Dating advice for an inexperienced neurotic person
December 8, 2014 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I've been using OkCupid for a few months now and have been on around 4 dates with different people. I (22) started talking to a woman (also 22) last month and we really hit it off online. We've met up twice now and had a lot of fun together (both dates were over 6 hours long) and we ended up kissing the last time we were together. At the end of the second date we talked about meeting up again, however I'm having serious doubts and anxiety.

The best way to describe it would be that I don't think she has an unattractive face/body etc. but I can't stop questioning how attracted to her I am. I'll keep looking at her face and photos of her and picking up on perceived imperfections/things I don't like e.g. the shape of her nose, followed by self-questioning. This makes me feel really harsh and shallow and that I can't trust myself or know if I'm self-sabotaging.

She's been very open with me about mental health issues (something I can relate to) and past trauma. These aren't deal breakers at all but make me a little wary since I find it hard to struggle with my own problems at times. She also seems really into me and messages me every day, which comes across as a little too intense compared to being single (maybe this is normal I don't know). She seems a lot more into me than I am into her probably partially because of this anxiety and doubt. I didn't feel a particular spark when we kissed, it was nice though.

Her personality is very similar to mine and we have very similar political ideas and media taste, she's also very kind, empathetic and caring - traits I highly value.

To add a little context, I had similar anxieties and worries in my previous relationship and was always questioning my attraction to my previous girlfriend (again she wasn't unattractive but I constantly questioned if I was attracted to her). So I'm not sure if this neuroticism is potentially a wider mental health issue. I do think I have a real problem with internally criticising the appearance of others and being overly critical of myself too (I am under no illusion that I'm super attractive or anything like that). When I'm browsing OkCupid and go on peoples profile photos, I do exactly the same thing, picking them apart focusing on details of their appearance that I don't find attractive.

I definitely know I have been extremely attracted to people in the past, these women were very physically attractive, confident, self-assured and kind. They didn't show any interest in me however. I did however still criticise little aspects of their appearance.

I kind of wonder if maybe I shouldn't date anyone if I'm going to be so internally critical because it seems like I'm just setting myself up to hurt others and myself.

To sum up I guess I'm asking two questions:

Should I keep pursuing things with this woman or should I end things?

Is there something I can do to address my criticism of myself and others when it comes to dating?
posted by fallingleaves to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I won't address the issues you have brought up, but I will say that if you aren't comfortable with a person in a general sense, it's probably better to move on.
posted by harrietthespy at 4:11 PM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

This sounds a lot like anxiety, and also some like obsessive-type thinking. And while there are therapeutic exercises you can do on your own to wrangle obsessive thoughts, you really should get a professional involved first, because compulsive or obsessive or intrusive thoughts can be neurological, neurochemical, psychological, or any combination of same, and if you do have something going on that needs to be dealt with medically you need a doctor to work with.

Generally people know how they feel about things and don't have to constantly question them, so what you're experiencing is not something you should have to live with, and in all likelihood you will be happier if you get it dealt with.

It would probably be better if you stayed single until you know what's going on there.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:17 PM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

What we criticize in others is what we dislike in ourselves. Sometimes it's simple and specific: I don't like my nose so I'm going to criticize the noses of others around me. But a lot of times it's more general: I'm not happy with myself, my appearance, my job, my life, and so I will knock others down around me so I feel better about myself.

It's okay to not be attracted to someone and move on, but you're showing some good self-awareness in that you can see there might be something going on here that has nothing to do with what your partners look like. I think some self-reflection and maybe even therapy could help a lot.
posted by cecic at 4:21 PM on December 8, 2014

If you think you might not be attracted to someone, don't date them.

It's really that simple.

Nothing else is important.

