'I can't find a girlfriend, what's wrong with me?'

'I can't find a girlfriend, what's wrong with me?'
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

Dear Thelma,

I am 32 years-old and I am frustrated that I have no girlfriend. When I was a young boy, people used to call me Pinocchio because of my hooked nose. My younger brother got all the attention because he was better looking.

I grew up hating the way I look. I even contemplated cosmetic surgery for my nose at one point but as the years passed, I became more sensible and decided to accept myself for what I am. It wasn't easy.

The constant fighting between my parents and their eventual divorce made life more miserable for me.

My siblings and I were depressed for a period. I withdrew socially and kept to myself in high school. I became a victim of bullying.

After high school, I went out to work. I was in the service industry, and it was traumatising for me to learn how to socialise. I refused to give up, and put on a brave smile even though I was crumbling inside.

Fast forward to where I am now and I would like to say that I have made minimal progress. My mother played a major role in the break-up of the family, so I grew up distrusting women. I feel that women only want to use me because I am stupid and gullible.

I am unable to hold a conversation with women; I get nervous and start stuttering when I am with the opposite sex. The topics I am interested in do not seem to ring a bell with any of the girls I fancy.

I sometimes wonder how other men can carry themselves so well. At 32, some of my friends are happily married. It hurts me very much to see someone I admire going on dates with other guys.

I feel I have missed out so much in life. Am I not smart enough to win over a woman? I have tried to be nice to women but I only ended up getting cheated. What's wrong with me? Can I ever find a life partner? I am beginning to lose hope. Please help me. - Lone Wolf

Dear Lone Wolf,

The problem you have described here afflicts many people. It is not easy to walk up to a person you like, strike up a meaningful conversation, and end up in a relationship. It seems so easy. The media - movies and television - make it seem like anyone can do it. What we see on the screen is far from reality.

This aside, your problem also stems from some issues from your childhood. You perceive yourself negatively. How you perceive your looks plays a large part here. And being teased for it as a child does not help. It simply reinforces the negative way you look at yourself.

Your parents' divorce has also left an indelible scar on you. Firstly, you seem to carry with you the "shame" of being from a broken family. You also carry with you the very painful effects of your parents' bitter divorce. Finally, your parents' divorce has left you with a very poor opinion of women.

When you feel less than confident about yourself, it will show. When people perceive the kind of vibes you give off, it will affect the way they react and respond to you. The shame you carry with you shows, too.

If you want to move on with your life, you have to come to terms with some things about yourself. Be honest. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Do you really like the way you look?

Really accepting yourself, and telling yourself that you have to accept yourself, are two very different things. Do not compare yourself with others. See how your face fits. Do you like it? You may have to do this a few times, but that is all right. You can take as much time as you need.

There is no set timeline for you to do things. Many people get married by a certain age and own a house and acquire other possessions. Just because that is the case, it doesn't mean that it is the "right age". There is no right age to do these things. What matters is what is right for you.

After you have had a good look at yourself and decided if you like how you look, think about anything that you would like to change. There is nothing wrong in wanting to change some aspects of yourself. There are lotions and creams to improve complexion. There are procedures to remove scars. It is all right to do these things, if you can afford them.

If you really think your nose could use some work, it wouldn't hurt to speak to a professional to get their opinion. Once you have all the information, you can make an informed decision. You will know the risks, the costs and the benefits.

You may decide that you do not want to go ahead. That is all right as well. Finding out information, though, will help quieten that voice that is always asking "what if…"

Just telling yourself that you like yourself is not enough. What do you like about yourself? Make a list. These things are good to help you know yourself better. Know your strengths and identify areas that can use improvements. It is not boastful to say you like this or that about yourself. It is only boastful when that is all you can talk about!

The next thing you have to do is accept some things about yourself and stop being ashamed about them. For one, it is completely acceptable that you had to learn things - socialising, how to be in the world outside your family - the hard way. There is no shame in that. As a matter of fact, that is how most people learn. Just because they make it look easy, it doesn't mean it is.

Many people come from the school of hard knocks and it is not a bad place to be. Life is about learning, and unfortunately there is no "how to" guide to get you through it. Making mistakes is how we all learn. The important thing is to stop repeating them after you know it is wrong.

As much as your parents' divorce affected you and your siblings, it is in the past and there is nothing that can be done about it now. You never "get over" painful experiences like this. It can only be worked through and integrated into the story of yourself over time. This is something that cannot happen, however, as long as you bear judgment about it.

Divorce is hard. It is painful. But it is not something to be ashamed about. You don't have to shout it to the world. But you also do not have to bear the stigma of divorce.

Depression is a medical condition. It is a serious issue. The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that it will become the world's biggest non-communicable disease. If you do indeed have depression, you need to get it properly diagnosed and treated. You will need to seek the services of a mental health professional - a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist for this.

However, if the depression you experience is sadness about how you perceive your life has turned out, that is something that can be overcome. You can do something about the problems you have described. Realising that, you can change your perception about the situation. Having a more positive attitude towards these things will help you overcome that sadness.

Speaking of changing perceptions, pray tell: how do you hope to meet and settle down with a woman when you admit that you do not trust women? If this is your attitude, any attempts you make to speak with and get to know women will appear fake. And people can tell when it is.

Your mum's antics during the divorce may have been bad. But they are hers. They do not signify all women's behaviours. There are many people who cheat and lie. It is unfortunate that the women you met did those things. Again, it is only indicative of their characters and not that of all women.

You really need to come to terms with what has happened in the past. You have to examine how it has affected the way you perceive yourself and the world around you. That would be the best way for you to change the way you perceive these things which you now consider important.

Meeting people - in the romantic sense, especially - is not easy. It is not like the movies where you see someone you are attracted to, you walk up to them and say something witty, engage in conversation and a few months later, it is happily ever after. This can happen, but more often than not, it is not that easy.

The only way you can meet people is to put yourself out there. Let your friends know you are looking to meet someone. Let people introduce you. As daunting as it is, go on blind dates.

If you prefer to be more cautious, you can try the Internet. That is a perfectly acceptable way to meet potential romantic partners. There are many legitimate dating websites. Providing information about yourself will help you identify and meet others with similar interests. You are not the only one with peculiar interests. There are many others. As a matter of fact, there are dating websites set up specifically for people with certain interests and even political affiliations. A search on the Internet will provide you with a list of suitable dating websites, and guidelines on how to effectively use the platform. There are also guidelines on how to be safe and these should not be ignored.

Our past makes us who we are. But that does not mean we are slaves to our past. The importance of history is to learn how mistakes were made and how to avoid repeating them in the future. No one can blame you for what happened in the past, especially when things were not within your control.

The important thing is to not judge yourself for what happened. As painful as things are, there comes a time when you just have to accept all that has happened and more forward.

Shame and grudges that we carry do nothing other than hurt us and hamper our efforts to make better choices for the present and future. - Thelma

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