How do you learn to choose others when you’ve always let others choose you?
October 16, 2008 2:11 PM   Subscribe

How do you learn to choose others when you’ve always let others choose you?

It’s only just hit me that I spent my entire teens and twenties letting friends and lovers choose me -- while I chose to avoid potential friends and lovers whom I admired.

The only criterion for my friends and lovers has been that they’ve wanted me, nothing more, nothing less. If someone wants me, I want them. Even if I don't. I'm attracted to your personality = run. I'm not attracted to your personality = let's hang out.

What’s more, it astonishes me to realise that I gave trust without it being earned -- and continued to give trust when it was thrown back in my face. I don't like you but I'll give you everything I've got so that you like me. Yikes.

This is all rather painful to admit. Because the result is that I’ve allowed myself to be used by other people continuously, wondering why I can't "connect." I've spent two years in solitude because I couldn't bear to be used again. But it's taken me this long to see the light.

I’m in the process of sourcing a therapist. But in the mean time, I’d love to hear similar stories or receive tips on how I can learn to choose others. It’s something, I’m startled to say, I have never, ever done.
posted by elke to Human Relations (14 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

You mefi mail is disabled. Which may keep people who still have trust issues and like that from responding. I'm just sayin'.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:39 PM on October 16, 2008

Oh, wow, I hear you, and congratulations for making that realization...some people never, ever reach that level of self-awareness. You have nothing but great things in store for you!

First, commend yourself for working on this. That's a hard thing to do. Bravo/a.

Second, forget about the time wasted...that isn't useful. Those were lessons learned, not wasted time. And start from where you are.

Third, and most importantly, love yourself first. Now, I used to hate it when people said that, so I will give you some concrete ways to do so.
- Treat yourself the way you would a significant other in the early stages. Date yourself. Buy yourself treats. Take care of yourself well - physically, emotionally, spiritually.
- When you do something, anything, ask yourself if it is in your best interest. Would you want a friend to do this to him/herself? I say this because many of us with self-esteem issues tend to treat ourselves badly - either by not eating well, by substance abuse, or not wanting the best for ourselves.
- You've done a great thing by spending time getting to know YOU. Continue to do so! Find out what you love, what you don't like, and what you are capable of, through sports, a hobby, your career, or all of the above.
- By all of this I mean you are "choosing" yourself, as in putting yourself first. No one else will.

Fourth, you can find good people. They are out there. Think about, and write down, the standards of how you want to be treated. Then accept nothing less. Good people tend to be involved in the community. You can find them! It is always your choice whom you surround yourself with - exercise that right.

You are worth it! Good luck on your journey - I am sure there are great things ahead for you.
posted by Punctual at 2:58 PM on October 16, 2008 [6 favorites]

Heh, I'm the opposite of this. And letting myself be chosen by people I didn't like, well...UGH does not even bother to describe it for me.

I will say that it is hard to reject people who Really Like You!, when you don't like them. It makes you feel like an asshole who won't "give me a chance" (if I had a dollar for every time I heard that one, or for every time I did and wished I hadn't...) if you don't hang out with them and/or date them. Many a time and oft I've said to myself, "If I could just make myself like so-and-so, things would be so much easier..." because I hate being the asshole who rejects people all the time. Plus rejecting them means they now hate you (or at least, dislike), and then you feel shitty because someone hates you, with good reason. It's NOT flattering to be liked and not to like them back, and makes you feel bad that you don't, so if you can force yourself to like them back, you will feel better about yourself. Is anything I'm saying here ringing a bell?

Why do you run from those you like? I have no idea on that one, but the future therapist will probably know. But I'd guess it's a self-esteem thing, combined with "approaching people really does suck." Generally speaking for me, if someone I am interested in seems flat-out uninterested in me, I don't bother, but there's enough people out there where the two of you are mutually interested in each other (as friends, at least) so that as long as you don't run, it can go well. How to sit on the run urge, though, I don't know.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:58 PM on October 16, 2008

I have a friend who, about 3 or 4 years ago, decided to cut everyone she knew off and never to meet anyone new again, not as a friend, not romantically, because she felt she couldn't trust anyone and the hurt was too bad. This, unfortunately, made it incredibly difficult for everyone else, who had their own problems, to come to her. She wouldn't answer the phone. You had to call up to her house, which she wouldn't leave. Everyone missed her a lot, and no one ever considered how they became friends with her in the first place, whether they liked her first or she liked them first, whether they'd had any conflict with her, and all of us had done, but this was just part of the friendship and none of us found that past relevant to the present, which was far sadder and more horrible. She might have said she felt she had been used and screwed over continuously, and certainly she let some people away with bad behaviour towards her, but by cutting off everyone and blaming the behaviour as her being 'too' trusting, she made things a whole lot worse.

Here's a few things I want to ask and throw out as thoughts: Does this really do justice to the complexity of your relations with other people?