If you think you might not be attracted to someone, that is all the permission you need to not go out with them anymore.
posted by Sara C. at 4:41 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

It took me a very long time to learn this, and I learned it only recently, but I can relate to how you're feeling. Several times in my life, I started seeing someone perfectly nice and perfectly smart and perfectly all of those other things, but the bell just didn't ring for me. But, the other person was interested and enthusiastic and seemed to think we were well matched. So I -- being an over-thinker and (like you) anxious and having a naturally guilty conscience and constantly questioning and second-guessing myself -- I figured that that other person must be seeing the relationship's fabulous stuff better than I was, and that I must be wrong about how I'm feeling, and that if I could only reframe how I was looking at it, I could be enthusiastic about it too.

What results is an excruciating period of mental and emotional gymnastics where you try to stuff yourself into the irregularly-shaped box of that relationship. And when you find out that you cannot cram yourself into that irregularly-shaped box, you shave a little bit of yourself off to see if it will make a better fit. But oh, it turns out that that wasn't the right bit to get rid of, because there's still this other part of you that sticks out at an odd angle and you can't wedge it into that box, no matter what.

And so the enthusiastic person you've been seeing grows increasingly enthusiastic because look! The two of you are in a relationship! You're right there with her, going along with it and being relationshippy! What's really happening, though, is that you're throwing bits of yourself away, or muting them, or disguising them, whatever, so that you can fit comfortably into this relationship, because it must be a good one -- she thinks it is! -- and you just ought to be able to mold yourself to it.

What it's taken me 20 years to learn is that in trying to make yourself fit the person you're seeing, you have to keep shaving off those little bits of yourself and reshaping yourself and basically whittling yourself down to nothing because you know that it will work out if you can only make yourself right for it. You lose yourself. And it all started because she was perfectly nice, and you got along well with her, and all of that stuff was good, but you weren't really feeling it and you weren't really attracted to her.

That pattern of thinking got me into several miserable long-term relationships. It's a really obvious thing to a lot of other people, but it was never obvious to me: If you're not feeling it, it's okay. It doesn't mean you're wrong. Walk. Don't get entangled. Because if you aren't feeling it, no matter how malleable you try to be, you are never going to get yourself comfortably into that box.

You gotta be comfortable in the box, friend-o. Life is way too short to keep stuffing yourself into boxes that will never be the right shape for you.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:45 PM on December 8, 2014 [42 favorites]

I'm usually very quick to say that if you aren't physically attracted to someone, you should find someone else, and don't worry about whether you're being "shallow" or "superficial." (For instance, see my answer to this old question.)

However, this isn't necessarily that situation, since it sounds like you'll nitpick about the appearance of any woman you're interested in, even if you find her "extremely" attractive.

The mental health stuff — it's hard to know how big a deal that is just based on reading plain text from someone who's gone on 2 dates with her. At least give her credit for being upfront and honest.

The fact that daily messages seems a little intense to you now doesn't necessarily mean much. It could be a red flag that you're not that interested in pursuing things with her — but it could also be garden-variety nervousness about the early stages of dating as things start to feel a little more serious.

I'd recommend seeing where things go, and see if you start feeling more attracted to her. Contrary to popular belief, straight men don't always know right away exactly how attracted they are to a woman. You might have a better idea after you've done some more exciting kissing.

But look ... if you're truly not attracted to her, and you keep finding it less-than-thrilling to kiss her, when you're both 22 years old ... this is unlikely to improve in, say, 10 years, when you're both 32 years old. (If you don't see my point, well, come back and read this in 10 years and see if it makes more sense.) If you think either or both of you sees long-term potential here, there wouldn't be anything kind or generous about getting into or staying in a relationship with someone you're secretly not attracted to. If you can see that this is ultimately not going to work out, do the right thing and let her go now.
posted by John Cohen at 5:00 PM on December 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you aren't enthusiastic about being with this woman, then stop wasting her time.
posted by starbreaker at 5:18 PM on December 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you should totally keep dating - you've had fun on your dates, it sounds like there are some things you really like about her. It doesn't sound like you're forcing yourself into something that's not for you. It sounds like you're getting to know someone!

Your over-thinking and anxiety is what's making this confusing. It sounds like you definitely have some things to work on, and you know what everyone will say about that (see a therapist!). My two cents is that you need to work on accepting yourself, and assuming responsibility for yourself only.

