Practice girlfriend or stay lonely?
December 13, 2005 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I have never had a girlfriend in my life and I'm 26 now. I am sort of getting lonely and want a girlfriend, but every time I attempt to do something with a girl I like, I get really nervous about it and scare the girl away. It isn't as though I am horribly looking either, although I probably look bad when I become distressed. I've been thinking lately that what I need is a practice girlfriend so I can get some experience. I don't get nervous around girls I don't like, but I never attempt to do anything with them because I don't like them. Maybe I should reconsider and do something with a girl I don't like so I get some experience. With the experience I think can gain some confidence for the next time I go after a girl I actually like. The problem is that I'm not sure if it is right to pretend I care about someone just to get practice, however, I don't want to continue to scare away girls I like either.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe I should reconsider and do something with a girl I don't like so I get some experience.

Bingo. Well, you don't have to choose ones you actively dislike, but it helps to build confidence. What you need to do, basically, is make your social activities less goal-centered -- if you feel like it doesn't matter, you'll be a lot braver at flirting, for instance. Go to a bar, or party, or wherever, with the goal of just flirting with 3, 5, or 7 women. Forget about getting their numbers or god forbid going home. View crashing and burning as, well, experience.

Think about a writer papering his bathroom with rejection letters, or a salesman going through ten NOs to get a YES.

Intimate Connections: this book will change your life. Maybe.
posted by dhartung at 8:26 PM on December 13, 2005

I hate to say it but [more inside] is indeed the friend of ask.mefi - if not for askees.

I had a lot of "luck" when I started college, then had a very long dry spell, with a few islands, and now suffering from another long dry spell so I kind of empathise, maybe, with your situation.

If you're asking for advice; make friends. Get to know lots of people. Be nice to them just for the sake of being nice (and for the sake of being yourself). Don't think about the "is she girlfriend material" aspect at all.

That said - realize that when someone wants your bod that they want your bod. This has been, and continues to be, the my biggest blindspot. I have a really hard time recognizing (or maybe, stopping my brain from telling me: she's not into you - she's just being "nice") that a girl is interested in me.

It's kind of like the dilema of "you need experience to get a job - but the only way you'll get experience is to get a job." Pay attention to the <gender that you desire> and don't be afraid to initiate intimacy. yes - this can be difficult; but if you havne't been rejected in the past week: you havn't been trying hard enough.

Try the online thing - other people have recomended it to me. I've only had grief from friends who try to set me up with their friends (which ends up doing more harm than good - "uh, ok; so you either think that I'm really really ugly or you're doing your gf a favour by setting up one of her friends with me. Y.e.a.h. Thanks.").
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:40 PM on December 13, 2005

Maybe I should reconsider and do something with a girl I don't like so I get some experience. ... The problem is that I'm not sure if it is right to pretend I care about someone just to get practice...
Do the first thing. Don't do the second.
posted by cribcage at 8:51 PM on December 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

It is all about perspective...
You are 26... It is very young... Sure you are not a teen anymore... but people very often get in to serious relationship when they are 30 or much order...

One thing you have to do is to control your urges both physical and mental while you are around a girl you like...

Pull a Constanza(do opposite of what common sense tells you) on her if you feel you get nervous...
In a social gathering situation, talk to other people who you are more comfortable or doesn't care about. Don't pay any attention to her at all unless she comes to you. And usually if you are around others except her, she may be curious to find out who you are first. (this goes to even people you already kind a know.)

It may be hard to understand but by repeating this few times, you mentally fool your brain to not care who she is... and when the time is right you may approach her as if you are approaching someone who you don't necessary like. Couple of good side affect may be that she may feel intrigued that you finally approached her at all.... It also may make her feel little insecure that some one who wasn't noticing her is approaching... which may make more even situation for a person like you...

Accept that what you are feeling is very natural for any guys especially at that age... you may be little more sensitive than others.. .. Accept that you are that kind of guy and be proud of it...

