#617: All The Dating Advice, Again

As of August 28, comments are closed. Letter Writer: Go read some books by women, try out some new social activities, GO TO A REAL THERAPIST, and be well.

Dear Captain Awkward,

So I’m a guy, 20 years old and totally devoid of any form of romantic relationship. Ever. I’ve never so much as held hands with a member of the opposite sex, never mind anything else. I’m getting incredibly lonely and yes before you say it, I did behave like a nice guy tm once and just once. I was an ass, I made an incredible fool of myself, I traumatized my friends and worst of all, I hurt that poor girls feelings. She wasn’t the nicest person and took advantage of me, but I hurt her feelings and I made sure when I came to my senses that I apologized, regardless of what she’d done, I messed up. Before all that happened, I was an incredible jerk, an arrogant piece of shit with an intellect to match and zero attachments to anyone. I hated the idea of feelings and I shut them out and didn’t do friends (ironically this is when I received most attention from the females). For most of my teenage years, I didn’t need people and I didn’t need love.

I’m literally petrified of making the same mistake again and of ever hurting another living soul again, I’ve been bad, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve taken advantage of people, now I’m trying, very hard not to be that person again and that includes treating women as people, with thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears and dreams. It’s difficult in the uni dorm I’m in, considering most people I meet socially are either drunk (I’m stone cold sober) or do the whole ‘one night stand’ routine which to me is appalling. The few people I’ve really sparked with are all in relationships.

I’m lonely and very different, I’m eccentric, have eccentric tastes and I’m a lot more mature then most people I meet in most social settings (I’ve been regularly mistaken for 40+ when I was 18) I’m also a romantic whose entire cultural upbringing utterly rejects the idea of genders freely mixing and all that cabal. Pretty much means my social skills are shit. I can out-argue almost anyone and I can debate exceptionally well but I’ve zero social skills that aren’t an argument, sports or one of my passions (which many people do not like) I’m regularly putting my foot in it in casual conversations and I have been told in the past that I am far far too intense. 

On the plus side, most of my closest friends are all female (I do not and have not had romantic feelings for any of them) and they’re great people but they all offer conflicting advice on what my problem is. I’m fast becoming isolated, I’ve zero self confidence and my self esteem has taken a nose dive, a combination of truly looking into the mirror for once and a mystery illness. I don’t think I look handsome, but a lot of people have said that I do. I get really confused and I pick up a lot of body language, but I have no understanding of social cues. It’s like I’m trying to read Swahili.

What on earth is wrong with me? Am I incapable of being loved?

Awkward & Lonely

Dear Awkward & Lonely:

My own time as a NiceGirl(tm) is well-documented on this blog, so, take hope? It’s a pattern of behavior, not a permanent designation or identity. We grow up, we figure it out, we stop doing that stuff. It is unlikely, being as self-aware as you are now, that you will repeat those same mistakes. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a late-bloomer, or in delaying romance and sex until you meet the right person or feel ready. I know it’s a bummer to get crushes on people who are already coupled up, but you are sparking with people! This means that you are recognizing what you like in a person, and learning more about who you are really attracted to. This will serve you well when you meet someone who is single and who has the qualities you like. It will feel like “Oh, there you are!” The fact that you have lots of female friends is also an encouraging sign. I get zero douchebag vibes off you. So let’s talk about some stuff you can do differently to improve your life and your chances of meeting someone you’d like to be with.

While I think you have some particular cultural stuff you’re also trying to sort out, my advice to young straight men who want to meet women is always going to be about subverting the dominant dating paradigm and the sexist culture we grow up with, and it’s always gonna run along the same lines:

1) Read books & blogs, watch films, look at art, and listen to music made by women.

2) Seek out new activities and build on the interests and passions that you already have in a way that brings you into contact with more people. Some of those people will be women. Some of those will be in your age group/dating pool or know someone who is.

3) When you have the time and energy for it, try out online dating sites to practice dating. That’s how I met everyone I’ve dated since 1998.

4) Be really nice to yourself and take good care of yourself.

James Bond in Skyfall
“I just met you, and this is crazy, but do you want to have sex and then die horribly so that I will be motivated to avenge you in the third act maybe?”

To elaborate:

Step I. Consume More Art By Women. Works by men, with male protagonists, dominate popular culture. We all grow up on stories and messages where men go out and do great deeds and they rescue and/or win the love of women. They pursue women. They acquire women as decorative objects. If you aren’t good at acquiring these objects you are a loser or a failure. These are the messages you are swimming in, and they are affecting your life. Not every work created by a woman goes against this grain, obviously, since we’re all swimming in the same cultural soup. And hopefully you already seek out and enjoy works by women — I don’t want to insult you by saying that you don’t or that you are unaware! But I think it’s a good idea to make a deliberate year-long project of it at this time in your life, when you are trying to figure out how to relate to women better.

Reason #1: It’s a concrete step you can take. It’s something you can do. Make a giant reading and watching list. Check things off, or join a social site like Goodreads.

Reason #2: It will be fun and you’ll encounter some really good stuff you might not have sought out otherwise. You’re going to read/watch/listen to something, why not make an effort to seek out women’s voices and perspectives?

Reason #3: It will give you many different perspectives on women as diverse human beings and allow you to hang out with women and get to know them in your imagination.

A few years ago a I saw a very beautifully made and very personal student film about a lonely and shy young man who has insomnia so he walks around downtown late at night, visiting a diner where he has a crush on the waitress, and otherwise encountering women who all don’t notice him or outright reject him. It was beautifully shot and scored and acted, but I’m not sure that what’s stayed with me is what the filmmaker wanted to stay with me, which is that every single woman that the protagonist ran into in this world was young, pretty, white, able-bodied, straight, and assumed to be potentially dateable. Even though the story took place downtown in a major city, there were no other women in the frame, though the character did frequently interact with men of all ages & walks of life. This is true of the Hollywood world, too, where there aren’t even enough women in crowd scenes. Use woman-created media to to remind yourself that the world isn’t only about you + men + women who have/have not rejected you as a romantic partner. You need Miss Marple. You need Cordelia Naismith. You need shy people who are trying to connect with each other and the sexiest/awkwardest dance to The Commodores’ Night Shift in recorded history.

Reason #4: If you ask the women you know for recommendations of books and movies they love, they will flock to this project. If you meet a woman, and you kind of like her, and you are looking for something to talk about, try asking her “What are you reading or watching lately? Can you recommend me something?” If you listen to her, and then go and read or watch that thing, she may or may not date you in the end, but you will get infinity coolness points because this behavior by men is sadly all too rare. We notice this stuff, and we remember. This is as close as I ever get to the #1 SEEKRIT TRICK TO IMPRESS GIRLS kind of advice-giving.

Step II. Take Your Passion And Make It Social. Or, try something new. Something that is social.

You say that not many people are interested in your passions. Have you looked all around your university community, or your dorm, or your study program? Have you looked into clubs, classes, volunteering, MeetUps?

Some cool places to meet lots of nice people are:

  • Join a choir or take a music class.
  • Volunteer with a theater company – there are tons of behind-the-scenes jobs, like running the box office or painting sets, where they can use help and you will meet lots of people.
  • Be a mentor or a tutor.
  • Are you a native speaker of a language other than English? Someone is trying to learn that language. Be their practice/study buddy.
  • Work on a political campaign or cause that speaks to you.
  • Volunteer at an animal shelter or for another organization that does work that you feel is important.
  • Take a class in something like cooking, metalsmithing, jewelry making, pottery, or other applied or studio art.
  • Find a role-playing or board-gaming group.
  • Find a fannish group who gets together to watch that thing you all like.
  • Play a sport, or take up kickball or Quidditch or another little-kid sport that’s played for fun more than for competition.

From how you describe yourself: Intense, intelligent, good at arguing, passionate about certain things that no one else likes, I am going to make an inference that you are very smart, quick-witted, and you like to be good at stuff and impress people. You don’t like to struggle or fail or be wrong in public. You have a pretty good sense of what you will and won’t be good at, and you tend to avoid things that you aren’t sure that you’ll like. You definitely don’t want to be wrong or look stupid or be bad at something in front of others.

This makes you….A human being! We all want to look good, be good, succeed, do things where we’ll be praised and be good at. I want to challenge you, as part of this Meeting More People Project, to go against your grain a little bit. I want you to choose:

  • Something you are not already good at.
  • Something you’ve always wanted to try but been nervous or not had time to do before.
  • Something where you can be a beginner and where there is no pressure for you to demonstrate expertise.
  • Something where you might have to ask other people to help you or show you or teach you something.
  • Something that happens with other people and meets regularly, like, a weekly class or volunteer gig.
  • Something that has some kind of physical aspect to it – working with your hands, making something, building something, being physically out and about, playing an instrument, singing.
  • Something where you may know a couple of people, but is outside where your current social group already hangs out.
  • Something that you will attend at least 3 and preferably 6-8 times before opting out/giving up.

I want you to do something every week that gets you out of your room, out of your head, out of the need to impress people, out of the need to “be intense.” I want you to focus on: showing up, trying hard, having fun, and being nice and friendly. When you meet a cool woman, don’t automatically treat her differently than you would treat a neat dude you met at a thing who you might like to be friends with.

Taiwanese guy with lego head haircut
“When are the Feats of Strength? I have already won the Feats of Hair!” Source.

Reason #1: Our dominant cultural narratives, buoyed by a bunch of crap evo-psych “science,”  contain many stories about how men must impress/”get”/”win” a mate by demonstrating competence, smarts, feats of strength, wealth, athleticism, etc. Win the Battle of the Bands/Diplomacy Game/Dance Dance Revolution Tournament/Trivia Contest, and you win The Girl. So a lot of dating advice for straight men says, find the thing you are awesome at, and then be awesome at that thing where women can see you, and then you’ll have a better chance with them.

I can see why this makes intuitive sense. Male peacocks are much brighter than female ones, amirite? When you are competent at something, you are more likely to be confident in yourself, and that is attractive and takes away some of the needy, auditioning quality of dating. And watching someone you find sexy be good at something is sexy, no doubt about it. But we are not peacocks, and that thing where competence is sexy goes both/all ways. I think it’s hot when my boyfriend cooks a great meal or kills onstage. He thinks it’s awesome when I have a great reading or write a piece he really likes. We both get to demonstrate competence and we both get to be the audience. We are both The Funny One. If you live inside the boys-impress-girls-to-get-girls-world, “the girl” never has a chance to impress you. Impressing people and performing well is great, like, nail that guitar solo and drop the mic if that’s your thing, but it doesn’t necessarily connect people. You need vulnerability for that, the vulnerability of not knowing where the power tools are or where the food bank keeps the extra rice. It’s tiring sometimes to be performed at. It’s sweet to learn and create something alongside someone.

Reason #2: This is something concrete you can control and keep trying to do, in different ways. You aren’t meeting potential dating partners doing what you’re already doing, right? Give yourself a few months of trying new stuff and saying yes to social invitations and see if that shakes anything loose. It’s not wasted time, as you’ll make tons of social connections/resume fodder/learn new skills. You never know when that random guy from Intro to Blacksmithing is also hiring people for jobs at his business, or setting nice friendly non-creepy dudes up with his sweet, smart cousin who just moved to town.

Practice does not equal perfect
Source: Kim Lajoie’s Blog

Step III: Experiment With Online Dating

College is set up to help you meet other people your age, and probably never in your life will you exist in such a cauldron of people who already have built-in things in common and structured activities designed to help you meet each other. But online dating can be useful for finding people outside of your current social scene and for interacting with people in a place where the idea of dating and romance is automatically, explicitly on the table. Use it to practice approaching people and flirting with them. Since you start out using text, you don’t have to already be good at reading subtext and body language to tell when someone is flirting. You’ll know if they’re flirting. They’ll type it in.

So, make a profile. Post 4-5 recent pictures of yourself. “Flattering” is great, “recognizably looks like you” is paramount. Fill out the questions, keeping in mind that these are short-answer questions and it’s not an essay test. If the site asks you to list movies & books & music you like, consider including some work by women (we notice this). Do not mention sex explicitly, as many a promising profile has been ruined with “I love giving back rubs…and other rubs.” (This doesn’t seem like an error you’ll make, Sweet Letter Writer, but if you see it in other dude’s profiles I don’t want you to fall into the gross trap). Put your actual uncommon unique middle-aged interests in there. Don’t try to be “cool” or “normal.” You’re not just anyone, and you’re not looking for just anyone. For example, if you don’t like drinking, say so. “I’m not much for drinking or the party scene.” Consider having a trusted friend read your profile to scrub for traces of self-deprecation and for too many “don’ts” in the “what I’m looking for” part.

Then do what nerds do best, and research. What you have here is a database of women who would like to meet someone to date. Who do you like? What draws you to someone’s profile? Who DON’T you like? What alienates you from someone’s profile?

When you see some people you like, send them a brief note. Comment on or ask a question about something they mentioned in their profile. “Hey, neat profile. I’m _______, and I love the Coen brothers, too. How do you think the Fargo TV adaptation holds up?

If the person likes your profile, they will pick up the conversation from there. “I haven’t seen it yet. What did you think?” If it’s someone who might be a good match for you, the conversation will flow. You will write back, she will write back, you both may feel awkward but you will both keep the conversation going. A person who likes you will act like they like you, and do their best to not leave you hanging. Keep your communications brief, especially at first, and pay attention to matching the other person’s effort and tone. If she’s sending you a one-line answer every 6 or 7 days, and you’re sending her long, elaborate answers the second she writes to you, you’ve already got a mismatch in terms of relative effort and interest. If all seems to be going well,  one of you can suggest meeting up.

It really, really helps if you think of it as practice. You are practicing approaching someone for a date. You are practicing conversing. You are practicing figuring out reciprocity. You are practicing figuring out what makes you like someone. It is okay to make a mistake, to not know exactly what to do. It is okay if she isn’t picking up what you’re putting down. It is okay if, after a few exchanges, you decide that she is not for you. It’s okay to go on an actual date with someone who turns out not to be for you (or you for her). That is normal. Connection is rare, and it’s largely based on dumb luck. Online dating (and getting out and meeting more people socially in general) is something you can do to help create conditions where dumb luck might happen.

I really want this to change in my lifetime, but for now, there are more men than women on most sites, and men are more likely to write to women than women are likely to write to men. So temper your expectations – expect to do more writing to other people than they do to you, realize that women are getting constantly inundated with messages and don’t necessarily have time to respond. That is normal. If someone doesn’t write back, move on. It wasn’t personal.

Azteca Tacos, Chicago
There are worse first-date places.

People get very nervous about the idea of planning dates, like it has to be some big production. We have inherited these ideas from the movies where it’s not a date unless there are flowers and white tablecloths and a fucking sunset or something, with everyone in their fanciest clothes, like teenagers playing “grownup.” When I was planning a lot of first dates, I tried to keep them inexpensive, low key, easy to get to and from, and not try to be explicitly “romantic” – like, I wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything on a first date that I wouldn’t do in the course of my life anyway with a friend. From another thread:

Here are some fun, low-cost first date (or friend-date!) activities that might help a shy person relax and give you something to talk about and/or do with your hands:

  • Gamers, what happens if you each bring your favorite 2-player game to a cafe and play for a while? Or go to an arcade? It doesn’t matter if you or the other person is “good at” whatever game it is. This is about having fun, learning a new game, and seeing if your styles mesh.
  • It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, so that means 10,000 free exhibits, concerts, festivals, and events. Sack lunch + free show = low pressure. You can talk about the performance or the exhibit, and if the thing sucks you wander away from it and do something else.
  • We’re past this year’s Free Comic Book Day, but I once had a date on Free Comic Book Day and it was awesome. Meet at comics shop. Browse comics. Pick out comic for each other. Go to park with comics and read them. Commander Logic did this with bookshops that were also coffee shops (not free, but, fun). See also Record Store Day, World Book Night.
  • Taco walk! My old neighborhood had a lot of taquerias, so a fun thing to do is to each get 1 taco at each place and compare. If you aren’t having fun on the date, get super “full” after Taco #2 and get out of there. If you are having fun, find local bar or cafe and stay up late talking and then eat more tacos or tamales or whatever. If you live in a city, a taco walk could easily be a dumpling walk or scone walk or a tour of food trucks. Or gelato! Mmmmm gelato.
  • Is there a museum of science or a planetarium near you? Go look at science!

Do only stuff that sounds fun and interesting and appetizing to you. Do stuff that you would do with a friend, even if it wasn’t a DATE sort of date. Do stuff that gives you something to look or do. Fancy sit-down restaurants are great, when you are date-ING someone and already know that you won’t run out of stuff to talk about, but it’s all too much the first time you go out with someone. I realize I live in a major city with a lot of options, but people in smaller towns also do casual stuff for fun in their free time, and somewhere there is a park/book shop/ice cream stand/free concert/odd history exam/roadside attraction/place outside your house to spend a little time at. You are trying to find someone who has fun with you, who makes things fun for you, and who enjoys doing at least some of the stuff you like. The right person for you won’t mock your shyness and will help you feel relaxed.

Art shows. Movies in the park. Poetry slams and other free shows. Improv/comedy night. A cooking class. Bike rides. On campus it’s even easier, and more low-key. “Meet me at this thing on campus that is happening?” “I have to study, want to bring some work and keep me company in the library for a few hours and then we can get dinner?” “My friend is in this play, want to go with me?”

“But Captain Awkward, what if I suggest something and my date doesn’t like that thing, or we go, and the performers are not good?” Well, a person you actually want to date will say “Standup comedy is not my jam, actually, but I do really want to meet up with you, so howabout coffee, or that concert thing you mentioned?” Or they will go, and do their best to enjoy whatever it is, and if the thing is terrible, you will bond all the more for having a shared terrible experience. Or you won’t like each other anyway. Which is okay, this is all just practice in pursuit of dumb luck. The only way to fail is to actively be a jerk to someone. You don’t have to be perfect, or orchestrate a perfect date. Someone who doesn’t like you because the waiter forgot to refill the water glasses promptly or because the promised string quartet performance is now a string open-mike session was never going to like you all that much anyway, and is probably not who you want by your side on life’s miraculous journey. Bad dates and “meh” dates are learning experiences. Congratulate yourself for showing up and trying. Practice holding a conversation with someone new for 45 minutes.

If you hate dating, stop. If it starts to feel like work, stop. I would always have bursts where I was into it and periods where I deleted my profile for 6 months or a year to focus on other things. But it’s right there, it’s free, and I don’t think there is any harm in trying it out and practicing for a bit.

Step IV: Be Nice To Yourself

College is a great time for you to learn about what makes you happy intellectually, in terms of your friendships, in terms of your potential career, and in terms of creating routines that make you feel good in your day-to-day life.

  • Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Are you eating food that you like and that makes you feel good?
  • Do you have at least one form of exercise you routinely enjoy doing?
  • Are you attending and keeping up with the work for all of your classes?
  • Are you doing what you came to school to do? Are you learning? Are you taking risks, creatively, intellectually?
  • When you have questions in class, do you go to office hours and reach out to professors and teaching assistants for help?
  • Do you meet with your advisor sometimes?
  • Are you keeping abreast of potential programs, internships, job opportunities, speakers, etc. in your area of interest?
  • When you make a mistake, can you forgive yourself and move on?
  • When you’re sick, do you go to the doctor?
  • When you’re lonely, do you call or text a friend and try to make sure you’re around people?
  • When you’re over-peopled, do you take time for yourself?
  • Do you know how to reward yourself for a job well done, and build happy, pleasurable stuff into your week?
  • Do you know how to ask your friends to be nice to you? Do you reach out and do nice and say things to them?
  • If you feel blue and lonely for more than a few weeks, can you go talk to student counseling services?
  • Do you have regular phone calls or Skype with your family (if they are good people for you to talk to and positive force in your life) & friends from home?
  • Do you have a regular practice of keeping a journal? Maybe try writing three pages in the morning, either longhand or somewhere like 750words.com, to give yourself a small ritual of reflecting and thinking every day.

If you are doing even some of that stuff, then you are doing GREAT. You are where you are supposed to be, you are learning what you are supposed to learn.

I can’t tell you that you’re guaranteed to find love, or that any given person is going to love you, or that a romantic relationship like the one you want is going to happen while you’re in college. I can tell you that you are worthy of love. I can tell you, uncomforting-ly, that it’s a matter of luck and other people’s subjective feelings and that there are a lot of factors that are completely out of your control, like, you could do everything “right” and it could still take a long while for you to click with someone. This post is about what you can control.

Finally: While this book is very targeted toward single straight women of a certain age/class/race/type and specifically trying to debunk the dating advice offered to women in that target group,  I thought it was very insightful and lovely and supportive of people who are single who don’t want to be single. In one chapter, Eckel suggests a practice that has also been suggested by commenters here, which is to practice looking at others with love and compassion. When you’re alone on the subway or in a cafe or out and about on campus, look at someone (don’t stare, obviously, just steal some glances) and try to see them the way someone who loves them might. Look at everyone. Dudes. People outside your dating age range. This isn’t about hotness or attraction. Find something to love in their face, in what they are wearing, in how they hold their head, the neat penmanship on the cover of their notebook. Send them a silent good wish. If you get busted looking at them, say something! “Didn’t mean to stare! I was just admiring your hat, it’s a great color on you.” It’s a practice that can lead you away from harsh self-criticism and self-judgment and make you see the world through a kinder lens, and it’s especially good to do when you need to distract yourself out of a “what’s wrong with me?” headspace.

Readers, do you have any insight on things that have worked for you to help you get more confident with meeting people?


Thanks to everyone who has donated to the summer pledge drive so far! The support (and the sweet, sweet kind words!) mean the world to me.

325 thoughts on “#617: All The Dating Advice, Again

  1. Wow, this is a great and very detailed response!

    The one thing I would add, which used to drive me nuts about my single male friends, is: Don’t look at every woman as a potential date and write her off if she doesn’t meet your criteria. It’s really, really hurtful to be talking to a guy and have him stop talking to you when he finds out you have a boyfriend, or when he complains to you about how there’s no women worth dating in this area (/choppedliver), both of which have happened to me. They may have friends, sisters, daughters, housemates.

    Similarly, don’t limit your interactions with women to Women I Find Datable and ignore everyone else. “She’s too old/fat/thin/stupid/smart/slutty/straight/whatever.” A problem I’ve seen with a lot of guys — and probably a lot of women, too — is that they are only interested in what I call the IEEE standard of attractiveness and aren’t interested in people outside that narrow range. Do you talk to the women who are shy, overweight, wear glasses, have small breasts, or whatever other Thing might make them not conventionally societally attractive? (Some guys also write off all women who already have children, which also eliminates a lot of your potentials, especially as you get older.) Or do you go for the same tall, leggy blonde model that every other guy at the party is going after and ignore all the rest of the women?

    You mention that you have a lot of female friends but you don’t have romantic feelings for any of them. What stops you? Could you go on dates with them as friends and maybe find that you develop romantic feelings for them? You might also want to think about your ideal relationship and what romantic feelings would be like, and consider how realistic it is.

    The other thing I’d mention is that if you’re not into drinking and partying, you could consider joining a church. Whether or not you believe, a church can be a great place to make friends, and there’s even some churches like the Unitarians where believing is sort of optional. 🙂 Heck, join a Buddhist temple or a pagan circle if that’s the way you swing (both of which I’ve done).

    1. I dunno if sticking around women who aren’t interested in him romantically is a good idea. If he has Nice Guy inclinations, that could lead him down the wrong road. You’re not some sort of shameful sex monster if you’re only in the market for a romantic partner and not a new buddy.

      1. I was about to say the same thing, but I think that’s not what slfisher is getting at. Rather, if the guy has no interest in the existence of women who aren’t potential sex objects, that’s a big problem of its own–and will get in the way of being dateable himself.

        He’s not going to nice-guy women he doesn’t class as dateable, presumably, so it shouldn’t lead down that path if he maintains friendships with non-supermodels (or whatever his attractiveness criteria may be).

        1. Agreed. He HAS female friends, who are just friends. He should keep those. As friends. Those are good.

          I agree with taking a look at whether one’s attractions “just happen” to coincide with the dominant beauty standards, and being open to lots of kinds of attractiveness, but having female friends who are just friends is NOT a problem here.

          1. It is great that he’s got close female friends! On the other hand, he says his closest friends are all female, which makes me wonder whether he’s falling into the pattern some men get into of treating women as the emotional caretaking class.

        2. Before I start, can I just give a massive shout out to captain for being awesome, this site is of great, great help.

          Slfisher, I’m trying that out right now, however, if I meet someone I like as a friend, but not in that way I’ll always stick around, even if things between a someone I once liked in the romantic sense didn’t work out, I’ll always stick around until they break off. I didn’t start making friends properly until I was 16 so I’m not going to turn away people who could be good friends just because they didn’t see me as a romantic partner. There’s a world of difference between friends and partners and that line is important to me.

          My type if that’s what you’re asking is redheads I don’t know why but I find that really attractive, but on the rare occasion I am at a party, I talk to everyone or people play 20 questions with me and try to find out more. From what they’ve said, they can’t make heads of tails of me.

          What stops me from moving them forward? Usually it’s because they are in long term relationships (two engaged and the remainder all in 3+ year relationships) and I could not live with myself if I broke someone up, regardless of how I felt, they are all in my opinion, very beautiful, be it a laugh, their eyes, their personality etc but I think of them as sisters so a relationship could never work.

          An ideal romantic relationship for me is simply connecting with someone, as an equal. Where I can talk and be understood and they can talk and be understood and things click and we have fun together. That’s it.

          I live right in the middle of a huge inner city (I’m originally from a smaller city/town) and with my mobility issues I could just about get myself to classes and shopping essentials. But thank you for the suggestion and I’ll give it a go when I get back =)

          FTC LTL, it was once, the very first time I’d ever ventured into making a move. I’ll give some context to that, despite the fact that it’s a mediumish sized city my father knows many of the people around and for a poor student, I can’t get too far away without my absence being noted so making a move at home was risky. I was totally inexperienced, watched a bunch of films and thought that was the way to do it. It was wrong. I will always feel guilty about it.

          Littlemousling, my criteria for dateable is that click, I’ll try to make friends with everyone.

          Ellen Fremedon, my former best friend was female, the person whose stepped into that void is a guy, I don’t choose, It’s just the way it’s fallen.

          P.S I should have mentioned that I quite likely have a mental illness, I’m being treated for Bipolar, but the doctors are unsure of if it’s a physical problem manifesting with mental symptoms or if it’s a full blown mental illness.

      2. No, you’re not, but that point about women knowing other women is a good one. You don’t have to stay glued to the side of a woman who isn’t what you’re looking for, but wrapping up the conversation pleasantly after another few minutes of talking about Other Stuff, and making sure that when you meet her again you give a smile and a “how’s it going?” chat for a minute or so before moving on to talk to the next person can make a huge difference in whether she thinks of you as a jerk or as a decent dude — or whether she thinks of you at all — when she’s considering who might be a good guy to mention to that uber-mature, intellectually geeky female friend of hers who has been lamenting where she can find a guy who’s capable of understanding her.

        1. I agree that he shouldn’t just immediately jet mid-sentence the first time she makes mention of a SO, but I think that implies a level of rudeness that is not supported by the facts in evidence.

          There is clearly a balance. Stay long enough to be polite, but don’t stick around trying to be their friend. For this type of guy, it’s dangerous for him to try and be friends with people he met as failed romantic attempts.

          As for interrogating his preferences, I really hate that whole line of inquiry. I just feel really sorry for the poor woman who is being dated just so the guy can get some sort of ally/good-guy cookie.