When you really accept yourself, it's a lot easier to accept others. It's easier to have weird or annoying thoughts and not let them run your life. It's easier just to be you. You could start by just accepting your anxious thoughts. "Uh oh, there I go again, getting all obsessive about her looks. Wonder what's going on with me? Hmm. Whatever, I'm just gonna let that thought go. I like her, I'm gonna get to know her and see what happens, that's all."

The other thing (which took forever for me to learn!) is not to be over-responsible. She's messaging you a lot! That's what people do when they are excited about someone, it is pretty normal. But it doesn't have to make you uncomfortable, because no matter what we've been taught, it's not your responsibility to take care of her feelings. Her enthusiasm isn't some kind of trap, where you have to feel obliged to reciprocate. It's just an honest expression on her part and that's it. Take it as a compliment (which will depend a lot on how you feel about yourself) and leave it at that.

There's a fine line between doing what's good for you and doing what's good for others, but if you focus and doing what's good for you (accepting yourself, setting limits of responsibility, having new experiences and learning from them) you will that what's best for you is good for others.

It's really hard to learn to deal with uncertainty, but life abound with uncertainty and we just convince ourselves that everything is rock-solid-for-sure 100% when it's not. The sooner you can accept your doubts, the sooner you will feel confident about making decisions.

If you decide not dating her and not feeling this anxiety is the best course of action that's great! It's the best choice!

If you decide dating her and trying to figure this stuff out along the way is the best course of action, that's great also! Then that is the best choice!

(Don't worry about her - she's making her own choices!)
posted by Locochona at 5:55 PM on December 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Do you like her? Do you want to have sex with her? If so keep dating her.

If you don't, stop dating her.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:01 PM on December 8, 2014

Usually people who are highly critical of others are insecure about some aspect of themselves. That insecurity is exemplified by the fact that you have only been attracted to women who are not interested in you. This is something you really need to tackle and that will probably be easiest with a therapist. It's a win-win, self-confidence will make you less critical of others and simultaneously more attracted to them.

I didn't feel a particular spark when we kissed, it was nice though.

This is the "tell" for me - even if someone seems compatible on paper, if there is no spark, then it's not worth pursuing. Especially since you are so young! Go find someone you dream about kissing!
posted by desjardins at 7:34 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

but I can't stop questioning how attracted to her I am.

Move on.
posted by Gray Skies at 8:59 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you dating the gender you're most attracted to?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:33 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Does this strike a cord with you:!relationshipsub/c1xwj?
posted by namesarehard at 12:34 AM on December 9, 2014

"When I'm browsing OkCupid and go on peoples profile photos, I do exactly the same thing, picking them apart focusing on details of their appearance that I don't find attractive."
this is kind of a universal thing that starts to happen on OkCupid. When you find yourself doing it, log off. i sometimes find myself doing it and that's how i know i need to take a break and come back to the site again in a few days.

as a rule, only date people who you find attractive and who turn you on. the beginning of the process is supposed to be the part with highest attraction levels. if you're not feeling it now it's not gonna magically appear in four months.
posted by zdravo at 7:07 AM on December 9, 2014

The people who are most successful at dating are the ones who can form intimate relationships with people they are attracted to. They tend to focus on what they like about the person instead of flaws. Like how you treat your friends that you love. Whoever you are dating is a person. If you haven't learned how to treat people as people rather than accessories to criticize and nitpick, they are better off without you.

Otherwise, go to a therapist and gain maturity through self reflection and the ability to genuinely connect with others.

For whatever it's worth, I think your instinct of "I'm being someone I'm not proud of" is good. Women aren't objects; we're people.
posted by discopolo at 7:11 AM on December 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

since I find it hard to struggle with my own problems at times.

This should be a deal breaker. It isn't that you consider someone like that not up to your standards, its that you can't handle both issues and still get something out of the relationship.

You need to do you.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:26 AM on December 9, 2014

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