How Do I Rebuild A Social Life From Nothing?

How Do I Rebuild A Social Life From Nothing?


Hey Doc,

So I’m a guy in my early 20’s, and I suppose I’m your typical “beta” nerdy guy: I’m short, chubby, hairy, I work in software, I love video games, the works. Needless to say, romance never came natural to me, and growing up I never got much attention from the opposite sex. I wasn’t cool or athletic like the other boys, so girls would flirt with me as a joke.

I think that caused me to always crave validation from women even throughout my late teens, to make up from that sense of undesirability that was drilled into me so early. I know kids are cruel and I shouldn’t have let their bullying get to me, but even during high school as I saw my friends pair up while I was alone, I felt inadequate. It doesn’t help that the only girls I ever befriended were my friends’ girlfriends. While some were genuinely my friends (and fortunately some of them still are years later), I can’t help but feel that some of them were nice to me merely out of a sense of obligation of being nice to their boyfriends’ friend, since I had so much trouble befriending girls otherwise.

Anyway, eventually in my first few years in college I did end up meeting a lady through a friend and we did enter a relationship. In retrospect, how quickly our relationship escalated and how serious we were about one another so early should have been a red flag, but my lack of experience along with my joy at finally being in a real romantic relationship meant I didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Anyway, the 2 years I spent in that relationship were the best years of my life. I was in a pretty good spot for a college student: my tuition was paid by a scholarship, I was studying what I loved, living with my parents so no living expenses to speak of, and got to spend my free time with a woman I loved. Unfortunately, as time went on and I became more devoted to my studies and ever-increasing college work, she felt neglected and decided her ex-boyfriend was a better man for her needs… without my knowledge.

So yeah, being cheated on hurt immensely and all the validation I got from my relationship got pulled under my feet. Of course, it’s not a good idea to draw validation from a single individual who can leave one’s life at a moment’s notice, but lack of experience, etc. etc.

At first, I was pretty happy being single again. My mentality was “good riddance! I have so much more freedom now! And I already got a girlfriend so now all I have to do is do whatever I did the first time!”. But of course, it’s not that easy. Eventually I started doubting the entire relationship, whether my ex had really loved me the way she claimed she did, whether I had loved her the way I thought I did, whether we were just 2 lonely young people comforting each other and we really didn’t care about each other that deeply, the works.

Eventually I ended up moving on from this slump and ready to date again. I’d occasionally meet women through friends, develop crushes on the ones I felt more connected to, but I never felt that spark of instant chemistry that I got with my ex-girlfriend, and again, sometimes I felt like these women were just putting up with me out of kindness.

Except for this one time: One of these women I met was this “goth” girl, a practicing Wiccan, satanist, but also a super talented artist, very beautiful, amazingly intelligent and funny, and extremely kind and gentle. We were both fans of many of the same video games and some of the same metal bands, so we got along quickly. We would meet up at our college campus and just sit together working on our stuff and joking around. But somehow, I never managed to get a proper “date” with her. I’d spend hours with her on campus, but as soon as I wanted to plan a coffee date, she’d either say she’s too busy or say yes and then not show up.

In hindsight, I should have made it more obviously clear that I was interested in her romantically, but I thought she could figure out that I liked her by how often I wanted to spend time with her. If a woman I got along with went out of her way to spend time on campus with me and made plans to hang out with me, I’d assume she liked me. People make so many jokes about women having to make it painfully obvious to men when they’re interested, so I thought women were just naturally better than men at subtlety (at least more so than myself, a man with the subtlety of a bulldozer) and the opposite wouldn’t be necessary.

Anyway, after a while we both finished our degrees and she had to move back to her hometown. One of our last talks was about this book she was reading (either Wiccan or Satanic, I can’t remember), and she told me it was about female seduction and that I should read it if I wanted to learn about “how women worked”. Well, turns out it was a book about teaching women how to use “feminine energy” to seduce men and keep them dependent on the given woman’s attention, to eventually leave for money or favors.

About two weeks after she left, she updates her FB relationship status and posts pictures with some dude.

