It’s Impossible For Me To Meet New People!

It's Impossible For Me To Meet New People!


Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

Dear Dr. NerdLove:

I’m honestly quite tired of being alone but have no idea how to go about fixing it. I have an extremely strict “don’t speak unless spoken to” policy for very good reasons. I’m ND, older, socially awkward, and most importantly, male-presenting. I know full well that if I tried speaking to anyone uninvited, it’d most likely go poorly. At best I’d be politely told to go away and to fuck off, and at worst I’d leave them feeling uncomfortable, fearful, and angry. Because no positive outcome could possibly arise, the ethical calculus dictates that I simply don’t talk to people, ever, unless they actually want me to.

Unfortunately I don’t really know what else to do. Hobby groups have left me feeling just as alone. Going online has left me feeling like I’m screaming at the void as everyone inevitably abandons me. All my friends left a long time ago. Dating apps, the one avenue where explicit consent to speak to one another is present, has gone nowhere, because I’m so unattractive and disgusting that no person has ever matched with me, at least on purpose, because they never respond on the rare occasion I try initiating.

So I’m absolutely at my wit’s end here. How am I expected to meet people? We live in a world where ladies would rather be approached by a bear than a guy after all, but I’m too unattractive for them to approach me. I’d much rather be alone forever than make even one person uncomfortable, but I still long for companionship, so how am I supposed to square this circle?

Hedgehog’s Dilemma

OK, HD, this is one of those times when there’s not really much point in going into the details, because the underlying premise is wrong. But before I do, I want to thank you for giving me an opening to rant about something timely: the man vs. bear question and how everyone is getting it wrong. Don’t worry, I will be answering your question, but this is actually relevant and part of the issue you’re having.

The ”Man Vs. Bear” thing, for those of you who are blessedly less online than me, is fairly simple: a TikToker filmed themselves asking various women who they would rather encounter in the woods: a bear or a man. Only one woman said “a man”, the rest said “a bear”. Then the video broke containment and rocketed all over the web to become the Discourse Du Jour – in no small part because a whole lotta dudes started telling on themselves by getting pissed off that women were saying “well OF COURSE the bear.”

Now, the reason why women were saying they would rather pick the bear is fairly simple: bears, for the most part, want to avoid humans. Unless the bear feels like you’re threatening it or its cubs, bears would rather avoid contact. Even grizzlies, who are more aggressive than black bears, don’t tend to attack humans unprovoked. Men, on the other hand, are rather notorious for being aggressive, even violent towards women with minimal provocation. As many women pointed out: bears, for example aren’t going to get upset that women wouldn’t make eye-contact with them, nor would they choose violence if a woman chose not to interact with them. On the other hand, there’s a long and detailed history of men doing precisely that. Same with men actively following women around, refusing to take “go away” for an answer and getting increasingly angry that women refused to interact with them at all.

In fact, it’s kind of telling when many of the men who got upset about this choice immediately pivoted to expressing violent fantasies about the women being punished for this choice – usually murder or brutal maiming.

The whole point of the meme isn’t about a literal encounter in the woods (despite the number of “um, well ACKSHULLY” people inventing elaborate scenarios of bears being aggressive towards humans), nor is it about the difficulties of a man approaching people he might want to talk to. It’s about how the behavior of many, many men and the near-universality of women having experiences with strange men acting in a threatening manner towards them makes women feel like they need to be incredibly cautious. The guys who pivoted to violent revenge fantasies end up actually confirming that women who would rather encounter a bear in the woods were making the correct choice.

(As an aside, there are a couple of interesting videos where women turn this around on their male partners, asking how they would feel about their daughter encountering a bear vs. a strange man in the woods… and then asking would they rather their daughter encounter a bear or a woman.)

But much like the folks who feel the need to respond “Not All Men”, this is very much a case of “are they describing you? No? Then it’s not about you”. And – I told you I would bring this back around to your question – holding it up as evidence of why it’s impossible for you to meet new people is very much missing the entire point.

Now, let’s get back to what I said at the start: that the premise of your question is wrong. The problem you’re having, the source that all of these issues spring from, is your policy of “don’t speak unless spoken to”. On its surface, this seems reasonable, even noble: you don’t want to upset or bother people. In reality, however, it’s about you, not other people. This isn’t “I respect women so much that I refuse to interact with them at all,” it’s self-protection; you’re protecting yourself against the fear and discomfort of rejection. All you’re doing is giving yourself a noble-sounding reason to never bother putting yourself out there, ever. This isn’t ethical calculus. This isn’t the Utilitarian philosophy in action. This is you deciding that there’s absolutely no chance of success and so you justify inaction instead. But since inaction works against your stated goal – not being lonely – you dress it up as “so let other people do the work for me”.

And, as I’m always fond of asking: how’s that working out for you?

Here’s the thing: yes, we still live in a culture, even in the far-flung future of 2024, where men are expected to do most of the initiating. Social conditioning is a motherfucker and there’re still shitty people who not only are invested in enforcing traditional gender roles and behaviors but many who feel that we need to regress back to the 17th century at the minimum. There are a lot of disincentives for women to make the first move.

