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Feeling fairly hopeless (relationships as a grad student)

  1. Jan 4, 2015 #1
    So I'm a slightly older than average grad student that is off to a very good start academically-speaking. I've never had as many good things going for me in my life than at this stage. Behind me are my days of crippling insecurities, being perpetually physically sick (having dipped 15kg below a healthy bodyweight), and being a total social recluse with severe depression (I can thank therapy for that). I am also told by some family members that I've become a lot more comfortable in my own skin.

    My relationships with peers in grad school have been good so far, I've attended a few social gatherings and even started consuming liquid courage for the first time in my life. However I can't help but feel something is missing. A very sizable fraction of my peers are engaged, married, or in the middle of a long term relationship that predates grad school (both in my first year peers and beyond). The few that aren't apparently have no trouble in getting romantic company. I have made good friends and have never been this social before and it feels great, but I've also never felt so lonely.

    As I stated in another thread, I'm approaching 30 and have never gone on a date or anything of the sort. This is something I do my best to keep to myself (still haven't had to lie about it), as in the past the stigma associated with it has posed a problem for me in previous environments (work and school). I feel that it only gets worse the older I get. I am allegedly very attractive, I am foreign/exotic, I am more physically fit than I've ever been (I practice strength athletics very seriously) and stand out like a sore thumb, I am worldly (I've lived in 3 different countries for extended periods), and can carry a decent conversation, I think.

    I am a bit worried that as I advance in academics, breaking that spell is only going to get harder and harder, as I'll be more absorbed in work and relating to people outside of academics won't be getting any easier. I have actively tried pursuing relationships in the past and never succeeded, so I typically went the route of just focusing on academics and personal hobbies. But I feel like that has now crippled me with regards to meeting a potential romantic partner. I wish I could be as cold about it as I was in the past, but it is really starting to get to me and I don't feel great trying to convince myself that academics, lifting weights and music are the only things in my life again. It all is starting to feel a bit empty.

    I'll admit there has been a trigger to this. In another thread I shared a story about a fellow grad student that I grew to like over a few months. She started sending me very clear signals (I even got some female acquaintances' opinions on it to ensure I wasn't misinterpreting things), but that didn't end well. I finally asked her out explicitly and got my first explicit 'yes' to a date in my life... and got stood up. I was very, very surprised by her behavior as everything was coming along very well and it seemed very out of character. Some people that I've shared this with have told me I could not have done this better. She made no further contact/offered no explanation or excuse; we have not talked or seen each other due to winter break. I'm not exactly looking forward to interacting with her on a regular basis again as that did hurt quite a lot, but I'll do my best to act as if nothing happened.

    I have now given up on that endeavor, but this has had me wondering once again if there's something wrong with me. Why I can never seem to be good enough for someone when everything is going fine? Even at the peak of my attractiveness and availability (ie: I'm an early grad student, not a busy post-doc jumping from job to job), even when I'm being my genuine self and not forcing anything, I cannot seem to succeed in getting a date, let alone establishing a romantic relationship. I feel as though I'm in my prime now (there's always room for improvement) and if I still can't get it right, I'm doomed as after this it's all downhill (relationship-prospects wise, hopefully not career-wise!).

    I wish someone would tell me what I need to fix. When I follow through with something over a long time, putting big efforts in studying for exams, solving a research problem, or moving some heavy weights, I eventually get a result. But this aspect of my life has not yielded to any approach I've taken over the years and I often think of quitting for good, as the repeated failures do not teach me anything! Every rejection just drains more and more out of me, but I'm also afraid I'm going to screw myself over for good if there's something I can do about it but just can't see it.

    I've had this eating away at me for a while, I'm glad to get it off my chest. Thanks for reading.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 4, 2015 #2


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    You are what many would call a late bloomer, and you shouldn't be ashamed of it. First and foremost, I would highly recommend you read a book in the new sticky thread called Attached. I can tell from what you have written so far that you are going to be anxiously attached to your first date. In addition, the book will give you some heads up about what types of partners will work for you, and it will also give you some idea of what to expect from them. In addition, I would also recommend Getting Past No by William Ury because you're going to need to learn to communicate to your partner. Communication may sound simply enough right now, but when emotions start forming, communication can become tricky especially for someone insecure.

    In my experience, there are the following two types of women: women who want men to approach, and women who will approach men . In my opinion, many women prefer that men approach them. When you are at your little social gatherings, you need to start scanning the room watching for these women. They will give off signals that they are approachable. For example, they might look you right in the eye and hold it. If they do, don't be a pussy and look away; instead, look right back into their eyes and smile. If a girl is really shy, she'll look away when your gaze meets hers. Does she look again? Does a girl lick her lips, play with her hair, or my favorite talk to someone else while looking right at you? Just keep your eyes open. Just don't expect them to hold a sign up that says "Yo... come over here." If you do approach one who says no, don't get all hurt by it. If a woman is not interested in you, so what onto the next. Eventually, you'll start thinking of it as a game. So stop asking all your friends to read those signals for you. Be like Nike, and just do it! Your big problem is confidence. If you don't believe in yourself as a worthy date, why should any woman?