Reading books and taking classes on this types of subject may help... but i find that it only makes a person more nervous in real situations... but taking one method like this and trying out is more light hearted and don't have too much of down fall... Sure she may think it is incosiderate of you to not talk to ner... but if she does not like you for this without finding out who you are.. then she is probably not your type of girl anyways < -----it is true in my opinion and you should think like that>
I am by no way an expert nor all that experinced person.. but I am little more older than you and ... may be little more wiser??? Taking things light, I think actually make life more easy to sail through....

Good Luck to ya....
posted by curiousleo at 8:56 PM on December 13, 2005

With the experience I think can gain some confidence for the next time I go after a girl I actually like. The problem is that I'm not sure if it is right to pretend I care about someone just to get practice, however

Do all women provoke either the two "I'm totally head over heels about her" or "she doesn't do a damn thing for me" extremes, or are there some women who fall in the middle with "you know, I think she's kinda cute/interesting"? Go with that.

I think it's a terrible, terrible idea to simply "practice" or "go through the motions" (i.e. fake it) with someone that holds absolutely no interest for you. You don't have to wildly heart-stoppingly "really like" someone to pursue them -- even mild mutual interest can provide the spark to make the relationship work, and getting a few relationships under your belt will help you pursue the next woman who knocks you off your feet completely. "Pretend to care about" is bad bad bad though: you want to practice being genuine, and it's less anxiety-inducing if the attraction isn't at an off-the-charts level. And "sorta like" has a funny way of blossoming into "completely love" from time to time. You never know.

Good luck.

On preview: cribcage was more succinct.
posted by DaShiv at 9:03 PM on December 13, 2005

I've taken a few psychology classes. Let me put my education to work by trying to come up with the most wildly inappropriate overkill suggestion I can think of.


Take some Ecstasy.

Seriously though, "social anxiety disorder" is a "disease" that you can get proscribed anti-depressants for. Those will probably I would imagine help you get over the anxiety you feel around girls you like.


Actually there's a practical aspect to all of this: Where are you interacting with girls? At work? At school? Are you going out with groups of friends?
posted by delmoi at 9:05 PM on December 13, 2005

er, I mean prescribed. Prescribed.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 PM on December 13, 2005

Baby steps! Forget trying to get any sort of girlfriend, practice or not, and just focus on dating.

Think small. You don't need a girlfriend. You need something to do Friday evening. When you frame the problem this way it's no longer a problem. There's absolutely nothing wrong with asking out a woman you "kind of" like when all you're after is the pleasure of her company for an evening. And don't pressure yourself to make sure she's having fun--instead, focus on making sure you're having fun.

In fact don't settle on one woman. Really, there's no rush to do the serious-girlfriend-relationship dance. Enjoy your bachelorhood! Ask out two or three or four women. They don't have to be the wonderful, perfect women either. All you're after is a nice dinner, some dancing, and a nice walk. Completely rule out the possibility of sex and intimacy--that helps a lot to take the pressure off. Focus on talking, listening, and laughing. That's all there is to it. Baby steps! Try to set yourself up with one date each week, or every two weeks. Keep that up for a couple months. (Or years!) Don't rush yourself and don't worry so much.
posted by nixerman at 9:11 PM on December 13, 2005

if you do do the MDMA thing, take a 1/4 or 1/8th dose - the stuff you get on the street is supposed to get you high - the therapeutic levels that used to be prescribed before MDMA got schedule 1-ed are far far below the recreational dose - not to mention that, depending on where you are, a lot of recreational E or X has been cut with meth...
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:17 PM on December 13, 2005

Before you try and get a practice girlfriend, maybe you should try out stuff on a practice boyfriend. I am serious. Call up some guy you don't know too well, invite him out for a beer, sit round and ask him a bunch of questions about his life and his lovelife and what he's interested in and so on, try and make him laugh, listen what makes him tick, in short, try and make him like you, and then just see if he calls you back. After a couple of these "dates", you'll have picked up many clues about what could make another human being interested in you I suspect. Then you can move onto a practice girl and you'll already have lots of information and little tricks on how to date another human successfully.
posted by dydecker at 9:22 PM on December 13, 2005

Dhartung has it exactly right. You must purchase that book (Intimate Connections) and do exactly what it says. It will change your life. I cannot overemphasize how it changed mine.