But even if we lived in a society with full gender equality and equity, where sex and gender were irrelevant in terms of social roles… that still requires being an active participant in the process. Even in this luxury automated space communism future where all genders are equal, you still can’t sit back and wait for people to come to you or you’ll be waiting a long, long time.

But here’s the thing: here in the world as it actually is, being passive isn’t going to work. I’ve written a lot about how men can get women to approach them, but one of the keys to this is making the effort to be approachable. This means things like “dressing well” and making sure that you’re taking care of your presentation and hygiene, but it also means being warm, inviting and friendly. Nobody – not men, not women, not non-binary folks – is going to be invested in trying to drag someone out of their shell when that person is giving off every fuck-off-I-don’t-want-to-talk signal out there. The guy standing in the corner with his arms folded, either glaring at everyone else in envy or just staring at his shoes, is not giving any indication that he’s someone that people would want to talk to. They’re actively saying “stay away”, and the only people who will ignore this and want to bring him to a wonderful world of love, sex and dating only exist in movies.

So even if you have decided to live a life that is entirely reactionary – only responding to those who approach you, first – you have to put the effort in to be approachable. Which, seeing as how you’ve decided that success would be impossible in the first place, you aren’t. And even if you were, you’re still going to be waiting a very, very long time because this requires active involvement on your part – you still have to be social, you still have to be going out and getting involved in the world and with other people and social groups. Because, again, nobody is going to be actively seeking you out ex nihilo. Being out in the world, interacting with people and generally being a social being is part of how folks who see you will gauge whether they want to talk to you or not.

So if you want to stop being lonely, you’re going to have to let go of the “only speak when spoken to” rule… and you’re going to have to let go of the idea that the only possible outcome is failure. Right now, you’re right. That is the only possible outcome. Not because you’re fucked by the fickle finger of fate but because you’ve decided this is the case.

This is what we in the dating biz call “a self-fulfilling prophecy”. You assume that failure is the only possibility, so when you talk to someone – regardless of who initiated the conversation – you’re already coming to this from a position of having already been rejected. You won’t be responding with warmth or charisma, you won’t be showing your best self and you won’t believe any signs that someone might actually like you. You’ll half-ass the interaction at best because why bother investing the time and energy if the best outcome is a slightly less-bad failure? But it’s that half-assedness that dooms the interaction; nobody is going to be so invested that they’ll overlook that lack of ass or supply the other half. And so things go nowhere at best, and you decide that this has confirmed your finger-fucked-ness and thus the cycle repeats.

Wanting to date, to find friends or companionship requires that you bring the entire ass to the table.

The things you list as demerits: being neurodivergent, being socially awkward… these aren’t disqualifiers. They’re not signs that you’re doomed. They can be challenges, yes… but “challenge” isn’t the same as “impossible”, nor are they insurmountable challenges. Social awkwardness part anxiety and part skill issue – a lack of familiarity and comfort with the situation. Both can be addressed and mitigated – anxiety through mental health care, breathing and self-care, and skill through deliberate practice. But to do this, you have to let go of the idea that causing even the smallest iota of discomfort is The Unforgivable Sin.

Here is a truth: there is no world in which people exist without causing even the slightest discomfort or inconvenience. Humans are individuals and individual wants and needs mean that sometimes we bump against one another. But discomfort isn’t permanent, nor is it crippling or the worst thing ever, nor is it unforgivable. We want to do our best to make any actual discomfort is temporary and minimal, sure, but to exist in the world is to recognize that friction will occur and that’s ok.

Most of the friction you worry about is so minor and inconsequential that people won’t remember it five seconds after it happens, nor will they hold it against you if they do. If, for example, you try to strike up a conversation with someone who just isn’t interested in talking, they’re not going to go to The Grey Council and have you exiled from polite society. If you take the hint, apologize (literally “ah, sorry to bother you”) and move on? That’s going to be it. You haven’t ruined their day. You haven’t thrown off their groove. They’re not going to spend the next five minutes – never mind the day – grousing to themselves about you. They’re going to go back to whatever they’re doing and that’ll be the end of it.

The same goes for asking someone on a date. If that is literally all you’re doing, saying “Hey, I’d like to take you on a date”, and if they say no, you say “No problem, have a nice day” and move on? They’re not going to be scared or upset. They’re going to go about their day, same as they would have.

But remember what I said about social skills being a skill and one that’s improved with deliberate practice? Well guess what? That’s the only way to improve. You can’t learn virtually, you can’t practice with bots and you can’t just upload the skill to your brain. You can’t learn how to play basketball by playing NBA2k24, you have to actually go practice the physical skills of dribbling, passing, shooting, etc. You can’t learn how to socialize just by reading or studying theory; you have to go out and socialize with people. And just as learning to play basketball means accepting that you aren’t going to be the NBA’s #1 draft pick the first time you ever lace up your shoes, practicing your social skills means that, yes, you’re going to have awkward moments. But that’s ok; 99% of the time nobody is going to notice or care and the 1% they notice, the vast majority of people will forgive it. Everyone has had awkward moments and everyone capable of empathy can understand them.

