “So-and-so told me you consulted on the editing for that film, it looked amazing!” (thank you for finding attractive that I am talented, I will happily tell you about it) or even “That flower pin looks really great with your hair color” (wow, you noticed that? I did it on purpose, level up!) than something like, “Excuse me, you have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.” In that last example, there’s nothing for me to do but awkwardly say thank you, or say something sarcastic like, “Uh, they’re not for sale.” PomperaFirpa’s point system of how to talk to strangers would be a great tool for you, because you’ll start to notice the difference yourself between obvious desperate anxious flirting, and between genuine friendly conversation that could lead to something else.

    Lastly, you can love yourself. You can feed yourself the food you like, and do the exercise you enjoy, and watch the shows you want to watch and listen to the music you want to, and go to sleep when you’re tired, and stretch when you feel tight, and let yourself feel what you need to feel but stop yourself before you start to become self-abusive. These are all things that you’d want for someone else you love. And ultimately, if someone else doesn’t do these things for you and encourage you to do the same for yourself, no amount of saying “I love you” is going to convince you. Get a head start with yourself.

  28. Oooh, I can’t believe this just occurred to me! When I met the future Mr. OtherBecky, I was his first serious girlfriend. He was 26. (He’d had a sort-of-not-exactly girlfriend at 24.) We’ve been together for 11 years. He’s awesome and sweet and funny and nerdy and just right for me. He’d always had a lot of female friends, but no romances. As for why that was, given the plethora of female friends, let’s briefly profile 2 of them.

    A has a thing for guys from a military background, and doesn’t especially like for her fella to be all that much taller than she is. Basically, short stocky guys who are good with weapons are her thing. My awesome sweet funny slim medium-tall nonviolent geeky husband is basically the opposite of that.

    B is exceptionally good at a very difficult job, and is compensated accordingly. She’s fully aware that she is terrifyingly awesome. Her biggest turn-off is insecurity. She likes her men smart, confident, and totally unthreatened by her awesomeness. Most of the guys she dates are 10-25 years older than she is and at least as successful. Mr. OtherBecky can have social moments that I find utterly charmingly endearing, but that she would have considered awkwardness stemming from insecurity, and therefore a total bonerkiller.

    A’s ideal man would terrify me. B’s last boyfriend reminded me of my dad. All three of us agree that Mr. OtherBecky is a great guy, but only one of us wanted to date him.

    The moral of the story: all women are not the same. There is no correct way to approach women.

    • Eeeeexactly. There is no “way to meet and talk to women” beyond all the regular ways of meeting and talking to people.

      LW, Get involved in something that forces interaction (church, a club, volunteer for some organization, whatevs) and meet folks. Some of those folks will be women. Get to know them the way you would get to know anyone (talking! hanging out!) and if you start to feel like you are into that person as more than a friend, be clear about that as early as possible. They may say “I would like to be just friends with you”. Do no (DO NOT) accept the offer of friendship if you are not legitimately ok with just being friends. But making friends with ladies is a good idea, because ladies generally know other ladies and if you come across as a good dude, they may set you up with some of the ladies they know! This is how exactly everyone I know has met their significant others since college.

      I met my husband through mutual friends. My best friend met her husband through volunteering at Harry Potter conventions (she has social anxiety, so volunteering to do stuff was great for her. Everyone has at least the one thing in common, and you’re completing a task together, so lots of built-in conversation topics). Another close friend met her husband at church. We would all be so miserable with eachother’s spouses, despite liking them as people.

      LW, you’re getting mixed advice on the specifics of what to do, or what not to do because ladies don’t all like the same thing. Keep on with the online dating if you want, but I really think you also need to go DO stuff off-line and just meet a bunch of people who are into the things you’re into. Treat them like fellow people, not like life-rafts to pull you back from the yawning abyss (just, don’t mention abysses until at least the third date) and it’ll work out eventually.

  29. I hate to think it, but cynicism says I wouldn’t be at all surprised: is there any chance the LW/CS is trolling us for some grand “social experiment”?

    • I think that would actually make me feel better about this whole sordid exchange, honestly.

    • And what sort of grand social experiment would that be. I love how I make one comment and all of a sudden it is time to release the hounds.

      • Yes. One incredibly rude comment that shows that you have not been listening to anything anyone has said to you all through the conversation. Listen up:

        WOMEN DON’T WANT TO DATE YOU BECAUSE YOU AREN’T TREATING THEM LIKE PEOPLE.

        • What rude comment? Seriously. Stating I don’t believe male privilege exists is rude? There is plenty that I listened to, and plenty of good advice. I asked a number of questions and got some good ideas and feedback.

          • You didn’t say you don’t believe male privilege exists. You said “male privilege is a myth.” This phrasing elevates your opinion to the status of fact, which is basically always rude, but especially so when you’re talking about a subject you’re pretty ignorant on, to a bunch of people who know quite a lot about it.

          • The insult was actually suggesting that Other Becky (and I, and other commenters) have no sense of human decency because we don’t think people are obligated to write back to everyone on a dating site.

          • Indeed. Sorry Captain, I didn’t see the “no human decency” comment until after this exchange had happened.

      • A hint that will serve you well in future social interactions:

        When something you believe is roundly disagreed with by a large number of people in a diverse group, it may be time to consider that maybe your belief is incorrect.

        This seems to be something you have difficulty with generally, given your reaction to aspects of the advice you received here that didn’t fit with your own views. Fair enough; I hate admitting my worldview is wrong, too. Usually I will fight tooth and nail to defend it.

        But afterwards, in the privacy of my own head, I’ll put aside my preconceptions and try to think from the alternative experiences and viewpoints that were presented to me, and I’ll quietly admit I was wrong and blinkered and try to do better.

        The ability to admit you’re wrong is one of the most important skills in life. But you don’t have to do it in public.

      • LW, you didn’t make one comment. You asked for advice and then argued with every single thing people suggested and then implied in a number of different ways that you are entitled to a response from women/a relationship and then kept talking about women as a monolith/in dehumanizing ways and then denied that male privilege existed and then said that feminism is something to be avoided and then told the Captain that she didn’t believe in basic human decency.

        And up until those last few things, you continued to get helpful, sympathetic, well-thought out responses from dozens of different women. So consider whether the problem with your dating life is really that WOMEN are the ones lacking basic human decency.

        • I did. Not a lot, true, but there was definitely some good discussion on compliments (drive by compliments) and the points game for communicating, and what not. I never said that women lack in basic human decency. I did say that completely ignoring someone who puts in effort to do something is incredibly rude and inconsiderate. I stand by that statement. I go out of my way to politely decline if people make an effort to do something. I do that because it is how I would like to be treated and it is the right thing to do.

          • You keep a beautiful stationery set to hand to reply to junkmail, I take it?

            I hope the advice that everyone has taken the trouble to give you us at least useful to a lurker with similar problems who’s less snotty about it.

          • @MissPrism: Your hope is fulfilled. Thanks, all.

          • The right thing to do according to your view of how OKCupid should work. But, as commenters have demonstrated again and again, many, many other people disagree with you about how OKCupid works, and specifically, how it works for women. So you can dig your heels in and continue to declare that other people are being rude and they shouldn’t be rude to you, but that’s not going to change a damn thing, now is it? Lots of people are operating based on a different set of assumptions about what is and isn’t appropriate in this context. Can you see that, according to their experience and their comfort level, not responding to every single message might be a legitimate response? If you’re not able to see that, I think you need to ask yourself some hard questions about your ability to empathize and shift perspectives. But beyond that, thinking everyone is rude isn’t actually going to change anything–it’s just going to make you feel shitty because you’re taking the lack of response personally, even though here we are, lots and lots of women, giving you relevant insights about why you shouldn’t take it personally. You do not seem willing to acknowledge, much less consider, the insights that you do not find comfortable or unchallenging. That, alone, is likely to be off-putting for many prospective dating partners.

          • No, you didn’t blatantly say “all women lack basic human decency”. You said “I guess I believe in basic human decency and you don’t?” in response to my comment explaining why no, you aren’t owed a response from whomever you decide to send a message to. This can be logically extended to believing that those who agree with the premise that nobody owes you their time also don’t believe in basic human decency. Since “those who agree with [that] premise” = “most of the people here”, you’ve basically said that the majority of the people here lack basic human decency. In which case, why do you give a flying fuck what we think?

            You know what, I rescind all my earlier advice. I think you should totally start including “If you don’t respond to this message, I will assume you simply don’t believe in basic human decency” to all your online dating messages. Also, try telling the women you approach in real life that feminism is bad and male privilege is a myth. Guaranteed to win ‘em every time.

          • I did say that completely ignoring someone who puts in effort to do something is incredibly rude and inconsiderate. I stand by that statement.

            If I am strolling in the park, and some fucken mime starts following me all mimeing and shitte and pretending he’s trapped inside a box, and he’s working really really hard and even starting to sweat and breathe hard, and I completely ignore him and continue on my stroll, I’m being incredibly rude and inconsiderate?

            Dude, here’s some friendly dude-to-dude advice: Until you really truly wrap your mind around the idea that *no one* owes you their time or attention *no matter what you do or how much effort you put into it*, you are never going to have a rewarding romantic relationship.

          • That’s what you got out of this conversation? Really? Not “women are not a monolith” or “be kind to yourself” or “I should develop my own interests,” but “here are two Paint-by-Numbers ways to get chicks”?

            Honestly, you can play the points for communication game and give drive-by compliments all you want: if you approach it the way you approached this thread, you’ll have a lot of girls acting like you’re a creep. These are good suggestions if and only if you start from a place of sincere interest, respect, and honesty.

            You’re not going to date or have any meaningful interaction until you see the people you want to date as human beings, equally as individual as you.

          • I know this is kind of late, but it struck me after the furor settled that part of C.S.’s resentment comes from the fact that he worked hard on his e-mail, and that is part of what he thinks entitles him to his version of courtesy (a direct no rather than a duck).

            The reasons why a woman might not want to reply have been thoroughly covered elsewhere.

            I also want to be clear to him and any others who share that delusion: when you spend hours crafting your perfect e-mail, you are not doing it for the *woman,* to make her life better. You are doing it for *you,* in hopes of presenting yourself in an appealing way (hooking yourself a babe). And she knows that.

            There’s nothing wrong with doing it — it’s just putting your best foot forward, or at least trying to — but neither is there anything about it that creates an obligation on the recipient’s part. It is *not* a gift that gives rise to a duty to say thank you, for example. (And while I’m on the subject, any “gift” given for the specific purpose of creating a sense of obligation is *also* not a true gift, and does not give rise to any obligation whatsoever, either… so don’t go there. People can tell the difference.).

            Essentially, to say a carefully-crafted e-mail entitles the writer to a response is like a salesperson claiming that because he/she spent weeks putting together a stunning flyer with great arty photos and clever captions, people who tossed the flyer in the trash rather than calling the number on the bottom are assholes. Nope.

          • Are you ignoring all the comments in which women explained why they sometimes don’t respond to OKC messages?

          • but there was definitely some good discussion on compliments (drive by compliments) and the points game for communicating, and what not.

            In retrospect, this reads as “I liked the parts of the advice that match up to what I’m already doing, so I don’t have to re-think my approach at all. Obviously it’s not what I’m doing, it’s how I’m doing it!” It also heavily implies that he’s totally ignoring all the other advice. I see GREAT THINGS in the future if my How To Talk To The Humans game is used when approaching random women on the street. “I see that we both have feet! I like yours! Do you wash them often?”

          • It struck me after the furor settled that part of C.S.’s resentment comes from the fact that he worked hard on his e-mail, and that is part of what he thinks entitles him to his version of courtesy (a direct no rather than a duck).