Do not worry about practice girlfriends. Read the book and do what it says. All of it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:33 PM on December 13, 2005

See also.
posted by gsteff at 9:47 PM on December 13, 2005

Wow, what a lot of crap advice (MDMA? Give me a fucking break).

Don't worry. Read books. Learn stuff. Be yourself. It's not a question of 'practice'.

Taking courses in things that genuinely interest you and/or you've always wanted to do, especially creative things -- whether that's photography or cookery or woodwork or learning French -- is a great idea because (a) it's a good idea anyway and (b) a lot of people are there for similar reasons and (c) you're likely to meet someone who shares some of your interests.
posted by unSane at 9:55 PM on December 13, 2005

I was in your situation, first base at 28, no real reason why I couldn't have gotten there a lot earlier. And I was stuck at first for over a year (before eventually going the route to married with a great wife and kid). In short, nearly all women seem to have a sixth sense about needy guys (see Nice Guy Syndrome [wiki]), and I think most of them are loathe to be in a high-maintenance or tutoring mode. I think nervousness is not really the issue here; it's the Nice Guy syndrome, and those factors that need to be addressed.

What I learned is that women want is a man with solid social confidence and genuine independence, who doesn't take himself too seriously. I think the only way to get there is to pursue a carefree bachelor lifestyle: trying to find happiness in that bachelor niche with social/leisure activities that involve a good mix of people. Yes, a "practice girlfriend" is a great idea, but really what this is is doing fun platonic activities together, which will help with social experience. I have heard that doing things together will often stir the interest of other women (who see you as more worthwhile)... this however is another subject altogether.

I've heard it said that relationships tend to come when you don't give a rat's ass, and my first real one came 40 days after I stopped giving a rat's ass (not about yourself but about the idea of relying on other people to map out your happiness).

I'm going to go out on a limb and say there's light years of difference between scoring a little bit and not scoring at all. You start thinking something is fundamentally wrong with yourself, and it's a damn humiliating and depressing position to be in. But it's important not to let that cloud your amibitions. And for what it's worth, I can look back on those monastic years and think that those WERE some great times; at the time the lonely weekends were sometimes overwhelming but now I look back on much of it as a satisfying if not happy period. A relationship has many good perks, but being master of your own day-to-day existence can be equally compelling, if not more so.

I too think dhartung is on the right track, though I don't know anything about that book. Definitely don't make social interactions goal-oriented.

Also I disagree strongly about the idea of "social anxiety disorder"... I think this in its current form was invented by the pharmaceutical companies to widen their market for Paxil, etc (Google around and you'll find how dangerous these drugs can be in terms of withdrawal). Quite frankly I think you're better off using a couple of beers than messing around with some of these drugs.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:00 PM on December 13, 2005

every time I attempt to do something with a girl I like...

Are you talking about sex, or just doing stuff in general? If you're talking about sex, my advice is that you tell your girl that you're inexperienced; do it right as you're undressing.

If you're talking about just doing general stuff, I heartily recommend Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. It's just as useful today as when it was published in 1937, and there's a good reason why it's one of the most-read books of all time.

A similar book is Louis & Copeland's How to Succeed with Women, which is great for shy guys who don't know how to meet girls.
posted by neuron at 10:10 PM on December 13, 2005

"(MDMA? Give me a fucking break)"