You must have found aspects of those personalities of the people you did choose tolerable or interesting in order to allow yourself to be involved with them. But then you perhaps, in hindsight, thought a lot about the intolerable parts (and there are intolerable parts in everyone), focussed hard on those because you got to know them, and thought if you had gone, in an autonomous, self esteem-laden way for those you really admired (which suggests you never got intimate or really close to them, because 'admiration' can be best done from afar, its harder to maintain when someone farts in bed beside you every day or gets drunk and has to be brought home puking), you would have been better off and you would have really chosen the people you really liked. Thereby helpfully heaping the problem on your personality and your tendency to not choose the people you really liked. Now its pretty logical, but does it really fit with your past? Its not your personality that is the problem, or your tendencies to make the wrong choice, by the sounds of things.

Sometimes we choose people because there's no one else we can see around. These people can be completely horrible and really intolerable in other contexts, or they just don't fit with us or who we conceive ourselves to be later in life, and we can allow them to excessively hurt us, but at the time we can see their capacity for good in the context in which we're placed with them. And that is ok. You can make friends, find lovers, in any context, and they don't have to be people we as such admire, and 'really want', and the reality is, they often aren't, but that doesn't make them less preferable or us less right in making such a choice.
posted by iamnotateenagegirl at 3:14 PM on October 16, 2008

If you're like me, you don't like anybody who you're not positively sure already likes you. It's all about self-confidence and fear of rejection. The solution is to give yourself permission to make mistakes and to, as they say, "go for it." I'm 40 and it was only a few years ago that I realized I could flirt and have it be welcomed/accepted/not result in being called a chauvinist. Try just "being" confident, because it's a state of mind that can (must?) be practiced.
posted by rhizome at 3:15 PM on October 16, 2008

Thanks for the concrete ways to heart myself, Punctual! They're wonderful!

And Rhizome, you're (almost) spot on: I'm afraid of anybody I'm not positively sure will like me. It is indeed about self-confidence (or lack thereof!) and fear of rejection. I'm petrified of it.
posted by elke at 3:37 PM on October 16, 2008

By my observation, this is pretty common in women - the traditional mating ritual is only a hair's breadth from it, ie: that the woman looks nice, attracting admirers, and then she selects from that pool. (Ie she's letting others choose her, and only in the case of multiple admirers in competition does she exert any secondary choosing of her own).
For guys on the other hand, it's traditional to seek what you like and then find out if she is amenable to you making anything of it.

I prefer seeking what you want, to selecting from admirers, because admirers will be playing up the things about themselves that they think you want, which means you have to make a choice from false information. And three months later when the act has faded and you're left with the real personality, you might find he's not all that after all.

Whereas if you're doing the primary seeking, you are evaluating people who are not doing their best to foil your evaluation in their favour, people who may not even be aware of you, so your judgments of them have a better chance of accuracy.

So all I'd like to say to you, is that I think seeking is better, but as the guys will tell you, it's hard to get up the courage to approach someone you like and have them shoot you down. For many, it's so hard that it's a paralyzing fear.

My suspicion is that this may be related to why you avoid those you admire - you are skirting the risk of them rejecting you, the risk of discovering that according to opinion that you respect, you don't make the grade. That's some major major hurt, and people go to great lengths to avoid it.

So, some tips from a guy:
- You've got to accept that it's hard and do it anyway, because even if it's the hardest thing you've ever done, it's better than what you've been doing. And knowing what could happen to you but putting yourself on the line anyway, will make you stronger.
- You've got to not take the rejection personally. Name any heartthrob or superstar - even the sexiest man or woman on the planet - these people get rejected too. Why? Because if you're just not someone's type, it doesn't matter how wonderful you are. It's not about you, it doesn't reflect on you, your just not everybody's type (no-one is), which means you WILL get rejected - AND - that being rejected doesn't mean you suck.
- People are different. Some guys will LOVE that you had the confidence to know what you wanted and go after it instead of passively hoping to be noticed. And some guys will think that you seeking them out might indicate desperation, or that you're not in their league. Don't sweat it if someone reads your actions negatively. What you are really doing is putting yourself in the driver's seat of your life.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:39 PM on October 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

Y'know what, scratch what I just said - that's kind of the deep end of changing your approach, when there is the much easier middle ground available to you of hinting that you're interested in someone (flirting etc) and then letting them take the risk of approaching you if they're interested too. It's more limited than doing the approaching yourself (it doesn't work so well at finding out whether they could be into you if say, there are limited chances for you to have their attention in the first place, or if they might not be good at reading your cues, or if they're not sure enough that they're really looking for someone right now to feel much need to follow up, or if you have competition that is more assertive than you, or if... etc etc), but it's almost certainly a much easier transition.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:59 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well done with the epiphany. My experience is that most people just drift along completely avoiding themselves as much as possible.

Agree with Punctual: no looking back. You had to go through what you did in order to arrive here and now. Congratulations, you made it (seriously).

