Why I’ll Never Water Myself down for a Date Again

Relationships

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.

And, ultimately, at the core of it all: what if he doesn’t want me anymore?

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.

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.

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!

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.

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BY Jackie Saffert - May 11, 2019

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12 Comments  +

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  1. Why I’ll Never Water Myself down for a Date Again – Business Blog

    May 11th, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    […] Continue reading Why I’ll Never Water Myself down for a Date Again at Wit & Delight | Designin… […]

  2. Irena

    May 12th, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Wow, amazing! I am in my late twenties and I am afraid of dating for the same reasons you are listing. What if… hundreds of what ifs..!
    Thanks for writing it.

  3. Erin Farrugia

    May 12th, 2019 at 11:45 pm

    I’ve never read an article that i’ve connected with so much in my life! It’s like you’ve just explained my dating life up until now!
    I too started dating later in life (around 29/30) as I just wasn’t interested in it that much and had some anxieties in my life but it never really bothered me. But around the time I hit 30 I dipped my toe in the dating pool. I had a few nice dates but nothing serious and then recently I met a guy on REDDIT of all places and just like you, we went in hard right from the get-go, chatted every day non-stop for ages, we told each other SO much, and then we met up and had a ‘sleep over’ and from there it was all downhill. He stopped msging and I felt like I was bugging him every time I messaged, it made me feel horrible. In the end we decided to call it quits and even though we didn’t ‘date’ for long my self-worth really took a hit. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for him or anyone. Why would anyone want to date me?
    But I thought about that A LOT and then it occurred to me… Why WOULDN’T anyone want to date me?

    I’m kind, funny and cute (well I kinda think so anyways)
    Why should I change who I am for someone who doesn’t appreciate me for me?
    I have been single for a long time and I don’t need a man to make me happy, and I DO love my alone time (hello ambivert over here!) but I’ve decided to be myself and put myself out there again but now I know what I’m looking for in a partner and dating a few people has helped me realise what I want.
    I know the right person is out there for us… but till then being single can be LOTS of fun :)))

  4. Teresa

    May 13th, 2019 at 4:38 am

    Oh wow, I needed to read this right now! My ex has serious anxiety issues, whereas I’ve always been confident and aware of my own worth. We recently broke up but I find myself wishing, hoping, praying that he would get that “light bulb moment” and realize what he had in me. Thankfully I haven’t reached out to him about this, but it’s so close so often. This text made me hold back again, though. I can’t make his anxiety go away, and if he’s not getting better there can be no future for us. But I’m still hoping, wishing, praying…

    Teresa Maria | Outlandish Blog

  5. Stacy

    May 13th, 2019 at 11:57 am

    “Me, a person who’s historically had to hold on to everything and everyone who’s ever made me feel anything. ”

    I relate to this so so much. Deleting my ex’s number was a HUGE deal, but I had to just act like it wasn’t to actually do it. Anyway, loved this piece.

  6. Meredith

    May 14th, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Oh, girl. I relate to this so much. I’m currently working through some of these anxieties with my therapist, and it is HARD work. I have positive reinforcements posted all over my apartment (“I am enough. I’m not a burden. I’m okay even when everyone else is not okay. My feelings are valid. My heart is worthy of being loved”), but believing them is going to take awhile. Changing behaviors is easy, but lies you and others have been telling yourself your whole life whether they meant harm or not , not so much.

  7. Jackie Saffert

    May 17th, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Irena—Thank YOU for reading. I so know where you’re coming from; hundreds of what ifs indeed.

    These days, I’m getting better at caring less what these men I date think of me. My current answer to the question “What if he doesn’t want me anymore?”: “Cool. Good to know. I’d rather not waste my time with someone who doesn’t want me anyway.”

  8. Jackie Saffert

    May 17th, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Oh Erin, your comment is a breath of fresh air. Thank you for writing it! Honestly I think there are a lot of people who didn’t follow society’s generally expected “timeline” for when one should start dating, and how often they should do it. I used to carry a lot of shame over the fact that I didn’t start dating until my late twenties, but now I simply do not care. Whether or not I realized it at the time, those years alone were what I needed then; dating a lot is what I want now.

    I’m sorry that guy pulled that 180 on you, but I’m also so glad to hear you came to the same conclusion I ultimately did. Reading the line “Why WOULDN’T anyone want to date me?” made me smile. Damn. Straight.

    Here’s to dating on our own timelines, not settling for anyone who doesn’t appreciate us for exactly who were are, and having a hell of a lot of fun in the process, too.

  9. Jackie Saffert

    May 17th, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Teresa, thank you for commenting! That’s such a tough situation. And while I am in absolutely no position to give relationship advice (are any of us, though? the particulars of relationships in and of themselves are so, so nuanced), I do have a feeling that your ex will have to reach any and all conclusions for himself; he’ll have to make the decision to seek help for himself, too. Breakups are hard. Hope you’re taking care of yourself, in whatever ways you can!

  10. Jackie Saffert

    May 17th, 2019 at 12:14 pm

    STACY. I’m so glad you could relate. Deleting an ex’s number is a massive deal. It’s not trivial in the slightest. If someone isn’t adding anything to your life anymore (and, in some cases, if they’re negatively impacting it), the best thing to do is let them go. That, and remove any temptation to let them back in (hence, deleting the number and whatnot). It’s hard, but it’s important. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  11. Jackie Saffert

    May 17th, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    MEREDITH. I hear you and I see you and I congratulate you for doing that work. It takes time and effort and sometimes tears to undo the anxieties and lies that have built up over decades. It’s important, though. I’ve found that I don’t usually realize how impactful that work is in the moment, but weeks or months down the line it hits me how much I’ve changed as a result (case in point: could NOT have written this essay 3 months ago. would not have even been in the head space to recognize half of what I wrote above).

    And positive reinforcements? I’ve got them scattered throughout my apartment, too. I think it is good and healthy and if it helps? Hell, we should feel free to tape those reminders up to our heart’s content. Thank you for reading!

  12. Watering down things, but NEVER myself – Coffee Chalk

    May 19th, 2019 at 6:32 am

    […] Why I will NEVER water myself down for a date again […]

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