There's a lot of literature indicating that it was successfully used therapeutically before it was scheduled. If you look at people's advice, including yours, it's about putting the person in a mindset where they won't so acutely feel their social anxiety. Some prescribed meds are succesful at this and because this is a means to an end, not an end itself, it's resonable to think in terms of "what can facilitate my gaining confidence born of experience in relating to potential sex partners?" and to see a med as a something which will do exactly that.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:25 PM on December 13, 2005

rolypolyman: Anxiety is a very real thing, in all its various manifestations (including social anxiety disorder), and so is the dysfunctional thinking that is tied in with it. "Nice guy syndrome" is amateur psychology crapola. Likewise, yelling, Get some confidence!" at someone who has anxiety issues will not help that person to actually gain confidence. That wikipedia has an entry is crazy,considering that some want it to be taken seriously.
posted by raysmj at 10:33 PM on December 13, 2005

The problem is that I'm not sure if it is right to pretend I care about someone just to get practice

Indeed this is the problem. I have done exactly what you describe. But I did it at age 16 before I had any clue it was wrong. And it was way wrong.

I think you might want to consider that if you have no experience with women, you probably aren't well-prepared for the shitstorms that come with breaking their hearts.

So no, don't use someone you don't like for target practice. Perhaps a more moderate way to say it would be: lower your standards a little.

But don't look at it as practice. You may never be happy with the kind of woman you've liked up until now. Perhaps once you experience love with a woman you're comfortable with, you'll realize what you've been missing all along and live happily ever after.
posted by scarabic at 11:13 PM on December 13, 2005

Hey, this sounds just like me (except I'm 3 years younger). I didn't really put any serious effort into dating for the same reasons you mention until about a year ago. I also developed the ability to make myself think that I'm not attracted to someone if I have to interact with them daily, because if I WERE attracted to someone I'd have a hard time interacting with them. Stupid brain.

Anyway, I think I'm about a few months ahead of you in the process of getting more relaxed around woman I'm attracted to. Here's some advice:

1) OkCupid is a good online place to start. I joined 2 months or so ago, and my profile started out nervous and ineffective. Gradually I've modified it to get more relaxed over time, and it's been effective. A few different girls sent me messages, and that ended up seguing into longish email exchanges. It's a safe place for me, because I can compose my thoughts, so I don't feel pressured to make the right move RIGHT NOW. I'm basically getting my practice online: working on the social aspects of a relationship in a setting where noone gets embarassed, and there's no pressure.

2) Forcing myself to be around woman I'm attracted to, in a friendship/work context. Specifically for myself, I joined the cast of a musical at my college, which worked out really well for me. I got to the point where I could acknowledge my attraction for someone and not let that get in the way of my friendship relationships. I also ended up having a semi-girlfriend for about a month due to this, which didn't really go anywhere, but which WAS good practice. It really made it more clear to me what kinds of people I actually WAS attracted to.

So, that's my experiences. I'm still woefully inexperienced, but I'm WAY more relaxed around women now. Good luck to you :)
posted by JZig at 11:38 PM on December 13, 2005

Oh, and to echo scarabic: the kinds of women you THINK you're attracted to may not be the ones you actually are attracted to. If you're neurotic like me, you may be getting nervous because there's a certain woman that you THINK you should be attracted to, and are fighting that pressure. Then you do something stupid and you then get to get mad at yourself, and avoid the problem of actually figuring out what you want.

As I get more relaxed around women, and in general, it becomes increasingly clear that I didn't have damn clue what I actually felt about someone.

Oh, and one beer does me a WORLD of good :) At 3-4 I just fall asleep, which doesnt really help socially, heh.
posted by JZig at 11:45 PM on December 13, 2005

I highly recommend Double Your Dating. You can sign up for the free newsletter or buy the book, either will help tremendously.

In a nutshell, the guy behind it goes to great lengths to explain how the process of attraction works and how to "not be a wussy". I used to be terribly shy; after I read his book my confidence and success with women increased tremendously.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:49 PM on December 13, 2005

That practice thing. It's wrong, but I'd recommend you do it. There's a whole bunch of stuff that you could do to get more comfortable with women, but they're not going to help with the fear you have of a sexual relationship. Your best friend could be a woman, you could have no trouble at all with flirting, but still, the merest possibility of "walking out" (as my Gran used to say) with someone you like could fill you with absolute dread.