          1. Stay long enough *to wrap up that good conversation*, and if friendship happens then it happens, don’t try to force it and don’t dismiss the possibility out of hand just because they’re partnered. (Just drop the idea of dating them. Well, unless you and they and their partner are interested in adding you to that existing relationship, but that’s a negotiation I don’t know much about.)

            I didn’t read considering dating people other than “IEEE standard of attractiveness” as going for cookies, though now that you mention it, it definitely could be done that way and that would be seriously insulting. I read it more as, sometimes we pursue things/people/ideas/activities because that’s what we think we’re “supposed to do”, not because we specifically want that particular characteristic. So, women are “supposed to” like men who are tall, dark, and handsome, and makeup/jewelry, and a bunch of other things. Men are “supposed to” like skinny blondes, and pro sports, and a bunch of other things. So figure out what you actually like and want, instead of what society expects and teaches you to want, and go from there.

    2. You mention that you have a lot of female friends but you don’t have romantic feelings for any of them. What stops you? Could you go on dates with them as friends and maybe find that you develop romantic feelings for them?

      I like a lot of your comment, but I really disagree with this. It’s one thing if you develop a crush on a friend and decide to ask them out. But if you don’t have a romantic interest in your friends, I think it’s a really bad idea to try to create one by going on dates with a bunch of them. It’ll send the message–to both the friends, and to the LW–that the LW is looking at all women primarily as potential romantic partners.

      Friendship is really valuable and important. Because the LW has had issues forming attachments and making friends in the past, I’d say it’s especially important for him. I think it’s a great idea for the LW to try going on dates with a bunch of different women, even if on first look fireworks don’t go off — but that’s something online dating is GREAT for, rather than trawling an existing group of friends you’d like to keep being friends with.

    3. “Don’t look at every woman as a potential date and write her off if she doesn’t meet your criteria. It’s really, really hurtful to be talking to a guy and have him stop talking to you when he finds out you have a boyfriend, or when he complains to you about how there’s no women worth dating in this area (/choppedliver), both of which have happened to me.”

      Something else that really hurts is when you think you’re really good friends with a guy, and then he gets a girlfriend and suddenly his female friends don’t exist anymore. It’s like, oh, silly me for thinking you actually enjoyed my company, you were just girlfriend hunting.

      1. I hope this will never happen, they’re like sisters to me and I would feel a great void if they weren’t there.

        1. jedi hugs if you want them, LW617.

          I don’t think they mean to be implying that you might do one of these hurtful things. I suspect they’re venting about pain they’ve had in the past. (I’ve had similar kinds of pain, my ex-best-friend refused to speak to ALL his female friends whenever he had a girlfriend, and it sucked and its been 15+ years and I still hurt when I remember). But I don’t think you’re going to do that to your friends. You clearly value them as friends. You already don’t view them as romantic partners. I don’t think you will do this particular bad thing.

          It sounds like you’re doing a lot of the right things. And, sometimes that doesn’t make all the pieces fit together, because random chance happens, and it stinks.

          In case validation helps: Your situation does stink. Its ok to be frustrated/lonely. It sounds like you have a doctor to help you out if you get depressed (its also ok to get depressed. Just please get help if it lasts awhile, which it sounds like you’re already doing, so good job). Keep trying to meet new people and show interest in them, like you’ve been doing. It sounds like the captian listed some other stuff you could also try. Sometimes trying new stuff helps to alleviate the frustration, because then at least you’re doing something.

          Another thing you might try: speed dating meetups or blind dates. Those are contexts where you know the other people are also looking and are there to flirt and be flirted with, and where the commitment level is very low. You mention that certain social skills are hard for you; this could be a safe-ish place to practice those skills in person.

          You sound like a cool person who is doing a good job of getting things together and personal growth. Best of luck to you!

  2. You know, at my age I have pretty good game and feel confident in my social skills, but I literally never get tired of reading dating advice here. Reading Captain Awkward To-Try Lists reminds me how much fun dating and meeting new people can be, if you’re in the mood for it.

    I don’t have much to add to this, but in terms of “advice for meeting people,” I always second online dating. It’s such a remarkable chance to feel out what attracts you and what kind of topics you’ll have to talk about. It can be reasonably safe space to be vulnerable and open about what you want and don’t want.
    But sometimes you get decision fatigue from starting up a profile and looking at other profiles and writing messages, and if so, my favorite way to meet people is to say yes to everything my peer group has on offer. Go see their plays, go to their parties, pick up their hints of “I’ve been meaning to. . . ” or “I’ve always wanted to. . .” and say “I’ll do that with you, let’s pick a date.” I refer to this as Telling the Universe I’m Available. At the very least you’ll have a bunch of fun experiences with or in support of your friends, and there’s a high likelihood of meeting more people that value the same things you and your friends do.

  3. In addition to consuming more work by women, I would seriously encourage LW to please stop referring to adult women as “females” (and “girls” also but I didn’t notice LW using that phrasing in this letter). I’ve found in my own life that getting rid of “girls” and replacing it with “women” was pretty tough, and I am a ladyperson! It also had the added benefit of making me pause and reconsider what, exactly, I was trying to imply about someone by using that language, and whether I maybe should use different words or be more sympathetic or less influenced by internalized sexism or WHATever. What I’m saying is, is that switching your vocabulary can help change/improve your thinking, and that can help you interact better with the women you meet in your life, whether or not they are someone you want to date. Plus, you won’t be offending people!

      1. Nog is deeply, deeply not a dating role model. Well. Not for women. In my opinion, he’s pretty perfect for Jake Sisko.

      2. I have to laugh at this in a self-deprecatory way. I am a “female”, and I am very used to address people as “males” and “females”. I try hard to control it, but I keep doing because as a biologist I use both words too often, and I apparently I am incapable of switching easily from the context of male and female animals to male and female people.

      3. I loled.
        Thank you for that. I will be picturing those guys as Ferengi from now on.

          1. 😀 I will be using “Your Fedorengi is showing” in lieu of “Cool story bro” from herewith.

      4. I have been trying to put my finger on why I find people who call adult women “females” creepy, and you have finally given me the answer. Perfect!

    1. Thank you for mentioning the “females.” I was going to say that it really grates on my nerves to be called an adjective rather than a noun. We are people, not decoration!

    2. Yeah, that jumped out to me as well. Using females or males to refer to humans outside of a scientific context makes some people (myself included) wicked uncomfortable and I think a lot of people don’t realize that.

    3. Oh god, yes, this. I understand some people may do it reasonably, but it’s a marker so strongly associated with obnoxious behavior that… well, when it shows up, it tends to be in the kind of conversation that has my husband and I stopping, staring at it, saying “he’s… not usually a jackass, is he?” “no, not usually – I hope he just phrased himself badly”.

      (We then get on to saying “feeeeMAAAllles” at each other in silly Ferengi accents.)

      1. Thank you for taking it well! It’s an easy usage to pick up innocently, and the context doesn’t always make it clear why it grates on a lot of women.

        I have to say that from your posts here, you seem like a good guy, and I wish you all the dating luck in the world.

    4. I cope with this by assuming every incidence of “male” or “female” used as a noun without a clear antecedent* I assume they are talking about Thomson’s gazelles. I have learned SO MANY amazing facts about Thomson’s gazelles this way! Did you know female Thomson’s gazelles won’t text that guy on the bus back no matter how much fun they had at that party Friday? This makes it somewhat more bearable. If you already know a lot of things about Thomson’s gazelles, you can pick pretty much any animal.

      * Example of clear antecedent: There were fourteen male and eleven female fruit flies in the experiment, and the females showed a larger affinity for time travel and Natalie Dormer.

      1. That is a great trick, and I will have to remember it.

        Also, re your time-travelling female flies – did you know that time flies like an arrow? Fruit flies like a banana though. 😉

  4. You like to argue and debate, so I’m going to guess you’ve had a lot of lively debates in your classes, or about your classes while hanging out in the dorms or cafeteria. In doing so, do you usually find yourself on the same side as your female classmates, or on the opposite side? Have you ever practiced arguing by backing up someone else’s point, while deferring to the fact that they originally made it (i.e. not co-opting into your own superior argument?).

    As a woman, sometimes I find men who like to debate less attractive because I also like to debate… (counter-intuitive, right?) But I’ve been pretty thoroughly socially conditioned to shut it down, and start the soothing, peacemaking process as soon as things get heated, which means, with certain people, I will never win, and that’s no fun. Not all women are peacemakers, and maybe you’ll find one who will argue herself blue until dawn and enjoy it as much as you do. But try to keep an eye on the comfort level of your verbal sparring partners.

    Your classmates are probably paying a lot more attention to your demeanor during discussions than you think they are, and it’s a good opportunity for you to win some positive attention for yourself – not necessarily by winning an argument, but by showing that you can listen to other viewpoints, be humble about your own, that you are open to new ideas, especially ones put forth by women, and that you can wrap it up gracefully, without becoming overly aggressive.

    1. Yeah, I too kind of have an aversion to men who claim they “like to argue,” but in my case it’s because in my experience, what that REALLY means is “I like to hear myself explain at length why I am right and you are wrong/silly/emotional.” Either way, DF’s last paragraph is gold and LW should definitely give it some thought!

      1. I think that’s why men taking a woman’s opinion on media recommendations is so huge; it shows you have listened and respected her opinion. Any man who asks me what I am reading and then reads that book has won a place in my heart (I’m partnered, so it would be a friendship place, but still a place.) And it’s so rare.

      2. Yessssss. When someone says “I like to argue,” I’d worry that it means “I like to win arguments.” I’ve learned to avoid those guys.

        LW, that doesn’t actually sound like you, but there are a lot of guys like that, and you might be getting mis-read as one of them. The advice above–listening, avoiding signs of aggression, acknowledging other people’s ideas rather than taking credit for them–is a good way of distinguishing yourself from those guys.

        1. I’m at the point where if someone says “I like to argue” my response is “Huh, I don’t, let’s not.”

          And then if they insist on trying to argue about stuff with me I just excuse myself, sometimes really abruptly. As in, “BUT DON’T YOU THINK–” “I want a sandwich, bye.”

    2. Thiiiiis. I had to drop a friend entirely because he valued his ability to win any debate so highly that he resorted to really childish tactics to get the other person to back off so he could puff himself up and say “Look at how clever I am I defeated this opponent with LOGIC and REASONING no one can withstand my mighty brain!” and I’m not saying the OP does this, but dudes who get too into “winning” debates now send up major red flags for me because they never want to be “wrong” and that carries over into everything.

      Also, OP, I don’t know if this is an issue for you, but learn to tell when a subject isn’t open for debate or argument. My husband works in a field where part of the job is someone sits down and goes through your work and questions every. single. word. All of it. In great detail. Which sometimes is great when I’m trying to problem solve or understand something new because it forces me to consider every angle, but when I’m doing things like trying to talk about systematic oppression…? Not okay. If you notice the person you’re in a “friendly” debate with is getting upset/flustered/frustrated, maybe check in.

      1. Seriously this. I’ve had dudes (invariably they are dudes) try to conquer emotion with logic far too many times in my life. The subtext is basically “now that I have explained this with LOGIC, your feelings must change!” Except feelings aren’t logical and shouldn’t be treated as winnable arguments.

        (Like the OKCupid dude who tried to explain to me that yes, he understood that women were naturally wary of men because of the chance of men turning out to be misogynists and rapists, but LOGICALLY they shouldn’t feel that way because NOT ALL MEN, etc. It turned out that he was saying this because he was hurt when women were slow to trust him. So the argument WAS about feelings after all, and he was using “logic” to argue that his hurt feelings were Right and women’s wariness of men they don’t know is Wrong.)

        1. The worst part about people trying to logic you into agreeing with them is that their own feelings usually aren’t even well-hidden. Here are the responses I have had from three different partners when I talked about possibly leaving the country for work.
          “Oh, don’t go teach overseas just to have an adventure. I mean, everybody does that. It’s a cliche.”
          “If you’re going to teach overseas, don’t go to Korea, you don’t speak the language. You should go to Brazil instead.” (Conveniently, this guy was from Brazil – and I also don’t speak Portuguese.)
          “Please don’t go. I would miss you and I want to be with you.”
          Guess which one I’m still with?

    3. Yep, this. I’m having issues with yet another close friend lately because he doesn’t know when to stop arguing with me because I’m getting upset and irritated and not having fun anymore and maybe he could listen and consider my point of view a little instead of just trying his hardest to win every single argument every time even if it’s about feminism or sexism and I’m the damn woman in the argument, not him.

      I don’t “date” guys anyway, but I generally won’t date people that say they love to argue or debate because whether they’re sexist or otherwise shitty or not, I just get exhausted when every encounter includes some abstract argument that goes on and on. It’s not fun for me. I’m more of a state your opinion, let’s listen to each other’s opinion, okay now agree to disagree and move the fuck on kind of person.

      1. This, a lot. There’s a time and place for debate. I’m a scientist – picking apart each other’s work is pretty much right there in the job description. I love it! I love getting different views on my field, and having to consider them in-depth.

        But outside of work? These are my off-hours, and I am going spend them relaxing. I debate with my colleagues, not my significant (p<.05) other.

    4. Yup. For some of us, what we’re arguing about is out life experience and it is deeply personal and (for some) traumatic. Not everything is an intellectual exercise, and it’s important to stay tuned in with your ‘opponent’ (especially if they’re women/queer/trans/disabled/POC etc) and to stop when it’s moved from “intellectual debate” to “please stop making me defend my personal experience”.

      I wish I could remember the original blog post I read about that.

    5. Hmm, I don’t debate in class anymore, confidence issues, there’s a 100+ people and I don’t feel comfortable anymore, but in organised debating I’m the closer, I mop up the loose ends and bat for the fence. My usual way is to build on what my team-mates have said, be they male or female, it really isn’t an issue for me.

      I used to be aggressive in a I will win this argument way. I’ve toned that down a lot. I used to take my frustrations outside out on my opponents which led to wins, but hollow wins. The penny dropped when I left someone speechless. Not an episode I wish to repeat.

      1. LW, you’re 20, yes? If you’ve already realized that “Proving I’m Right!” ≠ “People will like me for it!,” you’re already well ahead of the curve! (I am a 25 year old woman, and I think I only realized it around 22; my father only realized it in his fifties.)

        1. Very true! This echoes something I had to tell a friend of mine, who was having trouble making friends and not putting others off. (She went to me for advice, I didn’t jump up and tell her unsolicited what’s wrong with her). “Sometimes you have to choose. Do you want to be right, or do you want to have friends?”

          1. This. And sometimes you do and can want to be right more than you want to have those friends–“I want to call out these racist/sexist generalizations more than I want to hang out with you” is a (mercifully) not super-rare reaction.

            But that’s miles different from “I want to publically tell you you’re ignorant because what your aside about how the Victorians named fancy pigeon breeds in England is WRONG, and correcting you is more important than continuing the conversation or being kind to you”.

            There’s a spectrum. It works best when you remember it’s a choice, not something you always have to go one way or the other on.

          2. “Continuing the conversation” is the important bit. Almost any conversational correction can be polite if it’s coming from a place of genuine enthusiasm over getting to share neat information.

        2. Hell, some people never realize it at all. It’s telling (in a good way) that leaving someone speechless was not a pleasant victory for LW.

      2. Great! It sounds like you are already playing to your strengths in the best way, then. And, you know, telling some nice (redheaded?) lady that she made an excellent point about X during class, and can you continue the discussion isn’t a bad way to connect…

    6. Yes! I totally agree with this advice! I’d also notice not just with debate but overall how your tone is in intellectual/heated conversations.

      My guy partner (I’m faab) will sometimes state his thoughts on something he knows about rapidly and forcefully. I usually end up feeling like he’s talking at me in order to dominate our intellectual exchange. Probably because a. my preferred discussion style is much slower and calmer b. I wasn’t socialized at all to jump in and state my opinion c. I was usually one of the few vocal faab people in my classes at school and I used to have to literally verbally fight off guys to have a place in the conversation. The irony? When my partner does this he’s actually meaning to invite me to express my opinions. Keep in mind the cues you’re giving to the other person. Good intellectual conversation can be a combination of heart to heart intimacy and chess game that is absolutely intoxicating. Make sure the other person knows that you’re safe to play with, though.

      Also! The stuff in this article is good advice for continuing to move through life. My partner is a bit older than you and has plenty of game (You know that moment where The Doctor tells Jack Harkness to stop flirting even though Jack was just saying hello? That’s my partner at parties.) Plus, his behavior makes me want to adult with him and hang out with him almost every night. He still works on being an awesome person to date, though. When I express my feelings about him dominating a conversation he backs the fuck down, says he’s sorry, and reflects on why he did that and how he respond differently in the future. You (hopefully) never stop growing as a date/partner/lover/etc.

      Finally, totally give yourself permission to forgive yourself about the nice guy stuff. I agree with CA, self awareness is a mighty medicine. Many of my guy friends who now respectful to women, fun to be around, and generally ethical in dating went through phases where they did PUA, were arrogant douches, or were nice guys. It seems like generally if people become self aware and start putting work into changing after their first one of a few romantic interactions that they have a decent likelihood of being cool dude. That’s just what I’ve observed!

    7. Oh goodness yes, that jumped out at me too. I mean, my father’s a lawyer, and not even gonna lie, debating can be a whole lotta fun. But I definitely have a problem with it, and sometimes I can’t let things go, even when I’m not enjoying the debate anymore or the topic/responses are just stressing me and repeating themselves (see: that ****ing Spider-Woman cover and the response/defense. Ugh.).

      But if someone actually says of themselves, as a positive quality “I can out-argue almost anyone”… That is not a good thing to me. It’s not a red-flag of Douchery. But it is a sign that maybe I don’t want to spend time with this person. I don’t like being out-argued. Hell, I don’t even like out-arguing someone all that much. What does that mean, anyway? What is “winning” in that context? Because people generally don’t change their minds on something during a debate so much as afterwards, thinking over it themselves. Brow-beating someone until they just give in never feels like much of a victory, and when it happens to me it’s just frustrating.
      Additionally “I can out-argue almost anyone” conjures to mind images of Logic Guy. Y’know, that guy who comes in to Play Devil’s Advocate who defers to absolute logic even when the topic is nuanced and emotional (and his logic is usually flawed and based solely on his perception of the world). It’s the guy who defends sexism in comics because women just don’t buy as many comics, so the companies are just catering to their audience, etc etc.

      Which isn’t saying that LW is remotely like that (and I’m sure he’s not the type to play Male Clubhouse Guardian from the sound of it), but that, plus “females,” plus self-perceived maturity (I think a lot of 20-year-olds perceive themselves as Very Mature For My Age because they Aren’t Like My Partying Peers, and while it’s true they may be more mature in some aspects, maturity itself is such a nuanced journey that it always seems like a lack of self-awareness disguised as the opposite)…I can see why he’s having trouble with dating, even if I can’t concisely explain ways to fix it, since generally the only thing I know that fixes any of that is time, practice, perception, and the gaining of wisdom, which Cap laid out a decent plan for and LW seems like the kind of guy who’s on his way.

  5. LW, I want to highlight a phrase from your letter for you to think about:

    I’m literally petrified of making the same mistake again and of ever hurting another living soul again,

    One of the weirder things our brains will do to us is find ways to feel good when we’re feeling bad, even if it has to go through pretzel logic to do so.

    You hurt someone, and you feel bad. That’s natural. So to feel better, you say “I will never hurt another living soul again!”. Of course, that’s an impossible standard. You will hurt people sooner or later, some accidentally and some on purpose, because that’s part of the shape of being human and interacting with other humans. You already know this, which is why you’re “literally petrified”. But you’re hanging on to this impossible oath (and the anxiety that goes with it) because it lets you feel good: “I am such a good person that I have impossibly high standards for myself! My fear is proof of my quality of character! Even if I do hurt someone and feel bad, that’s proof of how good I am!”

    The problem with this standard is that it prevents you from actually doing anything significant. If you perceive a risk of hurting someone, you shut down. If doing something means a chance of hurting someone, you don’t do it, because that fear is so strong. And since the risk of hurt is present in any kind of interpersonal connections of any depth, you’ve shunted all these connections to the shallow end.

    LW, I want you to imagine a different standard: “I have hurt people in the past. I don’t want to hurt people again, so if it looks like I’m going to hurt someone, I’ll speak up as soon as I start to worry about it.” You’re still trying not to hurt people, but now, instead of living in fear-that-makes-you-feel-good, you’re able take risks, because you’ve set a threshold for taking appropriate action. Holding yourself to a “higher standard” may bolster your confidence, but the real-world effect is to prevent you from actually achieving anything. Don’t try to be perfect anymore; try to do good.

    1. “You hurt someone, and you feel bad. That’s natural.”

      I would even take that a step further and say it’s a good thing. You hurt someone, and you didn’t enjoy that! You regret it! You are changing your behavior to avoid repeating that! You know what that means? You’re not a sociopath. You have empathy. Counter intuitively, the things you feel bad about are signs of your goodness.

    2. This is an amazing explanation of how I’ve come to view that sort of anxious rationalization – the sort where you try to insist on your own self-worth to yourself by telling yourself that you’ll be perfect forthwith. As someone who’s only untangled most of these thoughts in the last couple of years, it really does get in the way of actually living your life and allowing yourself to make mistakes. And especially, connecting with other people, and allowing THEM to make mistakes, too!

      1. Yes, and it can start to be incredibly self-centered, which makes it hard to connect with others, which makes you feel worse, which, well, you know. There was a recent Something*Positive where Chirag messed up and was way too overapologetic and it really highlighted to me all of a sudden how self-centered that sort of thing can be.

        1. Yes indeed – a huge overperformance of remorse sets my alarm bells ringing because it’s all about proving you’re not a bad person (to yourself or others) and can actually get in the way of improving that behaviour. I’ve watched people act powerless to change their behaviour while also doing huge performances of shame, over and over again when they once again slip up and do the bad thing.

          It is much much better to a) be kind to yourself if you mess up and b) focus on quietly changing the behaviour, not loudly bemoaning it. Obviously sometimes an apology is necessary, but it needs to be in proportion and focused on the person you’ve wronged.

          1. This. The huge performance of shame is annoying and doesn’t even address the bad behavior. It only addresses the feelings and well-being of the offender. That’s not how you make amends.

          2. Yes exactly, and that performance further turns it around and makes everything about reassuring you that you’re not that bad. That’s what your jerkbrain wants, of course, but it’s not so nice to others plus it doesn’t actually help the anxiety after all.

          3. YES THIS. I’ve seen a couple different iterations of this play out (terrible version: person is mad at themself for behavior, tears self up and is a complete turd to everyone around them, including displaying anger in their direction because mad at self, but behavior doesn’t change) and it’s terribly hard to live with and so weird and meta that you can’t really explain it to someone unless they already have a complex self-understanding that includes their fallibility.

    3. I didn’t always feel bad, because of some things that happened in childhood, I really didn’t have any remorse when doing whatever I felt necessary. Feeling guilty is a new feeling. It’s not something I ever learnt to deal with. I never make mention of it to anyone who doesn’t already know, but I never forget it.

      I like your solution, I’m going to give it a shot when I go back. Try to do good and learn from the mistakes instead of trying to hold myself to an impossible standard and doing nothing. Gotcha! =)

    4. RodeoBob gives an excellent explanation of what could go wrong with that line of thinking and it looks like the LW responded below. Another possible problem with “I used to be bad, but I realized what I did wrong, will never do it again, so now I’m good” is getting hung up on the “Now I’m good” part. If your mindset is “I’m a good person because I don’t hurt people” then sometimes that doesn’t allow for the possibility of you actually hurting people. It can lead to lots of self-justification or minimizing the hurt if there’s dissonance between “I am a good person” and “I hurt someone, even unintentionally.” I think RodeoBob’s solution is a good one – still try not to hurt people, realize it’s possible to still make mistakes and hurt someone, speak up if you realize it (“Sorry, that was a stupid joke. What were you saying about X?”), listen and don’t automatically jump to being defensive and justifying (or “I’m the most horriblest person ever!!!!”) if someone calls you on something, at least think about what they say and make any changes or actions (ex – I’m fine with me or other people swearing, but I have a friend who doesn’t like it, so I check myself around her.)

  6. LW, you don’t mention whether you’re in college, but if you are you might want to look into whether there’s some kind of debate club or model UN or other structured-argument activity. If you like to argue because you think it’s fun to discuss ideas but people have told you that in everyday conversation your arguing is too intense, then maybe you can find an activity where arguing is the point of it and let’s you have fun doing that without turning regular conversations into fights.

    1. “It’s difficult in the uni dorm I’m in…”

      He’s in college/university, living in the dorms. Good suggestion!

    2. I was going to suggest the same thing. If arguing is a hobby for you, it would be great for you to find people who would like to do that with you

  7. I do not think you’re a jerk, LW, but I want to highlight this:

    “It’s difficult in the uni dorm I’m in, considering most people I meet socially are either drunk (I’m stone cold sober) or do the whole ‘one night stand’ routine which to me is appalling.”

    Drinking and one-night stands aren’t for you. That is great that you know that about yourself! But don’t let contempt for this kind of lifestyle spill over into your interactions. You don’t want to drink or have one-night stands and that is fine and good. If you are coming across as “judgey” though, or that you are above and better than people who do get drunk or sleep with people they are not dating, that is not the kind of thing that helps you make friends or find a girlfriend.

    This is where I think the Captain’s advice to look at people with love is HUGE. Because you might (might, not saying you do) think these people are drunken idiots, or that girl stumbling out of a frat house at 6 am is not a good person. Try not immediately jumping to those conclusions if that is your natural reaction. Try to see them as people who make different choices than you do, not people who make appalling or stupid choices.

    1. Is it verboten to tell people that unless they have a family history of alcoholism or a medical concern, they might want to try social drinking (or even pot), if even at moderation? It really does open up a whole lot of doors. Also, I can’t tell you how many nerdy non-drinkers become resentful of the central role alcohol plays in social life; as we all know, resentment is like dating kryptonite.

      1. Or even find one local bar with a quiet atmosphere and/or one non-alcoholic drink they like. If they’re able to be around moderate social drinking without being uncomfortable or resentful, it will open some social doors if they can answer “Want to meet me for a drink?” with “Sure! Let’s go to Winifred’s; their housemade ginger ale is the best.”

        1. LW, this is good advice. I recently spent a couple of years working for a city, and the “go out after work” culture was always somewhere with drinking. Finding something that you enjoy, like ginger beer, or tonic water and lime juice, can make it less awkward when you’re handing out with social drinkers.

        2. I met a recovering alcoholic who said that he tells his sponsees (is that the word?) to find an elaborate non-alcoholic drink that they can proudly order at bars. “Pineapple juice, orange juice, and cranberry juice with just a dash of club soda and two drops of grenadine, please. With a lime.” I don’t drink much myself and default to club soda with two limes if I’m not feeling up to it. Makes it a lot easier to be around others who are drinking, provided they’re not jerks about it.

          1. Oh, that sounds good. (I have just quit drinking, bar ritual/ceremonial occasions, but have no intention of quitting the social side.) Do any other Awkwardeers have recommendations for interesting non-alcoholic drinks, preferably not too sweet? The prospect of spending the rest of my life drinking Coca-cola is a little depressing.

          2. “Sponsee” is the word. My thing (finances and the fact that 75% of the bars in the city I live in don’t seem to carry half and half permitting) was white russians or variants theron, but since the vodka is not the tasty part, I can make something similar using just half and half and flavor syrups. Hard to order at a bar though, so I tend to either revert to the virgin mojitos of my youth or (if it’s winter, or not the kind of place that has mint), defaulting to fizzy water. I need a fancy drink for winter, though.

