Dear Tell Me Moore:
I’m about to turn 30 in a couple months. I never had a girlfriend in middle or high school because I was ugly and a loser. Never had a girlfriend in college because I was too shy and also was studying a lot.
The studying paid off because now I have a good job that I love and make above the national median but that all means nothing because I STILL can’t get a girlfriend even with professionally taken photos and hiring dating “experts” to run my profile (they could never get the kind of women I want to answer messages). I’ve been trying for *years.*
I get maybe 2 Tinder matches a month if I’m lucky (and I swipe right on everyone). I get maybe 3–4 matches on Coffee Meets Bagel PER YEAR. I have a low response rate on OK Cupid (which is where I have the most success) but even then the women I am interested in rarely reply and if they do they ghost me after the first date.
I don’t think I’m that horrible looking, I’m in shape, and like I said I have a good job, too. Part of the issue is I live in a red state and I’m pretty far left politically. Also, not many people really like nerd shit out here—video games, in particular—but that’s really the only thing I like. When I’m not working I play video games or read fantasy. What’s frustrating is that whenever I see a woman who does like those things she almost never answers my message or swipes right on me (these are the kinds of women the fucking dating dudebro assholes can never get to answer, either). I deleted all my dating apps and just don’t know what to do.
So at this point I’m still very inexperienced sexually (I ended up seeing a couple sex workers a year or two ago because I’d have shot myself if I became a 30-year-old virgin). No woman will want to be with me because it’ll be awkward and horrible. This is the kind of shit a fucking 14-year-old should be worrying about but I’m about to turn 30 for fucks sake. This is pathetic. I’d basically give up any amount of money to have a woman I could be with not even just sexually but emotionally.
I just feel so defeated at this point and so angry. I REALLY don’t want to become some horrible PUA bro or psychotic incel but what other choice is there?
Formerly Ugly Loser
Dear Formerly Ugly Loser:
My sister and her boyfriend are such total nerds that, in their house, they have an entire game room devoted to gaming with dueling consoles so they can play across from each other on headsets or something. I don’t even understand it; I would have never pictured them together but for the fact that they are. All I know is they found each other because they were both at the same gamer convention and hit it off, and boy do they love the weird shit they do. (They both live in a red state.)
That, to me, is how real relationships usually work, even in geographically challenged lands. You find your weirdo and hole up like your life depends on it. I read your letter several times because I wanted to figure out your personality outside of your professed love for nerd shit and fantasy literature — what it’s like to meet you, hang out with you, and have a conversation; where you might be going wrong when you find yourself actually interacting with women online or in real life. Because nothing you describe on paper precludes you from meeting someone.
I couldn’t really tell your personality, but I could tell these things: You have a good job. You’re intelligent and articulate. You have enough self-awareness to realize that pickup artists bros are a last resort for bitter, angry men and you have the good sense and ultimate decency to realize that is a one-lane path to pathetic.
But you’re also particularly brutal on yourself — you call yourself a formerly ugly loser but with zero caveats, so I don’t know what kind of ugly loser you were, which would explain a lot if we knew. Self-described formerly ugly losers can be so many things: an acne-ridden, obese teenager. A really short dude. Horrifically disfigured. Too skinny. A charmless face. Or a perfectly good- or normal-looking dude who, for whatever reason, just didn’t fit in. I don’t know if you were bullied or abused, or if you were just an awkward kid who grew into a normal person and still feels awful inside.
You say you’re shy and studied too hard in college to meet people, but these things don’t necessarily preclude a person from pairing off. Your letter also sounds desperate — not because you admit you want a girlfriend or are upset about it, but because there’s an assumption in your letter that you should have a girlfriend because you have a good job, aren’t an ugly loser anymore, and really want one.
None of those things guarantee a partner, unfortunately. I know unemployed, ugly losers with girlfriends, and good-looking employed guys without them. People get together for all sorts of mysterious reasons — he’s rich; she’s into anal — but broadly speaking, each meets some need the other person has. When people say they can’t find literally anyone to be with, it’s usually something they do to get in their own way — something about their personality.
The problem is what are you doing to turn women off? Maybe you move too fast, are too eager, or seem desperate. Maybe you never ask women any questions; maybe you just talk about yourself. Maybe you are smart and funny but you ramble on for 15 solid minutes about video games and never turn the conversation back to her. There are any number of possibilities. Maybe you’re too shy to even get up to bat.