Now, there’re ways of making that practice easier – primarily by socializing with like-minded people. This is where hobby groups, meetups and classes are invaluable; you’re surrounding yourself with people who have similar interests and goals, which makes the initial breaking of the ice that much easier. You have some immediate commonalities to relate to, which means you have things to talk about. This also makes it much easier to find friends – those scheduled events help ensure that you’re spending the time it takes to go from strangers to friends. And the skills it takes to make friends are the same skills it takes to find lovers.

But just as importantly: you have to love yourself. The way you run yourself down right from the jump is the other reason why you’re failing. If you don’t love yourself, don’t see the value in yourself and don’t see the potential in yourself, then you’re not going to be able to convey those to other people. Nor will you be as able, or even willing, to accept love and affection from others. You’ll be too busy looking for the hook to believe that someone could legitimately care.

So my suggestions? Well, as I do so often, I’d suggest therapy to work on your self-esteem. You might want to look into a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help address the anxiety you have; CBT is very good for dealing with social anxiety and intrusive thoughts.

But more than that, you need to be willing to accept that people would want to talk to you, to both present yourself as someone people would want to talk to andto talk to them. Because until you do? You’re going to be waiting a very, verylong time.

You have to be an active participant in your on life. Sitting on the sidelines means that you’re just going to be sitting while life passes you by. You have agency. You have choice. You have influence. You can choose to improve, or you can choose to stay exactly as you are. And where you are right now isn’t working.

It’s all up to you.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been dating this girl for weeks now and we were good at first, but after like a week, she started behaving awkward, she doesn’t even call me, but I do call her, she doesn’t seem like she’s interested in the relationship, she doesn’t seem like she loves me, when we chat, she hardly calls me sweet names and I’ve talked to her about her behavior and asked her if she’s still in love with me and she always says yes, that she still loves me, but her actions doesn’t show that she does.

Even when I decided not to call her for days, she didn’t bother calling me.

Should I leave the relationship, should I give her a break because I can’t take it anymore.

A Touch Too Much

I have a whole lot of questions, ATTM, but honestly, I don’t think many of them matter. I think there’s a very fundamental disconnect in this… I hesitate to call it a relationship. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but I’m going to go ahead and say it’s not “dating”.

Some of this is a matter of mismatched expectations. Calling someone pet names isn’t a definitive part of a relationship. Lots of people do have pet names for their partners. Many don’t, and that’s OK. That’s just how they are. Many people want to talk or text with one another every day; others don’t. Some people are bad at initiating contact for many reasons; others aren’t. Again: that’s OK. People are going to vary, and it’s better to accept folks as they are than to get upset about who they aren’t.

If, for example, someone calling you “sweetie” or “darling” is important from a partner, then you’re better off dating someone who does that or understands that this is important to you than to get upset that it doesn’t come up organically.

But there’re other things here that make me wonder just how much you’ve rounded things up to “love” and “dating” and if your erstwhile sweetie disagrees. Because quite frankly, there’s a lot here that makes me think that this relationship is almost entirely one-sided.

Leaving aside the fact that it sounds far too early for you two to declare that you’re in love (seriously, you’ve only been dating for a few weeks), if within the first week she stops returning your calls and isn’t behaving like she’s in a relationship, then something is off. And I mean “either you missed something critically important” or “this is the most passive-aggressive break-up ever” levels of off.

The same goes for her not calling you or reaching out after going radio silent for days. To be sure: that’s a pretty bad way to handle a relationship conflict in general and especially one where you’re worried that you’re in a one-sided relationship. After all, your not calling for days could tell her that you are upset at her, which may confuse the issue further. But the fact that you’re doing this with absolutely no response? Yeah, that’s weird.

But, regardless of whether you haven’t recognized a one-sided relationship or if everyone did enter into this in good faith, there’s an important thing to consider: if you’ve had discussions about a problem in your relationship and nothing has changed? Especially if you’re having the same discussions about the same problems over and over? Then the relationship is already over. Someone has checked out. Either they don’t care about the relationship or they don’t care to change things or they don’t see any of it as a problem and feel no need to even say that. At that point, the relationship is dead. It may still be moving around like its alive, but it’s a zombie, a shambling corpse that only resembles something living. The best thing you can do then is to put two in its dome and let it die for good.

That, I think is where you are. Regardless of whether you’re the only one who thinks you’re in a relationship or not, this is relationship is done. The best thing you can do is make it official. You don’t need to send a final accounting of all of her supposed sins, nor should you. It’s pointless at best and only serves to salve your ego, while possibly causing unnecessary pain or discomfort for her.

Send a last text saying “this isn’t working for me, so I’m ending this, best of luck to you” and then just move on. And next time, make sure that you and your future partners are on the same page about what you want from a relationship, but whether you’re even in one in the first place.

Good luck.