            Except that he hasn’t. He says he could write an OKC computer program that would churn out the messages he sends to women.

            He is, in other words, one of the reasons we can’t have Nice Things. And he thinks that his efforts to guarantee that others will not have nice things makes him deserve a pat on the back.

        • Hear hear. I find myself inclined to retract my affirmation of your basic values and to reiterate my concern that you would go stalker if you got a positive response and the woman later reconsidered (as all human beings have a right to do!).

          You are just too, too convinced of your rightness, too committed to your own perspective, too ready to declare yourself a victim of unfeeling, inconsiderate women, too ready to lash out at others for not meeting your expectations despite good faith efforts to explain why those expectations are not reasonable. The comments about male privilege not being real, and having all too much personal experience with feminism were just the icing on the cake. I find myself a lot less invested in your happily ever after than I was earlier in the day, and a lot less inclined to think anything I might say would help, anyway.

    • @K- There is a particular troll who was banned a while back from one of the online spaces that I frequent. The personal details are different between this letter and the troll in question, but the writing looks eerily similar (especially an obsession with feeling like women who were not talking to him were insulting him personally).

      • Confidential to M Dubz: Manboobz and I have conferred – we don’t THINK it’s MRAL (who was banned from here a long time ago).

        • That kind of makes me sad… I want there to be as few people like that in the world as possible, both for their own sake and for the sake of the unsuspecting ladies who encounter them.

          • Oh, I mean, Manboobz definitely emailed me and said “Is that MRAL?” and we looked up IP addresses and decided probably not.

        • I think the writing styles are totally different, so yeah. MRAL uses certain specific phrases a whole lot unless he’s trolling, and their sentence structures just seem…I dunno, different.

      • (especially an obsession with feeling like women who were not talking to him were insulting him personally).

        Unfortunately, I think this trait is too common among privilege-denying Nice Guys to make a positive id off of.

      • Ha- as a fellow Manboobz reader, I’ve been reading this guy as MRAL from the very beginning. I am more surprised to find that LW isn’t MRAL than I would have been if it was actually him.

    • Or hell, just trolling to be trolling. Or maybe extreme exercise in confirmation bias?

      • Heck, I know the Five Geek Social Fallacies have been referenced a lot on this site and we’re mostly aware of them. Doesn’t mean we still can’t be entrapped by them even when we’ve been forewarned. And the way this cockbib kept moving his goalposts in the face of polite advice (and finally moving into outright self-righteous hostility) sent up some serious red flags to me — trying to manipulate everyone here via the GSFs for his own enjoyment.

  30. LW, there is a lot of really smart, really great advice here. Smart people are telling you really insightful things that a lot of them struggled a long time to figure out. And I really, really hope you listen to what they have to say, but just in case, let me offer a collection of advice, dispensed via pop culture references, because sometimes that gets through better to some folks. It can be tough to convey the lessons we’ve learned through experience to folks who haven’t had those experiences, but hopefully, you might have watched some of the same movies/read the same books…

    “Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life’s cruelest irony.”
    — Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet

    It’s a good book to read when you’re a confused 20-something. Instead of fleeing from that feeling of loneliness, stop for a minute and take it in, because if you can’t be comfortable when you’re with yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?

    Nash: If we all go for the blonde and block each other, not a single one of us is going to get her. So then we go for her friends, but they will all give us the cold shoulder because no one likes to be second choice.
    -A Beautiful Mind

    Think about that last bit as it relates to your searches. You’re feeling desperate, that you want someone, anyone to be with you. But who wants to feel like an “anyone”? When you say “beggars can’t be choosers”, that’s a pretty explicit statement that anyone who goes out with you isn’t someone you’d want to go out with. Turn that around for a minute; How would you feel if someone sent you a message online saying “I don’t really want to go out with you, but beggars can’t be choosers, and I just feel really desperate to find someone, anyone.”

    Lee: Don’t think. FEEL. It’s like a finger pointing at the moon.
    [Looks at student who is looking at the finger; smacks student again]
    Lee: Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!
    -Enter the Dragon

    Thinking about “women”, whether it’s talking to them or asking them out or even just delivering a compliment, is like a distraction. When you walk up to someone and ask them about the t-shirt they’re wearing, you’re not talking to “women”, you’re talking to this woman who is a person different from every other person. Deal with the person, the specific person in the specific moment, or you will miss all of the heavenly glory.

    Little Bill Daggett: I don’t deserve this… to die like this. I was building a house.
    Will Munny: Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.
    -Unforgiven

    I’m not suggesting anything as drastic as murder-for-hire this time, just pointing out that “deserve” is a terrible word to have stuck in one’s head, especially about when it comes to what you think you should have or how you think other people should behave. Modern life has really spoiled us, conditioned us to expect behaviors. You knock on the door when someone’s home, you expect them to answer the door. You call them, you expect them to pick up. You leave a message, you expect them to call you back. You email them, you expect a reply. “Deserve” has nothing to do with it, though, and if you think every compliment or comment or message ‘deserves’ a reply, well, that’s going to cause you grief. Let go of “deserve”.

    • Thanks. I’d love to respond further, but I’m in complete shock at the moment at how savagely I’ve been attacked after things were going fairly well. I’m genuinely concerned now about Jennifer pulling up my personal information and sharing it with the world so that she can ensure I really get what I deserve.

      • Don’t be so dramatic. This isn’t an MRA site. The Captain is very, very clear on the importance of things like consent and personal autonomy. Oddly enough, she also seems to think that those things apply to everyone, whether she likes them or not.

        • Don’t be so dramatic? I’ve been thoroughly pilloried. How is that being dramatic?

          • Dude, at last count there were 208 comments in this thread. At least 175 of them are from people trying to be helpful, offering advice, and sharing personal stories in an attempt to make you feel a little better about yourself and your situation. How is that anywhere NEAR pilloring you??

          • You weren’t pilloried – everyone was helping you!! – until you insulted our host and started dropping MRA buzzwords.

      • I hope that’s just drama queening. You say you’ve been reading this blog, yet you think Jennifer has the ethics of 4chan? Where does that tactic you describe come from? Who does that kind of thing? That, C.S., is a tool used by men who hate women against women who piss them off. You are unspeakably wrong.
        You may have just lost whatever sympathy was left. Seriously, take some time to think about this.

      • You haven’t been attacked. You’ve been disagreed with. It looks like you need to maybe spend some time thinking about how those are different things.

        No one has said you’re a bad person. No one has said anything bad should happen to you. No one has threatened you in any way. No one has even said you probably don’t believe in basic courtesy, even though you said it about us.

        What we’ve said is that you seem to not understand that women are fully human, each one unique, and that you’ve been rude about that.

        As for the Captain posting your info, if you’re really worried about that (and not just bringing it up to try to make people feel sorry for you and turn against our gracious host), then you’ve been reading a very different blog than I have.

      • This has *got* to be a troll.

        • I really don’t think so. I’ve got a lot of experience with feeling entitled and with not being able to tell the difference between disagreement and attacking (I’ve spent and am spending time working with a therapist to deal with it). This all rings real to me.

          • Also, he’s been really consistent. The wanting to explain economics to people who are wrong, the inability to see past his definition of what is rude on a dating site to get to functional advice for coping with the reality of dating sites, the inability to take the criticism to see women as individuals, and the argument with everyone who suggests a constructive path out, despite the fact that he wrote to a website asking for help, all seem like they come from the same guy. If he is a troll, and not just someone who is confused and hurting and feeling super entitled, then I give him mad points for character development.

          • I’m a little bummed because I was ignoring the ding-ding-ding of alarm bells over this guy to try to engage with advice-giving because I sympathize with his situation, and I’m afraid I’m going to feed the MISANDRY EXISTS TOO thing if I say I even sympathize with this bit, but yeah, I too have been at the stage of youth/entitlement where I walked around with an obvious attitude of IF YOU DON’T LIKE ME IMMEDIATELY YOU SUCK AND YOU PROBABLY DON’T LIKE ME SO YOU PROBABLY SUCK, with a bonus side order of AND THAT IS WHY PEOPLE OF MY PREFERRED GENDER ARE ALL TERRIBLE AND SUCK. Guess how much action I was getting then? ZERO. And I spent a lot of time forever-alone-ing over it, too.

          • I’m now imagining a seminar called, “Character development for trolls.” Part of a series that includes, “Getting buy-in from commenters,” “How to pace your confrontation,” “Don’t out yourself too quickly: buzzwords to avoid,” and “Ad hominem: an advanced primer.”

          • undinespragg, I would go to that seminar. No joke.

          • Maybe it’s time to hang out a shingle. “Effective trolling in eight easy installments. Enrage more people and enhance your lulz or your money back.” Could be the money-maker I need to extricate myself from grad school.

      • To be clear, C.S., this is what getting attacked online looks like. You got scolded. Deal.

      • So, after all this business about being polite and respecting everyone and human decency, you accuse us of being the sort of people who would harass you? After dozens of people have spent a significant chunk of their afternoon offering advice? As others are saying, you have been disagreed with, not attacked. You will continue to be disagreed with, because this is an explicitly feminist site. Right now, you’re at a party hosted by someone else where everyone has been really attentive to you, and listened to you, and tried to help you, but then discovered that you don’t share some very important community values. And because of that disagreement, politely expressed, you’ve started shouting that you’re being attacked. Not polite, not respectful, and not likely to get you invited back to the party.

      • I’m in complete shock at the moment at how savagely I’ve been attacked after things were going fairly well. I’m genuinely concerned now about Jennifer pulling up my personal information and sharing it with the world so that she can ensure I really get what I deserve.

        What is this I don’t even.

      • C.S. I haven’t been following the thread too closely, but I did notice a few things you said, and I want to express this to you as clearly as I possibly can:

        Male privilege is a real thing. You may not understand what it is right now, probably because, as the saying goes, fish don’t understand that water is wet. Talking about male privilege isn’t an accusation or an attack, it’s pointing out distorted thinking. If someone said “all Asian people are terrible drivers”, you’d probably see that’s distorted thinking, and point out “hey, what you just said right there sounded racist, are you sure that’s really true?”

        Also, you might consider what I call the “Homer Simpson Finds Religion” test. I don’t know if you ever saw it, but one episode of the Simpsons had Homer quitting church and spending Sundays at home watching sports and being lazy. At one point, Homer confidently says “Everyone is stupid except me!” He then falls asleep with a lit cigar and sets his house on fire.

        When several different commentors all independently remark on your feelings of entitlement, your sense of what you think you “deserve”, and how that might be causing women to react negatively to you, you might want to reconsider the response of “everyone is stupid except me”.

        • And even if we are all stupid but him, what does he lose by taking the advice and changing his tactics for six months? His current approach hasn’t been working; it’s no additional loss if the next six months have the same lack of result, so why not try something new?

          • DUDE, SRSLY.

          • A college instructor of mine (whose background was in counselling) wisely said that human brains are not designed to produce happiness, but to produce safety – and the safest things is always, always, always the thing we did before that didn’t kill us. Which is why it is so hard to do new things, often. And also, I think, why new things are so rewarding – expanding the options of “what did we do before that didn’t kill us?”

          • Startled Octopus, that is such a great explanation for why Change Is Scary! It is! It’s terrifying! But there are two kinds of fear- the kind that keeps us alive, and the kind that keeps us from living. It’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference (I would say… sharp vs dull? YMMV, and probably harder to distinguish for people with anxiety problems, because everything feels like the first one, as far as I’ve heard.) Whenever I’m trying to talk myself out of doing something I want to do because it’s scary, I ask myself which kind of fear it is, and in that case it’s always the second. (And then I do it, and it was awesome, and I can’t remember why I thought it was scary in the first place.)

