Ask Dr. NerdLove: How Do I Ask My Friends To STOP Helping?


Dear Dr. NerdLove,

People want me to be an incel, but in a positive, feminine way. How do I get them to stop?

This isn’t so much a dating question as it is a how do I deal with people who think I should be dating problem. Well meaning people love telling me that I’m beautiful and vibrant and anyone would be lucky to be with me and it’s not your fault dudes aren’t into you it’s just how our society is or whatever lame excuse.

This of course is bullshit. I am not attractive, I am morbidly obese, I lack femininity, and my personality is abrasive. Yet people with zero skin in my game adamantly disagree with these facts and it turns into a self esteem pep talk. Rejecting this, I’m then an asshole for being pessimistic and mean because they’re just trying to help me feel better.

I insist on acknowledging my reality because it is emotionally easier to know why things are not working than to think everything is fine and yet not working for some unknown unfair reason. It took me many years of sadness and despair to work this out. BTW when dudes can’t work this out we call them incels and it’s a bad thing.

I’m not a bum who wallows in misery. I got a Master’s degree in my late 30’s. I travel. I have a job that I like. I go to cool underground shows and art events. I’m currently re-watching all the James Bond movies in order. Anyway, I hope someday I do find a guy who is into me and we can have a loving and supportive relationship but it is horribly heartbreaking and impractical to just cluelessly bemone why I haven’t.

Ok thanks, I’d appreciate any advice you might have.

Thank you,
Not Their Business Anyway

Y’know, NTBA, this kind of runs parallel to a question I get from guys all the time. I hear from folks who want to know whether it’s ok to stop dating for a while. This can be difficult for a lot of folks to do. We live in a society where being alone is seen as a problem to be solved and that someone who doesn’t have a partner must be miserable. Giving up – for whatever reason – is seen as resigning yourself to misery… even if you’re actually ok.

You’re dealing with a related issue: well meaning friends. See, if we accept that being single is a problem and that being single is misery, then it can be hard to see friends who’re alone. From that perspective, it becomes a moral duty, nay, imperative to help them.

Except, as we’ve often seen, a lot of times, that “help” tends to be empty platitudes and very little actionable advice. In fact, one of the hardest things to accept is that sometimes there is nothing to be done. As a wise man once said: you can commit no errors and still lose. That’s not weakness; that’s life.

But people in general don’t like to feel as though there’s nothing to be done. They like to feel that there’s some way they can help, something they can do. So if they can’t provide actual help, then they want to at least try to make their friend feel better. And while that’s noble and generous, well… sometimes it just doesn’t help. It just makes you tired and more exasperated.

(It’s like when you lose a pet and people insist on sending you that fucking poem about the rainbow bridge.)

Now it’s hard to get upset at people who only want to help and want you to feel better, but the desire to help isn’t the same as actually helping. But at the same time, if you tell them to knock it the hell off… well, yeah, you’re basically being the jerk who doesn’t appreciate the help they’re offering.

But the problem isn’t the platitudes, it’s not your resignation and it’s not in their attempts to help that make you feel worse. It’s that nobody is actually saying what they mean. Everyone is speaking in metaphors, where meaning is getting lost and causing issues. For example: someone may make the observation that they’re fat, only to be deluged with people insisting that no, they’re not fat at all. The problem is that everyone involved is using “fat” differently. One is using fat as shorthand to mean “unattractive” or “undesirable”, possibly even “lazy” or “slovenly”. The other, however, is using “fat” to mean “excess amounts of adipose tissue”. This difference in meaning can create conflict. If the person remarking that they’re fat is talking about their physical body, the well-meaning people who are translating “fat” as “unattractive” sound like they’re denying objective reality. On the other hand, if the person who makes the comment is discussing feeling unattractive or undesirable, someone taking that as “I am overweight” can end up sounding like they’re saying “you’re not that bad”.

(And this is before we start getting into things like the general inaccuracy of BMI, differences in body types, the difference between being fat and unhealthy, and so forth.)

In your case, your friends’ concern comes from what society says about single people (and single women in particular) and how they think this makes you feel. They don’t want you to feel worthless or undeserving of love, even as it feels to you like they’re denying objective reality. Their help also insists that you must be miserable and feel horrible about yourself. But self-confidence and self-esteem doesn’t always mean feeling like you’re the prettiest flower in the field; sometimes it means being comfortable with who you are and your circumstances and secure in your competency and capabilities. Their concern for you and their presumption of a lack of self-esteem can feel like they’re negating all that.