          3. For Kathleen, I’m actually a fan of cranberry juice mixed with orange juice. It’s sweet but also tart, which is nice.

          4. @Kathleen Ginger Beer is my favorite, if it’s available. Not alcoholic, but also very much Not Ginger Ale. It’s spicy, not too sweet (kinda smokey for some), and some of them pack a helluva punch (with the spice, I mean). It’s kinda fun trying out different brands (I’ll never really be good at distinguishing beers, but Ginger Beer I can be a snob about).

          5. @sparklyeevee when i was pregnant this past winter, I ordered virgin hot toddies! (hot water, lemon, honey, clove and/or cinnamon stick)

        3. But why not just find an alcoholic drink he likes? A lot of drinkers (and your dating pool is majority-drinker) find it rather unnerving to be out with drinking friends and a non-drinker date. There’s something about cutting loose in front of someone who won’t that leads to fear of future judgmental comments. It’s very important not to be a wet blanket or judge-y about people doing fun stupid drunk stuff if you won’t partake yourself because that’s what people are expecting.

          Some college students don’t drink as a sort of nerdy countercultural thing – a way to differentiate yourself from the dumb jocks and frat boys. But that’s just bitterness and resentfulness masquerading as some sort of enlightened choice. If that’s why you’re not drinking, it’s time to get on board with the last 8,000 years of human history.

          Caveat: If there is a medical and family history reason why you don’t drink, then please do not drink. But do what you can to get cool with drinkers. I am in agreement with the other commenters that it may help to find a cool non-alcoholic go-to beverage.

          1. I don’t think this is helpful. The LW is in college, living in a dorm where many people drink, and (depending on where he lives) possibly living in a culture where there are strong cultural messages and pressures around drinking. I think it’s safe to assume that he’s aware that drinking is an option and that many people find it fun; he has decided, for whatever reason, that he’s not one of those people. There’s a lot of good advice about navigating college social settings as a non-drinker in this thread — don’t be judgmental, don’t be resentful, look for ways to engage socially that make your non-drinking a non-issue — but I don’t really think “Try drinking!” is in that category.

          2. Eh. Some people are supertasters; there is no alcoholic drink they’re going to like. (Though, LW, if it is a taste issue? Check in again in a few years– people’s palates change as they reach their late twenties and taste buds start dying. I never used to be able to tolerate any alcoholic drinks except really fruity wines, but around 30 I suddenly developed tastes for all the strong flavors I used to hate– beer and brown liquors, bitter greens, and offal.)

          3. If he doesn’t like alcohol, then he doesn’t like alcohol. Going out sober doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun or will spoil it for everyone else.

          4. Because he’s indicated he chooses to be sober, and just like you don’t respond to someone who’s said they’re not up for dating with “But unless you have a reason I think is valid not to do it, you should try it!” or someone who’s said they don’t eat mayonnaise with “But unless you have a reason I think is valid not to do it, you should try it!”, you don’t respond to someone who’s indicated that they’re being sober with “unless you have a reason (medical or family history) I think is valid not to do it, you should try it!”

            LW is an articulate adult human with access to the internet. I am pretty sure he has already had it suggested to him that he might like drinking.

            I am also sure that he’s been told that the (non-medical, non-family-history-based) decision not to drink is often just nerdy, bitter, or resentful. Maybe strike up a different, less condescending tune? 🙂

          5. I also agree it’s not helpful to suggest anyone *should be drinking* unless they have a valid excuse. Really FTC LTL?! Way to paint people who don’t drink a whole lot with a broad brush. Not everyone who doesn’t drink is trying to be counter-culture. I occasionally drink, but I do not enjoy the taste of alcohol (maybe I’m what Ellen Fremedon suggested, a “supertaster”). I think Aphotic Ink sums up well why your argument doesn’t hold water. (Also, did anyone else notice that LW is 20 and therefore under the drinking age?)

          6. I did notice they were 20, but I didn’t notice them mention they were in the US of A, so I didn’t think about the drinking age thing. 🙂

          7. Despite the caveat at the end, this comment felt pretty dismissive to me. Some people don’t like to drink, and that’s okay, even if they don’t have medical reasons for not doing so.

          8. I agree that “Try drinking!” is not particularly good advice. But I think also that LW may want to examine his reasons for not drinking. “Because I don’t want to” is a perfectly legitimate reason, and needs absolutely no justification to anyone. But for himself, he might want to look at it, just to make sure there’s not some judgment going on there. “Because it makes people stupid” is a less good reason. “Because people who drink aren’t the kind of people I want to hang out with” is…valid, but limiting.

            There’s nuance, even in college. There’s a difference between a frat party or spring break and between hanging out and having a few drinks (even if all you have is a coke) or a party where there is also booze.

            Thing is, in college, drinking is a good metric to measure yourself against others if you want to feel morally superior (even if you don’t realize that’s why you’re doing it), because it’s considered to be such a big part of the culture, and usually painted as “drunken college idiots.” So it’s a good thing to check with yourself and adapt. You don’t have to drink, but you probably should make sure Guy Who Does Not Drink is not some inherent part of your personal identity.

          9. Nope.
            You don’t need a medical reason, a family reason, or some other FTC LTL reason to have a preference to not drink.

            Your comments about non-drinkers are quite insulting and you might want to stop being such a jerk about this. Seriously.

      2. Anecdotal evidence (I love some booze but have several friends who spent several years not drinking or didn’t try alcohol until their mid-late 20s) suggests that folks who don’t drink get “friendly” suggestions about this all. the. time. I do agree that having a drink or two, or even being fine being the sober person at a party, can help a lot in terms of social interaction. But I also know that folks who don’t drink often hear so many comments about it, even from well-meaning friends, that I don’t think I’d give that as a suggestion.

        1. Agreed. I didn’t drink until I was 25 (and was pretty dickish about it until at least 22), and while in hindsight I would have had a very different and potentially more date-tastic social life if I’d had the occasional drink, at the time, that advice was always useless and off-putting to me. I had to come to it in my own time.

          (That said, probably it IS worth repeating advice like “most people drink socially just fine” and “there’s nothing the fuck wrong with drinking socially, stop judging people over it, yes even up to the point of binge drinking sometimes, people get to make their own choices, don’t be a jerk about it” even if it’s going in one ear and out the other because, well–those are true and still let the non-drinker continue to not drink.)

        2. Also not-so-friendly suggests. And I don’t drink for medical reasons more than social.

      3. This comment rubs me the wrong way. There are lots of reasons not to want to drink, and all of them are valid. “I don’t drink” is a complete sentence. We live in a culture that, as you note, highly promotes alcohol as a social lubricant; going against that norm takes effort and is generally the result of active choice, not something that happens because it hasn’t occurred to someone that, hey, alcohol is this thing they might want to try. It would be excellent if the LW learned not to judge others for drinking or having casual sex, but that doesn’t mean it would be excellent for him to drink or have casual sex himself, if those are things that don’t interest him.

        1. I agree that “I don’t drink.” is a complete sentence. He doesn’t have to take anybody’s advice.

          But people do think of alcohol as a social lubricant because … it is a highly effective social lubricant.

          1. It’s a highly effective social lubricant FOR YOU. That doesn’t mean it works that way for everyone (hi, angry drunks! hi, people who feel uncomfortable and unsafe with the lowered inhibitions/judgment alcohol can prompt!), particularly those who’ve made the decision that they don’t want to drink for any reason.

            Similarly, it is a highly effective social lubricant OF A PARTICULAR KIND. Not everyone enjoys the types of social interactions that alcohol facilitates. Some people don’t want to rely on alcohol to make things fun if they wouldn’t otherwise be fun.

            I personally enjoy drinking, but I have a few friends who don’t drink at all. They have no family history of alcoholism, they have no medical issues that would prevent it. They just don’t like the taste and/or don’t like the feeling of not being fully in control of themselves and/or don’t want to pay for drinking and/or a million other things. Each of them has on multiple occasions told me (1) people constantly try to convince them to have “just one drink!” or to “just do it until you get used to it!” or other things of that nature, and (2) it is INCREDIBLY IRRITATING when people try to convince them to drink. They don’t want to drink. They don’t want to have to explain that or justify it or argue about it. And they shouldn’t have to, and neither should the LW.

          2. Yes. Why are we trying to push the LW off his stated boundary re imbibing drugs (because alcohol is one)? Personally I enjoy drinking. Other people do not. That’s their prerogative.

          3. Hey, it’s just advice, not a command. I observed that it’s a piece of advice that’s often effective but almost never given on advice columns. It has been my personal experience that non-drinkers in college fall into certain traps that keep them from meeting people. For example, others have noticed that non-drinkers can be judgy. Clearly, you can do what you want. If you hate it, you hate it and don’t do it. But don’t rule it out either.

          4. I don’t drink. I have tried alcohol a few times and I do not like the taste of it. I will happily go to a bar or party with my social-drinker friends from time to time and order something non-alcoholic. But the moment that one of them becomes judgey because my “wet blanket” teetotaler self is impinging on their happy drunken fun, they’re getting put on the first train to Nopeville.

            Besides, even if LW could use drinking as a social lubricant, there’s no guarantee that the people drunk!LW would freely socialize with are the kind of people that sober!LW would actually want to date (and from the sounds of it, he hasn’t been aiming in that direction).

        2. Or it doesn’t, necessarily, take that much effort nor must it be a specifically active choice. I don’t drink much, kind of by default – I don’t like beer and I don’t like cabernet, and both of those make up about 90% of what’s on offer at any social drinking occasion I’ve been to, so very often I just don’t drink because there isn’t anything I’d like to drink. I have been hassled about this literally once, and only because I refused to continue with the jello shots after trying one and barely getting it down (so actually the one place I got hassled about my drinking was at a party where I *was* drinking, because there were drinks I did like, but I decided against continuing with one particular “drink”). If the people you spend time with are at all not jerks, you can pretty easily spend time with drinkers if you don’t drink or drink sparingly, provided you are comfortable being the sober(ish) person and don’t give off an air of judgement or contempt.

          1. For me all alcohol tastes bad. Most smell like skunk to me! No idea why. I’m sure there’s something wonky about the way my body is set up that it turned out that way, but if someone told me I had to or needed to drink to fit in with the others with an ‘or else’ implied then I’d start looking for different friends who wouldn’t judge me for NOT drinking just as I wouldn’t judge them FOR drinking.

          2. Clearly, you have had a different experience than a lot of people here. I suspect that this is one of those things that varies a lot by age, gender, and probably a ton of other factors. Like, I’m young (not *that* young, anymore, but I don’t look my age), female bodied and female presenting, and clearly socially awkward, and a lot of people, when I tell them I don’t drink, jump immediately to the assumption that it’s because I’m young/don’t have a lot of experience in the world (this is very not true, but that’s not the point), and feel entitled, at the very least, to ask why not and have I ever tried it? I don’t smoke weed either, and between that and my high level of “book smarts”, a lot of people seem to assume that I’m still operating under some “drugs are bad, mkay?” mentality picked up in a middle school health class. And I don’t necessarily want to tell classmates’ friend that I met half an hour ago that I’m a recovering alcoholic, because, you know, that’s personal. And brings with it its own set of weird questions.

          3. There’s definitely a wide range of experience, but most of the descriptors you gave of yourself fit me as well (female-bodied and female-presenting, young(ish) and young-looking, academic, socially awkward, though I’m not sure how strongly that last one comes across to others – I have an actual diagnosed social anxiety disorder but apparently people are sometimes surprised to hear that), so I don’t know what factors have the strongest effect. I’m adding my experience as a light drinker who hasn’t had too much trouble with heavier drinkers making a fuss about whether I drink or not or how much (and likewise with weed – a lot of friends smoke it, no one has ever said a word about me passing on it when it’s offered, even new acquaintances – sometimes I will explain that it makes my sinuses swell up horribly, but usually I don’t feel compelled to offer an explanation, and no one asks), which I think has a lot to do with both their attitude and mine – they are comfortable with their substance use and don’t feel automatically judged by someone who doesn’t use/use the way they do, and I am comfortable with their use and don’t behave in a way that seems judgmental or superior. (I will, also, excuse myself from situations where I feel overwhelmed by the level of drinking, which for me actually feels like the anxiety rearing its head rather than a secure act of personal boundary-setting – can’t handle it, make awkward excuses, and leave.) I don’t think telling someone “learn to drink” is helpful, or that there is never pressure to drink, but I am saying it’s possible to get along as a non-imbiber without necessarily having to go through complex social machinations, at least in my experience.

        3. Not a lot of effort for me: alcohol gives me a lot of fear.
          I know it loosens inhibitions, and that you can do/say things you wouldn’t do/say while sober. And this is what makes me really afraid. For some reason i can’t bear the thought of losing even a tiny bit of control over my actions. I am nowhere near a violent person, in my daily interactions (quite the other way, i’m usually a pushover), but i’m intensely afraid that it turns out i’m really violent inside, if my mental barriers are loosened.
          I realize this is an irrational fear, but there isn’t much that can be done about it.

          1. Jorge, I sympathise. I experience something similar but milder. I do drink sometimes but afterwards I always get anxious that I may have said or done things that aren’t acceptable without realising, so at the moment I’m cutting back on the alcohol to avoid that feeling. I think it’s very likely that I’m not screwing up every time and that you won’t end up doing awful things if you drink, but at the same time it is totally fine if we choose not to drink because we’d rather feel more in control of ourselves. 🙂 So huge jedi hugs.

          2. For a friend of mine, it triggers his anxiety. For me, it’s only a social lubricant for about 30-60 minutes and then either I get tired, or my blood sugar drops and I get really cranky because my head hurts and I’m dizzy. It’s just not for everybody.

          3. I’m in a similar, but not as dire, boat. I’m an enormous goofball while sober. But even sober, I look back on the doofy things I did or said pretty quickly and cringe. So drinking in company generally makes me close in on myself as soon as I feel tipsy because I *don’t* want to lose what little inhibition I have and do or say something even more embarrassing.

            (Also, some drinks just make me sleepy, which is lousy for parties.)

          4. @Xeonophile — yup, same here. I’d *love* to be ever-so-slightly uninhibited for socializing purposes…at just the right stage of happily-sleep-deprived I get downright tipsy and it’s hilarious and highly useful at conventions and things for getting out of my shell a bit. But unless I’m already very comfortable and happy, alcohol just puts the “depress” in “depressant” and I spent the whole party in the corner feeling very sorry for myself.

          5. Yes, alcohol gives me a lot of fear too, because in the past I’ve driven friends away by being a snotty, ascerbic know-it-all (while sober). I think I’ve come a long way and really changed (I cringe to death everytime I think about certain past things I’ve said)… but what if I haven’t? I’m afraid I need all the inhibition I can get!

      4. ”Verboten”? No. Rude? Yes.
        Some people don’t drink. They are allowed to decide that. “But what if you didn’t have that preference?” is not actually a helpful thing to say.

    2. May I offer you a high five for that observation, MJH?

      College is a great opportunity to develop some understanding of what makes you simpatico with other people, but it’s also an opportunity to practice reserving judgment on other people.

      Casual sex doesn’t work for me. But some people I really like and enjoy wouldn’t be part of my life, had I not gotten over the assumption that it therefore couldn’t possibly work for anyone, or that I must have an opinion on something that really didn’t affect me. I am not going to sleep with my casual sex-loving friends, because our approaches to sex and romance don’t mesh well. But I treasure their friendship.

      1. Agree- once I learned to be less judgmental, I was happier with myself and got to make new and interesting and valuable friendships. I endorse this advice. Stop calling other people’s harmless activities “appalling” and you’ll be happier and have more emotional energy freed up for other stuff.

        1. It’s not the harmless things I meant as appalling, I’ve been around drinking for near a decade now, same with the sex. Once upon a time when I was still glued to my parents beliefs, yes I would have been appalled. Now, it’s the dangerous, reckless stuff. So lighting fires in the kitchen when drunk, throwing eggs the kitchen walls, rotting bananas squelching the floor, cookers left on all night when drunk. That sort of thing. We also have a person who likes to impersonate a dog when they get very drunk. It was funny the first time, but after a year of seeing someone on all fours barking at you at 5am, it does get rather annoying. With the sex, again, it’s not so much a problem as the women in question banging on the flat door angrily demanding to see the guy she did the deed with the night before or her friends banging on the door at the wee hours demanding she comes out. We’ve been raided by campus security several times and their behaviour is reckless at best. I don’t think I’m going over the top by calling that specific behaviour appalling.

    3. This was exactly the thing that I was trying to figure out how to say. Thank you for saying this! My own personal version is “Your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay,” which works remarkably well for me as a way of practicing respecting other people’s life choices, even when I would never ever make those choices.

    4. Because of whatever is affecting my moods I’ve been warned to stay well away from consuming any alcohol. I didn’t drink before hand, but now, I can’t. Though there was a night that things were so bad, between my physical pain and everything else I was tempted to buy the hardest liquor I could and swallow the whole bottle.

      It’s poor wording, very poor wording, I do apologise for that. I’ve been around drinkers since I was 13 and it’s not the drinking that bothers me, I don’t mind that. It’s when they get so drunk they are barely able to stand or form a coherent sentence and do some pretty dangerous things. Our kitchen was destroyed several times and we were fined for some of the antics.

      A bit of context on the one night stand stuff, it’s usually between a very drunk person and a slightly less drunk person and I really don’t know how the whole consent situation works there and I really don’t like the trouble when some of these girls come pounding on the flat door in the wee hours angrily shouting.

      It’s not that I don’t think they’re a good person, a lot of the time I just think they’re being a tad irresponsible, but ultimately, that’s their choice.

      1. I can definitely understand being uncomfortable with the behaviors you describe. If people are causing damage, being violent, or hurting people such that angry girls come by shouting then that’s not pleasant to be around. However, it is important to keep in mind that none of that is because of social drinking or having hook-ups. As with all things, these are things that can be done responsibly or irresponsibly. The benefit to keeping this in mind is that you are less likely to rule out somebody lovely who engages in social drinking or one night stands responsibly, because you are so used to seeing them done irresponsibly. There are probably people around you drinking responsibly, but it’s not going to be as noticeable, because they don’t cause problems for you. There are probably people having responsible one night stands, but you don’t see the fall out from that, because it isn’t negative. The people who cause problems are always more obvious than the people just going about their lives. So, get to know people, and if they engage in one of these activities, you can watch for whether they seem to do so responsibly or irresponsibly.

        If you simply cannot be comfortable around it because of your negative experiences, then that’s okay. It’ll likely rule out some good people from being a part of your life, but it is important to be honest about what you need and what you can and can’t be okay with. Just do consider whether it’s worth getting to know more people, especially ones you might have rules out because you lumped them in with the people acting irresponsibly without actual evidence that they were having negative consequences from their actions. But I totally agree with keeping some distance, if you can, from those who are acting dangerously. I wouldn’t put up with people destroying my kitchen if I had a choice.

        1. I wanted to something along these lines but you’ve done it better than I ever could.

  8. “I’m literally petrified of making the same mistake again and of ever hurting another living soul again”

    LW–this line made me cringe so hard in sympathy!

    In defense of mistakes: you may well make the same mistake again and you will almost certainly hurt someone again–if you’re a human in a relationship with another human being, you will probably hurt them in some way, big or small, in ways you may have never imagined or predicted. Vulnerability and intimacy are scary!–They can hurt you! You can hurt them! At the same time even!

    Striving to treat people and yourself with kindness and thoughtfulness is a good start toward minimizing the hurt, but you’re never going to be perfect at it. If you don’t give yourself room to make mistakes (and the room to deal with them and grow), the fear and the anxiety can make it really hard to even start relationships–much less grow them into good ones.

    It took such a long time for me to learn this. I couldn’t let go of the fear of hurting/being hurt, or figure out to be kind enough to myself not to make “I made a mistake” equivalent to “I am a complete and total failure undeserving of any good thing.” I have such a long string of Nice Girl ™ crushes and bad-idea relationships based on no authentic feelings in my past because I was too afraid to be vulnerable and I didn’t want to risk making a mistake with an actual person who was actually present for me whom I actually loved. Having relationships with people in my head only or with people who asked for/gave nothing emotionally was so much safer.

    The only reason that ever changed is because I threw myself into the fear and decided to expect to screw up. And then I did screw up, a lot. And then I wrote a lot in my journal and tried to figure out how to do better. (Lather, rinse, repeat many, many times.) I did a lot of things similar to what the Captain recommends above. It’s solid advice. But the first step was just the decision to let myself be scared and do things anyway. It was in fact pants-sh!ttingly scary at first, and the fear has never gone away altogether. But I am internalizing the fact that I can screw up and even utterly fail and still be OK in the end. I’m even sorta becoming OK with the bit of fear. It’s a good pointer to where I can learn and grow.

    1. Also, you may well be required to knowingly hurt people as part of the dating process. If you go on a date or several with a girl and she likes you but you decide you don’t reciprocate, turning her down will probably hurt her! But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, because relationships only work when everyone in them is enthusiastic about it.

  9. This may not apply to you at all, but in my experience when someone is told they are “too intense” that often means “talks at length and ignores social cues that someone else is not enjoying an interaction with you”. That coupled with the fact that you say you like to argue may mean you are arguing with someone who does not want to be argued at.

    In fact, the only times I have ever heard that term applied to people it meant either that they do a lot of extreme sports or that they are rude.

    1. I agree this may be what people mean. Like anything else you do with another person for fun, arguing needs to be fun for both people. I have seen too many people keep arguing “for fun” when their conversational partner is obviously getting upset, or prolong arguments for the hell of it when other people are trying to make a prompt decision (“we’re all tired and hungry, where should we go to dinner” is not an invitation to have a fun debate, or reflexively criticize every opinion or taste someone expresses. I’d take a hard look at whether you’re doing any of those things, and maybe take a break for a while from arguing with people as a means of socializing.

      I’m not saying never argue for fun again — I like arguing sometimes! — but you might try actively looking for ways to either find things you agree with other people about or listen to them without agreeing or disagreeing. Can you work for a while on saying “I like that too!” and “I think you’re right!” and “Tell me more about that, it sounds interesting!” If you’ve developed the bad conversational habit of treating everything as the opening salvo in a debate, it might help get you out of the habit and help you find some other conversational hooks.

      1. I know someone who picks fights at parties and such because he’s bored. For some reason “leave” has never occurred to him.

        Don’t be that guy.

      2. I love this idea- think of interesting ways to agree with people rather than just disagreeing for the sake of saying something. (Obviously this isn’t saying you always should hide your true feelings, but just suggesting you learn a broader range of conversational tactics.)
        Also, lots of people tend to socialize by complaining: they arrive and immediately start talking about how bad the traffic was or how they hate the classes they’re taking or how such-and-such TV show sucks. When I first met my boyfriend I was really drawn to him because he would make conversation by saying something positive. Again, this isn’t saying you should hide your true feelings and just pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows when it’s not, but it is good to broaden your range of conversation-starters to include things besides criticism and whining.

      3. My upbringing focused on the necessity of always looking for the alternative views of everything. Into my mid-20s I would still assume that ‘where should we go for dinner?’ meant ‘let’s make sure to examine all the possibilities within a hundred miles and weigh the pro’s and con’s of each before making a decision by debating the relative merits and gradually eliminating competitors until finally only one restaurant was left.’ In the small town where I grew up, this was only annoying, but in a big city it finally became clear that it was a maddening habit that needed to be dropped.

        LW, Amtelope’s suggestion here is awesome. It took me more than a year of trying to stop saying, ‘but have you considered __ instead?’ rather than ‘sounds good, let’s do it!’ And people really did most often prefer delighted agreement to my suggestion of yet another alternative.

        1. *wince of recognition*

          Spouse and I were doing that restaurant thing THIS VERY NIGHT. And stopped when we realized we had a time-sensitive errand to do first.

    2. Thanks for putting this into words! I just did a slow fade on a guy from work and couldn’t really verbalize why until now.

    3. This is a very good point.

      The most important skills someone who loves to debate needs to learn are:

      1- How to tell when it is appropriate to debate. (If a WOC is talking to you about Ferguson and how upset and scared it makes her, now is NOT the time to play devil’s advocate).
      2- How to truly listen to the points made by the opposing side. You are not supposed to just listen so you can find the holes in their argument. If there is no possibility of YOU having YOUR mind changed by the debate, then it isn’t a debate. A debate, for one thing, isn’t supposed to be something you “win”.
      3- How to tell when a debate has run it’s course. This can be tricky – you ideally want to find a graceful way to end it before either person gets upset, or at least end it as soon as possible once they do.
      4- Learn, really internalise, that You Are Not The Golden One. It is not your solemn duty to educate and improve those poor proles. You do not actually know more about women’s rights than the feminist woman studying her women’s history. You do not need to mansplain to anyone. It is, in fact, normal and okay for you to not be the smartest person in the room.

      And generally, people I’ve known who get described as “intense” as well as self-identifying as people who love to debate? Tend to be really terrible at all of those things.

      1. All of these are important, but #2 is the one I really wish so many of my otherwise-awesome acquaintances would come to understand… It’s so frustrating, especially when our ‘debates’/disagreements are about something largely subjective, and after a while I’ll be all “Okay, cool, that’s what works for you, but this is what works for me” and ready to talk about something else; but they carry on trying to push for some acknowledgement from me that their way is better – to ‘win’, in fact.

        Regarding the use of the word ‘intense’ : in fiction, it’s nearly always presented as a desirable trait – lead/key characters are often portrayed as passionate, driven, intense, and this is a large part of what makes them successful (both as characters, and at whatever they’re striving to achieve in the story). So I suppose it’s natural that many people think “intense=good”. However I find that in Real Life, if the word ‘intense’ is used to describe someone, 9/10 times it’s a polite substitute for ‘overbearing’.

      2. I would go so far as to suggest that “never” is the appropriate time to play devil’s advocate in a conversation with anyone you don’t know extremely well. Deliberately misrepresenting your position on an issue in order to provoke a reaction or have a debate that’s fun for *you* is non-consensually using other people’s emotions and opinions for your own entertainment. It’s actually really icky behaviour.

        1. Okay, that is a really excellent way to describe something I always had trouble with but could never put into words. You’re exactly right. If you’re Devil’s Advocating at someone and they haven’t been told about it and agreed to participate then you’re right, that is EXACTLY what it is.

          Especially because, I find, when people engage in devil’s advocacy, they always seem to find themselves “advocating” for a privileged position to which they belong, at someone who is directly and intimately effected by the stuff they’re picking holes in. So automatically the devil’s advocate is a dispassionate and remote participant looking at everything from a purely theoretical point of view, while the person on the other side is left effectively defending their basic rights and needs and experiences.

          1. YES. Devil’s advocacy is extremely useful in limited situations where everyone involved is on roughly the same level of privilege/investment in the issue. It’s good for when you’ve come up with a plan and then want to spend some time poking holes in it so that you know where any weak spots are. It’s good for if you want to literally practice debating to get a good feel for both sides, and everyone is on the same page about how this is what you are doing. Outside of that, it’s usually someone pretending to be rational so they can feel superior in their lack of actual investment in the subject.

          2. Yes, this. If it was really about “I like to take the other side of everything,” we’d see a lot more lifelong Republicans devil’s-advocating for Trotskyism to the leader of the local chamber of commerce, and Seahawks fans finding a new acquaintance at a party so they can argue at length that football is a destructive, stupid waste of time. The self-proclaimed devil’s advocates are always poking at someone else’s cherished ideas, never their own.

          3. Yup. The devil has enough advocates. I wish we could legally mandate that people who say “I’m just being devil’s advocate” had to instead say “I’m just being a dick!” Same goes for “I’m just being un-PC!”

        2. Beat me to it! Devil’s advocate is just about never appropriate. Also co-signed to everything else in this sub-thread.

    4. I don’t know most of the social cues so that might be it. I should also mention that I’m a lot more passionate about my work and course then anybody I’ve met hence the intense tag.