      • The fact that that’s where your imagination went, and the fact that you believe she would do such a thing, says much, much more about you than it does her.

      • If I don’t publicize the emails of dudes who come here and offer to show me what “real rape” looks like when I delete their comments, I certainly won’t publicize yours for being a tedious whiner.

        You are permanently banned from Captain Awkward Dot Com. Do not send me any more emails.

        • Uughhhh, well, that one didn’t work out, did it? I know I appreciate so much the time and wit and care you put into your advice, and I’m sorry that not everyone does and that you get crapped on for it. :-(

        • “I don’t publicize the emails of dudes who come here and offer to show me what “real rape” looks like”

          Err…..can we start doing that? And use snooping abilities to find their names? Them having to explain why their name comes up in a google search for sending rape threats would be a delight.

        • Everyone (except the LW) who participated in this thread is getting a virtual high-five from me and YOU, my dear Captain A, are getting a donation as a special thanks for all you put up with. (I mean, I’ve been intending to donate ANYWAY, but rather than putting it off until tomorrow I am going to go do it right this very second. Promise.)

          • I just did the same thing. What a good reminder of how much nonsense the Captain puts up with in the service of providing this awesome community.

          • Ditto! I was so curious as to why this post had 339 (now 340?) comments, and unfortunately now it all makes sense. It doesn’t look like this conversation helped the LW very much…though maybe someday it will sink in? It’s hard to distinguish between wishful thinking and optimism. BUT! So many people have written in with compassionate, constructive, thoughtful, witty, and all-around-amazing advice. I know I’ll re-read this thread for myself, and pass some bits and pieces on to friends, since we all get stuck with the ‘physical ache of loneliness’ from time to time.

            I have to say, Cap’n, that reading this blog has changed my life (setting boundaries ftw!), possibly to the point that my friends are tired of hearing me say “so I read this post on Captain Awkward the other day, and it was so great and relevant! Let me send you the link…” :) And often I’m referencing one of those insightful and hilarious comments in addition to the post itself. The Awkward Army always exceeds my expectations, and I find myself confused/disappointed when I delve into the comments on other sites. Thank you, Jennifer, for all your advice, and the community you’ve created here!

        • Jen, you are THE BEST for dealing with those dudes. Thank you so much for not letting their shit ruin your awesome site. I’m so sorry they do that to you.

          • We can thank fucken Dear fucken Prudence “when a man maybe rapes a woman and a woman tells someone about it, she is maybe ruining that guy’s life!” fucken bullshit for that particular strain of MRA goodness.

            They always have the same cycle:

            1500 words of “How men can’t really know if they raped a lady” mansplanation that gets held for moderation.

            Which I delete.

            Then I get an email asking why the comment didn’t post and can’t I handle “real” discussion or do I just live in a feminist echo chamber with the other Queen Femmicunts of No Funnington?

            Which I delete.

            And then I get the “offers” to show me the difference between Real Rape and the Tender, Heartfelt Confusing Kind.

            As someone said on Facebook today, almost everyone can tell when a dog doesn’t want to be petted or a cat doesn’t want to be held or a baby doesn’t want to go to sleep or has to poop (they make the most hilarious faces!). The whole “I couldn’t tell!” thing is such bullshit.

            C.S., aka Tedious Whiner? He’s nothin’.

        • Now I REALLY appreciate you, for the muck you slog through and spare us all, keeping this site wonderful.

        • Ugh. I am so sorry.

        • Geez. I feel bad at this point that I gave this guy so much benefit of the doubt.

          It’s clear at this point that what this guy needs isn’t advice from the Internet. What he needs is a transformative life lesson that gets him to think about people other than himself. Sadly, that really is the kind of thing that might never happen.

          • Geez. I feel bad at this point that I gave this guy so much benefit of the doubt.

            Seconding this. I had alarm bells going off for a while but kept thinking “okay, everyone needs a little help and advice, even argumentative dicks.” And then WHAMMO, I check back in this morning and the whole thing has gone nuclear because the argumentative dick turned out to be a MISANDRY IS JUST AS BAD AS MISOGYNY false equivalence guy. I am pretty sure he still needs advice and help! but it explains a lot about why he wasn’t taking any of the stuff that involved “treat women as individuals instead of a class of people that all act the same”.

            Captain, my hat is off to you.

        • Can I just say thank you for wading through all that? You are a serious trooper and this blog has one of the few comment spaces I actually read due to your awesome moderation. If I could send you a pie through the internet, I would already be baking it right now.

        • Wow. Having read this far in the thread, I join in general the chorus of: “thank you for dealing with this crap in a sensible way, and I am so sorry you have to put up with any of this crap”.

      • I have to wonder what he thought was going to happen to him. Reading the story in these comments of the woman who was stabbed by someone she turned down online, I’m reminded of the quote attributed to Margaret Atwood–men are afraid women will mock them, women are afraid men will kill them.

  31. LW, You’ve been getting a lot of “dude, you really need to change.” advice, and are clearly getting frustrated by it. That makes sense. Because, like, how exactly does one go about becoming less desperate? Desperate is a feeling you have, and feelings aren’t things you can just will away. Or like, how do you become a better conversationalist? You are an introverted, awkward person. That is who you are, and how are you supposed to change something that’s inherent in your personality?

    Change is possible, but it is frustratingly incremental, and when you are working on it, it can happen so slowly that it feels like it’s not even happening at all. The “work on yourself” advice can seem overwhelming and futile, but you have to keep plugging away at it anyway.

    I keep coming back to, of all, things, a college graduation speech I heard once. The speaker talked about a math professor she had in college who occasionally gave the students insoluble problems as homework assignments. These were open problems in advanced calculus that mathematicians had been working on for centuries and he was giving them to a class of college kids. And of course, none of the kids in the class managed to solve any of the problems, but the point he was making was, you had to try to work on them anyway. It would at the very least improve you as a person to force you to face those big, impossible problems, but also there are a lot of solved problems out there that were considered insoluble up until the point where they weren’t anymore.

    I’m not saying that you finding a date is as impossible a problem as Fermat’s Last Theorem, but you know what? Someone did solve Fermat’s Last Theorem eventually. It took a lot of false starts and a lot of work that felt like it was going nowhere, and literally centuries where it seemed like no one was making progress at all, but in the end, it was too enticing of a problem for mathematicians to stay away from, so they just kept hacking away at it until they finally solved it, and along the way, they invented a lot of cool, interesting new mathematics.

    Also, at the risk of stretching this metaphor past its breaking point, the ways mathematicians tend to approach huge impossible problems have some analogues to your situation.

    For example, mathematicians will work on special cases of a more general problem that seem easier, and see if solving those cases can provide insight into the whole. The analogue for you might be, “get practice talking to people–men and women–without dating even being on the table, just to get comfortable with that.” PomperaFirpa had some fantastic advice about how to start doing that.

    Sometimes mathematicians take the opposite approach and try to prove an even more general statement, from which the problem they’re interested in will follow as a natural corollary. The analogue for you is something like, “Work on having a happy, interesting life, because once you have that, finding a girlfriend will both be easier and much less of a big deal.”

    And finally, sometimes mathematicians stare and stare and stare and get nowhere, and finally just take a break and work on something else. Time away from a problem so you can come back to it with fresh eyes is sometimes the only hope you have of getting anywhere. The analogue to your situation is obvious: follow the captain’s advice, and don’t even think about dating for a while. Just give yourself a break.

    Eventually, whether you feel it happening or not, if you follow the advice that the captain and others in this thread have offered, you will change and mature. You’ll look back at who you were at 23, and realize that you’re not exactly that person anymore. And eventually, the problem of finding a girlfriend will no longer seem so impossible.

    • Maths PhD student here – I love you for this comment. And cosign heavily.

      *gets back to working on a special case of the general problem ze’s looking at for eir thesis…*

  32. (I saw how many comments there are and didn’t read them)

    But, once you feel that it’s time to try online dating again, here is my advice on sending messages, as a lady who does that kind of stuff sometimes:
    First off, remember that online dating for women (especially desirable women) is kind of a chore. If you send her a long letter with a lot of thought put into it, it’s actually kind of intimidating and even if it’s nice will likely get a “maybe I’ll get around to it later” kind of reaction. It makes me feel like I have to put an equal amount of effort into a response. But, you should spend more than thirty seconds (unless you thought of something cute and clever in thirty seconds). If something on her profile prompts a funny question, perfect. I think that a sentence to a paragraph is ideal in length.

    Tell her your name if it isn’t on your profile (“-Steve” at the end is fine). Avoid boring and weirdly formal statements like “we have a lot in common.” Your message should be chatty/small talky as opposed to interviewy. I for one think that it’s totally fine to just ask if she’s free sometime for coffee in a first message (I’m lazy and not really into the messaging back and forth for weeks thing, skipping that is *awesome*) but YMMV.

    If you dooooo end up with a first date, the thing that usually gets me is guys being creepy by accident. Like, it’s nice to offer a ride, but it makes girls uncomfortable to give out her address to a stranger from the internet who probably wants in her pants.

    Nobody sends “thanks but no thanks” messages. They’re a waste of time, a chore, and most dudes react to it by being douchey anyway. Don’t wait around for a girl to respond to you, just send her a message and forget about her unless she responds.

    • You might want to consider at least skimming the last chunk of comments. Things got really…um…interesting.

    • Also, for example number 10 million in how all women are different, independent, people (T, this snark is in reference to the other 200 comments, not you), I’m okay with a slightly longer message, prefer more back and forth before meeting, and also prefer to get access to your facebook profile, so I know that if you made up an identity to murder me, you at least did me the courtesy of making up a lot of sock puppet friends beforehand.

      If you, like my current boyfriend, were so nervous about meeting me in person that we were messaging for a month before one of us cracked and asked the other on an in-person date, then T is probably not a good fit for you.

      • Ahahaha holy crap this is nuts! I’ve read almost all of it now. Whoever it was that said “THIS IS WHY WOMEN WON’T DATE YOU” in response to “male entitlement is a myth” was just so spot on. Er, and everyone else who expressed a similar sentiment of course.

        I hate guys going after my facebook because I think it’s just way more info than necessary/comfortable. Also, almost all first dates are failures, so then I gotta delete him right away. Basically, I don’t like getting invested in someone too much online just to have it all fall flat in person.

        This makes me feel like actually responding to some messages and having a nice little conversation just to wash the bad taste of this out of my mouth.

  33. Holy smokes. I just read the whole thread and… wow… yeah.

    LW/CS, you have SO MUCH TO SAY and I think the person to best hear it is a qualified professional therapist. That advice has been given several times upthread, yes, but here’s why I’m saying it again:

    -You wrote in because you feel stuck, knowing that you need something to change, not sure how to do it
    -to nearly every suggestion, you explained why it wouldn’t work or was confusing or wrong
    -so now you are exactly where you were when you wrote it, except probably a little more frustrated and wound up from all this talking back and forth

    A good therapist will listen to you when you just need to vent, LW/CS, and he or she should also help you sort through which of the things you say are expressions of your hurt and want, and which of the things you say are walls or disguises for the the hurt and want.

    The other nice thing about therapy is that it only last so long–an hour once a week, say–and then you have to go home and cool off. And sometimes that sucks, yes. In the way that sometimes a good massage can leave your body painful and achy afterward from where it was knotted, a good therapy session can leave you angry and sad for a little while. But it gives you some space to think and reflect and compose, which you are not presently taking the time to do after this afternoon-long arguefest.

    Feel better.

  34. LW.

    If you’re concerned that the comment thread has recently turned hostile to you, consider that this might be a sign of where you’re having difficulty with women. You seem genuinely surprised that both the Captain, the Captains fellow advice-givers and the commenters disagree with your stance regarding feminism and privilege. But really, look at this website.