As you said: this was a long and painful journey for you; their concern and attempts to show they care can feel like it’s opening old wounds that have, if not healed, at least stopped bleeding. That’s not helpful.

That’s why the answer here isn’t necessarily for them to back off – though that will help – or for you to just passively accept their annoying-if-well-meant actions. It’s to address the miscommunication at the heart of this. You and they are speaking different languages and getting upset when the other doesn’t understand. So let’s remove the misunderstanding.

The next time one of your friends wants to reassure you, address the message, not the words. “I understand you’re telling me that I have value, that I’m not worthless and you want to prop up my self-esteem, but the way you’re saying it is ignoring how I actually feel about my situation. I have a good life, I have strong self-esteem and I’m at peace with how things are. I’d like to find a relationship some day, but frankly I have a pretty good life and I’ve worked pretty hard to get to where I am, emotionally speaking. I appreciate what you’re trying to say, but when you try to talk me up like this, you’re negating the work I put in to get here and that’s not helpful to me. In fact, it makes things harder. I realize you want to help but I promise you: I’m ok.”

Then, let them know what actually would be helpful for you. Maybe it’d be to send you funny memes or adorable pictures of their pets. Maybe it’d be words of affirmation about your accomplishments or going with you on your adventures. Or maybe it’d simply be letting you handle your being single on your own and not treating you like a problem to be solved.

The other thing I would point out to them is that being comfortable – or at least at peace – with where you are now isn’t the same thing as having given up hope. It’s just not letting the current situation dominate everything about you. Love and a boyfriend may well be in your future, but you’re focused on your present. Sometimes the love of your life is the love of your life… the life you’re living right now.

Good luck.

Dear Dr. NerdLove,

I’m in my late 30s, married to my husband in his mid-40s. We’ve been together for 12 yrs, married for 7. We were long distance for the first 5 years. During that time the sex seemed great/fine. Not the most chemistry I’ve ever had in a relationship but certainly not bad. A year after getting married (and moving in together) sex started to dwindle. I didn’t think much about it, initiated and made sure we were having sex at least 1x/wk. We had some sense that he had some hang-up or maybe it was low level anxiety (which is now resolved). We explored it superficially. I wanted to respect his mental space and didn’t push too hard. Then we had kids (now 3 and 5).

During the last 5 years our sex life was minimal. We didn’t have sex for 2 years, then maybe a few times a year for a few years. It was a combination of kids, work stress, and other random factors. I lost my libido entirely after having kids (which was very confusing for me as I have a HIGH sex drive, but I have since discovered that can happen). Having kids was so stressful for him that he was terrified to have more and didn’t want to have sex for fear of getting me pregnant (despite me having an IUD).

Over the past year, life is mostly great. The kids are good; we’re committed to not having more. His job is mostly good, sometimes stressful. My job is good. My libido came back about a year ago, slowly at first and now I feel myself again!! We are having sex again… initially once every few months, and sometimes more… but something doesn’t feel right.

It seems luke-warm. He SAYS when we have sex it’s really great. He’s a little bothered that I had to ask him if it was good. He still isn’t initiating. He says he just has so much going on and it’s hard to get in the mental space to think about having sex… so he likes when I initiate. But is this really it?

When I think about what’s wrong and what I want… I want to feel like he WANTS it and he wants me. I want to feel his attraction and his arousal. It’s ok if we don’t have the same kinks, but I want whatever we have to feel steamy.

He’s in his mid-40s. Healthy and fit. I know it can be normal for men to not want it ALL the time… but is it a low T thing? I wouldn’t think so since he works fine and says he masturbates three times a week. He says he’s attracted to me… but I wonder if maybe I’m not his ideal type. He has kind of acknowledged that he has had prior relationships with better sexual chemistry. I started to ask what his ideal is and I’m starting to realize he’s a vanilla kind of guy. He said he likes sensual, intimate sex. He likes being there for the pleasure of the woman.

It sounds so dreamy and perfect… except I like being there for the pleasure of the man and being submissive. I like kinky sex, submissive sex, dominating sex, being tied up, exploring different things. He doesn’t want any of that. I tried to dig deep and be more sexually assertive in the way that I think he wants but I’m not sure if it is adding anything my perception of our chemistry.

I asked him what he thinks about when he masturbates to try to figure out if I can make his fantasies come true, and did preface it by saying it was ok if it wasn’t me. He answered the above, but somehow I felt like there was more he wasn’t saying.