      1. LW, I just wanted to say I appreciate your participation in all of the discussion here – you seem like a nice guy and it’s cool that you’re generally really taking advice to heart, so go you! Not everyone’s able to do that kind of thing at 20 (or ever).

        On the “passionate about my work” front, you may want to think about how you’re presenting that passion to others. Since it sounds from some of your earlier comments like you’re a trained debater (maybe on debate team? mock trial? some sort of model government?), there’s a really high probability that you’re presenting your passion as “here is my bullet-pointed manifesto on why what I do is the most awesome and important thing ever, which I have researched in detail so my arguments for why this is the best are perfect and bullet-proof,” and, as a fellow trained debater who talked like that a lot in my early 20s, I can tell you that that sort of presentation is doing you zero good in social settings. It’s cool to be into really unusual things, but the key is to be friendly and approachable in how you talk about them, and, if they’re controversial, to know your audience.

        Example: I’m really left of center on political issues, and have been following the Ferguson issue really closely, and I have really strong opinions about it. I also have a super-close family member who is a police officer. 20 year old me would’ve wanted to engage Officer Family Member in a “debate” that would’ve actually been me lecturing Officer Family Member for 20+ minutes about My Views, They Are Most Rightest. 30 year old me (aka current me) knows that (a) this is a controversial topic generally; and (b) Officer Family Member likely has a completely and utterly different opinion from me, and completely different life experiences informing that opinion, so Current Me engages Officer Family Member with something more along the lines of “Hey, Officer Family Member, I’m troubled by all of this stuff I’ve been reading about Ferguson, what’s your take on it?” And then I listen. And if Officer Family Member seems into talking about it (i.e. gives more than a one-sentence answer to my question) then I ask questions (REAL questions, not questions of the “But how could anyone even *think* that when my opinion is so much righter?!” variety). And then I listen some more. And then, maybe, at the end, depending on where the conversation goes, I share a few thoughts of my own in a non-confrontational, non-lecturey way.

        I built up my listening/asking questions/NOT lecturing *at* people skills by volunteering as a tutor/afterschool activities teacher at a middle school, teaching the kids debate skills. Middle schoolers are a nightmare in some ways, because they have the attention span of children, the attitude of teenagers, and basically no ability to filter themselves. If they think you’re boring, you will KNOW it. If you’re coming off as harsh or mean or weird, they will tell you without sugar-coating it. It’s a little trial-by-fire, but I am much better at talking about my passions without alienating people thanks to the time I spent with them. Not saying you have to go out and do this particular thing, but in general, you may want to look for opportunities where the goal is to educate people about the things that you love (rather than prove some point to them) to help you find friendlier/less “intense” ways of engaging people in topics of interest to you.

      2. I think if you keep that in mind you’ll start to notice it better. Here are a few simple things I can think of:

        1. If the person’s responses become short: if they’re interested they’re probably asking questions, otherwise it usually it means they’ve either run out of interest in continuing the conversation or are feeling trapped and want to put as little into the conversation as possible trying to make it die.
        2. Add more pauses and more opportunities to change the topic when you speak: if they want to leave the conversation, a natural conversational lull is a good chance to say “I’m going to get some more punch”. Options for topic change are harder, but I think you can mention something about the other person and they can pivot on that if they want. ‘blah blah blah entomology blah blah ladybugs… which are actually a very similar color to your shoes . => either: really, why are they so bright? or oh, thank you, I actually just got them. blah blah blah shoe construction blah blah blah distance running’. Not everything you mention will segue into a good topic for them, but I think that will help.
        3. Ask questions, see if they are asking you questions: people like to feel their input into the conversation is useful, which you can indicate by asking their opinion. If they say something like “I don’t know” that may be an indicator they don’t want to talk about that topic (note, different from “I don’t know about that topic, tell me more.”). Similarly, if they stop asking you questions, that’s an indicator they don’t want to hear more about the topic.

    5. Not at all suggesting you’re wrong, I agree with your comment. I just wanted to mention that I’ve also seen too intense used a lot in a “coming on too strong emotionally” kind of way. This could be someone who gets too angry about something small and stresses out friends and acquaintances, or maybe someone who gets really emotionally invested really quickly in a new friendship or dating relationship and the other person feels that they’re not as invested yet and it’s a bit awkward because of that.

    6. I have been called intense and I don’t *think* I am in the habit of ignoring social cues… (Also, no extreme sports here.)

    7. Talking at length is definitely a characteristic that I would call “intense”, particularly if it happens regularly. It doesn’t even have to be argumentative or controversial. My partner has a friend who will talk at length and in detail on pretty much any topic long after everyone else is ready to move on to something new. He’s always perfectly nice but it gets exhausting for me and I am currently not great at changing the subject much. Another option is offering a lot information about personal topics when you don’t know each other well. Teenage me did this a lot – sorry to anyone who ended listen to me drone on for hours about all the drama in my life (self-inflicted, of course).

      But I think it sounds like the LW is doing more of the first kind. It’s hard when there is enthusiasm for something to reign it in, but I think it’s a skill that’s helpful to learn. I’ve found that if I find layers of detail in the things I’m interested, then I can work my way through the layers (from superficial to nitty gritty) if people seem interested, but pausing to let other people react (comment, question or just check to see if they look interested, e.g. are they looking at me in a lively sort of way, or do they look thoughtful – if so things are good and I can keep going, but if in doubt I assume people have heard enough). It’s also great to have a friendship or relationship where one person will listen even if they don’t have a clue what’s going on because they know the other likes to essentially “think out loud” sometimes although this works best if everyone knows that the listener can back out or change the subject if it is wearing them out. Personally I like doing this with the dog best, he’s never told me to change the subject!

  10. Elaborating on the “someone wants to learn that other language you know”: lots of folks around need to improve their English skills as well. A group like Literacy Volunteers of America organizes English language mentors for people who have English as a non-native language and who want to improve their English skills. Just a thought in line with the suggestions of meeting different kinds of people.

    1. I know someone who had a lot of success (several friendships and romantic possibilities or relationships) with a language-speaking group, where people who spoke Language X would meet up once a week to practice. They had both native speakers and some who were learning. It was a good place to meet people since everyone was just talking to each other even though the overt goal was “speak Language X.” I think the thing about this group that worked well was that they had a core of regulars that my friend liked but then there would be various new people coming and going.

  11. Plus a million to “try out stuff you’re not good at.” Because yes, being Awesome at Thing is totes sexy. But when I’m trying to learn a thing and I kinda suck and it’s silly and embarrassing but also fun? Having someone in the same boat with me is also super great and makes me feel like I’m doing something WITH them, rather than they’re doing something AT me. Then it can be The Two of Us United Against This Hard Thing That We Will Conquer Some Day. Being bad at something (and being OK with being bad) can take pressure off other people, which can make them more relaxed, which is good!

  12. True story: about a year ago my temp agency sent me to ‘organize some files’ for a client. Turns out ‘filing’ was code for ‘sorting through hundreds of unsecured financial and medical documents tossed in a four foot heap on the floor.’ Within that mountain of paper, I found a manuscript entitled, “How to seduce difficult women.” The guy two cubicles down wrote it. I wish I’d kept it! He really needed an editor and some of the advice was awful, but some was really insightful. Some of the bits I can remember:

    – His whole shtick is, he’s French and that makes him an expert in seduction, at least compared to most American men. Thing is, he defined ‘seduction’ as ‘living life with a smile.’ The goal of romance is to replace loneliness with connection and companionship, so a successful seduction isn’t necessarily getting laid or getting married, but having a mutually enjoyable interaction with a woman. A pleasant conversation about the weather? Seduction. A (non-sketchy) compliment to an acquaintance? Seduction. Any time you both are slightly happier for the interaction, you have been successful.

    – Know thyself. Write in your journal about the women in your life. Who has been important to you? How have they affected you? Describe them. What is your parents’ relationship like? What influences shaped your ideas about gender, sex, love, dating, relationships, etc? What are you looking for in a partner? Do you know any couples who are good role models for relationship skills? What makes them good at relationshipping? What are you afraid of? What are you proud of? What was your most difficult experience?

    – I think this is more for people who graduated Social Skills 101 and are taking the upper level course, but he suggests that a way to get people to trust you is to make yourself vulnerable. Once you have your answers from the previous exercise, talk about them when appropriate. No feelings!bombs. Don’t say, “Oh, you have a cocker spaniel? That reminds me of when my dog died when I was 9 and I was heartbroken because the dog was my only comfort after my dad used to drunkenly beat me.” Say, “I was so sorry to hear about Robin Williams. I’ve had problems with depression too and I really feel for him.” You’re not trying to get sympathy, you’re trying to demonstrate to people who currently have depression that you are a safe person to talk to. If you don’t want to go into details about painful experiences, it’s okay to allude to, say, an unpleasant relationship and people will respect that. If you learn to talk about difficult things calmly and matter-of-factly, you’ll sound confident. And of course talking about positive things, like, “My grandfather is such an inspiration to me,” can be memorable conversation fodder.

    – Equanimity. If you’re a sweetheart to women you want to date but an asshole to guys and women that you’re not attracted to, people will notice. Be kind and honest to everyone, not just hot girls.

    – Echoing what the Captain said about consuming media by/about women, read as much as possible. He suggested that reading about the broadest possible variety of subjects will make you a better conversationalist. When you ask someone about themselves, either ask a follow-up question about themselves or segue into, “Oh, I just read something about your hometown/hobby/field.” (See also: How to Win Friends and Influence People, which was surprisingly not douchey since it was written in the 1930s) Then you can work in the non-fiction you’ve been reading. When reading fiction, pay attention to the dialogue and try to develop an ear for how it demonstrates character development or social cues. Look at how characters respond to each other. It can be easier to follow that in fiction than in real life because the author is deliberately highlighting the important parts. And as a fun neurological tidbit, supposedly reading fiction helps the brain develop empathy. I’m not a scientist and I hear that such studies are often mis-reported, so maybe take that with a grain of salt, but it can’t hurt to read about people different from yourself.

    Basically, know thyself, be empathetic and kind towards others, and develop social skills. I.e., continue working towards being a good person. I think you’re on the right track, LW. Best of luck to you!

    1. I just wanted to highlight this part: “If you’re a sweetheart to women you want to date but an asshole to guys and women that you’re not attracted to, people will notice. Be kind and honest to everyone, not just hot girls.” PEOPLE WILL NOTICE.

      I had a former co-worker who was nice to me, but he was a douche to some of the people in our market (not exactly clients or customers, but something along those lines) and other co-workers. I wouldn’t call myself a hot girl, but I am in his dating demographic. (He was a bit flirty toward me, but I did not flirt back. That flirting got shut down fast. Both he and I were partnered when I knew him. So maybe he was nice to me because I was a potentially date-able.) There was a time when he gave a co-worker who he considered a friend the silent treatment just to mess with her. It’s not like she did anything to him. I saw how it upset her. The fact that he would so blithely upset someone for fun was a red flag. Behavior like that suggests that it’s just a matter of time before he considers me unworthy of decent treatment. He tried to add me as a facebook friend some time after we stopped being co-workers, but I rejected him. I don’t need someone like that in my life, even as a facebook “friend.”

      [note: I tried posting this once, so I apologize for any double posts.]

  13. This is more of state-of-mind thing, that I sometimes notice with people. Maybe not you, in which case ignore.

    As you’re meeting people and dating, check yourself that you’re not simply trying to fill the “girlfriend” slot, like ticking off a box. I’ve known a few people who have done this with marriage – they pursued a partner because they wanted to be married, not because they wanted that particular person and marriage was a natural outgrowth of the relationship. Those aren’t terribly happy marriages.

    Essentially, don’t do it backwards. “Girlfriend” (or wife, or partner, or friend for that matter) is a title you offer someone because it fits them and their role in your life. It’s not something you should try and shove a person into because the spot is empty.

    1. Oh, definitely. I do sex ed for teens/young adults (where “sex ed” is a huge umbrella that covers general relationship questions as well) and recently we had a straight guy come in who could NOT understand why we couldn’t answer his “how do I get a girlfriend” question to his satisfaction. He wanted a way to hit some “instant girlfriend” button and we kept telling him that making connections with *individual women* was really the first step, and that a relationship might grow out of the connection with a particular person.

      I absolutely get that being single and wanting a partner is rough! But I also think that “I want a girlfriend” (or any other-friend) isn’t the best mindset to have. I think it also leads to “what do women like?” type questions which will never have an answer, since women (or again, anyone else) are just PEOPLE. And people have a huge range in what they like or look for in a partner.

    2. > they pursued a partner because they wanted to be married, not because they wanted that particular person and marriage was a natural outgrowth of the relationship

      This. Please do not do it. Not with a spouse, not with a girlfriend.

    3. I couldn’t do it. My parents culture is one of arranged marriages and I squarely told them I wouldn’t, couldn’t ‘fill the slot’ as you say. I need a connection with a person to be able to open my heart to them on such an intimate level.

      I’d like to find someone who can be happy with me and I happy with them. Girlfriend, wife, partner the title matters little. I’d just like intimacy in my life before I start my career.

      1. LW, I completely empathise with this, but please don’t put a deadline on it. And for the love of pete, don’t put your career on hold over it. One piece of advice that the captain often gives, but didn’t mention here, is to find your awesome, to do whatever you would do to be happy and fulfilled if you knew dating was never going to happen.

        I think that’s great advice specifically for people who are feeling burnt out of the dating scene, which is probably why she didn’t mention it this time, but I also think it’s great advice for everyone, single-and-likes-it, single-and-looking, single-and-sick-of-looking, dating-casually, dating-seriously/married, dating-five-different-people-at-once, whatever. It’s fine to want the experience of being in a happy and supportive romantic relationship. That’s a wonderful feeling. But it’s not the thing that separates a good life from a bad life.

        And furthermore, when you have a deadline, you start to feel under pressure. You’re more likely to push, more likely to settle, and more likely to seem really desperate, which is never sexy. So, I mean, yes, do all the things the captain suggested to try to find a relationship, but also, give yourself permission to be happy and fulfilled even if you don’t, and pursue those dreams.

      2. To echo Jake, I’d almost go so far as to say that you have this backwards – you should be focused on starting your career and living your own best life, regardless of whatever romantic and intimate entanglements may or may not come your way. It is hugely intimidating to try to date someone when that person gives you the impression that their entire future and happiness rests on whether or not they find a relationship, and it makes it hard to know whether the person cares about you specifically, or is just desperate for a partner.

        Work on becoming a complete person with a complete life, without a partner, and, paradoxically, it will make you more attractive as a potential partner.

        1. The problem there is my career pretty much kills any chance of me being allowed to makes mistakes and find my way when it comes to having a partner. There’s also the problem that it entirely consumes your life and stagnates you as a person quite frequently. There’s very little time for personal growth. It’s challenging, it’s demanding, it’s torturous, but I love it and it makes me very happy.

          I don’t ever make mention of that fact to people except to my very closest circle when they asked about my fears. So it’s never mentioned if I meet someone I like, there’s no pressure. I came to terms a while ago with the fact that I may never find a person who is right for me and as painful as that may be, better that then I inflict my presence on someone who doesn’t want it.

  14. I don’t want to come down too hard on you LW, since you seem like you’re trying, but quite a bit of your letter reminded me strongly of the sort of guy I would have avoided like the plague at uni. I am bringing my own biases to this and I have no reason to believe you are actually that guy but here are a couple of the things that jumped out at me:

    It’s difficult in the uni dorm I’m in, considering most people I meet socially are either drunk (I’m stone cold sober) or do the whole ‘one night stand’ routine which to me is appalling

    This sounds a little judgmental. You shouldn’t feel like you have to drink or have one night stands but it’s not really okay to pass judgement on those who do. For starters, there is no reason why a woman who has had one night stands can’t also be a perfectly wonderful, loyal partner.

    I’m lonely and very different, I’m eccentric, have eccentric tastes and I’m a lot more mature then most people I meet in most social settings

    This is the big one that got my hackles up. I’m pretty sure that almost every asshole I met at uni would have described himself the same way. This doesn’t mean you’re an asshole but it’s probably worth examining what you mean by being ‘eccentric’ or ‘more mature’. In my experience these things are often used to dismiss the worth of other people’s interests or life experience. They are also often not as true as the people describing themselves that way would like to believe. I have lost count of the number of guys who have talked down to me about comics or anime as if the Sandman comics were some underground classic or I had never heard of Studio Ghibli. I was also deeply unimpressed by the people who thought they were more mature than everyone else even though we were almost all out of our parent’s houses for the first time and learning how to adult. Ironically the actual ‘mature students’ I got to know never came across that way even though some of them were in their 40s. You might really be into something well outside of the mainstream and genuinely be more mature than most people you meet but it’s worth thinking about whether you think that is better than having more mainstream tastes or being occasionally silly and how that view might be bleeding over into your interactions with people.

    I do have some advice! The advice the captain gave is great and I think a lot of the comments address the ‘debate’ thing well and I don’t have much to add to that. The one thing I will suggest is that you don’t have to look for someone who’s taste or hobbies align with yours perfectly. I met my boyfriend through online dating and one of the reasons I messaged him was because we both like video games. It turns out there is almost no overlap in the games we play but I love listening to him talk about what draws him to the games he likes and, importantly, he likes to listen to me talk about the games I like. This carries over into things we don’t share at all. He’s never going to read the YA novels I like but he is willing to listen to my lectures on their importance. I hate programming but listening to him talk out a problem he has (and asking the occasional stupid question) has never been a chore. Passion and mutual respect for your partner’s passion can be a great way to build a relationship even when the passions in question aren’t shared.

    1. That line was really really poorly written, the people around me are so inebriated they mistake the bin for a pillow. I really don’t know how to deal with people like that at 3am despite being a chronic insomniac.

      All of the second part, aside from the lonely, isn’t anything I’ve used to introduce myself as or describe myself as in person to anyone. That’s what almost everyone I’ve ever met has described me as. I’ve told my former best friend everything, absolutely everything except for that one incident which a lot of my troubles spawn from and she hasn’t in a decade been able to make heads or tails of me.

      I don’t try to be different, it’s the opposite. I like what I like and that isn’t an issue but I’m so often on the outside I’d really like to be on the inside, in a group but no matter how many times I’ve forced myself into a noisy, smelly club I really can’t enjoy it.

      All I want, all I’ve ever wanted is to find someone to whom I’m just me and they are to me just them and we can enjoy the simple things together.

      1. Yikes! Is there any way you can move? Having people that level of drunk in your space on that consistent of a basis is a totally reasonable thing to be objecting to. WOW. And I’m sorry.

        1. Seconded! Uni dorms is a great way to develop misanthropy when you are not a great fit for the dominant style of socializing/recreation.

          Re: Dorms.
          Note also that you’re probably not actually the ONLY person in there who feels this way. Thing is, the people who prefer not to party are, well, not at the party, so it can be hard to find each other.
          Are there other times/places to see people in the dorm? A study room? The rec room in the morning or during whatever hours a lot of partiers are in class? Something? You might like your dormmates more if you met them outside of a situation you dislike.

          Another thing might be to keep your ears open. You say your tastes are eclectic, and if that extends to media, then listen for a door with your kind of music coming out of it, then go meet that person.
          (Don’t like, barge into their room saying HEY THAT’S MY FAVOURITE BAND TOO but more like next time you run into them, note that you overheard the music and start a conversation)

          1. The room system works a tad differently here, we each have our room in a small flat in the building. The fire doors are very thick and you can’t hear anything through the flat door unless it’s very very loud.

      2. So don’t go to a club, go to a sit-down bar & have a soft drink, go bowling, go to the cinema, go kick or throw a ball about in a park.

        It may be tricky right now because the people around you are probably only recently of drinking age & getting a bit excited, but most people find there is a huge, huge space for variations between stone-cold-sober and throwing-up-drunk. Try not to tar everyone with the same brush as soon as a drop passes their lips.

        There are thousands of people fitting your description, LW most of them in the Math or IT department . No-one can make heads or tails of anyone they know well and no less informed judgement is very accurate -can you sum up each of your friends in a sentence? No, there’s more to them than that. You are not at all unusual, just not well represented in media.

          1. It depends. For bars, it works best if you take a book and sit at the bar (not at a table) and are open to chatting with people and the bartender. I’ve had some lovely conversations with people at my regular spot, and whether or not you make lasting connections it’s still nice to occasionally talk to someone new. If you go and sit in the corner and mope and stare moodily at everyone, you’re going to come across as kind of off-putting. Do not take How Soon In Now as an instruction booklet!

            Bowling you can do by yourself but I think it’d be hard to meet people that way. Why not look into joining a league? You sound like you are not in the US so I don’t know the logistics/costs of that where you are, but around here it’s pretty reasonable. There may be intramural sports teams you could join at your school as well, just for fun.

            You might also want to check meetup.com for non-drinkers’ social clubs/activities. They exist, even for people in their 20s!

    2. This. This times a billion. Hackles were raised, and eyes were rolled, and here’s why:

      LW, I’m sure you do not say these things out of any kind of arrogance or malice. But the fact remains that saying stuff like “It’s difficult in the uni dorm I’m in, considering most people I meet socially are either drunk (I’m stone cold sober) or do the whole ‘one night stand’ routine which to me is appalling” and “I’m lonely and very different, I’m eccentric, have eccentric tastes and I’m a lot more mature then most people I meet in most social settings” isn’t a good, or even mature, mindset to have.

      I was very similar when I was younger, in that I believed that my eccentric hobbies and quieter demeanor set me apart from others my age. And I took a weird pride in that, since many other things plagued my self-esteem, that at least I could feel good about not engaging in culturally “frowned upon” or “reckless” behaviors and being perceived as wise beyond my years.

      Here’s the thing: thinking like that doesn’t make you mature – it actually displays a distinct lack of perspective and a limited point of view. People all around you are living lives just as complex as yours, with problems of equal value and intricacy. People who have one night stands, who drink, who easily socialize, who don’t share your hobbies, speak like you, argue like you, or think like you are NOT innately less mature or intelligent or thoughtful. They are as unique as you, me, the Captain, and every other person on this planet. So please, practice the Captain’s advice to try to see others the way someone who loves them might. Acknowledging that you aren’t in a class of your own, that there isn’t something that sets you and you alone apart from the rest of your peers, will help you relate to other people romantically and as a whole. What you’re feeling is unique and at the same time universal, and all of that is ok.

      1. Oh wow, yes, this is all what i was trying to say in my clumsy comment downthread (should’ve read everything else first, I know). Especially just the bit about how easy it is for “*I* don’t do *that*” to become part of our identity to make ourselves feel better.

        Especially the part that it’s not that any of us believe you’re malicious about these attitudes. Just that the way you address them and state them says a lot about underlying attitudes that maybe needs to be addressed. Practicing kindness is a great way to train yourself out of it without having to rethink EVERYTHING.

  15. LW

    Read around this site and it’s other entries and you might just find all you are looking for. Specially the instructions on how to not be a Nice Guy, and the insight into the current feminist conversation.

    You are delightfully young. Time is on your side.

    Now is the time to start adding “value” to your life. Now is the time you are free to pursue interests and hone your life skills.

    I like the Captain’s advice of socializing your passion.

    What if, after investing in your passion, you were to organize events around it? Events need volunteers, –outreach.

    Deal with being a young man, is that you have to do so much “outreach” in order to make connections with those you are attracted to. Often without any context other than the random ambiance surrounding your chance meeting. This can be exhausting, and also, inefficient in matching you with somebody you find interesting.

    Some people are writers just so they can say they wrote a book.

    Some people date just so they can finally say they have a girlfriend.

    Dood, it’s not an imperative to be in a relationship. If you want to be a writer, write something sincere and meaningful and whether or not it gets published, in your guts, at least you have written the words you intended, with earnest solid work, and the “value” it places within you remains the same as if it were a bestseller. The *process* itself imbibes a certain chunk of experience that contributes to your maturity, in and of itself. People are attracted to those who have “built” something. Even if it’s just a flower box for a rosemary plot.

    So find something you enjoy, and write about it/organize events around it.

    Call it the [insert your town here] [insert your interest here] Festival and start small. Burning Man started small.

    In my city, the art scene is packed with people who were once nerdy/awkward/etc 20-somethings who are now running annual fests that started with a small idea, and a small collective.

    In addition to interests and passions, try volunteer at an organization that has people your age doing the same thing. Don’t try cruise everybody in the room on the first day. There will be social events that come by naturally, and it is at these social events where you will see the doors open up– people bring friends, you can bring friends, and because you all volunteer at the (theatre company/meals-on-wheels org) you have some *commonality*. Also, you have the benefit of not being some random “stranger” and anybody you meet will assume you’ve passed the social gate-keeper, and be more likely to explore future chances of seeing you.

    Although a bunch of do-gooders can go overboard on the righteousness of all their selfless giving to the “community”, they generally a fun and open, non-judgmental subset to rally with.

    Another thing: know when to make the move.

    It is a timing thing. There are gentle ways and clunky ways. You won’t always get it right, and practice might be required. Or you could just ask your “female” friends how their own bf made a move… what was their catchy hook?

    The advice on this site regarding internet etiquette is excellent. Read it up.

    The person I am currently “with”, I met through friends. After a series of emails (with just date and time info–no rambling preview poems or such) and a couple of interesting meetings things got going. It took a while before things picked up between us, but once it did, once we were through the early stages of feeling-eaching other out, and the cat-was-out-of-the-bag as far as me being able to make a move… I asked her:
    “At what point did you know I *liked* you?”

    “The minute you sent the first email.”

    So…? Go gently.

  16. Something that was missing from the list of activities to try was dancing. Try ballroom dancing, or salsa, or modern jive or whatever else may be available at your uni. The kind of dance you do (eventually) with a partner. Why?

    1. It’s pleasant, social exercise. Even if you are terrible at it, you can have fun! And when you’re doing some kind of partnered dancing, you have to concentrate on the person you’re dancing with. This is useful practice.

    2. You would be amazed how nice it feels, as a woman, to dance with a man who can lead. (I married the man who taught me to rumba!) I suspect I am not alone in feeling this. Therefore, if you learn to dance, you will be able to give women happy feelings!

    3. Chances are that in any non-macho dance class, there will be a lot more women than there are men. Really, I cannot understand why the savvy guys are not all taking ballroom dancing classes…

    1. To elaborate if dancing is the kind of thing you’ve never dreamed of trying: if there’s a regular event featuring any of the aforementioned dance genres, it will often come with free instruction! It is not at all like being at a club where it seems like you are supposed to Just Know How to Dance.

    2. Let me recommend contra dance! There are groups in almost every major city, it’s usually quite reasonably priced if not free, and there are always, always lessons at the beginning! Besides, it’s accepted practice to get a new partner for every dance, so you get to meet a huge range of people. (And they have a caller who tells you *exactly* what you’re supposed to be doing with your feet.)

    3. I did try it, my mobility issues got in the way. It was horrible. In the space of two years I’ve gone from being a lithe, flexible and slim to overweight and completely off balance.

      There’s a lot and I mean a lot more women then men there and I am so far out of my comfort zone I get even more shy. Cultural upbringing was no dancing so it’s a steep learning curve. But hopefully, I’m finally resolving my mobility issues and getting back into shape so maybe I can try it again.

    4. Such a good suggestion. I particularly recommend swing and folk based dances to beginning dancers.

      Also, I strongly recommend learning, or at least trying, both roles when you are a beginner, if you have that option. In my experience this makes dancers safer and more creative which is more fun for everyone.

    5. Swwwiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnggg. Ah geeze, if you’re in a city, there’s almost definitely a swing dance group somewhere. And there’s always a shortage of guys. SO MUCH FUN.