Usually, though, it means you have no game. I don’t mean pickup artist game. I mean just person-in-the-world game. All relationships require some level of seduction up front — even new friendships. People court each other for jobs.
Chemistry cannot be manufactured. Aside from deeply manipulative narcissists who con vulnerable insecure people, it’s pretty hard to trick someone into making you feel fireworks. Most people who get together meet and have some conversation, have a marginal amount of shit in common, and are attracted to each other. When you’re single it can feel like everyone else has a soulmate while you’re stuck window-shopping. But I promise you, many of those people are fucking miserable. I’ve met them.
You say you’re about to turn 30, but I wish I could trot out for you the number men in their late 30s and early 40s in Los Angeles with “someones” who are trapped in relationships with the wrong person, living in a deprivation state, and would give anything to go back and take a minute before jumping in. I have literally lost count how many I know. They found someone who was not-so-horrible when they were your age, and they dove in like the world above was on fire. Then one day they look up and go, “What the fuck did I do?”
I say this because there’s one thing you can never tell young people, including me when I was younger: Still having choices is everything. Don’t squander that. That sounds awfully cheesy — Hey kid, you don’t know how good you’ve got it! — but I mean it.
Which leads me to your approach. You say you’re swiping right on everyone on Tinder, paying for professional photos and hiring people to run your account. This sounds like spraying with a firehose when you ought to be using a Waterpik. What’s more, it sounds kind of hokey. Professional photos probably look like you’re trying too hard. Professionally written dating profiles probably don’t sound real or relatable.
Then there’s the you part: I don’t know what you’re saying if you get a match — awkward jokes? Desperate come-ons? I know dating advice is always something along the lines of casting the widest net possible, and getting in front of everyone you can, and then just being yourself. But don’t be pathologically yourself! Be a good version of yourself. If being yourself means standing thousands deep in the middle of music festival muttering about Tolkien, try again, or at least recognize you’re winnowing your options down to a small few and adjust your expectations.
Swiping right on everyone on Tinder makes no sense. The last thing you need is to get some matches with people who couldn’t give a fuck about nerd shit, who will make you feel good for two seconds because someone, anyone, likes you, and then end up with someone who resents you for playing Overwatch every night.
But that’s what desperation does to people: It makes us scramble for anyone just to have someone, when now, more than ever, you should be a lot more considered in your approach and effort. All you need to do is focus in on a few things: Don’t rush into relationships just to avoid being alone. You have a lot of room here to figure out what you want and strategize to meet the sorts of people you’d actually be happy with. You just need to think through some of your assumptions that aren’t doing you any favors.
You say you like video games reading fantasy when you’re not at work. These are perfectly valid pastimes, but they are also extremely isolating, not requiring you to leave your house. Rather than swiping right on everyone or paying people to set up a dating profile to get the women you want, go to places where people who like video games go. I don’t know if you play in online communities where personality outshines everything, but that’s one option, at least as a way to meet people you might really connect with in real life.
Another is going to all those nerd conventions for gamers. This is literally where many nerds like you meet women who are super invested in gaming and can relate to being outsiders. Dating and making friends as an adult is identical to Hell. There is no longer an embarrassment of riches of like-minded people who sail past daily—you now literally have to force yourself to go out into the world and spend time with people who like the same shit you do. This is critical, and it sounds pat, but it’s really the only way friendship and romance happen. Likewise, there is no point in you trawling places like Tinder without even trying to home in on the type of women who you actually have a shot with.
I would ask you to think about any relationships of any kind that you have that “just work” without much effort, romantic or not, and consider them a guide. All good relationships involve a kind of effortless back and forth where two people meet each other’s needs, whatever those may be, and enjoy each other’s company.
I also think therapy is not a bad idea. You could get to the bottom of your previous lack of self-worth, and how you approach conversations with women in ways that may come down to crippling anxiety. That’s treatable. If you really are willing to spend any amount of money, go to a dating coach. That’s tactical strategy in the pocket.
One last thing: Don’t be embarrassed about not having had a girlfriend. When you do meet someone and they want to know why you haven’t had a girlfriend, you should be honest: You never really met someone whom you clicked with until now, and you didn’t see the point in spending time with someone you knew wasn’t a good fit.
This not only differentiates you in the marketplace — you haven’t been dating a million people a week on Tinder, like every other single mouth breather in existence — but it’s also proof that you know a good thing when you see it, and aren’t afraid to wait around until it shows up.