Today we’re going to be talking about dating. Self-worth as well. Confidence? Yep. That, too. All three items are inherently heavily intertwined anyway, aren’t they? Before we begin, there’s a thing you should know about me: I didn’t really start dating until my late twenties—until a few months ago, to be more exact. I dabbled, occasionally. I pined, often. But for most of my life, I rarely put myself out there. The reasons why are another essay entirely, mainly centered around self-confidence issues and childhood stuff and the like. We can talk about it more later! If you want! Email me or something! Cool? Cool. Okay. Moving on.
When I did start dating? I dove in headfirst. I wanted to experience everything, learn everything, leap allllll the way out of my comfort zone. I’m learning lessons about dating and relationships and love, fast and furiously. They’re tossed at me anew every single day.
There was this one guy in particular. We had our first date on Valentine’s Day (I know). Despite the implications one might imagine are tied into that, we were going to keep it “casual,” and we both knew that from the start. And yet, we’d text from morning ’til night. We’d talk for hours on end. We shared a lot with each other, things we didn’t usually tell other people. I actually let him in—because I’ve historically been terrible at emotional intimacy, and I wanted to practice it, with someone I was starting to trust, with someone I liked spending time with. He let me in, too. I naively figured that since it was casual, since we were just going to be friends, the risk of losing him was minimal anyway. Somewhere along the way I started liking him. I didn’t realize it while it was happening. Of course I didn’t; I was fully oblivious to the signs.
My therapist had told me that when I started dating, it would bring up things for me, and we’d have to work through them. I didn’t quite know what she meant, until it happened. Anxiety, folks. It reared its ugly head, one Saturday night after a very busy week. I was running on empty as it was, and the stress finally caught up with me. It released some of the aforementioned triggers my therapist had warned me about, and I had to take a break from seeing this guy for a little while, to put myself back together. He was dealing with his fair share of anxiety, too, and was understanding about the whole thing. We took a week off from talking, and when we started again, we doubled down. We texted more than before. We wanted each other more than before. We set up a date to hang out.
And we did hang out. And it went well. It was fun. Until it wasn’t. I was at his place, and it was late at night, and we’d been in bed for hours. And all of a sudden, anxiety kicked in (again). My mind started racing. I was quiet. He asked me what was wrong, but I didn’t know what to tell him, because I didn’t know what was happening. So I just lied there, trying to parse it together. I realized, after a while, and the next morning, too, that lying there in the dark, about to have my first sleepover with a guy I actually cared about (even though I was pretending I didn’t), the floodgates to my self-doubt opened alllll the way up. The racing thoughts? They were each of my insecurities, rushing up to greet me, one by one.
I’m going to have to take out my contacts. What if he’s not attracted to me with my glasses on?
What if my makeup wears off while I’m sleeping, and I look horrible when I wake up?
What if I have bad breath in the morning?
What if I say the wrong thing? Do the wrong thing? What if I already have?
What if what if what if.
The rest of the evening was weird. We fell asleep eventually; I tossed and turned all night. In the morning, he seemed off. He seemed distant. He seemed cold. He wasn’t texting me that day, or the next, and I asked if I could call him the next night. We talked on the phone for an hour. He started off by saying I was “a very nice person” (yep, that opening line hurt as much as you’d imagine it would), but that my anxiety was making his anxiety worse. He told me he hoped he’d want to see me again, but right now he needed to take a break.
I was crushed. I felt horrible. I realized then that it hadn’t been so casual after all. I’d started falling for him. I’d let him in, I’d been myself, and it had backfired.
In reflecting on what happened, my immediate inclination, my instinct, was to figure out what I had done wrong. What could I have done differently? Was I too much? Did I show him too much too soon? We both knew it wasn’t going to be a relationship; we both knew it was going to be casual. So how did I mess even casual up? Blame. I blamed it alll on myself.
It wasn’t until a week later that I understood the actual truth of it all: it’s not that I was too much. It’s that we weren’t right. I realized that when it’s right, me occasionally displaying anxiety won’t make the man I’m with shut down, roll over on his side, face the wall instead of me. When it’s right, if I’m feeling anxious, he’ll ask, “Are you okay?” He’ll hold me. We’ll work through it together, instead of shutting down apart.