    Really look at it.

    Check out the tag cloud on the right-hand column. The larger and more bolded a word, the more often it is tagged by the Captain as relevant to a post. Notice how bold words and phrases like “feminism”, “the gift of fear” and “enthusiastic consent” are. Notice how many of the more commonly used tags are pretty well-known feminist concepts.

    Check out the blogroll a little further down the same column. Notice the links to Feministe, Crunk Feminist Collective, and more.

    This is a space where feminism and feminist concepts very often inform the responses given by both the Captain and commenters. A space you came to asking for advice. Naturally, the advice you receive is going to come from a similar place as everything else here.

    The fact that you didn’t anticipate this, and the fact that you have replied to pretty much every single piece of well-meant advice by disagreeing, stating as objective fact that This Advice Will Not Work or explaining why the person offering advice is wrong, suggests some things to me.

    You’re stuck in a rut right now, you’re clearly deeply unhappy and you want life to get better. But you flatly reject any notion that your unhappiness is something you could be responsible for, or that you could be wrong about anything. You seem very self-assured that you’re right about things, even where you have little or no experience in them. You want things to change, but you don’t seem to be willing to be the thing that changes, or to be willing or able to accept that your situation is not the fault of the women who reject you.

    It’s so much easier to believe that women don’t reply to your messages because THEY are rude, or that THEY are failing to see the ways you’d make a great boyfriend. Certainly much easier than considering that something specific and deep about you could be off-putting.

    The specifics of the advice people have offered you here may have varied, but the overall message has been the same. You need to actually, truly, totally, stop trying to look for “dates” with “women”. Start sharing all the great things about you – musician, writer, etc – with the WORLD IN GENERAL. Join a band. Upload videos of yourself making music to youtube. Join a writer’s group. Perform music at public places, look for gigs. Volunteer in places that can benefit from your writing skills or music skills. Offer music lessons for pay. Doing these things will help you meet PEOPLE in general. The more people you get to know as friends, acquaintances, friends-of-friends, colleagues etc, the greater your chances of meeting someone you’ll connect with.

    One pattern I can offer. I have never ended up in a relationship as a result of searching for “a relationship”. Every successful relationship I have had – friendship or romantic or both – has come from either me being genuinely interested in that specific person or they being genuinely interested in specifically me. I have never, not once, ended up with someone for whom me-individually was secondary to me-as-potential-girlfriend. And visa versa.

    • Oh! In case you’re misinterpreting the reason I’m suggesting you honestly, truly stop looking for a relationship.

      Right now, you’re lonely and you desperately want that to change. You’re pursuing women with a specific goal of fixing-your-life and this alters the dynamics of every interaction you have with women. If you’re talking to a woman with a specific mindset of needing a relationship, this creates a sense of urgency and panic, because not getting a girlfriend out of the attempt becomes a FAILURE, and every woman who rejects you is one less potential partner in an ever-decreasing pool of options.

      But if you’re not looking for a girlfriend, if you just chat to women who you think you might get along with the same way you would chat to a man about stuff, there’s no pressure. If you don’t get along, you don’t get along. If you become friends, fantastic! But you need to genuinely set yourself to that goal. Don’t seek false friendships with the hope of converting a woman to a girlfriend. Just make friends. And if, IF! You find you’re interested in that individual person as more than a friend, tell them honestly, openly and early. If you don’t feel a specific attraction to that specific person in a stronger way than you would for a friend, don’t pursue them for romance. Just be their friend, meet their other friends, grow your general social pool.

  35. Man.

    I was really hoping that this wouldn’t end here, which is why I tried to ignore the troubling bits of the letter and just be helpful. Which seems to be what everyone else did as well. And we tried so hard… Some of the best ‘how to learn to socialize’ advice I’ve ever seen on this site has been in this thread. But LW, you shut it down every time. I didn’t get it.

    Now I get it. You aren’t here for help, you came for a pity party, and maybe a fight.

    And well…fuck that.

    • I think it was pretty obviously a pity party he came looking for, given the ridiculous purple prose (“I collapse in on myself like a neutron star”; “soul is sinking into the yawning maw of the abyss”) upthread. I think what he wanted and expected was for people to tell him “You’re wonderful, everything you’re doing is fine, you poor baby, someday you’ll find the kind woman who doesn’t lack basic human decency.” When he got actual advice, he got defensive in a big goddamn hurry.

  36. Heya LW, I’m a 26 year old woman and I have only been on OKCupid first meetups (I don’t consider them dates, because I only go on dates with people I know I am attracted to). I’ve never been in a relationship, and I was/am crushingly insecure about it (now only sometimes! yay!)

    First: “without any woman ever even viewing me as good enough for a first date” – it would probably be helpful to divorce rejection from any notion of your worth as a person. I have a very fickle gut instinct that is only attracted to about…1% of the population, or something ridiculous. I don’t know how it works, and I can’t control it. So not about someone’s worth. Sometimes even when people I am attracted to approach me, they want different things than I want, or I’ve had a bad day and just want to be left alone, or any of a million reasons that add up to “not right now” or even “not you” – but not because they’re not good enough – it’s because they’re not right for me at that time in that place, ok? When people reject me, I used to be crushed, but then I thought “what do I want, them to give in reluctantly? That would be fucked up!” I’ve decided it’s worth it to wait to find someone who is really enthusiastic about me, that I am also really enthusiastic about (all the “friends” I have had sex with, who are my only sexual partners to date, weren’t really that into me, and I was a little lukewarm about them too, and the sex was boring and it often turned out our friendships, which to me were about having stuff in common and having good talks and maybe being a teeny bit attracted to one another, were really about these people wanting to have sex without any emotional fallout or any responsibility for their partner’s pleasure – orgasms are for girlfriends, right?! @_@ ).

    Like the Captain said: think about who you would like to be assuming no partner arrives, and what you would like to be doing. That way you’re not wasting your life pining, and presumably at least some of that will get you out of the house where you might meet people in a fun setting that does not have dating pressure! Also, that kind of independence and confidence is really sexy to a lot of people.

    About Okcupid – it’s really, really not cool when someone writes me a note saying “Respond, even if the answer is no.” It shows a sense of entitlement I find extremely offputting. It is unfortunately in the nature of online dating at the moment that women get too many messages (see the A(n)nals of Online Dating blog) and men often are ignored. It may not be the way for you. Consider going on a fun jaunt with a friend and taking some relaxed pictures though. No need to be professional, but if a person’s only photos are of their face (particularly, one blurry poorly lit photograph) I am less interested, because I can’t tell anything about them from the picture. I don’t want someone who is shy about who they are! And you don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t know and like who you are! Be yourself, loud and proud. We may be single forever, but we’ll at least never have tried to fool anyone into dating us.

    *singledom solidarity fistbump of maximum strength*

  37. LW, it sounds like you have severe social anxiety. If your therapist isn’t helping you to work on this issue, you might need to shop for a more helpful therapist. What you describe in several of your comments about your difficulty in participating in social conversations, talking to women, making friends — is really not normal.

    I don’t think you will have success with women unless you also seriously rethink your view of women and gender relations — and people have given you very constructive advice if you’re willing to get past feeling offended and think about it.

    But even aside from your efforts to date, working on your social anxiety would help you to have a much more fulfilling social life. I think this would really help you.

    • I got this vibe from the LW too. I’ve dealt with social anxiety before, and some of his troubles (before he got into the MRA crap) rang familiar to me.

    • I also think he might need to level with his therapist a little more about what’s going on. You’d be amazed at the shit people neglect to tell their therapists, to the extreme detriment of the therapy.

  38. Dude. Literally the only response from the Captain or the commentariat that would have made you happy would have been:

    “CS -

    We normally don’t do this, but your letter has touched our cold black hearts. Here are the coordinates for the secret island where the sweet girls who understand the value of a good man’s heart are all hidden away. There’s nothing that you’ve been doing wrong; we just don’t let them wander around loose because they make us look bad. Any one of them would love to date you plus they all look like Natalie Portman with good eye makeup on. Have fun! Send us a postcard from the island. And for the love of god, don’t tell any other men the coordinates!

    Kisses,
    Women (the other ones)”

    • Thank you for this. :)

      • Sad, isn’t it? SO much thoughtful, well-intentioned advice, to devolve into something so sordid… in a way that revealed that the thread was doomed from the outset.

        Jedi hugs to you, Jennifer. You rock.

    • I feel like The Other Ones would be a great title for a darkly comedic feminist novel.

    • YES, THIS.

      The whole time I’ve been reading this letter and comment thread, I’ve been making up a script in my head. It goes like this:

      LW: I am a Nice Guy! How do I get a girlfriend? [List of things already tried]
      CAwkward: Here are some other things to try!
      Commenters: Don’t worry, you’ll be okay, here’s some more advice!
      LW: YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, NONE OF THAT WILL WORK, I MUST FIND LOVE, IT IS IN MY BIOLOGY OR SOMETHING
      CA/Commenters: CHILLAX DUDE, many of us used to feel the same way, but here are some things we tried that worked! And some of us are even happy being single!
      LW: YOUR ADVICE IS ALL STUPID, I WILL DIE OF LONELINESS, BEING SINGLE WILL KILL ME

      I agree with Sweet Machine’s comment earlier–it doesn’t seem like the LW actually came here looking for advice with the intention of, you know, listening to it and thinking about it. Instead, he just wanted metaphortunate’s sample response, and nothing else.

      One last thing: as a biologist, it irks me beyond belief when people chalk up so much to biological imperatives/genetics/hormones/what-the-fuck-ever. No no no no stop it!

      • As a person-who-studies-psychology-but-isn’t-a-psychologist (dammit), I likewise get pissed when people say they “need” something that isn’t actually a psychological need.

        What we need is for other people to notice us, know us, listen and understand; if you’re mad, you need other people to acknowledge that your anger is a thing you feel. You need to feel as if who you are is an acceptable thing, and you need to feel like you belong in society. You need to feel accepted, understoof, valued, and loved. That is a real need, and people go legitimately batshit if it isn’t met. Having that person swear to love you forever and have sex with you lots while they do it? Not a real need. Just a definite upside.

      • Yes to all of this, as another biologist it’s a real pet peeve. But then I probably only think that because cavemenSavannahevolution, doncha know.

    • Hilarious! Maybe it’s called The Island of Basic Human Decency, where no man’s unsolicited missive is ever ignored.

    • Dude, this 100%.

      I feel like this should be a litmus test when one is considering sending in a please-advise-me letter: “If I’m totally honest with myself, is any answer other than ‘You’re in luck, we have the MAGICAL CURE for [your complicated life problem] right here!’ truly going to satisfy me, Y/N?” If Y, then awesome, you’re in the market for advice. If N, then what you actually want is to vent, and that is maybe something to take up with your therapist instead.

      • Yeah. . . I think of the collective advice Captain Awkward (original advice + commentariat) more as a “workbook of practical exercises for life” than “magical solutions right here right now.”

  39. I don’t know if the LW is still reading these comments, given that he felt he was being attacked (which – people were super helpful for the majority of this thread, CS, and then even when the disagreement started, they were still civil; ‘pilloried’ is not the word for it), but I have been in your lonely, awkward nerd shoes. I didn’t date anyone for real til I was older than you are now, I spent a long time terrified and convinced that I was destined to be miserable/forever-alone (my favorite dramatic self-pity line was “I’m going to be an ancient cat lady, except I’m allergic, so I WON’T EVEN HAVE CATS”), and I had serious rejection issues. So on those notes, I feel the sadness and the desperation in this letter, and so despite the way that the comments went, I’m still going to post parts of the comment I was originally drafting. This is from one (former) lonely nerd to another, CS. Think of it as a cautionary tale.