    Oh... as far as the girl who stood you up, screw her. She disrespected you. You're not Rodney Dangerfield. You need to stand up for yourself. There are over 7 billion people in the world half women. I'd look at the girl as beneath me. Think about it. Do you really want to be with someone who has no respect for you? I'd thank the girl for the favor of showing true colors so quickly.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2015
  4. Jan 4, 2015 #3
    I think you missed the part where I said I no longer appeared insecure.

    Two things missing here: I'm in an isolated college town with a big disparity between the average population of undergrads and grad students/people my age. The people I see at these social gatherings are roughly the same all the time, so my options are considerably limited. Given my age and position as a TA, mingling with undergrads is a very bad idea... As for the 'dating science', I've had so many dating advice books handed down to me over the years and know what to look for. But I've never observed those signals from anyone at the social events I do attend.

    The girl in question I've known for several months and had been an excellent friend up until now, if you read my thread. I don't want to burn any bridges, as our relationship up until that event was one of the better/closest friendships I've had with a woman, but it is true that I can't really expect much from someone that did that to me anymore. Doesn't stop me from continually dreaming about her, but I have no control over that.
  5. Jan 4, 2015 #4


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    You went as far as to ask female acquaintances about signals. Insecurity is radiating from you regardless of how hard you are trying to hide it. You just got to get over your fear of rejection, and put yourself out there.

    You just need to put yourself out there and find some new social circles.

    Attachment theory is about the psychology of relationships instead of some kind of popular culture view on dating. There is a whole new breed of signals that comes out when you do start dating someone seriously. At any rate, if you knew what to look for in terms of finding a date, why did you have to ask other people? You do realize there are things to look for after dating begins right? Attachment theory is about when things begin.

    She left you standing there, and she didn't so much as bother sending you a text, email, or phone call explaining anything?

    Realize there is a whole lot of women in the world, and the only thing keeping you single is your own confidence. Afterwards, you wont put up with this level of bs from anyone.
  6. Jan 4, 2015 #5
    I asked them about the signals after having asked her out, trying to figure out what I did wrong, or if they were really signals or me just suffering from wishful thinking. They said they couldn't understand it, as her behavior was very clear cut. This was 2 weeks of texting me daily, including sharing having had a (non-romantic) dream about me, and an overall increase in her friendliness over time.They chalked it up to her being someone that doesn't know what she wants, since she had/still has someone else on her radar.
  7. Jan 4, 2015 #6


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    You may just need to exercise patience. Just don't make yourself too available.
  8. Jan 4, 2015 #7


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    I don't think it's a case of needing to "fix" anything on your part. It sounds to me like you're in a bit of a tough situation to start out with. Being a few years older than your peers can make it that much more difficult to make any kind of social connection sometimes, much less try to start a romantic relationship. And that's compounded with a lack of experience. As an undergraduate it's fairly easy to meet new people, because you're in a stage of your life where everyone is a new person and everything you try is new. But as you get older, your peers have branched off into their own groups. By the time you get to your thirties, your peers are getting married and when you hear someone is pregnant you say "congratulations" rather than "oh... um... yeah... congratulations."

    With respect to this particular individual who stood you up - I suspect there's a good chance that she's going to feel extremely awkward around you when you get back. She may have had a good reason to stand you up. Or, maybe some signals were crossed somewhere and she was waiting at the theatre on the corner of 19th ave and 34th street rather than theatre on 34th ave and 19th st. It's bad form to stand someone up, but my advice is to avoid being too judgemental about it until you have the full story. And if the friendship was going well before hand, it might be worth continuing to foster moving forward. The big issue with that is whether or not you'd be comfortable being friends with her if she starts dating someone else. If not - avoid the friend zone.

    Another piece of advice is to try not to put too much pressure on yourself. It seems like you're giving yourself a small window of opportunity to meet someone and stressing about the fact that the window is very narrow.

    Yes, you will have high academic and professional stresses in the life ahead of you, and there will be times when you need to focus. But it's important to remember that you will have SOME time to focus on socialization even in the most stressful times. And even if you're just starting to foster a new relationship, quality trumps quantity when it comes to time.

    You've probably heard the "try new things" line before, but in my experience that's what works the best. You meet new people by trying new things and joining new groups. And sometimes, just making a friend is all you need. Because friends have friends and eventually somewhere in the web there's a single match for you.
  9. Jan 5, 2015 #8
    Thanks, that was a very compassionate. We already have one person in our department that just had a baby, it is in fact a bit of a shock to me to be surrounded by people at this stage in their life and feeling left behind. Not that I want kids, but almost everyone I know my age and 2-4 years younger seems to have their personal life sorted out by now.

    The person in question has been dating other people since we met and never showed that kind of interest before. I didn't have my sights set on it, it just naturally and slowly grew out of a friendship. Getting the rug suddenly pulled out from under naturally has me asking myself if the ideas I had about myself when I was more crippled by anxiety and depression have some substance again, I suppose I am predisposed to thinking like this. I'll do my best to keep them out of mind. I'm just scared my habits, work and environment aren't opening many doors for me in this regard and will be leaving me further behind in that aspect of development...
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