Needless to say, I felt rather used. And I know it was entirely my fault, but this certainly didn’t help my already flaring trust issues.

Either way, I moved on, moved into a new city myself due to better career prospects and am now living on my own. But the fact that I know absolutely nobody in this new city, along with the fact that the pandemic (as well as my trust issues) made me grow distant from previous friends, I now feel lonelier than ever, so I decided to take some agency and tried to find places where fellow nerdy people would gather so I could construct a friend group “from scratch”. But it seems like there’s no such places here. No gaming lounges, no TTRPG groups, nothing. I even tried looking for musicians to jam with, just to get SOME sort of social foothold, but no luck. How can there be no musicians looking for bandmates in a city with a music school? Unbelievable.

There was a gaming convention here recently that I did go to was chock-full of gamers and cosplayers, but I couldn’t really make any lasting connections with anybody. This just makes my friendship prospects even more dour, not to mention dating: I wasn’t about to “cold approach” the cosplayers, since I’m pretty sure they’re not going to conventions to get hit on by greasy nerds. As a matter of fact, nowadays it seems to be completely inappropriate for a man to approach a woman under almost any circumstances, let alone in the middle of an event known to attract consistently creepy, depraved and socially clueless men. Not to mention, most of these cosplayers were themselves accompanied by men, either boyfriends or “stand-ins” to keep male attention away. I also tried dating apps, but the very few matches I did get gave me back pain from carrying the conversation. I abhor the bar scene, and I don’t drink alcohol or enjoy sports, so bar-hopping isn’t really my ideal way to spend an evening.

So with years of teenage baggage and mistrust for women, no more friends for companionship, no more places to meet likeminded people, heck, not even a place where I can exercise my hobbies except for my own home, I’m stuck. I seem to have dug myself into a social rut and I’m lonelier than ever. It’s not even a matter of me having exhausted my options, it’s the fact that I seemingly have no options whatsoever, so if you have any advice on how I should begin to dig myself out of this situation, I’d be eternally grateful.

Social Dead-End

Here’s one thing you can do, right off the bat, SDE: you can stop referring to yourself as ‘beta’. Not only does the alpha/beta divide not actually exist in nature, but calling yourself “beta” does more to undermine your own success than almost anything else. Because you associate “beta” with undesirable/undatable/unfuckable, you’re ensuring that you’re only going to see people’s overtures as being out of pity or trickery. Case in point: “girls would flirt with me as a joke” and “I can’t help but feel that some of them were nice to me merely out of a sense of obligation of being nice to their boyfriends’ friend”.

These are classic examples of letting confirmation bias snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. You’re rewriting a narrative in your head based on the idea that you’re inherently undesirable — ‘a classic beta’, in your words — and ignoring the possibility that these are folks who genuinely like you. It’s easy to dismiss attention as “only for a joke” when you’re convinced that your very existence is an inconvenience to others; it’s a lot harder to believe that people might actually dig you despite the idea that “only cool or athletic guys” get attention or approval.

The truth is that women and girls — even girls in high-school, even the popular girls in high-school — aren’t a hive-mind, nor are they all strictly interested in Johnny Football Star or whatever. Plenty of girls, including the supposed queens of the school, are gonna look at a dude who isn’t Billy Quarterback and think he’s actually a pretty cool guy. Of course, if you believe that people aren’t going to like you, you’re going to dismiss this out of hand. You’ll see people trying to reach out and connect with you as a joke or a prank because you can’t believe in your own worth. And, just as importantly, you’ll be taking any setbacks as permanent, universal and proof positive that you’re just doomed to a life of singledom because reasons.

In fact, I’d recommend you listen to an episode of the Heavyweights podcast about Brandon — a self-described chubby weirdo who ended up being asked to prom by the most popular girl in his class. Decades later, he decided to reach out to find out just why she asked him to go to prom with her… and the answer is not what you might expect.