I think he also has it stuck in his head that I want to have sex with multiple people because he randomly emphatically said he doesn’t want to introduce other people into our sex lives. Even though I have NEVER asked for this. Once, in the beginning of our relationship I told him I fantasized about having sex with multiple people. But fantasies are fantasies and doesn’t mean I have to or want to make them real. Plus, I have fantasies about everything. I’m very comfortable with myself, my sexuality, sex with men/women/single/couples. Sex is beautiful! I am open to things like polyamory and swinging, but only if it’s right for the relationship. It is not right for our relationship so I don’t want it. It’s also nothing we’ve really talked about. I’m not sure why he keeps bringing it up every few years, as if it’s something I once asked or pressured him about.

So, I don’t know. Is this just stress on his part, preventing him from being sexually assertive? He doesn’t have any underlying mental health/substance problems. Is it a chemistry thing? He says it’s not and I know I should believe him, but it’s hard not to when he when he rarely initiates. Is it just a difference in sexual styles and what turns him on isn’t exactly what drives me pleasurably mad, and v/v? Do I sexually intimidate him? Is he secretly gay? He says he’s not, I have no real reason to think he is, but sometimes I’m at such a loss that I don’t know what else to think.

We tried sex therapy a few times but it wasn’t too helpful. I’ve been in therapy and it hasn’t helped our sex life. He won’t see a therapist. I have no desire to end the marriage.

Any help would be appreciated,

Trying to Make it Steamy

One of the most important components to the long-term health of a relationship is sexual compatibility. Sex and sexual desire are among the most powerful drives in humans, and we’ll break ourselves to pieces to get it. And if it’s not there in a relationship, then, well… that relationship is going to be on incredibly shakey ground. Even when everything else is great, that lack of sexual satisfaction can erode the foundation of the relationship. The key then, is to resolve the incompatibility. If, for an example, it’s an issue of mismatched libidos, then compromises need to be reached, where both partners need to be willing to give ground. The partner with the lower libido needs to be willing to help the other partner get off – which doesn’t necessarily mean penetrative sex. Meanwhile, the partner with the higher libido needs to learn to be cool with the fact that they’re not necessarily going to be having sex as often as they’d like.

But differing libidos isn’t the only kind of sexual incompatibility that couples run into. Case in point: you and your husband. It sounds to me like the issue here is about the kind of sex you two like to have… and that can be an issue.

There are two things that I think are likely here. The first is that you say the two of you never had a really intense sexual connection and that you both have had relationships with more chemistry. You two spent the first five years in a long-distance relationship. These two things, I feel, are related. One of the things that doesn’t come up often when we talk about LDRs is that distance can often cover a lot of sins. When you only see one another so many times per year, it’s easier to overlook things like a weaker sexual connection because you see each other so rarely. I suspect that if you two had more time together in the early years, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue because… well… I don’t know if the relationship would’ve made it to the married-with-children stage.

But you’re here now and you’re facing the fact that what you want from a sex partner isn’t necessarily what he wants. This is going to be a problem, especially because what you want conflicts with one another. You’re a human that wants to go adventuring and he’s a hobbit that likes the comforts of home. You want Cinemax Late Night and he wants Lifetime Original Movies.

Now maybe there’s a way to bridge this gap. If what he wants is to be there for the pleasure of the woman… well, letting him know that what you want is that bed-rocking, I-can’t-keep-my-hands-off-you kind of bangin’ may be what gets him into the headspace to give you what you need. At the same time, kinky and passionate don’t have to be separate from sensual and intimate. Being tied up and teased is still being tied up and teased if it’s with silk scarfs and a feather instead of leather and a flogger.

The other possibility… isn’t as easy to work around. The issue might be less that you’re sexually incompatible and more that he’s just not attracted to you any more. This might stem from being unable to make the leap between “sex partner” and “mother of my children” or it might come from the fact that you two didn’t have a strong sexual connection from the start and it simply faded over time. That might explain why he feels like he’s holding back or why sex therapy didn’t help. If the problem is a lack of desire for you, then no amount of talking with a sex therapist is going to fix things; he’s simply not going to be participating in good faith, even if he wants to. And actually saying “I’m not attracted to you any more” is, obviously, something that he doesn’t want to do. Not only does it hurt you but it’s also the sort of thing that tends to end relationships.

I can’t say which is more likely; only your husband can. And right now, he’s not talking.

I hate to say it, but this is a case where the only real answer is couple’s counseling and a willingness to be absolutely honest with one another. And frankly, it may come down to your having to lay down an ultimatum and make going to counseling a condition of staying married. Because if he’s not willing to do his share of the work to make this relationship work…well, at that point, you’re going to have some decisions to make.

Good luck.

This post was previously published on doctornerdlove.com and is republished here with permission from the author.

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