    The two times that I’ve gone into a relationship with a ‘god, I just want a significant other; why is everyone else getting married and kissing and going on dates but not me?; must find someone so I’m not alone forever and so I know that nothing is wrong with me; OH PRAISE BE I FOUND SOMEONE!!’ mentality, it has been, and I cannot stress this enough, a shitshow. Dating with that looming over my head was awful, because inevitably, I was way more invested in the other person than she was in me, and I was deeply hurt when she was more interested in being with her friends and family than with me (which is entirely reasonable, that early on in a relationship), and she felt smothered and pressured, and I pleaded and would have done anything to convince her to stay because I was so afraid of being alone. I was convinced that being in a relationship was going to make my life magical, and it didn’t; it made me miserable, because I was constantly creating obsessive metrics to calculate whether she liked me, she really liked me, or if she was planning to leave me. And in both cases, they both dumped my ass, deservedly, because that stuff is terrifying to be on the other side of. It’s way too much pressure, for everyone in the relationship. You can’t expect one person to be the end-all, be-all of making your universe work and making your life happy. It’s not a tenable way for a relationship to work, and it’s especially not a tenable way of getting into a relationship in the first place, because people are going to sense that kind of need and it is going to scare them.

    Women are also going to sense your feeling that you are entitled to a certain kind of treatment from them, and it is going to be a huge turn-off. It is going to be scary. I’m not going to go into this, since other people said it much more eloquently above in the discussion about OKC messages and you didn’t want to hear it even when they phrased it better than I could, but someone linked Dr. NerdLove and I think that his is a good website to check out. I know that it is easier to craft a narrative where you’re being dog-piled on and people are being unfair to you than it is to sit back and rethink your positions (and I’m saying this as someone who sticks to her positions like a bulldog with its teeth sunk in a damn steak when people tell me I’m wrong, not from a place of condescension), but try to take a little while and think about what commenters here (many of them women; women, who you’re trying so hard to relate to) have been saying to you.

    As for the dating, I know it’s not what you want to hear, but the advice you received was excellent. Take a break. Meet some new people, as friends, with zero expectations of more from them, and try new activities. Have a good time. Make as much peace with yourself as you can. Think about what people have said to you here. Don’t construct taking a break as meaning that you’re just waiting for women to come to you, instead of you approaching them; take a real break. Then go back to the online dating site and message the women who seem genuinely interesting to you; who you think you’d have fun with and you share interests with, and who, again, don’t owe you any kind of a response. It may seem right now like casting a wide net is the best strategy, but what the crap happens if you do wind up dating one of these women who you find attractive but you aren’t actually interested in? Not only is it grossly unfair to her (you are treating her like a piece of meat with great hair, not as a person), no matter how cute someone is, it’s really not fun or rewarding for anyone if you don’t have anything to talk about or you have nothing in common; it’s not worth it just for the sake of being able to say you have a girlfriend. Even if you were able to get into a relationship with someone like that (which I’m unsure about, because people can generally sense when you’re genuinely into them and when you’re looking at them as a “someone, anyone, I guess you’ll do” measure), it wouldn’t necessarily cure your loneliness or make you happy.

    I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in the fear and loneliness and feeling bad, and to become offended and entrenched in a “I am right and these people are attacking me” mentality, but the Captain and the commenters here have given you fantastic truth-bombs of advice, dude. Think it over.

  40. On the bright side, a three-hundred-comment thread that ends in frustration and snark means that you have arrived in the blogosphere!

    Congratulations, and I am so, so sorry.

    Maybe this will be good advice to someone else soon? Because it’s all really, really good advice.

    • Yeah, considering how it ended in frustration and snark, it’s full of really good advice. It definitely would have helped me when I was single (and in the back of my mind, I’m keeping it in mind in case I ever become single again).

  41. There is so, SO much I could say here, but most of it would not be in any way productive.

    So I would just like to express my appreciation for the good Cap’n and this amazing community of commenters. This is one of the few places online where I eagerly read the comments because I know that almost all of the time they’ll be full of thought and wisdom and kindness, and the fact that so many people met this…episode…with all those things and assumptions of good faith for a good while makes me genuinely happy and grateful. There’s still a lot of good to be found in this world, and a good amount of it resides in the Awkward Army.

    • I agree! The Awkward Army is a great group of people. I’m impressed with all the good that came out of this thread despite its unhappy ending.

    • Yes! This! And I am going to break the all-caps rule and just say I’M GOING TO GO MAKE MY DONATION TO CAPTAIN AWKWARD RIGHT NOW.

      • There is no ALL CAPS rule here! Have you not seen the posts I write?

        ALSO THANKS.

        • Well, yes. But there are so many kinds of all-caps! I was worried I was doing shouting-rudely all caps when my goal was excitedly-sharing all-caps. TONE IS HARD.

  42. This started out as a comment to LW/CS but now it’s for everyone interested in one view if dating sites… A.J. Jacobs did an experiment where he acted for his gorgeous female nanny on a dating site – an interesting perspective. Married nerdy guy takes on persona of hot blonde woman (with her permission and input).

    Not sure if it’s online, it’s in his Guinea Pig Diaries book.

    • For other curious readers, is this what you meant?

      • Oh, god. I mean, ‘My Life as a Hot Woman’ is interesting, and kind of perfect for this thread…although I think a more accurate title might be ‘How I Discovered My Employee Is Human Despite Being a Hot Chick (But Not Before Pressuring Her Into Dating Men She Didn’t Want To and Using Her Likeness to Elicit Sexual Fantasies From Internet Daters)’.

        ANYWAY: LW sucks. Everyone here is so nice and helpful! Cap’n deserves better letter writers, but her nice/helpful shines even brighter in comparison to his sulky misogyny. (Sulky misogny: less terrifying than angry misogyny, but 23% more irritating!)

      • That’s the one – thanks for finding the link, I was on the world’s slowest wifi connection and couldn’t get there.

        And yeah, it’s a little – off, somehow, even though I love A.J. Jacobs – but I thought it was relevant to the discussion about expectations and dating sites.

        Very relevant quote:
        Originally, I planned to send a personal ding letter to each of the unsuitable guys. But the volume is overwhelming. By day four, we’ve gotten close to fifty approaches. I’m starting to become shockingly picky. I have a growing list of instant deal breakers:

        • If the guy uses the word lady or ladies in his opening e-mail.
        • If the guy lists his best feature as “butt” (ironically or not).
        • If the guy uses more than two exclamation points in one sentence. (One enthusiast wrote: “Hello there beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!”)
        • If the guy misspells the first word of his introductory essay. (“Chemestry is important.”) I don’t want to be a spelling snob, but the first word?
        • If the guy’s opening photo features a shot in which his head is tilted more than 20 degrees to the left or right.
        • If the guy has a photo of his Jet Ski or snowmobile on his page.
        • If the guy is wearing sunglasses, any hat besides a baseball cap, or is bare chested in his main photo.
        • If the guy refers to female anatomy anywhere in his initial correspondence (e.g., “I’m not a professional gynecologist, but, uh, I’d be happy to take a look”).

        Never in my life have I had such power. It’s tremendous. Yes, at first I feel guilty about failing to respond to 70 percent of these guys. But it’s just not possible. And in a way, it makes me feel better about my life as a single man. Maybe when my calls to beautiful women went unreturned, it wasn’t because I was hideous or the women were evil. It was just a matter of time management. Or at least I can tell myself that.

    • If people are interested, the Jacobs article is here.

  43. I have to admit, alarm bells went off in my head when I first read the letter too, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Captain, you’re far more gracious than I could ever be. I don’t know how you do it.

    It does make me wonder if this is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing, though- does his misogyny make him nervous enough to throw up around women, or does his nervousness around women create his misogyny?

    • At this point, it really doesn’t matter. I think he’s demonstrated that he was never really willing to listen to anything any one had to say.

      Seriously, did he not realise what the Captain does around here?

    • For what it’s worth, I think the nervousness around women creates his misogyny; he needs LOVE and SEX, women won’t give it to him, and therefore he becomes hateful.

      This is total total armchair psych blathering, so I may be completely wrong here, but it’s a thought: I think dudes like this are actually deeply terrified of other men. Other men, they think, are awful judgmental assholes who are going to beat them up and emasculate them for failing to measure up. Men aren’t safe. So women (sweet angelic creatures!) become their fixations: not only will women give them love, affection, and validation, that woman becomes, how to say… the locus of their anxieties about men. Once they have a woman, they can worry that other men (alpha males!) will come and steal her; their anxieties about harm from other men get displaced onto her, so they can fantasize about rescuing her. And what’s more, a good enough woman gains them enough status and manhood that other men will respect and envy them, and they will have arrived as a “real man”, an “alpha male”.

      This is why (imo) the LW was so puzzled about suggestions to consume media created by women. Women aren’t actually what’s important here. Women are just tools to facilitate his relationship with other men.

  44. OK, so I have been reading the Captain for some months now and have not commented before, but this whole comment thread was rather amazing to behold and I just thought it was past time to pop in here and say: I love you people.

    First everybody gave the LW tons of support and great advice. Which he didn’t want to hear, which you guys got. Many of us have been there, when one’s life seems to suck no matter what and there doesn’t seem to be any answer. Then the LW got all lashy-outy and mansplainy. Disappointing, but what was not disappointing was the reaction to that — it was just the right mix of “Dude, get your act together” and “Dude, seriously, we understand the feelings you originally expressed and even though you are going to involuntarily go away now, you still really need to try listening to some of this fine advice.” I was simultaneously glad he got the kick in the pants he sorely needed AND could still feel some empathy for the guy and his inability to get out of his own head.

    I’ve commented on various other blogs where feminist issues and relationships and emotional stuff are under discussion, but there always comes a point at which I realize that there are things I can’t reveal about myself for fear of being held in contempt. Even though I’ve been only a reader up until now, I can already see that here that point will never come, as long as I extend the same courtesy to others.

    So in the hope that I am not being overly ooky with the compliments (because as we have established, that is not cool), let me say: Cap’n, you have created and fostered one of the safest and most thoughtful spaces I can think of online right now. We can be anybody we want to be here so long as we’re not assholes to each other, and for that you should be very proud.

    • I am so with you on this, and that is why I love this blog so hard. Even on a lot of feminist blogs I have felt personally contempted-at for not being good enough at social justice or whatever. Not here!

  45. Well, the advice may have been wasted on the LW, but since I FINALLY ESCAPED MY HORRIBLE FORMER RESIDENCE and am now in Big City and planning on trying to go out and meet people just to get out and meet people (once the aftermath of the moving stress has eased up a bit – hi 4 hour naps!) all this awesome advice saved me from writing a letter! :)

    • Yay! I think this is what the Awkward Army was hoping would happen. :)

    • Yaaayyyy! I was feeling pretty bummed out by the end, here.

    • Hurray for drst!

    • I was actually going to leave a comment similar to this – I’m 27 and have never been on a date, and I’ve been psyching myself up to get out there and try this OKCupid thing for the first time ever, and the USEFUL ADVICE from everyone that the LW ignored was exactly what I needed to hear. (Except I have a pretty awesome and fulfilling life already, and have lots of human love and connection and affection. I just want someone to kiss.)

      So thank you, Awkward Army, y’all are the best and I love this place.

    • Hooray! I think that’s the best reason to occasionally find ourselves in the position of informing the Emperor that he is buck-ass nekkid: it’s not so much about the Emperor, who is invested in the concept of his invisible clothes and isn’t going to budge, as it is for everyone else, who can think about this and go “you know, I don’t think I’ll buy those invisible trousers after all, it doesn’t seem like a good deal.”