Something I learned this year: if I want to change my relationships with others I have to change myself. I am the only person on earth over whom I have (any) control. Even then, not always! Fortunately you are already on the path for this, so more kudos to you.

Keep going, dump your regrets in the trash along with the old ways and start loving. Begin with simple stuff like a sunrise (sunsets are way cliche -- sunrises take effort) or a soaring eagle or completed crossword. Love what you create around you because it comes from you.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:30 PM on October 16, 2008

I came to a similar realization around April, and decided I was going to explore the parameters by only dating people I thought were so cool they were certain to dump me. The results so far have been surprising and gratifying.
posted by Estragon at 5:47 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

What’s more, it astonishes me to realise that I gave trust without it being earned -- and continued to give trust when it was thrown back in my face. I don't like you but I'll give you everything I've got so that you like me... This is all rather painful to admit. Because the result is that I’ve allowed myself to be used by other people continuously, wondering why I can't "connect." I've spent two years in solitude because I couldn't bear to be used again.

Welcome to the human race. You are talking about a drama faced by everyone on a repeated basis. And that fact can be the basis of a new way of looking at this problem. We are all victimized by the breaches of trust that we face and the breaches of trust we commit. Seeing this as a problem of human interaction and not as one of some mistake of yours or of some characteristic that you posess will go a long way towards learning to accept the pain that others cause and not to take it as some sort of judgment against you. The pain is real--but it need not represent anything more than that--you are not required to believe that the injury you suffered is one you deserve.

So where does this leave you? What must you do to make things better? In a word, nothing. You are a human being with the ability to learn and grow from these situations and respond better when they come up again. You must learn to trust that you will be able to deal with the situation when it comes up again. And when you percieve that you might be facing someone doing you wrong, stop, breathe, and listen to your heart and mind. These tools are designed to help you, and when we respond in ways we wish we had not, it is usually because we did not listen to ourselves closely enough.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:58 PM on October 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you're gaining a strong sense of who you are, and starting therapy will help with that. It will help you to be very critical going forward: critical of other people and critical of your reactions to things. Notice what you do if you meet someone you're attracted to. Pay attention to see if you shrink back or step forward. Then use that information to switch up your behavior. If you meet someone you admire, and you notice that you just started to turn away, *make* yourself do the opposite. Go up to them, say hi, and start a conversation. Yes, it's scary. But do it anyway. Be confident in yourself, and fake it if you have to. If you're in a situation and find someone choosing you, consciously make yourself evaluate them. Do you actually like them, or are you just hanging out with them because they want to? Really think that over, and trust yourself to accept or reject someone's advances according to your real desire, not your fear of rejection.
posted by bassjump at 5:09 AM on October 17, 2008

It's a tough realization, for sure, and I really hope you follow through on finding a therapist. These issues cannot be sorted out with one realization and advice on the internet--you'll need to repeatedly face them with someone who can guide you through your tangled thoughts. I've been going through a similar revelation and ensuing therapy since January, and it has paid off so, so much.

The first thing I would do is not beat yourself up over the past. I, too, gave trust too easily to people who repeatedly broke it and I stayed in a relationship I didn't want anymore because I felt I had no right to say no to someone who wanted me, even though I didn't want him. After all, why shoot myself in the foot? Here's someone who wants me, what if nobody else did and I sent him packing? That kind of attitude allows others to take you for granted, and the cycle plays out again.

Start and stick with therapy, even when it's hard, even when it sucks, even when it feels like you're not making any progress. The revelations get smaller and less strong as you go on, but they are important nonetheless and help reinforce this bigger one, that you are deserving of more than you think.
posted by purplecurlygirl at 6:45 AM on October 17, 2008

You've taken some great first steps---seeing how you've shortchanged yourself and seeking a therapist.

While not to the extent it sounds that you have, it took me a long time as well to deliberately exclude people from my life who made at least a mediumish effort to be in it. As my confidence in myself and my own worth grew, I started revising that policy. I realized I had previously held onto people out of fear that I would have no one to hang out with if I ditched them.

The key for me was identifying what I needed---not if they were a "bad person" or not---and identifying if I was getting it. If I was, fantastic. If I wasn't, I would talk to them about it and give things a reasonable amount of time to resolve. If I didn't see the person improving (or if it seemed they would never reach a point that I found satisfactory on the issue) . . . I stopped contact.

I can say with absolute, 100% certainty this has been a successful way of living for me. Before, I would fear challenging the status quo in my relationships---if I had a crush on a friend, I wouldn't tell them. They might leave me! If I didn't like how a friend always had a negative comment on my accomplishments, I wouldn't bring it up----we might fight about it!

Bringing that stuff up has given me the chance to see some true colors. Sure, that has meant some people have had to go. It also showed me the effort some people will make to stay in my life. Once, I had thought good people would not make an effort to change to stay in my life. It turned out I just hadn't given them the chance.
posted by lacedback at 12:19 PM on October 18, 2008

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