  17. LW, I was a guy who never really dated in college (or for years afterward), and it worked out fine. Every few months I’d wonder how I was going wrong since I was uncoupled, but it rarely stuck. If you don’t find that special someone now, luck and chance may just not be aligning yet. If you like the ideas of CA’s Step II, they’ll introduce you to more people–more people with whom you might spark, and hopefully they’ll be interesting activities on their own.

    Mostly, though, I’m writing to say life and relationships can work out–waiting for someone who engages you doesn’t mean you’re losing at life. It can be difficult when everyone around you is coupling up, but as long as you’re happy day-to-day, don’t dread that a relationship hasn’t fallen into your lap yet.

  18. I think what was most helpful for me about getting comfortable and confident with meeting is learning to be ok with, and celebrate, baby steps. Little by little you will make the progress you want, and the first steps are the hardest! So let’s say you take the Captain’s advice, and you put yourself out there and go to that new social activity/art class/etc. you want to try. And you are SO NERVOUS about it, but you go anyway! You stay A WHOLE HOUR WOW! That’s a big deal for you to celebrate! You were able to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people and try something new–that’s an accomplishment in itself. So treat it like one! Once you’ve made that step, reward yourself however is comfortable for you. Maybe it’s introvert time with ice cream and a movie alone in your room. Maybe you buy yourself some new music off Amazon’s $5 album list (my personal vice!). Just be really nice to yourself after. The rewards help you recharge and reinforce to yourself that you did a good thing. Once you get comfortable going to that meeting for an hour, maybe ramp up the goals–more social outings a week, talking to 1 or 2 people at the thing you went to, etc. But keep rewarding yourself and giving yourself that recharge time. Eventually, you’ll figure out what’s the best balance of social time vs. alone time for you, but you don’t figure that out without pushing yourself a little first.

    Captain’s TOTALLY right about consuming media by women and asking for recommendations. I met my boyfriend via online dating, and one of the things I instantly noticed about his profile is that he had female musicians on it, female authors, movies with great female characters, etc. But don’t just say that stuff for show–find something you really are invested in and enjoy! My boyfriend and I have mostly different tastes in music, so he’s often clued in to women musicians I’ve never even heard of. I respect and appreciate so much that he can give me great recs on work by women he’s discovered on his own. One of the moments that solidified the “wow, you’re awesome” with my boyfriend is when he got us tickets to see The Breeders–a rock group made up of 50+ year old women. It was a bad ass concert and one of those moments for me that really solidified that he saw women as people and appreciated their art and abilities. That kind of stuff really matters.

    1. The Breeders are fucking awesome. That’s all I wanted to say. Y’all have great taste in music.

  19. “that includes treating women as people, with thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears and dreams. It’s difficult in the uni dorm I’m in, considering most people I meet socially are either drunk (I’m stone cold sober) or do the whole ‘one night stand’ routine which to me is appalling.”

    I’d like you to think about what you’ve said here a bit. It reads like you’re saying you’re struggling to treat the people around you well because they drink and/or have one night stands. Honestly, this is a really dodge thing to say. Women making different decisions to you, or the ones you would like them to make, should not make it hard for you to treat them with respect. I don’t see how someone drinking or having casual sex makes it hard to consider them to have hopes and dreams and feelings. What you’d said here is really concerning to me and I think you should reflect on it.

    Hopefully it’s an issue of running two thoughts together and you don’t really feel this way, but you *did* say it. Also, it’s really not good to describe other people’s choices (which don’t cause harm to anyone else) as “appalling.” Violence is appalling. Emotional abuse is appalling. Cruelty to animals is appalling. One night stands are not, remotely, appalling.

    Honestly, a lot of your letter makes it sound like you look down on those around you. You’re more mature than most people you know. You can out-argue anyone. “Most people” don’t like your passions. Combine that with the statement I quoted from you above, you come off like kind of a jackass.

    I think you already know there is some work to be done. You’re talking about having low self-esteem and low self-confidence. I doubt you are getting much in the way of positive feedback from your social interactions, and the couple of things I’ve pointed out here might be something to do with it. The thing is, you’re talking about these things like they are unchangeable, intrinsic parts of yourself – but that isn’t true. Social skills can be learned. You can soften your view of others and their choices, and hold back on the criticisms of things you don’t understand or aren’t personally into. I think you’re putting the very little self-esteem you have left into the basket of “well, I’m more grown up than these people, I don’t drink, I don’t have one nights stands, I’m more logical/better at arguing…” All these things can be true about you, but you’re phrasing them in a way where you judge yourself in comparison to others (thereby degrading their worth to you) rather than thinking about what good things there are about you. Try looking at it like this:

    – You have excellent debating skills (have you thought of joining a debate society, by the way?)
    – You know your own boundaries and stick by them
    – You’re smart enough to construct a coherent, powerful argument
    – You have diverse and unusual interests
    – You get on well in situations that are often quite intimidating for people your age
    – You’ve reflected on your mistakes in the past and you’re working on yourself
    – You think actively about what you want from relationships (both romantic and platonic)

    See how much nicer you sound as a person there? You should try to start thinking about yourself like that, and start looking for the positives in other people too. When you feel bad about yourself, it’s easy to run down everything in your life and cling to the few things you feel like separate you from other people. But you’ll be happier – and more able to socialise – if you start thinking about the positivity in the way other people lead their lives, even if it’s different from your choices. Those people in your dorm who drink a lot? A different decision from you, but they’re learning their limits, experimenting, having fun, throwing themselves into a new social culture. The people having one night stands are owning their bodies and their pleasure and desires, and seeking out what they want in the moment rather than worrying about judgement. I think you should work on seeing those positives in other people’s choices and understanding that that also doesn’t make your choices *any* worse.

    All of the captain’s advice is great, and I think you should follow it, but I also think that you need to really look at your current quality of life aside from dating. You sound sad, and kinda bitter. I’ve been where you are – low self-esteem destroys a lot of our ability to feel any positive emotions – and I’ve learned that looking down on others doesn’t help you feel any better about yourself. I always used to avoid anyone even slightly different from me because it would remind me of how crap I was. So I put up barriers of why I was different and better and justified my pretension and judgement and isolation with it. Don’t do that. It doesn’t help. What helps is trying to take joy in others.

    1. I really should have phrased that better, they’re meant to be two separate sentences, entirely de-coupled from each other. I’ve had trouble respecting people and I realise I’m going to sound horribly argument I please forgive me in advance, I’m usually the smartest person in the room. Now I have trouble not respecting other people, but respecting myself, no matter what I do that voice in my head will always find something that was, that is inadequate and in a dorm of people who are either stoned, drunk or make very loud noise it gets hard to make myself see that I should start to treat myself with respect.

      Most people don’t like what I do, it’s not a thing, it just happens to be the way it is. I don’t bring it up at social functions because people’s avoid meter shoots up and I end up in an empty circle. However, with the next few months being very very important in my field, maybe people may actually not mind it for once. Or they’ll get nauseated from the non-stop mention of it. -_-

      Aha, some is an understatement, I looked myself in the mirror and there’s some major construction to be done 😉

      Aside from when I put my foot in it, I’ve got a reputation for being very articulate in social situations ( I really don’t know how) and I do a lot of conflict resolution (I sit on a very fractious debate society committee)

      I really really like the way you’ve phrased the list! It makes a huuuuge difference!

      You are right about me being more then a bit bitter. I had it all, and bit by bit everything I valued is either gone or going. I no longer see that as a bad thing anymore. I was so arrogant, so terribly arrogant. I’ll earn everything back and do it the right way and that includes, as you said, taking joy in others success.

      1. I’ve had trouble respecting people and I realise I’m going to sound horribly argument I please forgive me in advance, I’m usually the smartest person in the room.

        I don’t think you’re necessarily argumentative (or arrogant), but I have to ask: how on earth do you know you’re usually the smartest person in the room?

        1. As someone who works in a field overpopulated with individuals who consider themselves the smartest person in the room in every situation (law), I have to tell you, our culturally defined idea of “smartness” is highly overrated. How about being trying to be the kindest person in the room instead?

          1. I am suddenly reminded of all the jokes the light of my life tells about engineers being So Sure They Are Right, And Also You Will Listen While They Explain (I somehow feel I should note that he’s an engineer). It’s kind of amazing how many smartest people in the room you can get in one room…!

          2. The only thing that I remember from my ‘welcome to university’ talk is something to the effect of ‘Being ‘clever’ doesn’t matter here. We’re all clever. Try to be kind instead.’

          3. I went through a phase of trying to date the smartest person in the room. Best I can figure, it was because I’d always been told I was smart and I totally perved on people I thought were Even! Smarter! Than! Me! lol. The thing was, though, that sonce you can’t always tell how “smart” everybody is based on superficial observations, I’d end up dating the most arrogant know-it-all in the room instead, and the relationships would suck. I still perv on intelligence, but the older I get, the more I realize it comes in different forms and is not always announced with a brass band and a parade. And for the love of pete, without a sense of humor and some kindness it’s worthless to me.

        2. As someone to whom it’s happened, it’s possible to have entire roomfuls of people tell you, “You’re much smarter than us. You’re freakish and make us feel bad. Stop being so smart.” Especially when you’re a teenager. I used to work with Gifted children of the “going off to university at age 12” variety, and a lot of them who didn’t have access to special education in their schools were social pariahs. Sometimes being smarter is a quantitative fact.

          On the other hand, the wonderful thing about adulthood is a) people stop caring so much and it stops being a thing, b) you get into more varied society and get to go into groups where there are people smarter than you, and c) “smarter” does not mean “more relevant”, “more experienced” “wiser” “better” “more moral” “having more to contribute” or anything else. It just means, well, “having a brain that runs faster.”

          1. Been there, and yes, the points you are making (including the one about “smarter just means having a brain that runs faster”, which specifically eliminates the definition of “smarter” that means “thinks things through more throughly and better assesses more details, just not as quickly as the possibly less through but faster person”) are the ones I was going to get to; I just wanted to know why LW617 was believing it. 🙂

        3. The people around in said event usually tell me or treat me so. Though I really don’t feel smart at all except on two subjects in which I can comfortably say I know my stuff on.

          I’d really just like to be normal and fit in.

          1. Since you’ve read CA, I assume you’ve got an excellent grasp of everything that can be covered by normal. 🙂 Maybe it’s worth figuring out explicitly who you want to fit in with (maybe after you’ve followed the Captain’s advice about getting to know people a little better)? Most of the people you’ve described socially are seem to fall into two groups–people who you see drinking a lot and having casual sex, and your (mostly female) friends. Are those groups you want to fit in with? (Is there a particular reason you don’t fully feel like you already fit in with your friends?)

            In addition to what Book of Jubilation said above, can I suggest that you maybe trust yourself? “Smart” is an easy shorthand for people to use for things they aren’t familiar with (maybe especially at an age where everyone’s still figuring out who the hell they are and how to become who they want to be, and how to make sense of things that aren’t what they expect, and what vocabulary to use).

            I’m not saying you aren’t smart. I’m saying that people telling you you’re the smartest is not a reliable indicator of smartness, so maybe set aside reconciling “they say I am smart” with “I do not feel smart” and file it in the “they think rock is best, I think bluegrass is best, whatever” category of your brain unless you’re in a situation where it’s actually relevant?

            (I’m also not sure what being treated like the smartest looks like. if someone told me they were being treated that way, I’d assume either they were being treated as a walking information source (“Come on, come on, ask him anything about X, he’ll know the answer!” or “He can do factorials in his head!”), or that the fact of their effortless academic success was somehow present in most interactions. (I wouldn’t necessarily call this a positive; “oh, GEORGE doesn’t want to play pool with us, that’s not for SMART people” is a nasty little snipe, not a compliment in any sense.)

            (Note that I wouldn’t assume that “being treated like the smartest” means this because I think those things indicate intelligent analysis or thoughtfulness; I would assume this because I’ve seen that those are the things most often called smart out loud, you see?)

            Also, if the issue is that people in an event are usually telling you you’re smartest, and you don’t believe them or aren’t happy there, maybe try different events? I know you mentioned not feeling like you belonged in clubs (with descriptors that gave me the impression you were talking about nightclubs, not student association clubs); are you going there because there’s literally nowhere else to go (no student clubs, no craft groups, no reading clubs, no walking groups, no Meetup.com), or because you specifically want to be “normal like the people who hang out in clubs” rather than “normal any other way”?

          2. I’d really just like to be normal and fit in.

            Ouch. I can empathise with that. I’ve tried (and failed) at being normal and fitting in. I’ve also done the “it’s not me, it’s them, I’m smarter and more mature than them, and being around them is just dragging me down and that’s why I’m such a terrible snot to them” thing. Neither of those things made me happy.

            Picture all the things you love. The subjects you’re so passionate about, the things that interest you the most. Would you give all of that up if you could, to be normal and fit in? Picture what that would look like: you have none of those things any more, but you have a relationship and ordinary friends and an ordinary life. Now what do you do? Does that sound fun? Does it sound like you?

            Now take a look around your university. Do you see people there in your classes who are also outsiders, also not normal and not fitting in? They might be more likely to be Your People than the ones who are normal or can pass for it. And being friends with them might hurt less than trying not to be all the things you are that aren’t normal, and trying instead to be some sort of composite picture of normal.

            You still have to be kind. You still have to do your best not to hurt people.

            But you ARE allowed to fuck up. You ARE allowed to hurt people accidentally and then fix it if you can and live with the consequences whether you can or not. And most of all, you ARE allowed to not be normal, not fit in, and still have a good life, still have relationships and closeness and warmth. Good luck.

          3. Ouch. Those three sentences resonate too much with me to not reply. I know exactly how that feels like and it’s unbelievably uncomfortable and alienating. Jedi hugs if you want them! All I can say is… it gets better? If your situation is at all like mine was, it’s less about you being smart and more about the people around you feeling insecure and their insecurities being awakened by your intelligence and avid interest in whatever it is you are interested in. As the people around you get older, they get more life experience and more self-confident. Adults (the older they/we get…) are more likely to have their own field of expertise which you know nothing about, which evens the situation out. Hang in there!
            And because this might be a bit vague, this is how it was for me specifically: I was always pretty quick to grasp things at school, had an easy time, and had strong, lasting interests in my hobbies. The people around me at school were still trying stuff out and trying to find their way and their own personality, whereas I wasn’t so much the trying-out type, but took a long time choosing my interests in silence and then stuck to them for years. The fact that I had little interest in popular activities such as partying and happened to be fairly mature emotionally did not help. However, I could not help who I was (even though I’m usually easy-going and sometimes might seem a bit too easy to influence, I am surprisingly stubborn when it comes to the pursuit of my interests). And yeah, I learn things easily the school way, so I was the smart one with the weird interests…
            But whereas, back then, I was stuck with a class and they all had the same subjects as me (in which I usually did well), I now spend time with people from different backgrounds. There are so many people who have knowledge of processes and subjects I barely know the basics of, I now only rarely get the feeling of being the odd one out with the weird interests and the school smart.I know nothing about so many things and it’s awesome!

          4. Not to suggest that you’re actually NOT smart, but it’s highly likely that some of these comments and behaviours come from (a) privilege and (b) supposedly “positive” stereotypes.

            On (a): You have male privilege, which means culturally getting the benefit of the doubt and being assumed to know things about stuff, to be more rational, etc.
            This isn’t something you can stop all by yourself nor is it a thing to feel bad about, it’s just a fact about how this society works. What you CAN do is keep in mind that you have this current pushing you up the scale of perceived smartness and adjust accordingly.

            On (b): You probably fit at least one stereotype about being good at thing XYZ. If you look nerdy, you’re probably assumed to be smart and good with computers/math/science. Ditto many ethnicities, even if you don’t actually identify as a member such a group, because people and assumptions and poop.
            Stereotypes SUCK, even when they’re not insulting on the surface.

            Just, some food for thought about why having people telling you you’re SO SMART might not mean you’re actually some kind of bizarre outlier.
            You’re more normal than you think. Most people are.

        4. Yeah, as someone who still struggles with the assumption in certain situations, I can tell you that it is virtually never true, and means bupkis when it is (for a given value of “smart”).

  20. When the Captain talked about needing to do something “…that gets you out of your room, out of your head, out of the need to impress people, out of the need to “be intense.” It resonated with me.
    The best thing I did for both my social and dating life was to learn to be okay with feeling foolish.

    There is a dynamic that can happen with people who are insecure where they lean too much on the things they know they are good at.
    They argue long past the point of friendly debate, They are humorous in inappropriate places/times. They come over looking like they stepped out of Vogue/Esquire to eat pizza and play video games.

    It can make people like that *waves to me from the past* uncomfortable to be around. Relaxing and allowing myself to be awkwardly sincere has worked out so much better for me than being “on” all the time.
    It was weird at first, but it allowed me the space to really start seeing people and interact with them in an authentic way. I hadn’t realized how much I was assigning everyone an archetype in the first seconds of meeting them, and not really engaging much with them after that.

    Finding people to attract and be attracted to was much easier when we had some idea who each other was.
    It let me contract my dating pool in some ways (found out I like practical, thoughtful, introverted people who are a bit genderqueer), and expand it in others (there are people like that in all the sexes, races, and sexual/romantic identities).
    The range of people who were attracted to me broadened and shrunk in the same way. For every 3 guys who no longer tried to bang me, there was one person who was very much interested in getting to know me intimately.

    Bonus: Since I’m not bludgeoning people over the head with it anymore, people actually enjoy my thoughts, my silliness, and my dramatic style. It’s fun for them now that I’m not always trying to force it.

  21. LW, this bit really, really stuck out to me: “I hated the idea of feelings and I shut them out and didn’t do friends (ironically this is when I received most attention from the females).” Other people have advised you on avoiding the word “females,” and I don’t want to repeat what they’ve said, but I think you should really look carefully at why you think it’s “ironic” that you got more attention from women when you were more closed off.

    The fact that you mentioned it means there’s some kind of correlation that pops out for you there, right? But I want to be very clear that that correlation is NOT causation – it’s not that women ‘prefer jerks’ or anything of the sort. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that. That is misogynist thinking, and even having friends who are women does not necessarily exempt you – I’ve encountered a ton of men who have women friends but think of all OTHER women (or other “types” of women) as a big amorphous monolith of bitches-who-like-assholes. It’s not true. Even if your analytical brain says that’s what the data you’ve gathered means, tell it to shut up. It’s not true.

    1. I found it ironic because I was, forgive the follow bad language, an arrogant piece of shit who treated everyone like pieces of shit and was totally closed to the idea of feelings, never mind engaging with them and now I’m trying to be caring, thoughtful and listening more then I shout. That struck me as rather ironic, not in a good way or bad way, just noticing.

      I should say, that people have remarked that I much more pleasant to be around because I no longer such an a-hole (one friend saying I was near unbearable) so I think I’m moving the right way.

      1. A possible explanation for why that happened, LW, is that being closed off and angry all I Do Not Do Feelings is basically sending off waves that say, “I am emotionally damaged and want someone else to come fix me.” And many teenaged girls are socialized to respond to that as to the Bat Signal. “Hark! A man is brooding about his isolation from the human race! I will come and love him and fix him and he will prize me above all things!” (We talk about that on this blog sometimes from the other POV–being women who are socialized to pursue sad, sexy assholes)

        It’s not actually always flattering because you’re the object of someone else’s rescue fantasy. It’s not about you; it’s about the romanticized picture of who they think they’ll turn you into. If you’re all closed off, you’re also a blank canvas for someone to project their own issues onto.

        Meanwhile if you’re being human and authentic and visibly showing emotional competency and actually engaging with people, it’s not so easy for someone else to wedge you into a role. So it scares off the people who aren’t willing to engage just as much back.

        Summary: If I’m right, it’s a sign of cultural brokenness and a Bad Gender Role Tango, and you’re not missing much now it’s gone.

  22. LW, in addition to all the fine advice above just wanted to offer some food for thought re this: “The few people I’ve really sparked with are all in relationships.”

    I went through a period of this and after a lot of soul-searching, figured out that it was maybe just a coincidence but really probably at least in part because of a fear of intimacy. It was nice and safe to “spark” only with people who weren’t available. Just keep that in mind when you are feeling the gushy feelings. Sometimes they are telling us different things than what we realize.

    1. That’s a real nugget of gold that! Yes, that does make sense. A lot of sense. Because of precarious family situation (lack of cultural approval, I’m literally trailblazing by moving away for uni) safe will play a big part in it. Yes. I think you’re on to something there.

      Have you any ideas on how to combat it?

      1. Give it time. The sparky feelings with unavailable people are teaching you how to feel the spark, giving you the chance to learn what qualities spark you, and letting you practice not being overwhelmed to the point of incoherence while feeling sparky.

        Chances are very good that if you just act mindfully accepting of your sparks aimed at unavailable people, while also doing some of the other things people are suggesting, that one day, your life will be such that you feel safe or ready, and you will find yourself sparking on available people. Until then, if you believe it’s not safe at the moment, consider the sparks aimed at the unavailable as a favor your mind is doing for you, letting you feel some feels without putting you in unsafe territory.

        Work towards making your life safe for this sort of thing, and you will most likely stop trying to protect yourself from it.

      2. So, I went through a similar thing where I only ever ‘sparked’ with people who were about to move far, far away from me. It was totally about the avoidance of intimacy. I didn’t fix it, per se, I just eventually decided that I would keep dating one guy even though he was moving to a different continent, and lo and behold, we just kept on and are now married/babied/all that jazz.

        I don’t offer this anecdote to imply that you should wait and hope that these people will break up with their partners and magically become available to you to date. Rather, I want to say that sometimes things work out whether or not you manage to fix your issues first. In the meantime, try to take those feelings as evidence that the right people for you are, in fact, out there, and eventually one of them will come along and actually be single and interested.

  23. LW, you remind me of a younger me. The thing that really jumped out at me from your letter was this, “I’m lonely and very different, I’m eccentric, have eccentric tastes and I’m a lot more mature then most people I meet in most social settings (I’ve been regularly mistaken for 40+ when I was 18)” I think you might want to reconsider your view and think about whether you are not more mature, but differently mature. You’ll note that you also say, “but I’ve zero social skills that aren’t an argument, sports or one of my passions” and “I have no understanding of social cues. It’s like I’m trying to read Swahili.” It sounds like you did something very much like I did, you spent your childhood becoming competent and knowledgeable about stuff. That’s good. But you didn’t spend your childhood learning how to interact well socially. That’s unfortunate. You probably had good reasons for that; I certainly did. But it is what it is. Your peers put more of their time into learning social skills, and thus had less time to develop other skills. Personally, I view maturity as a combination of life skills (like making a budget for yourself) and people skills (like knowing how to make a conversation enjoyable for both parties). I spent a lot of my college and post-college young adult doing social skills catch-up. The upside is: they are skills – they can be learned. The downside is, it’s slow and difficult and you will mess up as you try to learn them.

    But I think you need to rethink the whole “more mature” thing, because you’re coming off, to me at least, as rather arrogant and elitist. You’ve got the sorts of skills that are well praised in academia, and that is a good thing. But you haven’t yet come to understand and recognize the skills and strengths of many of the people around you. It’s no worse that the people around you are still developing the life skills and knowledge that you’ve already worked on than it is that you’re still working on the social skills that they’ve already obtained. And since most of your peers are going to be teenagers or young twentysomethings, I strongly suspect you both have more development to go in both areas anyway. But if you learn to see the strengths and value of more of the people around you, I think you’ll get along with them better and generally be happier.

    I know, it feels weird to say you’re being arrogant when you also mention low self esteem. I’ve done both at the same time myself. People are vast, we can contain multitudes. But basically, you need to be less hard on both yourself and on others. More accepting of both yourself and of others. Honestly, I’d consider serious thought about what matters in a person, because it’ll be very difficult for you to form good relationships unless you’re viewing others as equals. They can be equals with different strengths and weaknesses than you have (since they do have different strengths and weaknesses), but the things you are good at are not inherently more valuable and worthy than the things you are bad at, such that you are superior to others. Although almost all people tend to view the world a bit like this; it’s one of the common human fallacies. So, again, if you catch yourself doing that, don’t beat yourself up over it, just rethink it. Every single person knows something you don’t (just as you know things that I don’t), try to remember that and have fun learning what some of those things are. I find it’s a helpful attitude when getting to know someone; what interesting thing can I learn from this person? It can be hard to find, but there’s always something.

    I also noticed you said, “I’m also a romantic whose entire cultural upbringing utterly rejects the idea of genders freely mixing and all that cabal.” and I have absolutely no idea what that means. I’m kind of curious, actually. If anyone happens to know, I’d be interested in hearing. Hmm,well, that’s one of the things the letter writer knows that I don’t.

    1. “I also noticed you said, “I’m also a romantic whose entire cultural upbringing utterly rejects the idea of genders freely mixing and all that cabal.” and I have absolutely no idea what that means. I’m kind of curious, actually. If anyone happens to know, I’d be interested in hearing. Hmm,well, that’s one of the things the letter writer knows that I don’t.”

      Seconded – what does this mean??

      1. thirded. That was the line that made me disagree with the Captain’s statement that “I get zero douchebag vibes off you.”

        1. I read it as LW being from a culture where people of the opposite gender don’t generally mix, but that he identifies personally as a romantic which (inference starting here) contributes to his sense of loneliness and also his (perceived) lack of skills when it comes to interacting with women.

          1. I read it the way Maureen does. Those are two separate ideas in the same sentence. The LW is a romantic, and he comes from a culture that frowns on mixed gender socializing. They are connected in his mind because its challenging to be a romantic and at the same time have cultural baggage about mixed gender socializing.

        2. /nods – For me, the use of the word “cabal” pinged on phrases specifically used to disparage that point of view–a kind of “people who think genders should freely mix–what a feminist cabal! (cue throwing around of terms like SJW, ‘politically correct’ said in a disparaging tone)” impression.

          That said, he’s explicitly apologized for one of the word choices that set my teeth on edge, and I think has used words that from context are inaccurate at least twice in comments, so I’m figuring that this was a case of lack of clarity rather than a dogwhistle.

      2. I’m a romantic, I’m really into the idea of romance and a portion of my interests are stuck in the the romantic era of the 19th century. The culture that I am from, totally disavows the notion of romance, preferring arranged marriages and have minimum interaction with the other gender who aren’t close relatives. Gregarious large families they may be, but you very rarely meet people of the opposite sex for most of your early years and non-schooled interaction. Even now, when I reside at home, if I go anyway with friends one of the first questions will always be “Are there any girls going?”

        My whole outlook of things is completely contrary to everything I’ve been brought to believe and pretty much what most of my family believe. Think Punk Rock child with extremely conservative church going parents in a small community. That’s how far out I am with this.

        1. Thank you for clarifying; that makes sense. I think something that would help you is to learn more about how realistic loving relationships work. Most things out there give a pretty weird and unrealistic view of them. You’re more likely to have things go well romantically if you have more realistic notions of what that looks like, and if you haven’t seen that modeled, it’s a lot harder to have that. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure how to go about getting this if you don’t have lots of friends in good relationships to learn from. I suspect some others might have ideas though. I definitely think the advice that Book of Jubilation gave, focusing on love in all its aspects. Learning to have strong, good, caring friendships is very, very useful for building skills necessary for a loving, romantic relationship. The basics of respect, kindness, caring, listening, fun, mutual enjoyment, and so forth are present in both friendships and romantic partnerships. Getting good at being a friend and accepting friendship will probably help you feel more comfortable taking steps toward romance. Especially given your other comment about quite possibly having a fear of intimacy, it seems a good thing to work on. You can build up social skills and relationship skills, while getting to have and enjoy good friendships. And while I know it can be unpleasant to be single when you don’t want to be, but you really are very young. It’s very common to take a while to meet someone you love who loves you.