Now, I lead with this because, honestly, the majority of your issues are the result of how you see yourself. You’re starting from a base of “well, people couldn’t possibly like me,” which then spirals into pretty much every other aspect of your life. It’s a lot harder to meet folks and foster a relationship with them when your fundamental view is “it’s ok if you don’t like me; I wouldn’t like me either”. This makes it a lot harder for you to see signs that people are interested and even harder still to do something about it. It’s also why “I just have to do what I did last time,” isn’t always a successful strategy for finding a relationship.

I’d point to the “instant chemistry” you had with your first girlfriend: it was easier to accept because it didn’t feel like something you needed to actually put effort into. It “just happened”, rather than your going through the process of meeting someone, talking with them and building a relationship. And while I realize that, to some with a “I’m a beta” mindset, that sounds like “well, gotta convince someone to like me”, the reality is that this is precisely how you formed the other relationships in your life… like, say, your friends. You meet folks, you talk to them, you find out that you have things in common and you hang out with them. The more you hang out with them, the more you build that relationship from “strangers” to “acquaintances” to “friends”.

Another way this outlook can screw you over is when things go wrong. Part of the problem of having that negative “nobody likes me” mentality is that this attitude makes it that much harder to learn necessary lessons that come from failure. Your ex cheating on you, for example, isn’t a sign that she didn’t love or care about you; it’s a sign that she made a shitty decision that hurt you. While the fact that you become too busy to see her as often likely didn’t help, it’s not as though you picked her up and tossed her into her exes’ lap. She had agency, she made choices and she could’ve made different ones — such as, say, telling you that she was feeling neglected and wanted to see more of you. Could you have prevented this from happening? It’s literally impossible to say. However, her cheating isn’t about you, it was ultimately about her.

The same goes with your Wiccan/Satanist/Goth crush. This was a case where the signs were abundantly clear that she wasn’t into you romantically and, apparently, not a great person in general. You were getting a lot of “no’s” from her when she said she was too busy; that in and of itself was a sign that she just wasn’t feeling it. However, the fact that she would agree to dates and stand you up with no warning is a strong indicator that she’s also self-centered and wasn’t interested in giving you the respect of being honest with you. Recognizing this early on would’ve meant that you could’ve cut things off a lot earlier and saved yourself trouble and heartache. You can’t stop people from being shitty, but being willing to say “no, not gonna put up with this” would do you far more good, in the short and long term. Someone can’t reinforce your trust issues if you don’t allow them to abuse your trust in the first place, after all.

The result of all of this is that you’ve set yourself up to have disadvantage on your social skill checks; you’ve primed yourself to look on the dark side of life and so it’s a lot harder to see your opportunities and take full advantage of the ones that come up. You’ve created a very narrow field of potential friends for yourself and you’ve pre-rejected yourself in a lot of circumstances. I find it hard to believe that you’ve found the Town Without Nerds, especially if it’s a college town; I suspect that you may have dismissed a lot of options out of hand before you’ve put much effort into it. However, even if it’s the case that you’ve found a geek-free zone, the key is to broaden your horizons and look to areas that are at least related or compatible with your interests. The people you meet may not be the same flavor of geek as you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends. Getting too silo’d into “I can only be friends with/date folks who do X,  Y or Z” is a great way to cut your potential social pool down drastically.

It’s also important to remember that not finding something isn’t the same as it not existing; sometimes it just means that you’re looking in the wrong places. You may not necessarily have a lot of stores doing in-store TTRPG sessions, but I’m willing to bet that you’d find assorted Critters, D20 fans and other RPG enthusiasts in a multitude of places. Perhaps Meetups, book clubs or continuing education classes would be a good place to check. You may also want to check your local alt-weekly or your city’s subreddit to find out where the happening places and promising events might be.

However, even if you do go to those, part of what you need to focus on is to let go of your expectations and just be open to meeting people in general, rather than focusing like a laser on the most obvious or visible folks. If we take the gaming convention as an example, you were looking for love in the wrong places. Yes, you don’t want to be hitting on the cosplayers; leaving aside the hordes of shitty dudes who think that cosplay is an invitation, there’s also the fact that someone who’s cosplaying at a con — especially if they’re walking around with a minder/assistant/bodyguard — isn’t there to date; they’re there looking to express their love of their hobby. However, cosplayers aren’t the only women at cons, especially gaming conventions; I can promise you that there were many, many women in attendance, many of whom would likely have been interested in making new friends.

