I’m Afraid That My Love Life Will Never Get Better!

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I'm Afraid That My Love Life Will Never Get Better!

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Estimated reading time: 17 minutes

:  Dear Dr. NerdLove,

I am a 33 year old heterosexual Caucasian male living in the Midwest. I work a federal government job with decent pay and good benefits, I have several hobbies including music and weightlifting, and I’m college educated with no student or credit card debt. I’m writing you because I feel like my dating and sex life has hit a dead end and I’m worried things will not get better for me.

I’ve had only two real experiences with women so far in my life, both of which involved fairly awkward circumstances. The first was an LTR almost a decade ago with my former best friend’s then-girlfriend’s triplet sister and that quickly fell apart after we found out we voted for different people in the 2016 presidential election (let’s just say I wasn’t the one who voted for Trump). The second was a fling that happened within the last year with a wealthy super-attractive woman I knew from a bar from my hometown who took a liking to me. She even invited me over to her house to hook up in her hot tub. The fling lasted only a few months and that didn’t end well either. I’m still dealing with the fallout from that situation to the point where I now feel like I need to see a therapist. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if I did something wrong along the way in both situations. Outside of that, I’m pretty much invisible to women.

I’m on the autism spectrum and I’ve struggled my whole life with dating and connecting with other people. Even though I’m not a virgin, I still feel like one sometimes. Perhaps I’ve been on social media sites like Reddit a little too much but some of the stuff I see on some of the dating subs is the struggles of other autistic people and how hopeless they sound when it comes to dating and I remember seeing from some survey somewhere that only 5% of autistic men have ever been married. There are probably some nuances that weren’t mentioned from the survey but still, that’s alarming! The other thing that bothers me too is I’ve noticed that autistic men are vulnerable to incel and Red Pill ideologies which I flat out reject but still worry that, given my situation and relative lack of experience, I’m going to fall down that rabbit hole and become something I don’t want to be. It’s also not entirely untrue that the older you get, the harder it is to get into a relationship, especially if you don’t have much dating experience. People assume there’s something broken or wrong with you and I feel like my experience, or lack thereof, will make it even more difficult. In other words, my dating and marriage prospects look bleak.

I know I shouldn’t get down on myself for having autism but it really does feel sometimes like my love life is a dead end because of my condition. I watch my friends get into relationships, get married, and have kids and I’m the one who’s always single, even though, thankfully, my friends stay by my side through everything. I should mention too that most of my friends are women so it’s not like I wouldn’t accept a woman as a platonic friend. Not having enough sex and dating experience is going to work against me and I feel like if I ever do get into another relationship, I’m just going to get used. I’ve made so many changes over the years to make myself a better and more interesting man and person and I’m starting to feel like it was all for naught. It almost feels like I was sentenced to death due to genetics.

I’ve been following your blog almost religiously since my fling ended and I’ve learned that you’re an empathetic, understanding, and nonjudgmental person. I know I just dumped a lot on you but I was wondering if you can help me feel better about my situation and also disprove the toxic incel shit that seems to becoming more and more mainstream in our culture. If you can’t, I understand, but any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Best,

Autistic and Afraid

Alright AAA, I want to preface this by saying that I’m not dismissing your worries. What you’re feeling is real and the fact that you’re feeling it is legitimate. There’s no question of that. But there’s a reason why we say things like “feels are not reals”; feeling something isn’t the same as it being true. This is especially the case when it comes to dealing with fears and anxieties. Anxiety is inherently irrational and based on imagined scenarios, not reality; that’s why we call it “anxiety”.

The problem when we take our anxieties as fact, rather than as a feeling, is that it becomes very easy to reinforce those fears. Our brains are almost custom-built for that purpose. The negativity bias that everyone has means that our negative thoughts and experiences have 5 times the impact of positive ones; it literally takes five positive interactions or experiences to equal the impact of a negative one. At the same time, confirmation bias means that we tend to give greater credence or import to things that reinforce what we already believe and dismiss the things that go against what we believe. Put those two things together and it becomes all too easy to get a completely distorted picture of both the world around us and our own experiences. All of which is to say that the call is coming from inside the house, AAA, and part of getting better is going to be ripping the phone off of the wall and chucking it out a window.