        2. <>

          Sounds like the 19th century!! Also, from your other reply-comments, there is a Secret Incident – very 19th century as well!

        3. Conservative Christian religions are very bad for creating this notion of destiny around romantic relationships. When God decides it’s time, the right person will be put into your life and the Holy Spirit will enter your hearts, guiding you to one another. You will refrain from sexual expression of your feelings until your wedding night, when you will begin a lifetime of beautiful, fulfilling lovemaking together.

          Christianity (in a less restrictive form) is still an important part of my life. But having passivity sold as romance for most of my life was not helpful to me at all.

          I was socially isolated from boys as a teen. My mother realized I was crushing on a female acquaintance, and after that isolated me from my female friends as well.

          I think your crushes on married/partnered/unavailable people are fine as long as they end at some point. It’s a normal phase of romantic development. People who aren’t segregated from potential crush objects go through it earlier in life.
          Before you decide your awkwardness around relationships is due to an intrinsic part of your nature, devote some thought to the idea that it’s from a lack of opportunity/access during the time when most other people are developing those skills.

          You have that access now when you are ready to take advantage of it.
          Is it frustrating to be at the (stereotypical) middle school level of “Maybe I would like to hold your hand and kiss you” when many people around you are at “Let’s get tipsy and bang”?
          Yes, it is. My experience with of a high sex drive coupled with an utter lack of experience, and subconscious terror of bad things happening because SIN, SIN, SINNER was beyond frustrating. But not everyone is having all the sex, there are people in your city and at your school who would be excited to go on a date or three before making out a little.

          Be very wary of the idea of romance that ‘just happens when things are right’. It can lead to ignoring opportunities to date actual real messy people who are imperfectly attracted to you, because you are caught up in grand romances with the perfect version of your crush that exists only in your head.

    2. Wishing I could send this entire comment back in time to the me of ~20 years ago. This line encapsulates it perfectly:
      ‘I think you might want to reconsider your view and think about whether you are not more mature, but differently mature.’

      Younger Me really could have done with hearing and understanding that. The bit about simultaneously being arrogant and having low self-esteem was painfully true: “I must be a horrible person, that’s why nobody loves me! There must be some terrible flaw about me that I don’t and can’t recognise! That’s why I can’t have relationships [whether friendships/romances] like everyone else I know, even though I’m so much better than nearly all of them!” – abridged version of any number of angsty journal entries I wrote in my teens/early twenties.

      Younger Me only valued the things I was good at/became good at the things I had been taught to value. Younger Me had a nasty tendency (that I was not even slightly aware of at that time) to dismiss others whose skills/values were different to mine as ‘lesser’. It wasn’t until my late twenties that realisation slooooowly began to dawn that wait, maybe the root cause of my failure to get the relationships I wanted was ME, not Everyone Else! – and several years after that to even start successfully untangling what I was doing wrong.

      Unfortunately, that realisation only came about because of a whole heap of bitterness and burned bridges. Older Me still carries a lot of grief over some of those long-lost bridges, and still struggles with judgemental attitudes that became so ingrained that they remain a reflex, even though I’ve (I hope) fairly successfully trained myself to challenge them.

    3. My parents say I was quite the fun loving, personable, gregarious child until the ‘incident’ (which they are not and never will be aware of) so your right on me missing out on the entire social side of education.

      I pushed my anger out either into fights or retreating into books and learning or by playing some very aggressive football. I’m trying to learn them and I feel like I’m drowning, there’s so much and I keep messing up. Not to long ago, there was a girl I liked, and I think she liked me, and I put my foot in it bad and it destroyed any chance of anything growing there. I felt really down about it because I had no clue what I’d just said.

      I don’t try it, it’s the way I am. It doesn’t help that because of my style, I come across as older, it’s one of the most common things that people will say to me along with eccentric/different. My skills aren’t praised in academia, too erratic, too messy far too guided by intuition, my skills are almost perfectly aligned with my chosen field and it definitely isn’t academic. I’m always been aware of people’s skills and I’m very good at recognising their strengths, but also their weaknesses. Previously, I’d exploit those weaknesses to get what I wanted without a concern as to their feelings. Douchebag. Definitely. Now I’m trying so yes, I’m trying very hard to not be such an arrogant a-hole.

      1. Bottomline for me is, when reading your comments: Give yourself a lot of time and compassion. You have figured out a lot of things you did wrong, you started moving in the right direction, you know what you want to work on and now give it time. Allow yourself a learning curve. I do not think that your case is lost socially, but that you, like everyone else, need to do a lot of messing up to figure out what works. Yes it sucks that you’ll loose some potential connections over this, but that … happens. Just because we click with someone doesn’t mean it’ll go anywhere due to an infinite amount of possible reasons. You’ll stumble forward, fall, apologize/make amends if necessary and as time goes by, you’ll see you’re falling less.

        Also, the maturity thing: I got that. Do not listen to these people. It can be alienating and sometimes people say it because they want you to be the mature one who doesn’t have any needs or “silly emotions”. Allow yourself to be immature, insecure, awkward. Allow yourself to express your emotions freely (without hurting others, as usual). But do not stop stumbling forward, becoming more vulnerable in your interactions (without oversharing). Give it time.

        1. Yes to this comment. LW, at your age I was very invested in being the ‘mature one’, because that was how people saw me and that was the only way I saw myself as having any social value. Learning to let go of that (primarily through the Captain’s other recommendation of deliberately devoting time to activities that I am inherently bad at) has brought me a lot more fun, more friends, and in the end more genuine understanding of myself and others, which I think is the main component of genuine maturity.

      2. It might help to alter your style somewhat. Maybe select clothes that are more typical of other college students, or change your hairstyle. That doesn’t have to mean dyeing it in a color not found in nature–though that might be effective–it could just be a matter of a slightly different length, or how it frames your face. Even if you’re trying to avoid upsetting your conservative family, you can change what you’re wearing at school.

        A new haircut or a few new shirts is a lot easier, and takes much less of your ongoing attention, than changing how you talk, which is also an aspect of style.

        1. Yes, that’s also currently ongoing. I’ve moved from suits ( I have a three piece suit replete with overcoat and fedora ha ha ha) and shirts to a more casual sort of dress.

  24. LW, I don’t have much to add to the great advice in the comments above, but I do want to say this: I have dated a ton of guys (and girls) just like you. There are people out there to whom a sharp wit, an encyclopedic knowledge of certain subjects, and a preference for esoteric art will be incredibly attractive, and many of those people will be ok with the fact that you’re on a learning curve for social skills that your peers already possess. (Also, 20 might seem old to you, but I assure you, 20 is not too old to be starting this, not by half.)

    The feature that made the difference for me between Smart People I dated for a long time and/or kept as close friends and Smart People who I don’t talk to anymore is: kindness. I know it sounds cliché, but for me, at least, it’s been true. Kindness and compassion can go a long way toward making people want to stick around you, in whatever capacity turns out to be right for the two of you.

    1. *narrows eyes* Muffin is my junior high nickname. Are you Alternate Universe Me? Because I couldn’t agree with you more. Someone asked me one time, “Why are you so attracted to people who are insufferable?” It was cruel, but it had a grain of truth: I am very drawn to people who like to talk analytically at great length about certain topics that aren’t interesting to most people. I will happily spend hours talking to someone like that and get starry-eyed over it. However, a frequent side effect of this, if it isn’t managed properly, is a tendency toward know-it-all-ism, snobbery and perceived insensitivity to other people’s feelings (and yes, I include myself in that categorization). I try to temper that with self-awareness and empathy and give the bulk of my affections to those who do the same. The dust of my leaving has long since settled, however, on more than one person who wanted to be right more than they wanted to be my friend or lover.

    2. The feature that made the difference for me between Smart People I dated for a long time and/or kept as close friends and Smart People who I don’t talk to anymore is: kindness. I know it sounds cliché, but for me, at least, it’s been true. Kindness and compassion can go a long way toward making people want to stick around you, in whatever capacity turns out to be right for the two of you.

      Totally agree with this. To go for the pop culture analogy, I would hang out with Leonard, but I would stay as far away from Sheldon as humanly possible.

  25. I hated the idea of feelings and I shut them out and didn’t do friends (ironically this is when I received most attention from the females). For most of my teenage years, I didn’t need people and I didn’t need love.

    What on earth is wrong with me? Am I incapable of being loved?

    That sounds really lonely and painful and I’m sorry that you went through it. That’s the kind of experience that leaves really lasting marks. (I’m guessing there were also things in your childhood that left you feeling lonely, unloved, and worthless, to set up that kind of teenage experience.) What that kind of youth leaves you with is emotional malnutrition. If you had spent years never eating fruits or vegetables, you’d have gotten scurvy; if you’d never gotten calcium or been exposed to sunlight, you’d have gotten rickets. Malnutrition does sometimes have lifelong consequences (like bones permanently warped by rickets), but by and large you can treat them by making sure you get the nutrients you need.

    Love is a nutrient. For whatever reason, you did not get it. I don’t know that you’ll believe me if I say that’s not your fault. Most of us who didn’t get it as children blame ourselves for that–there was something in ourselves that made us unlovable. But as an adult I can say, I have not met a child unworthy of love, and the children I meet who have been neglected, abused, ostracized, or bullied do not deserve that treatment, but were just in unfortunate circumstances. Which likely says something about the veracity of “Uniquely I, unlike every other child in the universe, brought it on myself.” It’s just… easier to believe that about other people than onesself, sometimes.

    However it happened, you grew up with a love deficiency, and now you’re seeing the consequences: it’s hard to read other peoples’ emotions or find yourself in emotional sync with them; it sounds like dealing with your own emotions is so painful it’s hard to get inside them to do fine-tuning, so instead you just shortcut through your intellect to make all-or-nothing decisions; it’s hard for you to be self-compassionate, bear the thought of being imperfect, or see yourself as a worthwhile person. None of this is uncommon; they’re part of a constellation of traits that show up over and over again in people who had shitty youths and childhoods.

    So the solution is, like with physical malnutrition, to reintroduce love into your metaphorical diet until you get back to healthy. (My definition of “healthy” isn’t “normal”; it’s actually, “Feeling like you are worthy and belong to a community that values you, to which you want to contribute.”) Romantic love seems like the first logical go-to here–it gets pushed pretty hard by our society as a cure-all, and you’re at the age where everyone is focused on it–but actually, there are a lot of courses that you can pursue before you find somebody who wants to go out with you. In a perfect world, we love and are loved by not just the person we’re in a pair-bond with, but also friends, colleagues, teammates, teachers, students, leaders, and underlings. They are all very different flavours of love from that wholehearted romantic and sexual attachment, and none of them on their own will sustain you; but if they’re combined, it’s like a feast made of many small dishes rather than one huge main course.

    The important thing is to learn to metabolize love, In, out, for you, for somebody else, doesn’t matter; any of it is good because it makes you more able to deal with it in the future. Just gain familiarity with the substance. Learn what it’s like when somebody is loved in a way that manifests on a daily basis. How love comforts in moments of disappointment and failure. How it’s possible to love somebody and be angry with them at the same time. If you can’t love yourself, let someone else love you; if you can’t let someone else love you, then focus on being loving and compassionate to other people. Get used to it. Marinate in it. Learn to love all of humanity, in all our stupidity and wonder; think about how there might ever be a day when you feel love for popular kids and the drunks who wake you up at 3am. If you soak your heart in love for long enough (and I’m talking months and years, here, because sometimes it takes that long) then eventually, it will soften. And if you practice loving and being loved, one day you’ll be able to combine those two skills and love yourself, which is a power no one can take away from you.

    Do your best also to remember that even if it felt like you were alone during the hard times, you are not the only one who has felt this way. Your experience was remarkable, but not uncommon. Some people might have used this knowledge to silence you (“It’s selfish to complain when other people have it worse”) but the truth is, it’s what can set you free. You’re not a freak of nature; you’re a member of a worldwide fraternity of pain. If you let it, that knowledge can lead you into compassion for and solidarity with other people. A lot of people are just as scared as you of being fundamentally unlovable. You’re not alone. And now you’re old enough and independent enough to start looking for your people.

    1. This absolutely YES!

      About the it’s selfish to complain, that’s what I’ve been saying to myself these past two years. I’d see a person worse then me and think why should *I* complain when they’re much worse off?

      Knowing I’m not alone is the hardest part, I’ve been alone for so long it’s a steep learning curve.

      1. “You can’t complain when other people have it worse” is a lie that people in power tell because it sets people in bad circumstances up in a competition. It means when we share our stories, we are always quietly fighting for the prize of being the worst off, and getting a tiny scrap of sympathy.

        That keeps us from getting together and asking, why are our circumstances so bad and how can we make them better? It means only one person gets to complain and that person does it alone. As opposed to people working in concert to change their lives, to give each other strength and advice and encouragement.

        Like… someone who’s experienced rejection and insecurity going on to write an advice blog, so her bad experiences give her empathy and wisdom for other people who feel lost and alone. 😉

        And hey, I figure that learning to speak Human as an adult is kind of like learning any other language at that age. Kids can pick up languages super easily, but the older you get, the more effort it takes. So give yourself time instead of expecting yourself to be perfect INSTANTLY–if you’d started learning a language two years ago, even after intensive immersion and teaching you wouldn’t be totally fluent. (Unless you pick up languages super quick, in which case replace that with learning a musical instrument, or a complicated form of dance, or something.)

  26. Another activity suggestion: Have you considered SCA? Some chance they’d be a good fit for you.

    1. The SCA was definitely a huge help for me in climbing out of loneliness, in large part because it attracts some very smart and nerdy people who are just as interested as I am in esoteric subjects, but its primary activities aren’t intellectual. Instead of proving who’s smarter, you can focus on dancing or fighting or cooking or eating, which are way less fraught. Also, it has a very explicit way of encouraging people to contribute to the group and feel like they’re valued, by focusing on chivalry and then giving tokens and awards. When I started out it meant a lot to me to have a coin or ribbon or scroll (which I always kept right next to my bed) that I could physically hold, to remember that someone thought I was polite or helpful or talented or just neat.

      1. SCA stands for “Society for Creative Anachronism.” It’s a group that tries to recreate the Middle Ages and Renaissance (focusing mostly on western Europe, but any culture that had contact with Europe during that time period falls under the umbrella). There are events where people dress in costume from the time period (and people will happily lend you stuff to wear for your first event). There’s archery, there are tournaments. People do weaving and glass bead-making and all sorts of other arts, or play board games from the time period. And it’s a good place to meet fun, quirky, geeky people. There’s a lot of overlap of people who are into tabletop gaming, or science fiction.

        If you’ve ever been to a Renaissance Faire, it’s a little like that, but much more participatory. Rather than having paid performers putting on a show for spectators, everything is volunteer-run.

        It’s also international (though primarily in the US and, to a lesser extent, Australia). The website Cactus linked has a local group finder, so if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can plug in your location and find the website for the local chapter.

        1. Hmmmm interesting, I like archery, before injuries took their toll I was getting my membership at a local archery club sorted. Maybe it’s worth looking at again.

          SCA sounds amazing fun! Wow. I had no idea something like that existed. I’ll need to see if there’s anything close by.

          1. Cool! I hope you have a group near you. Every group differs, but mine has a weekly archery practice, with plenty of loaner equipment anyone can use.

  27. LW, have you considered that you might be on the autism spectrum? I’m not a therapist, but I’m Autistic myself, and several of the things you describe are common for people on the spectrum.
    -feeling different and eccentric
    -seeming older than your age
    -dislike of casual physical relationships (one-night-stands)
    -dislike of alcohol (it doesn’t affect autistic people the same way as NTs)
    – feeling catastrophically guilty about hurting someone (this is related to black-and-white thinking, as if you’re either perfect or horrible, no in-between)
    -enjoying argument and logical debate
    – having specific things you’re passionate about and want to talk about more than other people do
    – being “intense”
    – no understanding of social cues
    This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the spectrum, but those are all spectrum traits. Social cues ARE Swahili to us!
    If you are, this does NOT mean you can’t have successful relationships. I’ve been happily married to a wonderful NT man for 28 years, for the most of which my only diagnosis was Weird and Clueless. But if you are on the spectrum, knowing that you are, and understanding the differences with NTs, how they think, what they expect, can be quite helpful.

    When looking for information about social rules, I have found the most accurate advice comes from other autistic people, or women of color. White NT therapists will often sincerely explain to you what their Platonic ideal of the rules are, which are NOT the real rules. The real rules are unconscious for NTs – they’ve never had to think about them. It’s like explaining how to breathe for them. You want someone who’s had to LEARN how to breathe, like a scuba diver 😉

    1. Can you submit a comment in this vein where you talk about your own experiences without suggesting an internet diagnosis of a stranger, per the site policies? When you do, I’ll take this comment down. Thank you.

      1. Absolutely! sorry for the mistake. Please do take that one down and this one I hope is more helpful

    2. dbltall, all those points are incredibly generic and probably apply to a massive number of people, including those not on the autism spectrum. Lots of people don’t like alcohol and enjoy debate.

      If the LW is on the autism spectrum, they should consult a professional and not get diagnosed by someone over the internet.

      1. OTOH, I was going to comment to say that the LW might benefit from looking at resources on social skills for (and by) people on the autistic spectrum, people with social anxiety, people with ADHD, and so on, even if he doesn’t fit any of those categories himself.

        There’s often a lot of breaking down and explaining of social skills and rules that could be helpful for someone who has “zero social skills”, even if it’s for not for the same reasons.

  28. I may have missed this advice, but I wonder if LW would be better off getting out of the college environment and looking at social groups in the community. Not to diss college students themselves, but I think people in that environment tend to put their “college kid” hat on, well maybe especially at parties and bars. Academic groups tend to favor more intellectual discourse as do religious ones.

    I hear what people are saying about LW being judgey, and I agree it can be socially problematic. I’m not sure it really matters in terms of intimate relationships though. Dating someone with radically different morals seems… unlikely, difficult, needlessly complicated? Most people don’t stand up and say they’re opposed to one night stands or drinking, they just quietly go about living their lives, which makes it difficult for LW to notice them. But they are out there, maybe in a pro-life group or a conservative political party? I didn’t attend my local state college, but it has a well known party vibe, and not a place I was likely to feel at home. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a home, but it may take more searching to find the right fish pond.

    1. I’m actually more concerned about a potential partner being a lot more conservative then me. As far as spectrums go I’m extremely liberal. I’m trying hard to find my fish pond. =)

      1. Are you a member of any liberal-leaning student groups? Environmentalist, gay-straight alliance, feminist, an on-campus group for whatever your nation’s left-leaning party is? Those were the environments where I made a lot of friends in undergrad.

        1. Strangely there’s no feminist society but there is an LGBT + society which I am a member of, though I can’t recall there being a meeting at all during the year.

          Our uni bans political groups, I’m not entirely sure why but there’s no representation of official political parties on campus.

          1. Maybe that’s a spot where you can organize something. Does the group have officers, and if so, are there slots you would want to volunteer for? Is there an email list or Facebook page or other way of seeing if people in the group would like to hang out socially (especially if there’s something relevant going on on or near campus)?

  29. Lunch dates!

    I was bad at picking partners, but I was awesome at dating and I like to suggest lunch dates to people. Much less romance pressure than dinner (with the flowers and the white table cloths and the violins and …. advice? Don’t hire a violinist. At first it’s romantic and then it’s just this guy standing around playing music while you try to make awkward conversation because there’s this GUY standing right there….)

    Also, unlike open-ended dinner dates, lunch dates have a natural end. You have to get to class or back to work or whatever. It takes a TON of pressure off. Also, everyone needs to eat lunch. Also, there is usually less booze at lunch and for a tee-totaller (non-drinker internet fist bump) that can be a beautiful thing if your uni’s social scene is all about the booze.

    Specifically, if you have one nearby, lunch at a museum cafe is usually cheap(ish), nice, classy, and you can look at the exhibits before or after. Also, I always liked museum lunches because they were one of my secret weeding out tools. Dude who lectured me about paintings, no second date. Dude who asked what I thought about the paintings got a second date.

    1. Ooooh, that is a great dating strategy–everything from choice of time and location to criteria for getting a second date. /salute

    2. Great idea! Also lunch menus often give better value for money too.

      Also is that a West Wing reference? Love it!

        1. West wing for the win! I love that show!

          Lunch dates seem infinitely more like the way to go now DameB. Thank you!

  30. I could be totally off base, but the whole letter kind of spooked me. It started with “females” and kind of built from there. I got the vibe of someone using the language of self awareness, but really still driven by entitlement. My advice would have been more related to inward work, than how to meet more people.

    But I am open to, “No wai. You are totally off base.”

    1. I don’t necessarily think you’re off-base, but I think that when you are feeling lost and lonely, engaging deeply and actively with the world around you is one way to get perspective and practice dealing with fellow humans. Fortunately we have a robust comments section where people like you can offer dissenting or supplemental advice.:) What would you suggest the LW do?

      1. I honestly thought your advice about “consume more art by women” (especially sub-step “ask women what they like”) was brilliant, and maybe more effort along those lines (the lines of “make a conscious effort to step outside what I’m used to, to consciously and deliberately and without-especially-feeling-superior-about-it break with and examine the culture I was brought up in where Genders Do Not Mix”) would be really helpful?

        Also, possibly, I would second the suggestion of learning something (I am, for some reason, specifically thinking cooking, which I understand to be the kind of thing where you can always learn more about it, and where it is likely useful even if it’s not Your Passion, and where you are in a craft-learning situation where you don’t need to pick up cues to know you shouldn’t argue with the person who is teaching you, because it’s established going in).

        It’s kind of hard to offer advice, because I’m unclear on a couple of points–like, is he a romantic DESPITE the fact that he was brought up in a heavily gender-segregated culture, or BECAUSE he was brought up in a heavily gender-segregated culture? I think the work’s the same, but the level of disentanglement is different enough that I’m not sure what to suggest, even if I am in a position to be suggesting, you know?

    2. No entitlement. The only thing in life I feel entitled to is the chance to find happiness and give happiness to others. That’s it.

      There’s a lot of inward construction going on and more planned. I really can’t emphasise just how disgusted I was with myself when I really looked inside for the first time a few years back.

      The only thing I’d ever ask off a woman is a bit of kindness and understanding. I haven’t had much of it and it’d help me be more kind and understanding.

      1. “The only thing in life I feel entitled to is the chance to find happiness and give happiness to others.”

        See, I think this is all backwards. Because no one is entitled to give happiness to others. My advice would be to turn your attention to developing your own self regard and self value completely independently of the effect it will have on other people, how you regard them, and how they regard you.

        As a practical matter, I agree with the Captain’s advice for steps you can take. But if you view them as hoops to jump through in order to achieve your “romantic” goals, you’re missing the point. You assert a feeling of superiority to your peers because their relationship preferences don’t match your romantic fantasies. This is not good, either intrinsically or practically. First, romance is a terrible approach to real relationships, as it is built on the immoral idea that the strength of one person’s desire has the power to overcome another’s. Second, people are very good at sensing when others feel superior to them, and they don’t like it.

        So my advice would be to forget for now about the goal of romantic love and just try to figure out fun rewarding stuff that you like to do for its own sake, including stuff that involves other people. The more you do that, the more likable and lovable you will become as a natural consequence. People are attracted to other people who are loose and comfortable in their lives and intrinsically happy with their internal lives, not to people who happiness is wholly dependent on external relations and the extent to which those external relations satisfy their needs. This isn’t to say that relationships aren’t important to happiness, but there has to be a balance.

        This sounds paradoxical, but the best way to achieve good relationships is to forget about them as a specific goal that you are entitled to attain if only you perform the appropriate steps (which is the lie of “romance”), and rather think of them as side effects of being a fun engaging person whose happiness comes from within. Sorry to sound so pedantic about this, but it took me a long time to figure this all out, and it was only in my mid-twenties that I finally found myself enjoying loose comfortable love relationships, after having been limited by some of the same misconceptions I find in your letter.

      2. “The only thing in life I feel entitled to is the chance to find happiness and give happiness to others.”

        “The only thing I’d ever ask off a woman is a bit of kindness and understanding. I haven’t had much of it and it’d help me be more kind and understanding.”

        Aargh! Tried to leave a detailed response and seems like WordPress ate it. So more schematically (and this is based on my own difficult experiences as an adolescent and young adult):

        (1) You’ve got it completely backwards. Good relationships don’t make you happy; make yourself happy, and you’ll have good relationships. And the kindness and understanding of others must not be a prerequisite for you to be kind and understanding. If you are kind and understanding to others because you genuinely want to and intrinsically enjoy it, and not as a quid pro quo, then others will treat you with kindness and understanding.

        (2) “Romance” is an absolutely horrible template for real love relationships. First, it is completely immoral, being based on the intensity of one person’s emotions trumping another’s. Second, it doesn’t work: except as role play fantasy, people don’t like that needy passion “without you I am nothing” shit as a daily driver of a relationship.

        (3) As a practical matter, the Captain’s and other suggestions are great. But only if you treat them as ways to become happier and more comfortable and confident with yourself. If you treat then as hoops to jump through to get the reward of “romance”, you are doomed.

        (4) People want to have relationships with others who are internally loose, happy, and satisfied, not with those whose happiness derives predominantly from how they are treated by others.

        1. “(4) People want to have relationships with others who are internally loose, happy, and satisfied, not with those whose happiness derives predominantly from how they are treated by others.”

          I’m not really sure about this point; even with my regular spates of jerkbrain interference my partner doesn’t seem to want to have a relationship with me any less! I get your point that if someone is looking to others to fix everything and make them happy then that’s not very attractive or likely to lead to a healthy relationship, but happiness is not really a prerequisite to being in a relationship.

          1. Yes, this was not written very clearly, and you have clarified well! My point was that needy people looking to others to “make” them happy are not usually very attractive; but not that unhappy people aren’t attractive.

        2. I’d ask for that the same way my friend who is depressed asks for a bit of understanding when she has trouble getting out of bed sort of way. Most of the time people are either rude to me or blank me until they want something, which usually means my help. After me looking at myself and finding that I was an ass I became a lot more polite, less prone to arguing and got rid of the God complex. Despite that and despite mixing with new circles, no matter how nice, how kind, how helping I am, generally most people really don’t show any bit of warmth toward me. Even people who were supposed to be close friends.

          More recently, there are a few people who aren’t behaving that way and they are a Godsend. I can’t thank them enough for that. But it’s tough and all those anger problems I dealt with as a child are coming back.

          I like 1, it does make sense, I’ll give that a shot.

          I don’t see romance as that, I see it as a tool to allow two people to enable each other to succeed as individuals within an equal partnership, but yes, I do see what you’re getting at. I learnt that during my nice guy tm episode.

          I’m trying, a lot of people have said to be kinder to myself and I will definitely give it more thought now, thank you.

          So just be happy with myself?

      3. Ugh, I was trying so hard not to be all over this post, because I feel like I’m excessively commenting this morning, but I just couldn’t let this sentence go:

        “The only thing I’d ever ask off a woman is a bit of kindness and understanding. I haven’t had much of it and it’d help me be more kind and understanding.”

        LW, this is an ENORMOUS red flag to me. It is absolutely NOT a woman’s job to give you “kindness and understanding” to help you “be more kind and understanding” – the only way to become a kinder and better person is by doing the internal work that you need to do to be one. A lack of kindness and understanding is not “cured” by “the love a good woman.” It’s “cured” by the person who isn’t kind or understanding realizing that they lack those behaviors, and then learning how to be more kind and understanding going forward. The only person who should be playing a role in that process for you is a trained therapist, and the fact that you would even think of justifying negative behavior with any version of “if only the ladypeople were nicer to me, I’d be less mean” is troublesome. Please, please, please spend more time seeking out feminist art and literature. Please, please, please examine your ideas/beliefs around what women’s roles in society are more rigorously. Please, please, please take personal responsibility for becoming who you want to be, on your own, full stop, without expecting other people around you to do anything to “help you.”