Honestly, starting off slow and just talking to folks — men and women — is how you build those friendships. Chatting with people while you wait in line at panels or to demo games, striking up conversations with people around you at the snack bar or social events at the con are how you start making connections and turning those connections into lasting relationships.

And if you can’t find the events where you could find your people, then perhaps the answer is to build it yourself. Rather than waiting around for someone else to provide you with opportunities, you may have to be the person to take the initiative and send up the flare for other lonely geeks in your area. Maybe you can start a tabletop boardgame night at your local coffeeshop. Perhaps you could organize a geeky gathering in the local park — a NERF war or other related get-togethers. Sometimes the answer is to be the person you wish was around,  organizing and creating shindigs to help bring your fellow geeks together.

But more than anything else? You need to work on your attitude and trust issues. If things are as rough as you say, then the best thing you could be doing for yourself would be to talk to someone — a counselor, a therapist, even doing some self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy like Mood Gym. The sooner you get that aspect of your mindset taken care of, the easier the rest will be. It’s important to remember that nobody else is going to heal those issues for you; the only person who’s going to ease those trust issues is you.

So before you go looking too hard for someone to love, make sure that you’re actually ready to love yourself. Everything else flows from there.

Good luck.

Dear Doctor NerdLove,

Wants to be at Peace from two years ago here. I wanted to give an update and what happened since.

First, a very belated thank you from me. Your answer helped to came to the same conclusion as you, but it also kinda give me all the feeling I suppressed for a long time and I had to work through that. I‘m still torn between being angry, disgusted, disappointed and feeling empathy for that person, but that‘s part of the healing process. I also accepted that I‘m actually into kinky, rough sex, while still wanting that we both have a good time. Didn‘t help that my first experiences are such a double-edged sword, but I sleep better at night and I am able to clearer tell potential dates, what I‘m into.

Speaking of dating: in the last two years I was in contact with several women and most of them shared certain similarities. Mostly, that they were very insecure, one time it even turned into a case of sexual harassment (at least I think it‘s not okay to send me tit pics, after we agreed to not talk about sex, because she felt uncomfortable, she said). Overall it was very exhausting, but I also felt, that my defenses are still up and I still don‘t have two very important requirement for having a stable relationship in Germany: earning real money and living alone. I don‘t mean that they are gold diggers, I mean that I am 32 year old university student, that still lives with his parents and has meager part-time job, which is still a sign of immaturity here and I agree, that it is already expensive enough to pay your own bills. Living in a small town at the arse of Germany doesn‘t help either.

I also recognized, that with most women I have still my defenses up and I‘m tired of likes from parts of the world where I‘ll never be, because lack of money (if I can believe the site I‘m very attractive for women from African and asian countries. I don‘t believe it). So I deleted my OkCupid account and will concentrate on finally earning real money and taking care of two foster kittens that I adopted and who do wonders for my mental health.

Because I started therapy again and it‘s still hard, but I found good medication and I now think more clearer then a few years ago and I want to spend time on things that are real. The kittens are real and I think taking care of them will help me to let somebody get close to me again and taking care of something besides myself always motivated me.

I don‘t know if it will ever be stable enough for a real job, but right now I feel better than two years ago. That‘s something.

Best wishes

Is A Bit At Peace  

Thanks for writing back and letting us know how you’re doing IBAP. I’m glad you’re improving and that you’ve got your new kittens to help smooth out your life. I hope you’re still going to therapy; that’s especially going to help you deal with what happened to you as well as zoom in on why your recent encounters involved women who were either not in a good place, emotionally, or who seemed willing to ignore your boundaries. Learning to recognize those patterns and break them will go a long way to helping you meet the right people. It’ll also help you with your sense of self-esteem and instability; as I said to Social Dead-End, learning to love yourself goes a long way towards making it easier to find people for you to love.

In the meantime: I’m glad things are better now than they were two years ago. Here’s to hoping that progress continues for you.

Good luck!