Case in point: you’ve had two fairly significant romantic and sexual relationships in the recent past. Hell, with the later one, she picked you up. That, again, suggests that what you’re worried about isn’t actually true. Clearly they were turbulent experiences and didn’t end the way you would’ve preferred, but those are pretty significant proof that you’re not invisible to women. An an unpleasant break up or a rough relationship don’t mean that you’re unfuckable, nor do they mean that you’re stuck on a one-way, dead-end road to love. It just means that those relationships weren’t great for you; that’s a very different thing entirely.

If anything, what those mean is that you have more potential than you give yourself credit for. Approaching things more deliberately and with more intention would get you much better outcomes than what seems like the more passive approach you’ve taken. But part of being more intentional in your dating is going to require recognizing what’s real and what parts are the brain weasels stomping on your anxiety buttons.

I mean, you say it yourself: you’re not a virgin. You’ve had relationships. And yet, you still treat yourself not just like you’re a virgin (a neutral state of being, neither good nor bad) but a stereotype of an older virgin. You’re making broad assumptions that not only aren’t true, but aren’t even true about you. You are erasing your own circumstances because they don’t line up with the idea you’re holding onto about what it means to be a virgin.

Logically speaking, you should be able to look at just the basic data set that is your life and see that this isn’t true. But this isn’t about logic. This is about emotion. So part of what you need to do is start addressing the emotions you’re feeling.

The first thing to do is very simple and very obvious: you need to stop feeding that negativity. Negative emotions are self-reinforcing as it is – that confirmation bias I mentioned – but your behaviors are making it worse. This is why one of the best things you can do for yourself is something that I tell people all the time: get the fuck off the Internet, go outside and touch grass. I’m not being dismissive here, nor am I tossing out a pat response. Part of your problem is that you’re engaging in behaviors that are counterproductive for you and are giving you a distorted picture of the world and of yourself. Most of what you’re doing online is just reinforcing your anxieties based on fun-house mirror reflections of the world, not reality.

TikTok and YouTube are prime examples. What you see there isn’t an objective measure of reality. It’s a measure of what the algorithm decides to show you, based on what you’ve seen and based on the profile it’s concocted out of generalizations about your demographic. If you’ve interacted with videos about how it’s impossible to date as an autistic person or how people like you are doomed to die alone and unloved, you’re going to get served more videos that deliver similar messages; the algo has decided this is what you’re into. And when you see this message repeated over and over again by people speaking in an authoritative manner, it’s very easy to start assuming that this must be the truth.

The same goes for social media. Reddit is a phenomenal resource, yes, but it’s also incredibly counterproductive in other areas. One of the things that folks often forget or don’t realize is that, like most of the Internet, Reddit is optimized for engagement, not utility and nothing prompts engagement like negativity. It’s that negativity bias I mentioned; people are more likely to respond to something negative or provocative than something positive. This is especially true on sub-reddits that deal with relationships and dating struggles. By their very nature, you’re going to see complaints and ressentiment (and fuck off autocorrect, that’s absolutely the word I mean) more than positive stories or happy outcomes. People aren’t writing into r/relationshipadvice or r/datingstrategies because things are going well, after all, and folks are far more likely to respond with commiseration (“yeah, I can’t do X either”), amplification (“You think you have it hard? Well I have it worse because…”) or negative reinforcement (“It’s impossible, this study says that…”).

It also has the effect of spreading misinformation – both deliberately and inadvertently. Case in point: you vaguely remember a survey about how many autistic people get married and the number is incredibly low. Ok… but that’s a vague memory. Can you be sure that it actually said what you think it said, or are you remembering more how it made you feel and the memory is being reshaped by that? And just as importantly: are you sure that the data was correct, complete and relevant to your circumstances?

It’s worth remembering that data, even accurate data, is not the same as information. Surveys and studies and polls can be useful, but it’s important to remember that what you see is often what’s being reported, not what they actually said. One of the common issues with many studies that supposedly “prove” awful things about relationships is that they’re based on small, poorly vetted samples (frequently college students, predominantly straight, cis and white) and draw conclusions that aren’t supported by either the data or even the focus of the study. A study that says only 5% of autistic people get married? Ok… give me more details. What’s the time frame, what’s the sample size, what are they using as a definition of “autistic”, is it including people who may not have gotten married but are in or have had relationships? Is it including people who have been married but have since gotten divorced or widowed?