You need to get yourself used to that type of relationship, and if this means lying, then so be it. I have a couple of pointers though.

1) Never EVER tell anyone that you've used them to practice on. However close you feel to them, however much your love talk centers on "honesty". Just don't tell them. It'll really upset them, and that's just mean.

2) Human relationships are weird. There's going to come a point where your practice relationship will feel like a real relationship. Don't worry about this. Sometimes, things turn out different to how you planned, and this is OK.

3) You're messing with people here because you have no choice. The second you have a choice, then stop doing it. As I said, what you are thinking of doing it is wrong, and you should always be aware of that.
posted by seanyboy at 11:50 PM on December 13, 2005

Sean, I have to disagree with you. There's ALWAYS a choice. If I ever got into a relationship of the sort you describe, based on that much dishonesty, I really don't think I could live with myself. The poster may be different, but I'd be too ashamed of my actions to really learn anything useful.
posted by JZig at 11:56 PM on December 13, 2005

Evaluate all your potential actions with this "practice girlfriend" in terms of how you would feel if the tables were turned: Some hot chick is acting like she's interested in you, but really, she's working up to the kind of men she's REALLY interested in.....'cause you're just a "practice boyfriend."

In other words, get experience, but keep it causal and honest (short of telling her you're "practicing", of course...).
posted by availablelight at 6:51 AM on December 14, 2005

Ummm..I have a really hard time with the idea of using a girl to "practice" dating. Is she just some kind of object here? What about her feelings and desires for the relationship? Girls desire intimacy and honesty in relationships; they want to know that matter what their special person is going to be there for them - even if they gain 20 pounds, even if they suddenly have green skin, even if they don't make as much money as they did before, and so on. If you're just "practicing" a relationship everything about it is a lie. You have no intention of being her everything, of sticking by her through the good times and the bad, so why tell her you will by dating her? Breaking someone's heart is not fun or cool!
posted by riverjack at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2005

I can't bring myself to separate the wheat from the chaff upstream so perhaps someone else has mentioned this. One of the most worthwhile things I learned in my often socially-inept youth was that being at ease with people, making conversation, dating, etc are all learned skills.

If you play baseball, juggle, game, sing or any of a million other things you started out with very weak skills and didn't do them very well. You practiced and you were self-conscious about them until they became habits and reflexes and went from where doing it made you feel anxious to where it was a relaxation activity.

Once you realize everyone used to suck at it and that you're going to have to keep trying in order to get better it takes a lot of the stress off. It may be that some other people learned a lot younger than you did but so what? Some people go to college at 16, other in their 40s. That doesn't make either group better or worse, it just meant their timing was different. Don't hold your socializing with the opposite sex to an equally unreasonable yardstick.
posted by phearlez at 9:14 AM on December 14, 2005

Also, you might look at learning how to date women casually as a pragmatic necessity in the service of finding a partner. I recall a conversation I had with a friend where he pointed out that even if it's unpleasant and sad that finding the right person is "a numbers game", that may be exactly what it is.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:26 AM on December 14, 2005

1) Dating is not the same as knowing or socialising.

2) A lot of people get their practice in when they're young, and they don't really care for long term relationships. I'm usually shocked when someone under the age of 22 says that the relationship they're in is the one / is for real. On the flip side, how many relationships did the moralists in the thread have in thier early years that lasted a couple of weeks to a month. I'm betting lots, and you can sugarcoat it all the way to valentines day and back, but really, you were just practising.

When they start dating, Girls practice on boys and boys practice on girls. For the most part, it all works out for the best. We all remember the one who was casual when we were serious, and there's always a bit of heartbreak along the way, but mainly it works fine.

This talk of objectification is nonsense. Anonymous is 26, OK, but he should be allowed to treat girls as if he were ten years younger and he were just starting. Because of his age and the age of the girl's he'll date, some people are going to be hurt a tiny bit more, but I say fuck it. I'll choose my own or someone elses heartache over the other sides loneliness any day of the frigging week.