      Meaning YAY AT LEAST SOMEONE GOT SOMETHING OUT OF THIS.

  46. This is legimately the best thing I have read all day. I am posting for the first time just to say so. This site rocks. You all rock. FACT.

  47. I’m only about a third of the way through reading the thread, but I wanted to thank all of the Awkward Army recruits for their fantastic, uplifting advice. I’ve been going through a bit of a rough spot – new city, family loss, having trouble building a circle of good friends – and this was exactly the reminder I needed to stay chill and keep focusing on my awesome rather than feeling desperate. In case CA gets (understandably) sick of moderating, I just wanted to get that in – y’all rock.

    Jedi Hugs for everyone!

  48. I actually just wrote a blog post inspired by this one, because this past weekend I went out and volunteered at the kind of place I want to work. I hadn’t slept enough and there were points I almost wished that I could go home and sleep but it was just what I needed. Reading through all this advice was amazing to be as I’m in a space of put myself together first, connect with friends, hug family lots and jobs and relationships will happen.

    I’ve sadly known guys like the LW and the way the advice was given was amazing. I’m glad you exist Captain Awkward.

  49. I followed the whole train wreck as it derailed Wow, even after the debris is lying all over the place, some people are continuing to offer sympathetic advice. I salute your compassion in the face of asshattery. When people gently point out “Your ass is showing,” really, the best LW can come up with is, “No! You’re the one without pants! I’m the man, so I am the one wearing pants! But my ass, it’s so cold! Why are you so mean to me?” I know he’s been banned, but still I must comment to put all of this in a different perspective to just highlight how awfully he is reacting. Plus I think the madlibs approach has the potential to be damn funny.

    Imagine instead of searching for Twue Wove, he is unemployed and looking for a job. In fact, he’s never worked for an employer, but life is ultimately meaningless without a paycheck. Let’s see what that looks like:

    I’m 23 and I have never had a [job]. In fact, I’ve never been on [an interview]. This isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to ask [for work], they just always say no. In fact, I’ve been rejected about 100 times without any [employer] ever even viewing me as good enough for [an interview]. I really want to [work] and experience that part of life, but I don’t know how to go about it. Each time I get rejected it makes me remember all the other rejections, and I feel absolutely crushed.

    I have a lot of reasons why I would make a great [employee]; however, I also have a number of things that make me insecure — I have a bit of [social anxiety] for example. I see lots of [high-paid managers] out on the street, but I am not at the point where I can approach them and start up a conversation out of nowhere. I am currently trying online [employment listings], but it is a disaster; [employers] won’t even respond to my messages. I cannot think of a worse feeling than writing a nice, witty [cover letter] and being completely ignored. Sometimes I’ll see that they even looked at my [resume], and they still won’t send me a polite “I just don’t think you’re the right guy for [us], good luck though” message. I’ve received differing advice on how to approach online [job juhnting] with half of the people telling me to not spend more than 30 seconds on any [cover leter] because 99% of the [companies] will never respond, and the other half saying I should write nice, thoughtful [cover letters] to maximize my response rate. So far, neither approach has worked. I got my [resume] critiqued, and I have been told that it is pretty good, yet I’m still not getting any responses!

    I have many friends that are [employed], and the only thing that they can suggest is that I need to feel more confident and less desperate. I try to fake the confidence and hide the desperation, but it isn’t going to go away until I can get a little affirmation that I’m [employable] and worthy of [hiring]. I know this should all come from within, but I’m a nerd and my statistics don’t look good. It is a challenge to feel confident and not desperate when the data indicates that the problem is me and the ticking of the clock grows ever louder in my mind. I’ve considered [overstating my qualifications], and not being concerned about how [employers will react to blatantly untrue claims] but that just isn’t me. I don’t want to be a pushy, aggressive creep — I don’t think I could be if I wanted to — but I need to be able to get some success, and I don’t know what to do. No one I know is having the trouble I’m having with [finding work], and the more failure I have the more I want to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry. Please help!

    And the advice is to go out and meet people. Network. Do infomational interviews. Polish your people skills through practice with the goal of polishing your people skills, not getting hired right here, right now. Maybe volunteer to improve job skills. Eventually these will lead to some good job leads. Approach each job lead as a new opportunity, since employers have no idea how many job applications you’ve sent out or that you’ve been rejected every time. Take a break from sending out endless untargeted job applications, and do your homework. For the next 6 months, figure out what field you want to work in. What trade magazines represent that industry. Read books and articles on that topic. Find out what the big ideas and recent advances are in that field. Who are the leaders, and what’s the general culture like? What companies do that work? How do they differ from each other? Which one might be a good fit for you?

    And if you couldn’t get hired? What else gives life meaning? How have others found purpose in life? What can you contribute to society without a paycheck? What are you passionate about that doesn’t involve earning money?

    I’m trying not to think about that part because if I knew I was going to be [unemployed] forever, I would blow my brains out! My life wouldn’t be awesome and fulfilling; it would be over.

    Connection and affection are basic human needs. NOTE: Yes, as are purpose and meaning. All of these can be achieved an infinite number of ways, many of which involve neither sex nor money. Defining quality of life by just one parameter pretty much shuts you off from much valuable human experience.

    If someone so much as mentions their [job], or [colleagues], or I see [people commuting to work], I collapse in on myself like a neutron star.

    I’ve tried taking a break and that didn’t work. [Employers] just aren’t going to approach me even though I try to make myself approachable. I’ve never had a [hiring manager] come say hello to me.

    You are telling me to pretend that the basic human needs that have gone unfulfilled forever can just be completely ignored. How is this possible? NOTE: Sexual urges are a human need; sexual fulfillment with a partner is a common want. Affection and love are a need; but the universe does not owe you a lover. Work and purpose are a need, but the universe doesn’t owe you a paycheck either.

    [Volunteering] is great, but it isn’t [work]. It doesn’t satisfy that deep down need to feel [gainfully employed], at least it doesn’t for me. I don’t have any idea how I am supposed to lose the desperation when there is a gaping hole where [employment history] should be. I cry when a friend [offers to be a reference]. Seriously.

    One of the things that I have trouble with in terms of online [job hunting] is the fact that I feel like everything is so formulaic. Maybe I’m overthinking things.

    Yeah, it feels like I could create a computer program to send out initial messages on [monster.com]. In fact, I wrote one up that I thought [employers] would find interesting…
    *Interesting and well-crafted, grammatically correct greeting.* *Exclamatory observation about similar interests in X, Y, and Z!* *Thrice-rewritten attempt at witty humor.* *[Company]-specific and thought-provoking question designed to elicit a response?*
    *Random closing statement,*

    That is like the complete opposite advice I’ve gotten from every [working person] ever. I’m always told not to go up and compliment them because it is creepy. The last thing I want to be is a creep. Another problem for me is the fact that all my [employed] friends are older than I am. Significantly older. I don’t have a group of [employed] friends in my own age group. Being the super nerdy overachiever that I am, I tend to gravitate towards people that [have been working] at least 10 years [longer].

    I am terrible at having a conversation. I have this little reel of things going on in my head over and over. “Don’t say something stupid. Will they find this interesting? Oh god, they aren’t laughing at my joke! Are they trying to end this conversation. I’m terrible at reading body language does that foot turn mean they think I’m crazy? This pause is going on way to long, what should I say? I know, I’ll take a sip of my drink.” I’ll stumble my way through a bunch of conversations at a [job fair] and then I’ll try to sneak home and hope that no one notices I’m no longer there.

    Is it possible to love yourself? I’m not really sure it is. I like things about myself, but I don’t love myself. That is something that I can’t comprehend.

    Just being [with] people doesn’t really help me, since I’m terrible at meeting people in general. I’m the person who sits awkwardly in the corner that no one talks to, tries to get involved in the conversation/activity, gets pushed out, and then quietly slinks away hoping no one will notice I left.

    Let’s just say that my [employed] friends are the last remnants of past social circles and current [neighbors].

    I’m an iceberg. I have a fear that by sitting and not contributing people are thinking “who is this awkward guy just sitting there slackjawed like an idiot not saying anything!?”

    There is one person in my [support network], but she no longer lives nearby. That has really been the hardest part recently. My best friend and activity partner lives hundreds of miles away from me, and she is out there living life with no problem adjusting. I on the other hand, am completely lost. I like my other friends, but she’s the only one I have [support from].

    I’m quite afraid of talking to strangers. A couple years ago I had a breakthrough in therapy and I managed to tell this woman on the subway who [was wearing a nice business suit that she looked like she worked for a good company]. She gave me this awkward thank you, and I was so nervous after that I threw up all over the street. I haven’t done that since.
    \
    To be honest, I don’t have a list [of job requirements]. As I’ve grown more desperate my list has gone from things I actually want to find to simply [an employer who will talk to me]. I assumed that I my failure meant I was setting my bar too high, so I changed my bar to be “is [willing to talk to] me.” In terms of online [job hunting], I pretty much [apply for] every single [job listing] I find even remotely [tolerable]. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that.

    I [have awesome skills, hobbies, and accomplishments that make me an interesting person and a potential asset for employers]. I have an unhealthy obsession with [mansplaining].

    [Not responding to my job application] sounds incredibly rude and impolite. To say that someone doesn’t deserve a response sounds to me like you are taking their humanity away from them. Society works because of civility and if you can’t be civil, what is the point? I [surf the internet and play online videogames] where I get a lot of [pop-up ads and unsolicited chats], and I always try to make sure I politely tell them thanks but no thanks. [Just closing those pop-up windows] is rude, and I feel like just ignoring someone who has actually made an attempt to reach out to you is much more inconsiderate. I’m not talking about the “[Your company rakes in the dough, can I bake in your ovens?]” messages.

    I’m going to avoid letting your discussion of privilege and entitlement taint the otherwise good advice that people have given. I have too much on hand experience with [employment agencies] thank you very much.

    I have absolutely no desire to pick a fight [and hurl insults]. Why…jump to that? I approach things by thinking how I would respond. I even politely decline free newspapers in the morning. I guess I’m too nice and should be more rude and impolite? I guess I should care less about wondering if [this company is actually hiring and just call their human resources department every day]? I know I stated in my initial letter that the reason I don’t do the [fraudulent resume] approach is I find it incredibly distasteful.

    When people try to solicit money from me on the street or on the telephone, I DO actually politely tell them no. You seem to spend an awful lot of time harping about entitlement and zero time thinking about doing the right/kind thing [of hiring me]. I guess I believe in basic human decency and you don’t?

    Well, I guess we have a fundamental disagreement here, because [the economic recession] is a myth.

    I have trouble interacting with [employers] because that all people are equal?

    How is that any different from the things I have to deal with on a daily basis…? It’s true that I don’t have to deal with those exact issues, but it isn’t as if I get to stroll through life in a bubble of complete immunity to anything and everything. Just because I have different problems as [an unemployed person] doesn’t mean I don’t have problems as [an unemployed person].

    What the whole conversation boils down to is WHY NOT ME? IT’S NOT FAIR! PEOPLE ARE LIVING THEIR LIVES AT ME, AND IT HURTS! I’ve sent out hundreds of job applications to anything and everything that looked interesting to me, carefully crafting cover letters and resumes, and no one has had even the basic human decency to send me a rejection letter. And if I get one, it damn well better be hand written and not a form letter, after the effort I went through to customize my application materials. I want a job and I’m unemployed, and you’re a company that employs people, so you should hire me. Why do I want the job? Well, because I want a paycheck of course. Receiving a paycheck is a biological imperative. Plus, I am tremendously insecure, and I think that if I can tell people what I do for a living, it will solve my problems. No, I don’t really care what your company does, I just want a paycheck from a company willing to hire me. Wait, I fail to see how I’m the problem here. What do you mean, go away? I am sincerely asking for help, and you are being mean to me!

