How the “Experience Gap” Can Kill Your Relationship

Sean Kernan

I was doomed from the get-go.

If I went back in time and it was my job to save “me” from getting dumped, there was nothing I could’ve done. Fate had penned its decree long before this moment.


I was in over my head. She was beautiful, smart, confident — a trifecta that’s terrifying to many men.

I’d just come out of a rough, awkward teen phase. I was a late bloomer. For years, I’d sat back, feeling invisible to my female peers. They all seemed to crush on the same set of guys.

I eventually rounded a corner and filled out. But I was still psychologically weak. I couldn’t comprehend that I was deserving of such a partner.

She did all the work. She had to wave a giant glowing sign to get me to ask her out. Our first kiss was basically a hostage situation, “Sean kisses me or everyone dies.”

From then on, the moment I saw her I’d freeze up and be like, “OK cool. Act normal. Act normal. Don’t say anything stupid.”

My panic made no sense. She was already my girlfriend. She already liked me and had conveyed that on the clearest of terms, and here I was, this frightened little schoolboy.

“How can she — like me?”

I was so full of self-doubt. It roiled and spiraled inside of me. It was irrational. I funneled all incoming information through a lens of negativity.

We were at a gas station once. I was standing, looking at candy and some older man came and said, (while she was in another aisle), “You are one lucky man. When God created her <gesturing over the aisle> — he was just showing off!”

I said, “Thanks.” a bit sheepishly.

I should have been flattered — strangers were complimenting me on how beautiful my girlfriend was. Instead, I was plagued by feelings of inferiority. I’d become so too judgmental, against myself. I’d defaulted to this less-than-better-than mindset. I wasn’t an ugly guy. But I still saw myself as an awkward teenager that had been picked on.

Really though, it was my lack of experience. Change from within takes time.

She’d come out of the womb beautiful. Her mother a professional model. Her father a handsome photographer. She’d had boyfriends since middle school (hell, probably earlier).

I’d had to mutate a few times.

I wasn’t ready for her. I couldn’t catch up fast enough. I wasn’t even close to being on the same wavelength.

She eventually broke up with me over a phone call, saying, “Things had gotten too weird.”

She was right. We’d been friends beforehand. The moment we became “more than”, I’d become a shell of my former self. The witty jokes stopped. The fluid, authentic behavior vanished.

Who wants to date someone who just sits there and doesn’t talk?

Don’t answer that.

The experience gap breaks a lot of couples. It strikes from all angles.

I’ve dated a woman who pushed me to the brink of my sanity. I’d wonder, “What in god’s name is she thinking right now?” She wasn’t a bad person. She was just immature and needed to learn.

I’ve also been the blind and inconsiderate asshole. I needed to get kicked to the curb to learn that.

That’s why the experience gap is dangerous. It’s not that we don’t have the tools, it’s that we don’t know which tools to use.

Your partner can seem intractable and unreasonable. Then, after it ends and some years go by—you may realize they were right. Maybe they were taking the long view. We should’ve just gone along with it.

Post-mortems aren’t fun. But they can reveal a lot about ourselves. This is why it’s so frustrating to see ex bashing for ten articles in a row. Has accountability and learning completely gone away?

After getting dumped, I knew I needed to get my head straight. I’d self-sabotaged and let my insecurities tank the relationship.

Years went by. I dated more. I had my share of triumphs and defeats. I tumbled back into the single world a few times, licked my wounds, and started again. With experience, I began to accept positive validation. I stopped feeling like an imposter.

With time, I’ve realized that each person — no matter how impressive, beautiful, brilliant, charismatic — is just another human being looking out through their eyes at you. They have their own insecurities, their own self-doubts just like any other person. And this is why confidence is so attractive.

The whole idea of “leagues” and “punching above our weight” is, in many ways, a manifestation. Carry yourself a way that shows self-love and acceptance. Be OK with your dating outcomes either way. Some will or will not like you. The calm acceptance of that fact is the bedrock of authenticity.

If I could pass one piece of advice to you: stop all the destructive internal dialogue. Stop chasing approval. Delete any thoughts that hurt your confidence.

Be yourself and run the risk of someone liking you for who you actually are.

Everyone is worthy of love.

Men, don’t be terrified of women. They don’t bite. They are people just like you.

Approach dating with confidence. Approach a relationship with humility. I hope all of you find love and happiness — you certainly deserve it.

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