        Will some people be really kind and understanding? Absolutely. Will that maybe help you develop a clearer picture of how to exhibit those behaviors yourself? Possibly. Will you actually become kinder and more understanding, without any work on your part, just because the people around you are kind and understanding? Honestly, in my observation, no. People who lack kindness don’t magically get some by being around kind people – in fact, in my personal experience, they usually end up taking advantage of the kind people, either on purpose or inadvertently, because they’re not actively working on improving their “kindness” muscle themselves, and just expect the folks (generally, the women) around them to somehow magically shepherd them into it. Don’t be that guy. Don’t put that responsibility on the people you care about.

  31. When I was in college, aching for a deep, real relationship with another human being, watching other people make the choice to get drunk and hook up “appalled” me too. OP, I totally get where you’re coming from re: “nobody around me seems to want the same thing that I want.” I also get the extra layer of “I am more mature because I want a committed relationship and the adults I know are in committed relationships.”

    The extra layer is where you’ll trip yourself up (not all adults are in committed relationships, many adults continue to have no-strings-attached sex, there is nothing morally wrong with enthusiastic consent NSA one-night stands, etc.).

    But there’s plenty of validity in looking at something and saying “this is not what I want.” That’s a good data point for how you proceed through life, especially if you are prepared for what you want (and don’t want) to change over time.

  32. LW, I super don’t want to come off as harsh here, but please listen: I’ve known a lot of guys very similar to the way you describe yourself. I was captain of my high school and university debate teams and also participated in mock trial. I met many, many young men who claimed to be able to “out-argue anyone” and were sometimes described as being “too intense.” For the most part they weren’t actually very good at formalized debate, since it’s way less about “arguing” and more about the ability to write a well-supported and coherent opinion paper on the world’s most boring topics in a very short time. But still they filtered in, year after year, certain they were going to wow everyone with their amazing debate skills. As a lady in this world I spent a lot of time being awkwardly chatted up by our young heroes. Here are the things I learned about social skills from their “what not to do” examples:

    1. Don’t argue or debate socially unless it has been specifically invited. Even if it’s a topic you really, really care about. You can make some small noises of disagreement, but then let it drop. You will not change anyone’s minds at a social gathering, you will only make everyone uncomfortable. Many of our less socially aware team members tended to confuse, “other people letting the matter drop” with “I have won the debate and changed everyone’s hearts and minds” and were only encouraged by other people’s social graces. Don’t be that dude.

    2. Learn to talk about things other than your interests. Expanding your own interest base like the Captain suggested is great, but still keep in mind that other people you meet might have their own unique, “weird” hobbies. Ask people questions about themselves and their interests, LISTEN to their answers, and ask followup questions.

    3. When you do talk about your own interests don’t lecture people. It’s tempting to want to tell people ALL THE THINGS about your amazing hobby that you love, but try and keep it short. I’ve sat through lectures on The Sixteen Reasons the Ukelele is Better than the Banjo. It wasn’t great.

    4. People can have different values than you and still be interesting, cool people. You may not have meant it, but your letter comes off as very judgmental towards your peers that drink and date casually. Its good you know your own mind in this regard – you’re less likely to be pressured into doing something you really don’t want to do – but it’s important to remember that everyone sees the world their own way. It’s ok to hang out with people who drink and go out with women who sometimes have “one night stands.” If the other person isn’t an asshole they won’t try make you do something you’re not comfortable with.

    I know it probably feels like the situation is hopeless, but it isn’t and it will get better. You’re doing better than you think. You have friends that are women – that’s great! Keep that up. You know that you have some work to do on the social skills front, but twenty is really very young no matter how mature you feel. You, and all the people you know right now, are going to change a lot in the next few years. Follow the Captain’s advice, keep plugging away and meet new people. You are not, and never were, incapable of being loved.

    1. I think I’m okay to say I’m very good with debating, I’ve lost one organised debate all year and on one special event with my partner being parachuted in and not very good I did the job and won the debate. I feel for you on the chatting up, when not debating I’ll stay quietly in the corner most of the time.

      I like you’re first suggestion but then sometimes isn’t it necessary to tell people they’re wrong and not just like ooh you’ve got that obscure fact wrong but to the point of huge Atlantic sized hole of misinformation?

      I really dig the second! I had noticed in the past when I talked to people, I always responded by framing it in my own experience. I don’t do that anymore and I have found it much easier to sustain a conversation since. =)

      Absolutely must do the third! Thank you!

      Not judgemental towards those, just a particular bunch who act dangerously. I really really should have worded that better.

      Sometimes it feels like everyone around me has a playbook to life and I’m walking around blind, deaf and dumb. I’m totally at sea and though I’m slowly getting better, it’s painfully slow and my mistakes keep alienating people.

      1. “but then sometimes isn’t it necessary to tell people they’re wrong and not just like ooh you’ve got that obscure fact wrong but to the point of huge Atlantic sized hole of misinformation?”

        This will sound harsh, but who died and made you the person responsible for correcting people’s misconceptions and making sure that the accept the correction? It’s possible to state disagreement, point at facts, and then let a topic drop. The kind of “debate” where you jump in and attempt to change someone’s mind right here and right now is usually not fun for the target of your crusading zeal, and is often uncomfortable for onlookers.

        There are misconceptions I don’t let pass, but after I state my understanding of the facts one time, I drop the subject, even if the other person wants to jump in with both feet and prove to me I am wrong. Quite often, that situation just leads to two people, each of whom believes that he (and it so often is he) knows The Truth and is duty bound to enlighten the other, talking past one another. Cultivate the ability to say, “Huh. I had always understood that X is the case, not Y” followed by an immediate change of subject.

        People are allowed to be wrong, and you do not really have to carry the burden of enlightening all the people who are wrong. Learn to state your truths and then change the subject to something of mutual interest. This becomes easier once you realize that more minds are changed by calm disagreement that is not allowed to take over conversation than by pointed “debate” imposed by someone who is convinced he is right and I am wrong, and who is bound and determined to “debate” me in order to prove I am wrong.

      2. “I like you’re first suggestion but then sometimes isn’t it necessary to tell people they’re wrong and not just like ooh you’ve got that obscure fact wrong but to the point of huge Atlantic sized hole of misinformation?”

        It depends. A lot of people are wrong about lots of things, big and small, and it becomes obnoxious to try to point out all of it all the time. I really like sorcharei’s idea of stating your understanding of the facts one time, then dropping the subject. It’s also worth remembering that there are lots of things you’re wrong about, which you’re not aware of, because that’s true of everyone.

        I think the context is also really important. If you’re sitting in the cafeteria, and the conversation turns to politics or current events, people may not want to get into an in-depth argument, and sorcharei’s tactic might be better received than “Here are 47 reasons why the thing you just said is completely untrue.” But if you’re in a class and someone brings up something that isn’t true in class discussion, it’s much more appropriate to point out the issue (still politely).

        Personally, I also make a distinction between misconceptions that are actively harmful and misconceptions that just exist. If someone is repeating some urban legend about spiders in public toilets, that’s very different than saying untrue and harmful things about a minority group.

        I’m very much an animal person (as might be apparent from my icon), so maybe an example from that context will make sense. (And be at least slightly less controversial than political examples.) If someone says something that I’m pretty sure is factually incorrect about how to feed their dog, but it’s not actively harmful, I will probably let it go. “Oh, you should always feed your dogs the same brand/flavor of kibble because switching makes them sick” isn’t necessarily true (it’s often the limited diet that’s the problem, and variety is a good thing), but I’m not going to jump on that. “Chocolate is good for dogs” is an amazingly harmful inaccurate statement, because chocolate is *poisonous* to dogs and can kill them. That, I won’t let slide. Likewise, the idea that pit bulls are inherently vicious is one I’ll correct, because it’s a misconception that gets dogs killed and makes life difficult for people who have pit bulls.

        So, when things like this come up, it might be helpful to think about the context and about what the most helpful thing you could say in the situation is.

        1. The only times I step in now is if their misconception is dangerous, so it’s racist that sort of thing, like a few years ago when my country was sabre rattling with Argentina and this girl in my class at the time wondered why on earth we didn’t just carpet bomb their capital or nuke them.

          Otherwise, I generally leave people to it. I just don’t have the energy to correct everyone everywhere all the time and like Sorcharei said it really isn’t my job unless they’re so wrong it’s really really really grating.

          I’m also a bit of a stickler to my guy friends when they do/say sexist shit. I know it’s a bit dickish of me towards them, but they’re slowly getting the message it isn’t okay.

  33. Smart Deep People come in all flavors, LW.

    A friend of mine is a serious fashionista. She is so, so on top of her look, digs bright colors and wild shoes. Loves gossip and partying and boys. You would probably not think she’s already finished her PhD and is most of the way through her MD. She is one of the most fucking brilliant people I’ve ever known.
    Myself, I was one with low self-esteem and super nerdness and lots of one-night stands. (Turns out you can play Starcraft and sing in a renaissance choir AND have sex!) I don’t apologize for that; in fact, those experiences have informed my teaching and research quite a bit, on top of contributing to who I am today. (…a beer snob cat lady professor ain’t a bad outcome.)

    Tl;dr: What you are looking for may not be in the package you’re expecting. Inside each stereotype hides an actual fully-developed nuanced human being.

  34. Just a comment about online dating. I haven’t done it as a 20-yr old guy, but I have heard from other people that it can be difficult to date as a young guy. In addition to what the Captain said about more men than women on online sites, there are fewer younger/college-age people signed up since a lot of that population is already meeting people in college or connected with high school/hometown social groups. Young men are also stereotyped (and people have also experienced it) as wanting to sow wild oats, not wanting to settle down, and not knowing what they want (which might put off slightly older women interested in long-term relationships). Sometimes older women (in their late 20’s and 30’s) will get gross messages from college-age guys asking about cougars and such which might make them cautious about dating younger guys. There also tends to be a big disconnect between people in college and those who have been out working for a few years, so a 25-yr old woman might be hesitant to date a 20 yr old guy even though 5 yrs isn’t a big age difference. It would probably be good to have a balance between online and real-life attempts to meet people. Also, if you don’t get a lot of interest online, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or that you’ll never find someone – it can help to keep demographics and common impressions in mind if you’re feeling down about online dating.

  35. I love this piece so much, and I tell just about everyone who will listen about the Captain’s “consume more art by women” advice. I think it is so obvious and yet so radical in comparison to most other dating advice. It’s one of my all-time favourites from this site.

    I think everyone so far has given really excellent tips/advice, both with a gentler tone and a more critical tone. As a similarly-aged, rehabilitating Nice Girl, I would recommend you listen to both, LW. The critical stuff may be hard to look at, but I wish my friends had been as constructive and blunt when I was in the throes of my own infatuation. It may have pulled me out of my own obsessive spiral early enough to have only wasted a few months, rather than a year and a half. I agree with the Captain in that you don’t hit my douchebag radar, but there are a few problematic things in your letter that have been addressed by others. Take your time with this thread, and maybe reread some of the comments several times so you can really process the content. I think it’s worth thinking over, and I really wish you the best. This stage we’re both in is really hard – accepting the ways you’ve misimagined people and caused them dysfunction, especially when you think of yourself generally as a Nice Person, is incredibly difficult. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done. Learning how to grow past that and not perpetuate the same cycles is kind of terrifying, but if you were to follow what the Captain is saying, I think you would be on the right track. And FWIW, my favourite conversations with acquaintances have always been when they ask for recommendations. It’s a really good way to continue a conversation with a stranger, or deepen a dynamic with someone you only know vaguely.

    I hope this isn’t too much of a sidebar from the actual topic at hand, but I am kind of curious about what Awkwardeers would say to a woman or teenage girl who has exhibited similar types of behaviour as the Nice Guy stereotype. A lot of the Captain’s general advice about this issues applies to all genders, but I feel like the way Friend Zoned behaviour manifests in women is sometimes very different from how it manifests in men. Or, at the very least, the excuses that we use to perpetuate our behaviour are different. Any advice/thoughts, assuming this comment isn’t too much of a narcissistic sidetrack?

    1. Are you asking about similar behaviour in terms of the kindsharking, or similar behaviour specifically in terms of the reaction to being told that they are not sexually/romantically attracted to you?[1]

      Speaking in relative ignorance, I imagine the excuses are actually relatively similar; I’m a good person, I’m just being thoughtful and kind and giving, naturally I am hurt that this person could not see how awesome I was (although “awesome” is perhaps said very softly, even inside one’s head). I’d guess that how one acts on them might be different due to socialization–if a Nice Guy has picked up that as a man he is entitled to the attention of women he feels attracted to, then his reactions (emphasis on actions) might be more… uhm, actively self-righteous than the reactions of a Nice Girl who hasn’t been taught that she as a woman is entitled to the same thing?

      (I am not saying that only people interested in the opposite gender are Nice Guys (or Girls). I am saying that it is my understanding that socialization related to who is entitled to what from whom when is both gendered and runs heavily along assumed heterosexual binary lines, if that makes sense?)

      [1] I twitch hard at the term “friend zoned”, because I find it really buys into the idea that being someone’s friend is A Losing Proposition, and that strikes me, so very much, as containing a huge amount of contempt for the person.

      1. Yes, I’ve absolutely seen women do many of the same things men do in these cases. I have even known a woman who would say “guys just don’t want a girl like me, I’m too independent and too much too handle” in the same way a guy would complain about women only dating jerks. I think the difference is pretty much what you stated; due to socialization and privilege. I have rarely seen women show the *anger* that men do when they feel like they are unsuccessful in finding a romantic partner.

        Also, women don’t tend to assume the worst–that the guy they like is ‘using’ them. There are certain dramatic ways guys like this often talk, that I really rarely see from women in equivalent situations. Things like “every woman has betrayed me, now I can never trust again” or talk of swearing oaths and “nobody can understand my dark thoughts”.. It very much seems like they’re trying to cast themselves as the protagonist in a story where it’s Them Against The World.

        I think there’s also a cultural expectation that women won’t be the ones to make the first move, so that probably plays into how the behaviours manifest, as well.

  36. Oh, I have another small idea for what it’s worth.

    I really like the Captain’s/Eckel’s suggestions on practicing compassion and a way to do that.
    I am generally polite in the not technically rude sense (which I’m not saying is you LW) and have been working on being actually polite out of compassion and warmth. I’m doing this by trying to set up new habits. I’m currently working to form the habit of always genuinely wishing people who help me out a good day. Before that I formed the backtracking to open doors for people if they are carrying many things habit. I focus on small things that are spread out across my life, that I was maybe encouraged to do as a child, but have since through depression, and exhaustion, and sometimes fear, let slip as habits. I’ve been surprised by how much these perfunctory things make me feel more connected to people in general. I sort of had to sneak myself into valuing being pleasant, but it’s become a rewarding expansion of my self-image.

    I also find that when I am trying to give my self-image the option to change it is good to actively choose one of the attributes I cling to the hardest (the things I get defensive about fastest) and try to ignore it for a while. I ask my friends to not praise me on it; I try to not to think about how I am a ____ kind of person. I become as completely neutral about my expression and valuation of the attribute in myself and others as I can (which is usually about one tiny step more neutral than where I was before). I’ve gone through periods where I questioned all my beliefs and identity markers and values at once, which quite frankly sucks even if it is damn constructive. I’ve yet to live enough to figure out if sincerely probing at my beliefs mildly all the time will help in the long run, but it’s been interesting and often quite comforting to me.

  37. Also, in terms of confidence about meeting people: I actually (really recently!) ended up going to a convention, and odd as it will sound, I brought simple knitting. Because when my simple knitting is there, I don’t need to pay attention to it (so it’s not like bringing a book, in that it does not cut off my eye contact and signal that I am absorbed in something that someone else would be interrupting), and it’s a potential conversation starter if someone else wishes to try talking to me.

    Plus I am knitting, so I am Being Productive, so I can tell my jerkbrain that I am allowed to be out. And I relax, which also makes dealing with people easier.

    (And on a strictly practical note, other people have the safe out of “well, I’ll leave you to your knitting” and I have the safe out of “well, it was nice meeting you, but I really need to concentrate on this bit”. Exit strategies! Safe exit strategies!)

    I’m not suggesting “take up knitting”[1] specifically, but I am suggesting that having something you enjoy doing while out that isn’t (apparently) tying up all your focus may make you more comfortable about dealing with others?

    [1] I’m also not suggesting “don’t take up knitting”, mind. 😀

  38. Hey LW617, I hear you. And I like you! You remind me a lot of what my spouse was like when we met (we’re in our 30s, married 10 years, dated 2 years before that). And of a friend who came from Europe to the USA as a young girl and sort of doesn’t quite feel like she fits here or there. And maybe even a little bit of me.

    From what I’ve seen in your original post and the comments, I am putting together that you are from a culture (I will not speculate which one) that does things very differently from the (perhaps more dominant in your area) culture that is surrounding you at university. And you’re noticeably uncomfortable in BOTH of them, probably in part because each of them really enjoys caricaturing the other. As if there can be no middle ground between a traditional, orderly, sensible, logical (but emotionally unsatisfying and distinctly non-egalitarian) “culture of your ancestors” and a hedonistic, uncaring, wasteful, decadent (in an equal-opportunity way of course!) “mainstream culture of Place You Live”. I know these feelings to some extent because of the time my family spent in the homeschooling subcultures of late 1980s upstate New York – the differences are much greater for someone who is an actual immigrant, someone who is not white, someone who is a strict observer of something other than the dominant local religion, etc.

    What we all have in common (myself, my friend, and my spouse) is that experience of growing up with parents who heavily encouraged us to think of ourselves as more “mature” than we actually were, and pushing us to cultivate “mature” and “cultured” tastes in music, literature, etc. rather than discovering our genuine tastes for ourselves – and oh, if they happened to coincide with what was mainstream-popular, that was just the evil mass culture brainwashing us again. The particulars manifested in different ways – with my spouse, one of them was the initial insistence that he was “too mature” to go to university at all, for instance, because in his mind all or almost all students behaved in the boorishly drunken and discourteous fashion you’ve described so vividly in the comments. It took a few years for him to accept that this wasn’t all college students, and a few more to accept that this was a substantial portion of the 18-25 year old population whether they were in college or not.

    One of the things that those of us in this situation have sometimes found helpful is taking advantage of elective course slots to do a little academic study of popular culture. Since we weren’t really IN it at what might’ve been a more age-appropriate point, sometimes this helps – a little – to catch up on what we’ve missed. Or, if that’s not really a good option, I think the Captain’s suggestion to expose yourself to more media-by-women is a GREAT one but in addition to it you may need to give yourself time to study, with an open but critical mind, the things that are popular in the local dominant culture. (By “open but critical mind” I basically mean expect there to be flaws and problematic things, as there are in everything, but don’t decide that you hate this and cant’ deal right off the bat.) I’ve more recently found Mark Reads/Mark Watches/Mark Does Stuff to be helpful for that, as it both covers a lot of popular (at least geek-popular) culture from both the “hey this is awesome!” and the “wait, WHAT?” perspectives. Before finding this, I read Roger Ebert’s and Movie Mom’s movie reviews constantly, not necessarily watching the movies but learning about them. And more recently, I’ve returned to my twelve year old self’s habit of monitoring the current radio “top 40” (or, well, the Billboard Hot 100 since I can access that now). Not because I like all of it, not to snark all of it, but to know what’s out there, form my own judgements, and make sure I don’t end up shaming my own kids out of liking what they like just because it makes me uncomfortable.

    In particular, I might advise you to watch the show Firefly – this letter and your followup comments sort of have the Simon Tam vibe about them. And I think you could probably watch and learn from some of Simon’s mistakes as well as his successes. 🙂

    Best of luck!

  39. Something that jumped out at me: Do you have a Team You? Not just talk-friends, but people who if you woke up with the horrible grundles out both ends at three in the morning and barely able to crawl to the phone, you could call them for help–and they’d come? As others have posted, deep friendship is underrated, especially at your age, and especially, ISTM, for singles; it’s like, first get The Partner, then friendship. Nobody’s a rock, nobody’s an island. Also, The Partner cannot be your everything and plantar warts to anybody who insists that it be so.

    On a completely other note, if you do get into Miss Marple, avoid the movies, especially the more recent ones. They take perfectly good psychological thrillers and inject unnecessary sex’n’violence and silly plot twists. Same goes for Ellis Peters.

    1. I used to think I did. I’m not so sure anymore. After a host of betrayals from close friends it hasn’t helped my underlying trust issues and I’m really struggling to keep the faith with whoever is left.

      1. Do you have access to counseling or therapy through your university? If you can find a counselor you connect with, they can be a really great member of Team You. They’re different from the trusted-friends members of Team You, because their only job is to listen to what you have to say and help you work through your issues, without needing you to listen to them or help them with their problems. It can be really nice to have one hour a week when you know you’ll be able to talk to someone and really get everything off your chest without worrying about drama or sparing their feelings or having to listen to their rants afterwards. They also should be able to help you work on being kind to yourself. If you can, I’d recommend going in for a chat just to see what it’s like.

        1. I did go to therapy and counselling through the uni and they sent me to doctors because “Your a serious case and need to see a doctor” I went to the doctors and pretty much all the therapists I’ve seen have been crap and of little help. I’ve stopped going and I’m leaning on friends who are experienced in the psychological fields as a stop gap to get me righted and then I’ll do the building upwards myself.

          1. ” I’ve stopped going and I’m leaning on friends who are experienced in the psychological fields as a stop gap to get me righted and then I’ll do the building upwards myself.”

            This…..this is a terrible idea. There are reasons that a therapist/patient relationship is not a friendship and why therapists don’t typically become close friends with their patients. There are also some things you just need help with that you can’t do on your own. Not only are you not getting the help you seem like you might want and need, but this is a terrific way to alienate your friends and make them regret helping you.

            I’m so sorry that the therapists you’ve seen *so far* have been unhelpful, but it does sometimes take a while to find someone you really click with. Same with regular doctors, actually (says the woman on her third primary care doctor in as many years). Keep looking, keep trying to figure out what, if anything, is wrong physiologically, and stop treating your friends like therapists. They aren’t, they can’t be, and it’s just not a good dynamic in the long run.

          2. I’m sorry to hear that none of the professionals you’ve gone to have been helpful. As someone who studied psychology in college, though, I really have to STRONGLY discourage you from trying to make your friends play therapist for you. Your friends who are studying psychology, or who maybe have some counseling experience, are NOT equipped to provide the kind of counseling that will be helpful for you. Even if one of your friends is a licensed therapist, you shouldn’t try to have them work out your problems, because it would be a violation of ethical boundaries for them to provide therapy for one of their friends. Trying to get free therapy out of your friends is not going to be helpful for you, and is going to make your friends not want to be friends with you anymore. Like I said above, one of the nice things about therapy is that your therapist doesn’t expect reciprocity or that you’ll listen to their problems after you’re done talking about yours. Friendships, on the other hand, SHOULD have reciprocity. You shouldn’t be dumping all your problems on your friends and expecting them to be able to solve them for you while not getting any support in return. Honestly, if you’ve had close friends suddenly cut you off recently, this might be a big reason why. It sounds harsh, but there’s nothing more annoying to a psych student than a friend who’s clearly more interested in free counseling than in friendship — I actually do like listening and giving advice, and am considering going into counseling professionally, but friends who only ever want to talk to me about their problems quickly turn into friends I only hang out with occasionally and in small doses, if at all.

            Like Ethyl said, it can take a while to find a therapist or doctor you click with. If you can, try to think about what you didn’t like about the therapy you’ve had before. There are different kinds of therapy (psychodynamic, person-centered, mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral, etc.) and they all have different philosophies and use different techniques. There IS a variety of therapy out there that has fewer of the things you don’t like, and more of the things that are helpful for you! You could also look into finding a therapist that shares your cultural background, if you feel like the professionals you’ve seen haven’t understood where you’re coming from. You CAN find a technique and a therapist that works for you — it just takes time. But DON’T use your friends as free therapy, or you may find they’re not interested in being friends anymore.

  40. Hi Letter Writer,

    I just wanted to give you a hopeful story. I know that when you are 20, 20 seems like it’s pretty old. And I know it’s really annoying when someone who is older than you says “oh you are so young”. But… you have lots of years ahead of you and there is no secret time limit after which you will suddenly become undatable or unlovable unless you’ve had x amount of romantic or sex-partners.

    I met a dude who was 23 and he had never had a girlfriend or been on a date and he came from a pretty conservative family and culture where dating was just… not even a thing (I didn’t meet his parents until we had been together for FOUR YEARS. So yeah)

    And I was 23 and had dated lots of people and just got out of a two year living-together relationship and I come from a family where getting married (if at all) before you have children is pretty quaint and old-fashioned.

    And I’m not saying that the differences in our backgrounds and romantic and sexual experience didn’t impact us in any way, because of course they did! But they were just things. But after a while they were not things anymore.

    And don’t get me wrong – I learned a LOT about myself and about what sort of person I wanted to be in a relationship with and what sort of things I like and don’t like about people I want to be with that it would have been WAY HARDER to learn without actually trying people and things. But it’s not impossible to do that work and find out those things.

    I encourage you to get “out there” and date and meet people and go on awkward dates and break up and meet people who you think are totally the kind of person you like and find out that they aren’t. But if you don’t? That’s also okay!

    A person who you have a successful relationship is a whole person who wants to go out with YOU as much as you want to go out with THEM. I know you’re worried about breaking hearts – because you’re not a jerk! – but remember that a person who is risking their heart for you is a full person who gets to make that choice and take that risk, just as you are making choices and taking risks with your own heart. You will hurt people and you will get hurt because you are a human living in a world with other humans and you can feel bad and sad when other people get hurt especially if it is because of things you could have done differently if you’d listened or thought harder.

    But women are people, not fragile seashells who will disintegrate at the slightest touch. Treat anyone who risks their heart with you with compassion and decency and respect them enough to know that they’re a fully realised human being who can recover from a bit of heartbreak here and there.

    1. I have a gut feeling that once on a date, I would probably be okay. Thing is I really don’t know what on earth I’m going when it comes to asking a person on a date. The Captain’s previous advice from the archives has been great here and I’ve really learnt some stuff. I like to be sure that the person likes me but I can’t even be sure there’s any interest there so it’s a real catch 22 which usually leaves me paralysed in the middle.

      Now, after reading Captain’s advice and from other commentators (thank you all!) I think I can definitely try something different.

      Thank you for your kind words Elise Kumar! They mean a lot.

      1. That’s one of the useful things about online dating/speed dating -you can be certain that anyone you sustain a conversation with within that framework has some interest. It may be mild or serious interest, but the base assumption is “dating”, not “friends” unless explicitly stated, so you get to skip one step of worrying. That might be worth a try to practice flirting, recognising flirting, and figuring out the kind of relationship you like best in a low-pressure environment.

      2. Hi LW! I just want to suggest to you that you don’t have to be sure that the person likes you or if there is any interest before you ask them out on a date. Trying to figure out if they like you and interpret all the hidden signals is exactly what the Captain has counseled against in the past, because it gets you way too emotionally invested before you’ve even had much of a chance to interact. Using your words to ask someone, “Would you like to go on a date with me?” will absolutely let you know if they are romantically interested or not–no catch 22 involved. Just being brave enough to ask!

        If you get turned down for the date, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. They could still want to be friends (and you can ask that, too). It only means they don’t want to date you, and there are a lot of meaningful ways for humans to interact with each other outside of a dating framework.