    • *applauds* This is fantastic and really shows the entitlement.

    • It’s a good analogy.

      Employers don’t want to hear “I NEED THIS JOB SO BAD.”
      Employers don’t even want to hear “I’d be an awesome employee!”
      Employers want to hear “I have X years experience in this field, I have Y training and Z skills, and I’m a laid-back person who gets along with most people.”

      A date, like a job interview, might end up fulfilling your needs, but it’s not about your needs.

    • Holy crap, you’re making it very hard to choose the Comment of the Day.

      • Definitely a tough call. I must point out that, sadly, my comment is very derivative. I loved the well of happiness, and how mathematicians do it, and Human Decency Island, and and and …

    • I am the crowd at the opera, giving a standing ovation and blinking tears away.

    • Gold star for “PEOPLE ARE LIVING THEIR LIVES AT ME”. Excellent, would lol again.

    • Wow, even aside from the analogy, just having it all laid out like that is extremely telling.

    • Oh my God, you have put your finger exactly on the pulse of what my anxiety about job-searching sounds like in my head. I have got to get my shit together. (At least I don’t mansplain.)

    • I am dying laughing at PEOPLE ARE LIVING THEIR LIVES AT ME. You got it in one. Damn, but you’re good.

    • I’m having a hard time totally loving this one, because as an unemployed person* I have a hard time thinking “so you have no source of income?” is quite parallel to “so you have no one giving you blow jobs?” There’s no “masturbate it off” solution that, you know, puts food on the table and pays for medicine while I wait for networking and chance encounters to take hold. It’s not that I think life is meaningless without a paycheck (though I do think I’d be a bit better at getting things done with an actual supervisor; isn’t that what supervisors are paid for?), it’s that life is potentially literally unlivable without some money.

      I dunno; of course there are a lot of places where the analogy is apt (such as the need to 1) be sensible and not fatalistic about actually sending out resumes, and 2) actually show up on time and get things done once the job is “acquired”), but, ouch, it hit me in some insecurities.

      *who has been unemployed for an amount of time measuring in years: basically, I have awesome-but-niche skills, and have been having a hard time finding a job that fits those skills in this economic situation, and I can’t land a non-fitting-my-skills-but-pays-rent job because I have no experience in retail/food service, having spent the past years developing the aforementioned weirder niche skills. Yes, part of the problem is that I get caught in a brain loop of “augh, if only I had normal skills, like my programmer friends who can get five companies in a bidding war over them on the first week of their job search!” so I freely admit that it is partially head games, but the reality of “I actually have no income, and am still dependent on my not-totally-well-off-themselves parents” is objective, and sucks.

      • Well, I think part of the analogy is that this guy’s attitude stinks even for job-hunting. It’s just that when you make the relationship he wants an explicitly business one, his whininess and entitlement stands out even more.

      • Right, that is where the analogy breaks down. Not having a job is a very different problem than not having a girlfriend. I’m amused by how many similarities there are in the advice for dealing with it, though!

      • I agree that it is not entirely apt and that not having a lover is not the same as not having a livelihood. I was envisioning him as a trust fund baby who really wasn’t concerned with survival per se, or simply a privileged college student* who just graduated and is angry and upset that he followed all of the rules and the perfect job isn’t magically awaiting him. How dare you, world!

        * If this isn’t you, then don’t make it about you. I get that times are amazingly hard and that recent grads are facing an appalling situation that the pundits say they will mostly never recover from over the course of their lifetimes. I’m talking about privilege and the world owes me a living attitudes.

        I truly sympathize with you, L. As a generalist with awesome transferable skills but an unorthodox history and degrees, I often have difficulty competing against people who fit neatly into those little personnel boxes. My current good fortune is entirely serendipity, I assure you. Good luck, and I hope that every time you fall into The Pit of Despair, you have loved ones and the strength to climb back out, over and over, until one day maybe it’s no longer necessary because you have overcome.

        The scope of our systemic problem is not that I know someone in crisis, it’s the sheer number of people in crisis across various social networks. People who’ve been un(der)employed for years and given up. People losing their homes. People staying in toxic work environments because at least they have a job and benefits. People staying in abusive relationships because of the prospective economic disaster of breaking up. And that’s not going into all of the people I know who could contribute to the jobs economy (and would love to!) if there were more flexibility in the system, instead of requiring them to remain 100% dependents of the state or risk losing their disability benefits. The marginal employees who lack education or full physical/mental capacity who’ve been permanently forced out, followed disproportionately by people of color, and now leaking into the middle class…I truly fear for our collective future. Dystopia in my lifetime was something I never hoped to experience.

        • Thanks for your kind response, solecism. I probably shouldn’t have posted at all in the mental state I was in — I ended up making a rant on the same subject on my personal journal a half hour later, so clearly this was particularly on my mind today. Anyway, I am clearly a bundle of touchy nerves on the topic! Apologies for the derail.

    • Solecism, that was…actually really insightful and helpful to me. I’m way too tired and eyesore to get into the whys now, but yeah, it just goes to show how appalling that whole general attitude can be in multiple areas of life. It’s not just the particular sector that L.W. was fixated on, it’s Life in general that get’s undermined by that sort of hapless yearning for validation.

  50. So. I saw this post and noticed that it had >300 comments. “A letter asking for dating advice,” sez I. “Will it perhaps be followed by the Awkward Army making brilliant, insightful comments and sharing heartfelt experience to a person who has, for all intents and purposes, decided to lie down on the floor and scream “NO!!!!” every time their mom asks them if they’re ready to come back to the dinner table?”

    Yes. Yes it was.

  51. So there’s already 300+ comments, but I want to throw in just one more, for the LW or (more likely) anyone of similar mind who’s reading:

    Remember that getting into a relationship is not the end of the story. You don’t ride off into the sunset on a white horse. You have to keep being in that relationship, and inevitably you’ll have frustrations and disagreements. Some of them will be nasty. Most likely the relationship won’t be lifelong, and you’ll have to deal with a breakup eventually.

    This is why you can’t go around saying “I need someone to complete me,” get some handy-dandy pickup tips, get a partner, and then say “yay, I’m complete now.” Because while you’re in that mindset, you can’t stay complete. Your partner will do something to upset you, and instead of feeling regular upset, you’ll feel like your whole self is being ripped up. That doesn’t end well.

    Accepting yourself as a whole person, a person of value whether you’re partnered or not, isn’t just a way to be a more attractive date or a more serene single person. It’s also a crucial skill once you’re in a relationship.

  52. Before the thread took a sudden turn I thought ‘this letter writer is a Nice Guy(tm)’. Now I’m sure of it.

    • I think we all made the diagnosis, but took a deep breath and dived in anyway, in the hope that we were wrong…

      • I was blinded by recent exposure to Bruce from #292, who had the same basic problems of insecurity, but was so damn sweet about it. He didn’t blame other people, and he wanted to help other people in need. So my rosy-eyed nostalgia blinded me to this guy’s whiny needle of misogyny.

        • I think I just always cherish the hope that there’s some magical example or viewpoint or way of putting things that will get through the closed mind and make them rethink things.

          This may be why I stayed so long in certain doomed relationships, so you’d think I’d learn :)

        • You know what? I love Bruce. Bruce is going to be ok.

          • I just had a brilliant idea- has Bruce been reading this thread? Is Bruce repulsed by C.S. and not wanting at all to identify with any part of what he said? I would love to hear his perspective.

          • Bruce needs to do a few more years of therapy, then call me.

      • Preeeetty much. And hey, it’s not as if Nice Guy(tm) Syndrome is incurable! But this one dug his heels in particularly deeply. What can you do?

  53. So, uh, in summary:

    “Hi! I want some advice about dating! Which I will then argue against with made-up statistics and disregard all your actual data because it interrupts my pity party. How dare the world not be as sad as me! It makes me feel even worse and that is a problem the world should take on board!

    Oh look I have managed to talk to someone. Hi someone! I hate myself and even though I have [skills], I am thinking about nothing but my negatives. I find you barely attractive and you have not yet indicated that you are a “feminist” (people who want to be treated as equals have no common decency, ugh!) so why don’t we partner up and you can make me happy for the rest of my life! (P.S. If you disagree with me then that is a sign that I am Too Nice and is the reason you have “attacked” me.)

    WAIT WHERE ARE YOU GOING, I CAN’T UNDERSTAND WHY THIS “DATING” IS NOT GOING SUCCESSFULLY OMG.”

    omg, I can’t understand it either, Awkwardeers! Why on earth could this guy be struggling with dating? Why, why, why.

  54. So I finally picked up “Yes Means Yes!” from the library and today I read a section about Nice Guys(tm):

    “To the Nice Guy(tm) way of thinking, the commodity is an entitlement: Women are gatekeepers to the Pussy Oversoul, and should grant access upon proper application”

    For some reason this comment thread made me think of that passage. Why Captain Awkward, why didn’t you just give the LW a key to the Pussy Oversoul?

    • I really wanted to point the LW to Women Aren’t Vending Machines which Alex Raymond wrote as a riff off of the Millar essay.

    • I just choked on my coffee. Oh God.

    • Also, the more I think about it, the more I’m thinking that most of that letter, and most of the LW’s replies, were an effort in trying to convince us that he deserves the key to the Pussy Oversoul because BEHOLD JUST HOW SAD AND MISERABLE HE IS DON’T YOU HAVE ANY PITY? And any time someone told him the Pussy Oversoul didn’t exist, he took that to mean “you still need to prove that you’re even more miserable” and in order to do so he used prose so purple it would make Stephenie Meyer blush.

      • (does the THIS! THIS! dance)

        Like, dogg, if you’re feeling that low but not so low that you can’t wax heartrendingly about your loneliness, you do what we all do: 1) write a sad poem in your journal 2) post a few lines to your facebook status if you’re happy with how they turned out, as a kind of “I’m sad now, I’m going to broadcast it in a non-committal way” thing and 3) you have now done something constructive with your sadness! Gold star!

        You “get” a partner by being a whole, interesting person (i.e. by Being Awesome), not by rolling over and showing everyone how Very Very Sad you are. This only works if you are an animal and the goal is tummy rubs.

  55. So does anyone else think that could have been MARL trolling once again?

    • The Cap’n says above that it doesn’t look like it. And besides, Mr. Al has a very distinctive, staccato writing style – I can’t see him getting all Barbara Cartland about maws and humanity and astrophysical phenomena. Besides, when he did flip out he didn’t flip out in the same way. Mr. Al would’ve started on about Her Holy Highnesses and spitting.

  56. I opened this up yesterday just as it had been posted and there were no comments, but didn’t get around to reading until the evening, when there were MANY. Upon which I said “hoo boy, this will be fun, won’t it?” And it was.

    Captain and Army, you guys are terrifyingly awesome.

  57. This thread went south just as I was going to bed (British reader), and I wasn’t surprised. As many people have said above, there was a whiff of Nice GuyTM about the original letter and the early follow-up comments, but I’m so glad that so many people chimed in with awesome advice and gave the LW the benefit of the doubt. That’s what I love about the Awkward Army – they assume good faith until shown otherwise.

    LW (if you’re still reading) – I’ve no doubt you’ve gone away muttering to yourself about horrible feminists who hate men and just turned on you for nothing. But YOU chose to write a letter to Captain Awkward, knowing the kind of place this is. As so many people have pointed out, you were treated with great kindness and good faith, even when you kept insisting that none of the advice would work because of [downright dubious REASONS], right up until the point where you started spouting anti-feminist concepts in a feminist space. Dude, that’s like asking yourself round to someone’s house and then peeing on their rug. And (unless you’re the inspiration for The Big Lebowski) no good can come of that.

