In her former life, Emily “Gynomite” Gordon was a couples and family therapist licensed in 2 1/2 states. In this life, she’s a freelance fighter of your emotional woes with Ask Gynomite. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org- all emails stay confidential. Today, Gynomite takes on being alone, enjoying it, and feeling weird about it.
I’m a nerd. A very shy nerd. A very shy nerd with social anxiety. Honestly, I’ve only really gotten comfortable having a large number of friends at once in the last few years (I just turned 30 so this is pretty late to be getting to that point). I can talk to people fine when I’m introduced to them, it’s just the rest of it that’s awful. Anyway, the thought of a relationship (casual or longterm) still makes me extremely anxious and aside from a couple relatively brief brushes with what I guess we can call dating in high school and college, I’ve never really had one. I think in addition to the whole shyness and anxiety thing, I also hate the way I look and I would just feel uncomfortable though I am trying to work on that. Besides that, I feel like even fellow nerds are really only interested in hot girls who usually aren’t even into the same things they are (and that’s fine, but again I’m left puzzled!). On top of that, I can’t imagine spending that much time with anyone. Even my best friends start to grate on my nerves if I see them too often. To be fair, the last time someone showed interest I panicked and pretended I didn’t know about it.
I guess my question is how do I ever get to the point where in my 30s I can actual be kind of normal and have a boyfriend? How do people even get there? Am I totally pathetic? I’m scared of being “forever alone”.
Part of this is that you just haven’t had much practice at it. Relationships, especially romantic ones, are just using a set of skills with different people, over and over, until it feels comfortable and like not an effort. The big scary question, whether or not the person you decide to commit to is “the one” or just that you’ve been doing relationship stuff long enough that you feel comfortable, is one of the great mysteries of the world. My opinion is that it’s a tiny bit of both. Relating to another human being, no matter how dreamy they are, takes a certain amount of compromise and letting go, and if you have not had to do that a ton, it feels lame.
What I will not allow you to do is to besmirch nerd dudes so much. Sure, they like to look at hot girls who wear fake glasses, but ultimately, a good dude will be into you for who you are and not your collection of fake vintage Star Wars shirts. Not-good dudes come in nerd form too though. But don’t blame the guys here, because what you are dealing with is a shit ton of self doubt.
My recommendation to you, and to anyone, is to get yourself to a good therapist. Not because there’s something wrong with you, but to help you sort through your feelings about yourself, and other people, and relationships. There’s nothing magical I can tell you here that will make you tolerate social interaction more, but what I get from your email was a sense of “panic” about having to be intimately involved with another person. That panic is what would be good to work on, because if you’re scared of intimacy, but also scared of being alone, you’re just scared all the time.
A good therapist can help you with your social anxiety, help you figure out why intimacy frightens you, and help you with your self esteem too- as long as you are upfront with him/her. This will be a process that will be somewhat scary, and difficult, and ever-evolving, but it will also be very rewarding. Then you’ll be free to get into relationships with people without being concerned about where it will lead- you will certainly fuck up a bunch, as do we all, but you’ll hurt for a day or so and then get back out there, brave and badass, as nerds must be.
Good luck to you.