With this man, and other men I’ve liked in the past, I held on to them so tightly—to their attention and affection and whatever semblance of feelings they were willing to give me. I adjusted myself to fit their lives—their schedules, their emotions, their timelines for what they could offer and when. I watered down anything about me I deemed might be too much for them. And if it all went wrong? I instinctively determined it was because of something I had done.
As I get older, as I date more, as I figure out who I am and what I want out of life and out of relationships, I’m learning that if something doesn’t work out, 99% of the time it’s not because I did something wrong; it’s because it wasn’t right. I’m realizing that I don’t want a man who doesn’t want me for me—if a man isn’t going to accept me for who I am, I’d rather know, so I can let go and move on. I’m on the way to internalizing—really, really internalizing—that I am enough, that I deserve whatever kind of life I want, that I do not need to apologize for who I am, that I will be okay.
Maybe you reached these conclusions years ago. Maybe you’re further along on the path to self-love than I am. If that’s the case? I am so, so happy for you. All I ask is that you pass the message along. It’s true that these lessons about our worth are ones we have to learn for ourselves. They’re ones that won’t sink in on any timeline but our own. We’ll only learn them when we’re ready. But I think it can be helpful to have nudges, little reminders of our value, along the way.
So lead by example: if you do already know how amazing you are, shout it from the rooftops. Let your confidence ricochet off the walls; don’t hold it in for one second. Let your self-worth radiate out of you. It’s contagious, confidence; it has a ripple effect, self-worth. Remind your friends, with regularity, how incredible they are. Remind them they are worthy of love. Remind them they are enough, just as they are (and that they always have been). Our minds can be masters at deflecting these compliments, at tossing aside these inherent truths. But, eventually, if we hear them enough, if we learn them with enough expediency, they may actually start to sink in.
Sometimes I’m anxious; yes, it’s true. Sometimes I’m sad. Sometimes, when I’m asked a question, it takes me a while to answer; I’m thinking, okay? Sometimes I don’t respond to texts in a timely manner. I’ve made mistakes; I still make them. Alternatively? I care about the people I care about, deeply. When I do make time, I’m there—I try not to have my phone out; I try to focus on who I’m with. When I’m invested in something, I’m driven as hell. I’m passionate, I’m smart, I’m witty, I can be a lot of fun.
In conclusion? I’m human. I have traits that lean negative and others that lean positive (although both are subjective, anyway). This is who I am. Take it or leave it, gentlemen. Either way is fine. Just decide expediently, and don’t string me along while you’re trying to figure out if I’m what you want.
None of us should ever feel like we have to water ourselves down to be with someone. How exhausting. How damaging to our sense of self. What absolute, utter bullshit. I will not stay with someone who doesn’t want me, who thinks I’m too much or too little. I will not alter my values or opinions or how much space I take up to make someone else more comfortable. I will not wait with bated breath for a guy to text me back. I will not blame myself when a man walks away. I will never apologize for who I am again. I did that for 28 years. I’m done. If you don’t want me? Okay. Bye!
None of us should ever feel like we have to water ourselves down to be with someone. How exhausting. How damaging to our sense of self. What absolute, utter bullshit.
The human you are right now, as you sit at your desk or on your couch or in a coffee shop reading these words? That human is good enough. The current version of you is exactly right, just as you are. You do not need to change yourself for anyone else. If a person you’re dating doesn’t want you for you? They’re not it. Let them go. Move on. Open up space for the one who is.
That man I’d felt so sad about? The one who really saw me, decided I was too anxious, decided he didn’t want me after all? He reached out again recently. I responded. He responded. I responded. Then I didn’t hear back. Hot and cold, hot and cold, this one is; playing with my heartstrings on a timeline that’s convenient only for him. So one night, in a Lizzo-fueled moment of clarity (listen to Soulmate, preferably on repeat, while dancing alone in your apartment), I deleted his texts. I deleted his number. Me, a person who’s historically had to hold on to everything and everyone who’s ever made me feel anything. No more with this guy. Good riddance, honestly.
I value myself now. I’m starting to know my worth, and it’s a hell of a lot higher than I made it out to be the vast majority of my life. I know I’m worth texting back, worth spending time with, worth choosing, worth loving. Just as I am. It took me years and years and so much self-reflection and a lot of dating and dozens of therapy appointments to get to this point. But I’m here now. I’m not looking back. And friends? I hope you don’t, either.
BY Jackie Saffert - May 11, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.