  41. For the social skills issue – may I recommend the tumblr Real Social Skills? (realsocialskills dot org) I found a lot of their advice clear and incredibly helpful.

    Your letter resonated with me: at 20 I was certain I will never, ever understand people or groups, that I was incapable of being pleasant socially. However, I’ve had two pieces of good fortune: one was online fandom focusing on fanfiction, and the other was a good friend (who also worked with autistic kids), who could reprimand me when I was being an asshole and explain exactly what I did wrong so that I could learn and not repeat that mistake.

    Writing and consuming fanfiction helped me a lot. I found myself writing a scene, hating the direction the interaction was spiraling towards, then thinking, “hey, what if instead of walking out the door, he expresses affection? what if instead of doing something he knows will hurt his partner, he says ‘I need to leave’ and comes back later when he’s calm?’ I ended up applying these lessons IRL! I don’t know how helpful this advice is to people who aren’t me, but definitely writing fiction can give you a safe space to explore human interactions (so long as you pause to wonder, “would a real person do that?” not just for your protagonist, but for everyone in the story).

  42. I think if you look you will find others who are uncomfortable with the party/drinking culture. i prefer only to drink a little bit, and i just quietly did that (hold the same drink for a long time, sometimes just get water) in dorms while many others were getting drunk enough to fight and break things and hooking up and rating each others’ drunk pukes. Many many people have no idea how to handle drunk folks at 3am. I certainly have no patience for being that sort of caregiver. That’s OK. Our dorms had an option to select a floor/building based on noise/partying level, so that helped. Finding friends on other floors or buildings might help you explore other types of parties/groups. Just noticing who is being quiet, who leaves parties early, who is going to the gym or watching TV instead of going out on Saturday night, might help you find like-minded people. Sometimes you don’t see them at a party because they’ve quietly run off to go rowing or to a film festival or whatever. Be curious, if you see them around, ask what they did this weekend.

    I also really like the advice to be curious and compassionate about other people. They may not share your specific passions, but chances are there is *something* they can rave on about the way you rave about yours. and it may take a little encouragement for them to open up about it because there are a zillion things to be excited about in the world, and very few of them are visible in popular culture. they may be feeling just as shy and isolated as you are. You might want to practice noticing other people’s emotions.. does their face and body language look comfortable/happy/worried/angry? if it’s a friend, mention it and see if you are correct. “you seem to be in a great mood, what happened to make you so happy?” or “you look worried about something, what is on your mind?”. if they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push. practice talking about and sharing emotions in a light and casual way. lets the person know that you care or that you’re interested in connection.

    All the best wishes finding your people! It’s not easy to make good friends, especially while struggling with cultural and health issues. But there *are* people out there who will “get” you and enjoy spending loads of time with you, including some women who will want to snuggle 🙂

    oh, other ideas : a social group of people from your culture, or 2nd gen immigrants in general (particularly liberal/progressive ones?), a support group of people with similar health problems, a non-drinkers social club?

  43. also, regarding the Secret Incident… you’re being very black & white about it but i suspect possibly it’s not as shameful as you think. and that it might even help to share it with a close and trusted friend. even if it’s very bad, a good friend will accept your past and be understanding. everyone has had times when they mis-read someone or made an embarrassing declaration of feelings that weren’t returned. sometimes even ridiculed or rejected with scorn. everyone has been selfish and hurt someone’s feelings. sometimes to the point that that person won’t speak to us anymore. but, such a person, someone who you vastly misunderstood(you thought that they might welcome whatever you said or did) or who vastly misunderstood you(they thought that your intentions were rude or hurtful), probably wasn’t a great fit for a romantic partner/friend in the first place. you want to open up to someone slowly, get to know them bit-by-bit, increase intimacy one step at a time and check their interest along the way(sometimes by asking, sometimes by watching their actions and responses). you want it to be someone who understands your social challenges and the good intentions behind making an awkward or hurtful choice. who gets that you’re learning as you go, just like everyone else. it is absolutely not the case that you have to appear flawless and be always thoughtful and caring in order to make friends or romantic connections.

    1. Oh all my old circle know about my nice guy incident, it was very very public and really ridiculous, the other incident, the one from my childhood is a partial memory of some things I’m only starting to deal with now. I couldn’t possibly tell anyone that when I have so hard a time admitting it to myself also, I’m having a few problems with trust and friends right now after a whole bunch of them stabbed me in the back and another bunch are just drifting away.

      1. I couldn’t possibly tell anyone that when I have so hard a time admitting it to myself

        LW, this is exactly where a therapist comes in handy — so you’ve got a safe, confidental space to talk through some of these things outside your head.

        You may be able to get a referral to a therapist via the doctors who are trying to sort out your possible bipolar disorder (and trying therapy along with whatever medical treatments you need can be really helpful). Or your university may have a counselling/support service.

        It can be hard to find someone you click with and feel you can trust, and there are some people who just don’t ever find therapy useful (I seem to be one of them), but it’s worth giving it a go.

        A good therapist can be another person on Team You, they can help sorting out feelings about relationships, they can help with ways of coping with possible mental illness.

        But especially when you’ve got some things in your childhood that you feel you can’t tell anyone about, and that sound as if they had a traumatic effect on you — that calls for a therapist.

        1. Also, just saw your comment about all the therapists you’ve seen being crap. *winces sympathetically*

          Trust me, been there, done that. (And also saw some therapists who were not crap but not right for me either, or not crap but couldn’t have done anything except kill time until the doctors got my meds sorted out).

          At the moment, I am sans therapist, and not looking for one.

          But I’ve also seen how much of a difference it’s made to two of my best friends to find a therapist they can work with. Very different kinds — one friend spent a stint working with a CBT therapist, and now only goes back for a “top-up” when her issues are flaring up. Another friend’s doing psychoanalysis (alongside seeing a psychiatrist for meds).

          So. It could be worth it to keep looking, if you can.

          In the meantime, you might find it helpful to read some books about the issues you’re dealing with (there are excellent books out there on various kind of childhood trauma, and on living with bipolar).

          Or you might get some benefit out of a practice like yoga or meditation — they’re not the same as therapy, obviously, but can sometimes have a similar effect in terms of building a safe, regular “container” in which you can put whatever painful thoughts and feelings you’re currently dealing with.

  44. I think I’ll poke my nose in, as a woman who is from an extremely conservative culture and who is dating a guy an awful lot like you in his interests. We’ve been together for almost three years, so I know a few ins and outs of how to work with his particular foibles. Let’s address the second point first.

    My boyfriend is on the autism spectrum. I am not trying to say *you* are — that’s a job for a psychologist to determine, not me — but as a result, he has some similar qualities to what I’m seeing in your letter. He’s very high-functioning, but he has zero knowledge of social cues and likes to argue to high heaven. He is the “intense” guy, he’s mature for his age, but he has large gaps in his understanding of people and daily life. I will say this first off: in my experience, this is difficult to partner with, and I’m pretty sure no one in our collective social group would date him but me. With the double whammy of “no social knowledge” and “argumentative and talkative,” you have a recipe to piss people off. Boyfriend (to not name names) is very controversial as a person, and he tends to make people angry just because he doesn’t get the signal to quit when people are angry. It’s not that he wants to bother people; it’s that he just doesn’t see it. It’s like he’s colorblind and someone tells him to find the blue thing. Seriously, what is he going to do? He tries to learn, but again, it’s like explaining to someone what blue means, and it’s a long and agonizing trip just to pick up a few skills. In the end, since you don’t seem to know what’s driving people away, I am going to back off to basics. Please don’t take this as condescending; I’m honestly wondering if maybe there are some very fundamental things you just never learned, given your background.

    1. People get emotional about certain topics, and you might not even notice that. If you do, you might not think it’s the “correct” response. (Common for flailing science types who haven’t yet made the emotion = involuntary connection, especially since some people *can* just shut down negative emotions at will!) Even if you’re okay with emotion, you might want to keep discussing. In the end, you need to learn what the signs of distress in another person look like. If you know them, you need to look for them. Raising the voice while having a frown or tense expression is a common one. If someone is trying to yell over you, either they’re desperately trying to get you to quit what you’re doing, or they’re being an obnoxious debating partner, and neither of these is encouraging. Shut it down and take your business elsewhere. If someone is crying, stop *immediately* no matter your assessment of the situation. If someone tells you to stop, stop. I know you really want to be right, or you want to inform them, or you think the discussion is productive…but stop. Boundaries are to be respected. (Again, this is all from the perspective of someone who is having to help a person understand the most basic of social situations. You might know all this.) Notice your tone in the discussion — is it getting loud? Harsh? Are you standing too close? If you’re tall, are you leaning over someone? Learn to make less hostile motions and appear as a friendly discussion partner, not as a debate partner. Most people don’t like being in Debate Club constantly. There is a huge difference between arguments (tend to be angry), debate (very formal and stilted to some people), and discussion (friendly, cooperative). Try framing your interactions in a more friendly light, and you can keep making good points while comforting the other person and involving them. And again, if someone says stop, stop.

    A tactic Boyfriend learned here was, if the other person starts seeming “irrational” or “flustered” or raising their voice, stop and ask: “Do you want to pause this discussion and continue later?” And that gives the other person a chance to say, “Yes, I’m angry at you now, and I can’t talk anymore with you” or “No, I’m just a little tense, let’s breathe a sec and continue” or whatever. Unfortunately, many women have been told by culture that they’re not allowed to interrupt conversations or have initiative to protest. That’ll go a long way towards putting people at ease and making your conversations more interesting and productive.

    2. I will warn you straight up that the kind of person Boyfriend is, and possibly you are (if you’re really as similar as I’m reading), does not get many dates unless they either learn or fake it. Faking social skills isn’t cheating; it’s hacking around a hardwired inability to do something. Of course don’t treat someone well only to be a jackass later, but if you have to force smiles or actively pay attention to others’ expressions or whatever, then you have to. Your subconscious might not fill in for you, now or ever. You might need to make active efforts.

    3. I don’t mean to encourage the whole situation, but you might get a date just as you are. Like I said, I started dating Boyfriend before he worked on any of these issues. But if I say so myself, it takes a certain personality to click with you. I’d suggest changing rather than waiting for the one person who’s got the magic ingredients to put up with your brand of “different.”

    4. I have noticed, as a socially adept but also aggressive and intense person who talks a lot and has strong Opinions, that the people I work best with are very, very chill and rather passive. They are the people that smile and shrug when you ask “where do you want to go to dinner” because they genuinely don’t have massive Opinions and Preferences about the world. They are less likely to butt heads with you because they frankly just don’t really get angry very much. They will shrug something off, say “that’s your opinion,” and proceed to go about their awesome lives. Chill people are the best. Find them.

    Now let’s go to the Conservative point. Here’s from my own youth experiences. For reference, I was trained as a kid to think that sex was dirty unless you’re married, one night stands are appalling and horrible and people who do them will Burn In Hell ™, anyone who wasn’t Christian was unfortunate, gays and lesbians were horrible and sinful, etc etc etc. I am quite different now. Here is what I learned.

    1. No matter what your beliefs, don’t insult people. If you insist on thinking one night stands are atrocious, keep that shit to yourself. Nobody will agree with you on things like this even if you argue, if they didn’t beforehand. It’s a personal decision. Keep yourself out of it. If someone asks, tell them what you think, *lightly.* “I don’t like the idea, but if you do, whatever, that’s fine.” Not “that’s atrocious.” You have the right to think anything you want, but some things are offensive, and even if you’re *right*, you can still be offensive.

    2. Try something. I know this is a wee bit boundary-pushing, but in the end, I had to try something before I knocked it. I’m not saying to get smashed on vodka. Try, say, a glass of nice wine. Sit and appreciate how it tastes. Swirl it around your mouth. See what it feels like in your mind to have a bit of tipsiness. Etc. Get a friend to supervise you, whatever feels best.

    3. Dip a toe in a different culture. Sit with some friends who have very different views than you on this, and listen. I know you will feel uncomfortable listening to people talk about sexual things or whatever, but the real world has plenty of people who don’t agree with your views on sex, and you should hear them at least once.

    4. Question all your indoctrinations. You hate the idea of one night stands. Why? Do you think they show a lack of commitment in general? Do you think they’re a moral failing? Ask yourself why, why, why on every subject. Then do your best to slowly clean out what doesn’t match your standards for proof. You’re good at arguing. Argue against yourself. Hard. And in the end, if you do find a reason to keep your conservative beliefs, go for it! But you might be surprised at what you find.

    I hope all this helped!

  45. Men – want women to crowd around you and ask you to take them into their arms? Learn to dance! 90% of women love to dance. 90% of men would rather die than dance. The odds are in your favor. To be a good dancer you need the same skills you need to have a good relationship – give and take, consideration, sensitivity to your partner, knowing when to take charge and when to let your partner take over. Try contra dancing – you can have a new partner every dance, there are “mixer” dances that have you switch partners several times. You can meet a lot of people and get up-close and personal with them. Often there are beginner sessions at the beginning of dances, and they welcome newcomers. You can take lessons for more formal dancing like ballroom dancing, and you can meet people in the classes.

  46. OK, so now I’ve read all the comments,I can no longer find the specific things I wanted to add to, so I’ll stick them all down here.
    first, +1 to the folks recommending reading reviews of popular books and movies if you don’t have time or desire to consume them directly. I used to read the NYT movie reviews exhaustively when in high schoolI never went to the movies. This means when someone mentions a book or movie, you’ll know what he/she is talking about and can contribute something like “the NYT review said the costumes were lovely. What did you think?”
    also +1 to the suggestion to try social dancing, if and when mobility might allow (also this note is for anyone else reading this thread looking for ideas for whom mobility isn’t an issue, unlike the LW). Lots of so-called socially awkward folks are drawn to social/folk/swing dancing bc it provides a strong social script with no time for awkwardness. As in, now the dance is over. Thank the band, thank your partner, walk with him/her off the dance floor. Ask a new person to dance, form a set, dance, repeat. Also, English Country Dancing can be a good option for some people with weaker joints as it involves less hopping and jumping than contra and swing.
    Finally yay for that awesome West Wing reference about hiring a violinist up thread. Happy smiles here.

  47. LW, it sounds like you’ve done some really solid self-improvement recently, and you’re now changing your approach to dating. So I really suggest mentally re-starting the clock on yourself. Try shifting your framework from ‘I have never dated in all my 20 years’ to ‘I am just now starting to date,’ or ‘I just started this a couple months ago.’ You’re a pretty different person operating in different ways; if you’ve learned from the mistakes of Past You there’s no good that can come now keeping them part of some Calendar of Failure.

    Case in point: I’m in my early 30’s and I just moved far away from home. My old dating strategy was ‘be part of a big community for years, go out with whichever cool people asked me out.’ It worked well there, but i’d like to try something that doesn’t rely on me knowing 1000 people for 5+ years before my next date. So I had to admit I actually know basically 0 about meeting people to date on purpose. ‘In the past 4 months I’ve gotten comfortable messaging people and have been on a couple fun dates’ is true, and frankly better for me than ‘i’m 32 and have basically no idea how to meet people.’

    One other note: if you try online dating, don’t immediately message the people who seem absolutely amazing. Most of your interactions will be unanswered hellos or short conversations, and it takes some practice to do that comfortably and with out being on-edge for an answer. So find a couple people you can have a genuine but casual conversation about one interesting thing and say hi. Maybe some of them will turn out to connect well with you, maybe you will just learn the social norms and try again. Good luck.

  48. This comment thread has been great! (+1000 to the dancing – I was a ballroom/swing dancer in my 20s and any guy who danced was automatically twice as attractive to me.)
    And, LW, just want to say that I really think you’re going to be awesome! You’re at a transitional period, but actively working on things, and your responses here have been really open and cool (since so often we see someone write in, then get offended and argue against the advice given). You’re not going to be perfect and there’s no such thing, but you’re really listening to a lot people who have been there in some form or fashion. It sounds to me like you’re surrounded by a group that isn’t a good fit for you (though you never know what individuals in it might click with you if you get to know them better), and there may be nothing for that but time. It can take time to find Your People and that’s what a lot of us spent our 20’s doing. Others have said it, but really and truly, to be working on this stuff at age 20 is ahead of the curve!

  49. “women are getting constantly inundated with messages and don’t necessarily have time to respond”

    Can we please put this to rest? *SOME* women are inundated with messages. They are a minority. No really, they are. Women do not automatically have men flocking to them just because they are women. Some women are generally considered very attractive by society’s standard of attractive (and are also photogenic), and those women get lots of messages. Other women get fewer messages, and some women get almost none. Kind of like men, when you think about it …

    1. Umm, I hear it’s better now, but I haven’t tried. But when I first joined OkCupid out of curiosity for what my percentages were with people I know, I had to turn off the IM capability, because I got flooded every time I logged on. I had no photo on my profile. My profile stated I was in a relationship and not looking for anything and am severely disabled and partially housebound and thus unable to socialize much with people anyway. I got flooded. These people had obviously not seen my profile at all. All they seemed to know was that someone marked as female had logged in. Maybe they knew my age or location.

      I fully believe some women do not have this sort of experience. But it’s really common, and it isn’t always about attractiveness. It’s also worth noting that these messages were not polite interest. They were generally from people with a low match percentage to me, and they clearly were not looking for a relationship or a friendship. Finding a good partner is a tough thing for tons of people regardless of gender. But it is not unreasonable to think that many women are being flooded with more messages than they can reasonably respond to. If I had responded to those messages, I would not have had time to use the site.

      I did end up leaving because even with the instant messaging feature turned off, it became too much of a social drain to be polite to strangers who were contacting me. And again, I had done everything I could in my profile to make it clear that I was not a dating option. So, I think it has more to do with the way the site is designed than it has to do with attractiveness. Although I expect that attractive available women likely get far more messages than I did. It is still a relevant factor. I think it’s very difficult to say whether or not it’s the minority who are flooded, and probably would require a site to site analysis and that would probably need to change over time as the sites change their protocols.

    2. Thank you! I’m not doing online dating right now, but when I was, I got few messages. The whole “women get tons of messages” thing made me feel like crap every time I heard it. I would guess that any single woman in her 20s is going to get a lot, but try being in your 40s, divorced and with two school-age children. Crickets.

  50. I’m not single (far from it, being married and all :)), but if I was, I’d be all over the new dating app that’s being made by a super cool Seattle entrepreneur, Susie Lee. It’s about empowering women to make choices (in fact, only women can initiate contact), and – added bonus! – avoids the trap of “answer tons of questions up front”.

    It’s called Siren, here’s a link to more info!

    I don’t know about you, but I hear all sorts of horror stories from ladies who are sick of the dynamic on sites like OKCupid, and lots of guys are frustrated because the ones who act horribly are ruining things for the rest of them. Hopefully this helps the LW and other folks who might want to try online dating but don’t like the current atmosphere.

  51. I totally understand being baffled by social cues. In my case, it’s because I’m Autistic, but for whatever reason, not “getting” social cues is frustrating.

    The difficulty is when people who do have an innate understanding of social cues try to explain them. They’ve never had to think about it consciously, so when they try to explain what’s automatic to them, it can be confusing. It’s like explaining how to breathe for them. You want someone who’s had to LEARN how to breathe, like a scuba diver.

    Social cues can be learned (just like learning Swahili). Look for blogs and advice from neuro-atypical people such as people on the spectrum, who’ve had to learn these things consciously. Advice from therapists who have that inborn unconscious understanding tends to be sincere, well-meaning, and unhelpful. They will tell you a Platonic ideal of what the rules should be, not what the rules actually ARE.

    For example, therapists will say “Interrupting is rude.” That’s not the real rule. The real rule is something like “Someone of a higher social status may interrupt someone of a lower social status, and that is not considered interrupting”, but more complicated based on gender, race, position, and other situational factors.

    Blogs and writings by women of color I have found to be the most explicit about the real rules. The lower someone’s social status, the more they have to think about these things.

    Another thing people have found helpful is to watch movies or TV show with captioning. The kind of captions that say stuff like “Disgusted look”, or “Turns away, annoyed.”

    One rule that’s very important to know is, “In general, women do not feel able to directly correct men when they do something rude or offensive”, and “People of color are not allowed to say anything back to white people who do something rude or offensive.” Women and PoC have been trained to be “polite”, that is, not direct, so subtle social cues are all they have. It makes things much more difficult than they have to be, but it is a very real social expectation, and it’s important to be cognizant of this.

    1. I find it more helpful to talk about “familiarity” than about rudeness. Because a lot of things aren’t rude all the time, but are situationally inappropriate. It’d be overly familiar to call my professor by their given name, and it would be too impersonal to call my close friends “Mr. Lastname.” Same goes for interrupting, or friendly insults, or a whole host of other things. You need to pick the correct level of rudeness based on the setting and your relationship with the person.

  52. I’ve been reason the comments. Wow! The awkwardeers are awesome.

    Here’s my thoughts: LW, smartest in the room doesn’t matter. Everyone I went to college with was smartest in the room in high school. Half the people I’ve worked with were the smartest in the room in college or grad school. But kindness and generosity do matter.

    Be kind to other people. Be kind to yourself. You may or may not find a lover, but you will love and be loved.

  53. LW, I’m going to be real blunt here because a lot of commenters have been more patient than me and also because as another college student I feel like you honestly are looking down upon and scorning your fellow students because you feel superior.

    Right now, LW, looking at your own description and what other people apparently say about you, why on earth would I (or anyone else) want to date you? You sound like you’d feel superior to me, talk down to or start an argument with me, and then feel sorry for yourself if I decided I wasn’t about that bullshit. What’s good about you? What’s attractive about you? Why would I even talk to you? What would we talk about? What can you offer me?

    In my case, when I felt like I had nothing to offer people but being good at debate and being ‘smarter than everyone else’ (hint: that means fuck-all), I didn’t have a lot of friends because I acted like a dick to people. I now have friends because I developed the parts of me and got explicit at knowing what I can offer: I’m good at listening! I’m fun to watch a movie or analyze a tv show with! I write great meta, can talk about slashfic for most fandoms, I cook well, I’m a much better conversationalist, I can spot oppressive nonsense in media, I’ve got naturally good comedic timing, I love bad horror movies and will have fun with them, I can make people laugh, I’ve gotten more compassionate and more understanding. That’s why I have friends: because I’ve become a good person who’s fun and enjoyable to interact with.

    Take whatever seeds of potential or undeveloped goodness you have in you and nuture it fiercely. Take all these good people’s advice, plunge into your career, stop feeling so damn sorry for yourself (nobody, not even God, owes you a girlfriend), and you will one day wake up and realize you’ve got the love you crave. But you won’t get it by standing in the background feeling smarter than and isolated from everyone else.

    1. I appreciate your bluntness, thank you for it.

      I don’t look down on people or feel superior, I fear people looking down on me, I’m short, poor and unlike the rest of my entire family, both immediate and extended am the only one without immediately personable skills. I did used to look down on people, I’ll make no bones of my past. I was a snob amongst other things and I let go of all that crap because it’s wrong.

      Why would people date me? If you’re asking what I feel about myself, I feel awful about myself. But as my therapist said I’ve a lot of negative self image issues. But why would people date me? I’m funny, I make people laugh, I love making people laugh. I love dancing, I adore music and I’m a massive bibliophile, I’m also on the way back to being extremely fit and lithe and sporty. I’m very very artsy and is either painting or writing poetry. I can be handsome and I have a huge range of knowledge on a variety of issues, though I’d only call myself an expert on two of them. I love flying and I love sailing. I’m a patient listener and very very very calm. Always calm. That’s me.

      I don’t know why people would talk to me. I really don’t. People often don’t unless they want help. Now that’s improving and people I talk are sticking around more often.

      I’ve a very dysfunctional view of myself and it’s only recently I’m coming to terms that what I see of myself is not what other see. It’s helping me come to terms with accepting the compliments of others that usually left me feeling like a fraud. I’ve tried having friends, they said I needed to trust them more (I have trust issues) I did, I opened my heart and mind to them and let them see inside and they stabbed me in the back, multiple times. It’s taken more of a toll then I ever admit to the people that are left.

      I don’t think anyone owes me a girlfriend. Not a chance. I’d go celibate before I pushed someone into a relationship with me. Plunging into my future career pretty much kills my social life. There is very very little time for anything but it once it starts and you never get off it until it’s time to retire.

    2. The Internet made me funny. 🙂

      I always had a sense of humor in my head, but I never was any good at things like comedic timing, or even just having the guts to crack the joke at all because what if no one laughed? I had one boyfriend hurt my feelings by telling me that I wasn’t witty. But hanging around in venues like LiveJournal communities really helped, because I could think up a joke and post it and the timing didn’t really matter all that much, since the other person might only read the comment hours later anyway, and if they hated my joke I’d never see their eyeroll. Eventually this gave me the confidence to start cracking jokes in real life and in more time-sensitive online venues (like a chat room). LiveJournal fanfic comms also helped me learn to give compliments on other people’s talent. It’s been said that there was kind of a Cult of Nice where everybody’s comments were really positive, but it was good for me–it helped me look for the good in things and learn to use my words to say why stuff was cool.

  54. I basically just want to share my personal experience with this when I was around 20 years old and my thoughts on it 10 years later. I definitely thought I was unlovable when I was in late teens /early 20ies. I saw myself as a late bloomer (looking back, I was actually pretty average, not that it matters much) and was totally convinced that I would never find a boyfriend. I also acted stupidly with some guys – like I would cold call guys who I had never really spoken with and ask them out on dates, which came across just a teeny bit intense. I fell in love with guys in relationships and tried to get close to them by being friends, then blew up at them when I noticed it wouldn’t work. Etc. I had massive angst around romantic relationships for years, only to end up in a relationship at freaking 21, then again at 23, and again at 28 (all lasting a few years). What’s interesting to me looking back (I’m 30 now) is that I did so many awesome things in those years – like moving out from home, excelling in school, working part-time jobs, traveling solo, organizing camps etc. And all the while I devoted most of my headspace to romantic relationships which were interesting experiences, but ultimately didn’t last and in a sense affected my personal development way LESS than all the other stuff I did. Like I can’t even understand how I could be in love with the guy I dated from 21-23, but I still fondly remember some international summer schools I went to during that time. It’s not that I regret anything but if I could send my 20 year old self a message I would definitely say to not worry so much about romance and enjoy all the awesome stuff one can do in one’s early 20ies instead. I don’t think it would have changed my life for the worse in any way if I had skipped some of those early relationship experiences. I’m not saying romantic relationships aren’t important – they were hugely important to me so I get it – just saying please don’t believe you’re not lovable on the basis of lacking experience at 20. That really doesn’t mean anything and could change in about a second, and it would be really sad to spend a lot of time worrying about it. If you give it some time it’s very likely to resolve itself anyway and there’s so much fun stuff you can do right now.

  55. This part of the letter rubbed me the wrong way:

    “It’s difficult in the uni dorm I’m in, considering most people I meet socially are either drunk (I’m stone cold sober) or do the whole ‘one night stand’ routine which to me is appalling. The few people I’ve really sparked with are all in relationships.”

    While it’s fine having standards, acting disgusted at women for reveling in their sexual freedom is offputting. There is a possibility that the reason you’re more drawn to women who are already coupled is because they are calm/happy/displaying coupled habits that you long to have in your own partner/etc. For all you know, those same women would have appalled you if you had met them when they were single because they wouldn’t be behaving in the same manner.

    If you have been ignoring the single women because you don’t like their sexual behavior, maybe knock it off. You don’t have to sleep with them. You don’t have to date them. You should, however, talk to them in a non-dismissive way and get to know them as people.

    Note to everyone: I am in no way saying that the uncoupled women are unhappy or dissatisfied with their singleness. Please don’t skin me.

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