JZig: When I look at it like this, I think what is the choice? Barely remembered bitter sweet memories on the side of a few girls who'll probably find someone else afterwards, or a lifetime of Individual TV Dinners and the knowledge that the nearest you're gonna get to having kids is a house full of cats and a DVD collection that Peter Jackson would kill for.

Anonymous - Go for it. You're right to feel guilty, it's a bad thing to do. But go for it anyway.
posted by seanyboy at 12:26 PM on December 14, 2005

Girls desire intimacy and honesty in relationships; they want to know that matter what their special person is going to be there for them - even if they gain 20 pounds, even if they suddenly have green skin, even if they don't make as much money as they did before, and so on.

What kind of relationship are we talking about, here? Unless you're specifically dating to get married, or you have some sort of long-term plan from the start, isn't a lot safer to play it by ear? Everyone wants someone they can depend on, but the point at which you can do this without fail is different in every relationship. Some people think they're only completely committed to accept the other person when married, some have it as a requirement to begin physical intimacy.

Expectations are sometimes what makes approaching someone difficult. Just remember that to begin a dialogue, let alone a relationship, you only need to worry about the next few moments. If you're asking about someone's interests, do it honestly and not as a way to get your foot in the door. If you're buying someone a drink, concetrate on the task so you don't spill it. The scope and depth of the relationship will follow its own course, don't rush it.
posted by mikeh at 12:46 PM on December 14, 2005

I'm not really saying that you need to know for sure that your relationship with a girl is going to be long term when you start, mikeh, but I feel like when you start out dating you should at least have an open mind about the _possibility_ of this turning into a long term relationship. Are that many girls interested in relationships that start off with the boys saying "I'm not really interested in finding out if you're worth having a long term relationship with at all. I'm just going to hang out with you for awhile and then we're breaking up. Wanna go out?"

I just feel like the girl in the picture here isn't getting considered at all. How is she going to feel about being dated "for practice?" If there was an AskMefi thread from a girl who said that she thinks her boyfriend was only dating her for practice, etc, what kind of advice would she be getting? I'm pretty sure it'd be along the lines of "He's a jerk, dump him now."
posted by riverjack at 4:14 PM on December 14, 2005

My advice; stop looking.

It sounds like a cliche, but when you stop looking, things will happen. This sums up my experiences well. All the while I was looking, I found nothing. The minute I stopped looking (and this means actually stopped looking, not simply saying "I'm going to stop looking), along came my girlfriend.

Case in point; my current girlfriend. After my last relationship ended, I tried for two years to find a girl. And it wasn't for lack of trying either. I went out on the twon, tried meeting girls at University and in the end, even tried internet dating. All of it ended in me still staying at home on weekend nights lamenting my single state. After one final internet date, I wrote on my livejournal that I was giving up looking. I had gotten to a point where I simply didn't care about whether I ever found anyone. I had gotten tired of being rejected. And in truth, I was now comfortable with myself and who I was. So I stopped looking. A few weeks later, I met a girl and simply started talking to her. When it seemed that she might be interested in me, I told myself not to get involved, because I had stopped looking and it was propbably just her being nice. Eventually, I couldn't help it and asked her out, my MO being to give it "one last shot". And here I am, almost one year later, living with that girl and I'm very, very happy.

And trust me, I didn't get by on my looks; mostly because I have none.

To delve deeper into this advice, I think the reason for this is that when people are looking, they tend to come off as a little 'desperate', maybe. Like, you meet a girl who you like or think is girlfriend material, so you try to impress her, or you inadvertently act nervous, or do a whole host of things that ultimately could end up making her lose any interest in you romantically. But when you aren't looking, you meet a girl and you don't even think about whether you and her will ever get together, and so you act like yourself. In the end, acting like yourself will get you a girl who actually likes you. A girl who dosen't like you for you is, really, not worth your time or emotional investment.

So my advice is be comfortable with yourself and who you are and, importantly, stop looking. And then, when you least expect it, the girl of your dreams will appear.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:08 PM on December 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

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