Relatedly, there’s also an echo-chamber effect in many of these communities. Trying to stand out often requires taking a more strident or more extreme stance – like the varying flavors of the Red Pill and incel communities with their escalating rhetoric of misogyny and toxic ideas of masculinity. This is both the nature of the community but also deliberate behavior on the part of people who benefit from people like you feeling like you have little to no hope; they heighten the problem and then offer to either give you someone to blame or sell you the solution. Part of why Andrew Tate frames things to such extreme levels isn’t because he’s spitting the truth, it’s because he’s trying to drive the despair even harder to make you feel worse so that you’ll be more likely to buy into his grift.

By deliberately stepping away from all of this, you cut off not just a source of negative reinforcement for yourself, but from the very rabbit holes you’re afraid you’re going to fall down. As the sage once said: “remember, best block no be there.” Or to put it another way: can’t fall down the black pill rabbit hole if you don’t go near where you’re going to encounter those rabbit holes.

Now this doesn’t mean abandoning the Internet entirely like you’re starting the Butlerian Jihad. It means being mindful of your usage of it and paying attention to what you pay attention to. Your brain, like your body, responds to what you feed it. Feed it negativity, you’re going to feel more negative. Feed it positivity, you’re going to feel better about yourself. But a lot, if not most, of that positivity is going to have to come from you. If you’re just consuming things passively and waiting for positive reinforcement to come to you, you’re going to be waiting a long, long time and you’re going to encounter the negative far more readily and easily.

You have to be an active participant in your own life – not just in things like pursuing relationships but also in managing and cultivating how you feel about yourself. You’re going to have to start being your own best friend and hype man for yourself, rather than waiting for others to provide you with external validation and reinforcement. That means hyping yourself up, complimenting yourself, highlighting the things that you like about yourself and that make you awesome, while simultaneously downplaying, mitigating and otherwise diminishing the things that you think make you lesser. You’re not some doomed loser, you’re a guy who got picked up by a rich socialite for the sort of tumultuous affairs that are usually fodder for soap operas, romance novels and film noir!

You have relatively little relationship experience? So? It doesn’t mean you’re broken, it just means that you haven’t had a lot of relationships. That’s it. You’re autistic? Ok… that’s just part of what makes you unique and special, not worse than other people. Does it mean that you have disadvantages? Sure… but like the X-Men, that’s because of a world that refuses to understand you, not because there’s something inherently wrong with you.

You need to also start recognizing when you’re repeating bullshit that you absorbed from others, not truth. The idea that your short relationship resume indicates something negative about you is a meme, not reality. It’s self-reinforcing bullshit; you hear it, you assume it applies to you, you behave accordingly and oh look, people respond to how you behave. Reframe it in your head; you have relatively little relationship experience because your previous experiences have taught you to be choosy and cautious about who you give your heart and time to because people have treated you badly in the past. The fact that you’re willing to continue looking for love despite that past treatment is a marker that you have hope and that you recognize that a couple of bad relationships don’t define you or your prospects… just those other people.

Now I do think it would be beneficial for you to go to therapy. You don’t give details but it does sound like you’ve got some wounds left over from those experiences and emotional wounds are just as likely to fester if left untreated as physical ones. But soaking those wounds in the toxic waste of the Internet’s underbelly will guarantee that they turn septic; stepping away from there is part of how you disinfect them. So too is engaging with people in reality, meeting them as individuals rather than taking what a subset of a subset of a niche population says is THE TRVTH with little evidence and a lot of cognitive bias.

You’re not doomed to get used and abused, you’re not fated to never know love because you haven’t crossed some imaginary threshold of “must have X number of girlfriends to qualify”. You’re just holding on to a lot of unnecessary pain and grief, much of which is being foisted on you by others who need you to buy into their beliefs to validate their misery or pad their bottom line. You’re doing far better than you give yourself credit for and you have more potential than you let yourself believe. Stop listening to the haters, stop soaking in other people’s misery and bullshit and start celebrating yourself.