    You wanted to be coddled. The world won’t coddle you. You can pontificate all you like about how the world *should* be (and you *should* – the world doesn’t change unless people talk about how they think it should be. Be a crusader for civility and respect! But don’t do it by telling other people how *they* should behave while refusing to change your own behaviour or respect their reasons), but your engagement with the world starts with HOW THINGS ARE NOW. How things are now is that women won’t always reply to you on a dating site. There are a lot of reasons for this, ranging from “can’t be bothered” to “not actually logged into the site for ages” to “just met someone and concentrating on that right now” to “just doesn’t seem like a good fit” to “previous experience that answering guys with a ‘no thanks’ often nets you a ‘why you’re such an ugly fat troll that no one will ever want to date’ angry response”. You can’t say “the world should be like this” and then refuse to deal with it until it comes round to your expectations. You can say “the world should be like this” and then work to change it. You do this by modelling the behaviour you want to see (polite rejection – yay!). You *don’t* do it by telling other people their reasons aren’t real or good enough because they don’t meet *your* standards of what is acceptable. To take an example at random, if many, many commenters are telling you that women don’t always respond to dating site messages because when they do some men throw their toys out of the pram and it is very unpleasant, you say “Wow, I didn’t know that. Now I will try not to take it so personally, and I will think about ways I can let other men know that, or stop those men from sending angry responses in the first place.”

    You got some great advice about how to meet people, and some of the best advice I’ve seen on this site on strategies for handling social anxiety. But I think you came here hoping for “here is a cast-iron method for getting girls to go out with you that will never fail”. If you want that, you can read those PUA manuals you’ve ignored so far (and it’ll be just as much of a bunch of bull as the “one weird old tip for a flatter stomach” ads). But they won’t get you any closer to a fulfilling relationship with a real human being, and that’s what you really need. My advice is to put aside the hurt feelings and self-pity and mull on the advice you’ve been given. Then try it out. Just try it out and see how it makes you feel. My bet is that you’ll find it’s way more fulfilling than learning how to “neg” or writing a script to generate your OKCupid messages so you can send them to even more women more efficiently. But your choice.

  58. Wowzers, for a guy who doesn’t believe that male privilege exists, he sure did a fine job of demonstrating it. That was AMAZING. He came into a feminist space, was given help and sympathy, dropped an anti-feminist comment or three and then considered himself TERRIBLY ATTACKED because people on the internet disagreed with him en masse (instead of treatening to rape him, calling him gendered insults, sending him pictures of their genitals, or any of the charming ways that guys use to try to put women back into their place).

    In short, we just played the NAACP to the LW’s Romney. What the hell is with this week?

  59. P.S. Captain – this thread reminded me (like several others above) why I really had to donate to the pledge drive, so I guess we can all thank the LW for that…

  60. Hello Awkward Army,

    I am a regular reader, first time commentator. LW asking for advice is not the same as listening to advice and sometimes in life you get what you deserve. Captain and her commentators are awesome. Thank You for indirectly giving me some skills to help me improve my interactions with everybody!

    Keep on rockin in the Free World,

    Johnny VRE

  61. Crikey, what I wouldn’t give for LJ’s ?view=flat functionality. There are 100 new comments since I read the thread and I dunno where they all are!

    Luckily skimming the whole thing again is a pleasure :) Thank you all.

  62. Well, the party’s over, and I’m sure the original instigator has long since packed up his things and gone home after being kicked out — but, Letter Writer, you remind me very much of a relative of mine, who nearly twenty years later not only still doesn’t have a girlfriend, but doesn’t know anyone who really likes him (or, for that matter, whom he really likes), because this attitude, left to simmer for that long, can turn the bearer into a nasty, envious, hateful piece of work.

    However, that resemblance in general attitude, plus this: “…the fourth therapist in as many years” makes me wonder if in fact you are giving therapy a chance. You don’t “win” anything if you are, by some measures, objectively, “smarter” than your therapist (by metrics perhaps including unadorned IQ scores or great expertise in some narrow field that is not therapy). You don’t “win” anything if you “beat” therapy by, say, reading up on it and “giving the therapist what she expects” or hiding anything that your reading leads you to think could be used to diagnose a problem. That isn’t what therapy is about, and if, by chance, you are playing this game or some variation of it, not only are you wasting both your and the therapist’s time, you have missed the point entirely.

    There are legitimate reasons to think a therapist is a bad fit and to move on to other therapists, but thinking that you are cleverer than your therapist and running elaborate con tricks to prove it isn’t in fact one of them, and is a favourite stunt of the relative I’ve mentioned, and the reason HE dismisses therapy as “useless”.

    If you do come back to the scene, Letter Writer, I really do hope that you will read through this thread — this whole thread — and somehow get past your butthurt to a place where you can do something to fundamentally change this load of resentment you’re carrying around — because the place where it leads can be ugly, trust me, really ugly.

    • Yes, this! I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: trying to outwit your therapist is like sneaking into a gym, changing the surveillance tapes to make it look like you’re working out, and kicking back on a sofa with a bag of potato chips.

    • I am reminded of a woman I know who is firmly convinced that Therapy Doesn’t Work. She has eventually admitted that therapy is helping her child, but rather than going from that to “maybe therapy could help with my depression,” she has revised her belief to “The only competent therapists are in this one city hundreds of miles from me, so Therapy Cannot Help Me.”

      • I’m picturing the faraway Domed City of the Therapists. It’s kind of like Atlantis — a land of Crystal Spires and Togas where much of the population is self-actualized, has healthy boundaries, and can also fly. They are known for their luxurious Kleenex and exquisitely-crafted couches.

    • I was thinking something not dissimilar.

      LW has a huge resistance to changing anything about himself; what’s the bet that anything a therapist suggests gets a response of ‘That won’t work because PURPLE PROSE’?

      This is a game that the LW ‘wins’ by proving that he’s perfect as it is, the problem is that the world is a bleak and hostile place. But it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best, because congratulations, you’ve faux-logicked your way to a dead-end there’s no escape from, and you’re still miserable.

      As win conditions go… there are better.

      • On second thoughts, that’s not quite fair. The win condition isn’t that the LW is perfect, he has actually at least not fallen into that trap. I’d hazard it’s more that his problems are too big and special to be solved. Because obviously, you can’t have someone else solve issues that have evaded YOU, King Logic and Maturity.

        Thing is, I do recognise that. I’ve made that error. But what you win just isn’t worth having to live with the unsolved issues forever after.

        Basically, there’s a lot of very fragile pride taking the place of actual self-esteem.

    • I’m thinking that in his mind, the therapists “don’t understand him” because their advice conflicts with his core “truths”… and probably looks a lot like some of the advice he has received (and so emphatically rejected) here.

      There was a guy in my first-year law school classes. Really smart guy, I suspect, in terms of IQ. But he suffered from a major impediment to learning: he was convinced he already knew it all — certainly more than the professors, with whom he spent a lot of time arguing and telling them they were wrong. Like C.S., he was a profoundly non-porous surface; one could practically hear the ping of all that instruction bouncing off his hard shell.

      To learn, you have to admit you might not know. To benefit from therapy/advice blogs, you have to remember that the whole reason you’re seeking advice is that your way is not working for you, and be willing to listen to and apply the advice you receive.

      C.S. will never find what he’s looking for until he lets go of his false “truths” (about what will make him feel whole, and about women’s experience of the world).

  63. Step 1: Write into a feminist website for dating advice. Get angry when that dating advice includes “respect women’s personal autonomy.”

    Step 2: ?????

    Step 3: Profit?

  64. [...] #296: How do I start to date? A counter-intuitive primer. [...]

  65. For people who struggle to connect with others who aren’t all “How dare you offer me feminist advise after I wrote into a feminist advice column!” I can heartily recommend activity holidays/vacations if it’s financially viable. Not as a way to make lifelong friends/partners necessarily (although you never know) but there are a really good way of practicing increasing confidence and social skills. If you fuck up, well, these people are never going to see you again.

    • Even over a weekend can be good. If you’re able to, a lot of physical hobbies have away weekends: scuba, rock climbing, hiking/bushwalking. It’s pretty easy to stay in touch afterwards too, if you joined one based in your city. Go on the next one or go on their local single-day excursions, it’ll have some of the same people. (A great piece of advice I got recently are “the best parties have some people you know already and some new people to get to know.” A bit similar.)

    • Just to make one thing explicit: a big reason that these are good are that people on them are temporarily cut off from their normal social routines and most or all of their circle. They are often therefore somewhat more open to forming new acquaintances fairly quickly.

      They also give you an obvious topic of conversation: have you done this [activity] before? where have you done it? where did you learn? where do you want to do it next? wasn’t today’s [activity] great/average/terrible/hilarious/some combination thereof? I hope tomorrow’s weather/guide/roads/ropes/snowfall allow us to do more [activity].

  66. Well, original LW might have been a dork, but thanks to all the great commenters who left so much *wonderful* advice for relationship forming and improving social skills.

    Now so much great is all in one place! Thanks CS.

  67. Well. That turned into utter chaos. However! The last week or two I’ve been struggling big with logically realizing that if, worst case scenario, I’m alone forever – why is that so bad? And my work needs to be focused on a) giving myself the love I so desperately want to give someone else, b) creating my best life and best self and, c) accepting that, hey, I just might be without romantic love and learning to be okay with that.

    I’ve copied and pasted SO many of these suggestions and comments. So even after all the shit you bad asses had to go through with dealing with this tosser, you’ve helped me so incredibly much.

    Thank you.

  68. Coming out of lurkerhood to add my $0.02 re: OKC responses.

    (Straight female here, for the record.)

    When I was online dating, I agonized over whether to send ”thanks but no thanks” responses. A male friend of mine recommended against it, because during his online dating days he would get so excited to see that one of the many girls he’d written to had responded, only to find out it was a rejection. In his opinion, that lift-and-crash feeling was worse than no response.

    There have been a lot of woman-as-monolith comments here, which are super-valid and relevant; perhaps the LW (and other hopefuls) would also do well to remember that not all men share his experience and what he sees as basic politeness and the ”only decent thing to do” might not be welcome in every guy’s inbox.

    • What an excellent point!

      I think this thread has actually been a huge success. LW himself might have chosen not to benefit from it, but everybody knows that is only 7.4% of what makes an advice column worthwhile.

  69. So I’ve read this entire thread, and I just have to say that I love this blog and I love the Awkward Army. No where else on the internet feels as welcoming or as much like a community. Going to make a donation, and the relurk.

  70. Holy epic 504 comment thread, Awkward Army! I’ve been on vacation so following this sporadically from a distance – I actually sent this to a friend right after I saw it was posted, came back to find 300-some comments, and now this! I haven’t read everything yet, but what I’ve seen here is some amazing, witty, considerate, and very helpful advice. Just what I’d expect from the Awkward Army! It’s too bad it went down the way it did, though given the Mansplainy NiceGuy(TM) red flags all over the initial letter and comments I can’t say I’m all that surprised. But I’ve found tons of helpful advice here, and I’m sure this will help many people as well, even if not LW.

    As others have already said, this ended up being a perfect demonstration of just what an awesome site this is, a safe space full of witty, wise, and helpful people. Thanks, Cap’n! The tip’s in the jar.

  71. omfg.

    So… I stopped by here (*checks*) yesterday, and this threat had maybe… 50 comments? And then it asploded, and I am like OMFG THIS GUY I CANNOT EVEN, but I want to join the Very Large Chorus of people thanking the Awkward Army for these many crowning moments of awesome. If I ever run into anyone who genuinely does want help learning how to navigate the waters of relationships of all sorts, I will know where to point that person. Thanks, everyone.

    *donates*