You’ll be ok. I promise.

All will be well.


Hi. I’m currently 22 years old and have just gone through a break up. My ex-girlfriend broke up with me claiming that she fell out of love.

I took it quite badly and tried several conversations with her to understand why. She said I was good and perfect to her. I always felt like I tried my best I even went up twice to see her when she was spending 4 months to study abroad. I gave her time and attention and care.

Sometimes I think maybe I was too perfect? Maybe me being too nice and giving her what she always wanted pushed her back? I really loved her with all my heart and was willing to give up anything for her.

It’s been very hard for me to move on, she even told me to so I don’t have false hope. I was her first boyfriend and her first love she always wanted to wait for someone special.

What happened and what do I do?

Loved And Lost

DEAR LOVED AND LOST: I’m sorry you’re dealing with this LaL; no break up is pleasant and a break up that feels like it came screaming out of the clear blue sky can be nightmarish. It can feel even worse in some ways when you have no idea what happened or why outside of the nebulous and nagging notion that it’s your fault… somehow.

Which is why what I’m about to say is going to be frustrating but I want you to listen anyway: trying to figure out what happened isn’t going to help you. What you should be doing is working on accepting that it happened and moving forward with your life.

Here’s the thing: you’re not going to get answers about why she’s fallen out of love or what you could’ve done differently, nor will they help you. Your ex isn’t going to be able to tell you why things shook out the way they did. Whatever she tells you now would likely either be a guess, or what she assumes you would want to hear, not what actually happened. The odds are very good that she doesn’t know, herself and won’t fully know until much later, if at all.

There could be a thousand reasons or no reasons whatsoever. Maybe you were too giving – as weird as that may sound. Maybe she was afraid of losing herself in the relationship and pulled back. Or maybe it’s just the case that – seeing as this is her first relationship – she didn’t know about things like New Relationship Energy and the way the honeymoon period ends. Or maybe it’s just a relationship that ran its course and reached its natural conclusion… even though you wish it could’ve gone on longer.

The truth is that right now, the odds are good that she doesn’t have all the answers or the distance and perspective to draw a meaningful conclusion. Even if she did, that doesn’t mean that there was anything that you could’ve done differently. And even if there were things that you could’ve done differently, that doesn’t mean that there’s anything you can do about it now. Getting hung up on what happened or why is often as much about trying to get a second chance or at least some validation and closure as it is about knowing what to do in the future. But closure is ultimately something you give yourself; you have to decide that it’s time to draw the curtain on this and get comfortable with the idea that you may never know the whole story… just as you may never know the whole story of many things in your life.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to focus on recovery and moving forward. A lot of that is going to be some effective self-care. Part of why break ups feel so painful – literally painful – is because you’re going through withdrawal. While you were with her, you were having regular doses of oxytocin and dopamine shooting into the pleasure centers of your brain. Now that she’s gone, you no longer get those happy-drugs; you’ve been cut off by your dealer.

So now, part of your recovery will be finding new and different sources for dopamine and oxytocin. This includes things like physical touch – getting a massage, for example – or spending time with the people who love and care for you. Laughter is a great source of dopamine and oxytocin. So too is exercise, fresh air and sunshine. Taking time to take care of yourself and do positive things – deep cleaning your apartment, going for long walks in nature, taking time to reconnect with friends and engage your support network – go a long way to blunting the pain of that loss and reminding you that as much as it sucks right now, life does go on.

You’re going to be sad. That’s ok; let yourself be sad. Just don’t wallow in that sadness and let things fall apart. Let the sadness be cleansing, washing out the wound so that it can heal cleanly. Recognize that as much as it feels bad right now, that feeling is temporary. The pain and sense of loss will diminish; slowly at first, but faster than you realize, if you let it. Before long, you’ll realize that you haven’t been feeling that pain for a while and it’ll be significant for its absence. But even then, that sensation will fade and despite how it feels in this moment, you’ll be back to normal.

As the bard said, you loved not wisely but too well. It’s a shame that it ended this way, but it won’t be the last relationship you ever have. There will be love in the future. But for now, focus on healing and moving on. The pain will fade. I promise.

All will be well.

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