How can I be vulnerable with a woman without coming off as insecure?
February 11, 2016 5:38 AM   Subscribe

Be confident is probably the most common advice that is given to men who want to do better with women. It's basically the gold standard advice. I myself have been working on myself for a while now. I finally have a job, am losing weight, and am trying to get my life together. Having said all that there are still parts of my life that I'm not proud of. I mean I don't think anybody is 100% confident.

So will it really damage a relationship to express your concerns or your insecurities to a woman? Is there any way a guy can be vulnerable without ruining the attraction or respect a woman feels for him?

How vulnerable can a man be with a woman?
posted by Dynamo05 to Human Relations (33 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I think the difference is whether you own your vulnerability as something for you to work on in your personal journey or expect her to fix it (or grant you some kind of final blessing of approval). It all comes down to how you say it. Saying "I'm not so confident in XYZ area of my life" is much different than spewing out in a ball of anxious frailty "I just can't do XYZ!!"

Basically whether you take responsibility for your vulnerability or expect "mommy" to come fix it. The former, she will want to help you help yourself, the latter and she will run for the hills.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:05 AM on February 11, 2016 [14 favorites]

The men I gravitate toward are very confident because they know who they are--the full range of who they are--and are at ease with it, not confident because they're perfect. For a few reasons, I love seeing my boyfriend's humanity when he expresses self-doubt. One, because he's mature enough and knows himself well enough to face a normal insecurity head on, and can bring his life's experience to knowing it's not all of who he is. And two, because he trusts me and is open to enlisting me in how he sees himself. Paradoxically, for our culture, I find that incredibly sexy and strong.

That said, leading with insecurity is unappealing to me because it indicates to me there's so much unfinished work that it's likely to get in the way of the person having enough emotional room and stability to get to know me.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:06 AM on February 11, 2016 [27 favorites]

Balance is important. If you spend every conversation talking about your issues, then it's therapy, not dating.

Take her out on proper dates. Text and call when you are supposed to. Make her laugh and make her feel heard. And then, every few days, talk to her about what you are feeling. Just don't make your problems the focus of the relationship, to where there isn't any room in the conversation for her anymore. We really, really don't like that.
posted by myselfasme at 6:15 AM on February 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

Most of the "be confident" stuff is about meeting women and the early stages of dating, and mostly "be confident" is shorthand for "things not to do" - like, you have to actually talk to women, not just sit in a corner and goggle at them; if you've been mutually flirting with a woman you should actually ask her out on a date, not just hope that circumstance will throw you together; when you ask someone out on a date it helps to start with some kind of definite plan ("I thought we could see the 6:30 showing of [movie] and then grab a bite at that new Italian place", rather than "uh, maybe we could kinda hang out sometime, I dunno where tho.") And (IMO) this kind of confidence tends to be appealing (to everyone, not just women) because it demonstrates that you're interested enough in the person to put in some work towards a relationship, that you're not just gonna sit there like a lump and make them do everything.

Women are just people, they're well aware that no-one is 100% confident, they don't expect you to be.

Once you're actually in a relationship, or at least past the first couple dates, it is absolutely 100% OK to be vulnerable. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable builds intimacy, and is actually expected if you want a relationship to grow stronger and deeper (again, this holds true regardless of the gender or orientation of the people in the relationship, it's not just a " man vs woman" thing.)

Our culture actually tends to put too much value on men being not vulnerable, and if you haven't read it yet you should take some time and read the "Emotional Labor" thread (on my phone, so I can't link, sorry) to get an idea of the problems that can arise when people (mostly men) don't allow themselves to be vulnerable.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:20 AM on February 11, 2016 [37 favorites]

I don't think confidence is the same thing as lack of vulnerability or a pretense of having your life 100% together. I don't think that real confidence is protective coloration: I think it is acceptance of who you are, right now, in this moment of your life.

Are there things you would change about you? Of course there are. Perfection is sterile; it literally means that you cannot be made better, which is to say that you cannot grow. You can grow, and for your purposes that is better than perfection because it means you are on a journey and journeys are a great time to find companionship.

If you conceive of confidence as a precursor to being in a relationship, (which is probably true) and you conceive of confidence as pretending to have it all together, (which I don't think is true), you will never be able to relax into your self around your partner. You will always have to have a facade and do the work of maintaining that facade, at least in some areas of your life.

If instead you accept who you are right now, you can think of who you are right now as a gift that you have the ability to share with the right person, when you find her. I think that is what people are talking about when they say things like "be confident" in these sorts of contexts.
posted by gauche at 6:28 AM on February 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

I second cocoagirl's mention of not letting insecurity be the focal point. There is a point when insecurity becomes defensiveness and possible anger/frustration. Do not take out your frustrations with yourself on other people. If someone says something to you harmlessly but is what you are insecure about, be mature and simply acknowledge it. The more you make a big deal about it, the more it seems like a chip on your shoulder and that you still have a lot of work to do.

I know someone who is a great guy with a lot of neat and endearing qualities. At first, he seems like he has his life together. Which for the most part he does. I wondered why he was still single as he was reasonably attractive, feminist, educated and made a decent living. Once I entertained the idea I might potentially have a crush on him, I expressed some feelings as a way of testing the waters so to speak. I admired him for those qualities and confused that with romantic interest. The confluence of emotional baggage was a sign of things to come.

Needless to say, he did a complete 180 and went from 0 to 60 in a short matter of time. After a few weeks, he was jealous, possessive, moody and incredibly defensive. I was shocked. We weren't dating, and even if we were, that is no way to behave in an adult relationship. I'm sure he is working through those insecurities. Yet the lack of insight and the inability to not just accept his shortcomings but to also work through his baggage is what has led to his singledom.
posted by lunastellasol at 6:33 AM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

soundguy99's advice is solid and I wanted to underline the point that the first few dates should be low key, low expectations. No need for bluster (because that's also really unattractive and won't fool many), but also no need to vivisect yourself for your date. Just focus on getting to know the other person, looking for connections in interests, values, etc.

I think dating works best when you put your best authentic self forward--it's about getting to know someone enough to see if you're ready to be intimate--not just physically, but emotionally, which is where the vulnerability comes in. Honestly, I think the emotional intimacy aspect takes longer to build than the physical intimacy. And it's never a bad idea to take your time with either or both of those.
posted by smirkette at 6:39 AM on February 11, 2016

Being confident and being willing to be vulnerable can happen at the exact same time! Asking someone out requires both confidence (to ask, and to feel like asking is worthwhile) and vulnerability (because you are opening yourself up to rejection).

To be very glib, vulnerability is about acknowledging the things that scare you; lack of confidence is when you expect other people to reassure you and fix those things for you.
posted by mskyle at 6:49 AM on February 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

I first want to applaud you for asking these questions about yourself (and your prior questions) at such a young age. I think that shows incredible insight and maturity on your part.
Everything people have said here has a great deal of truth to it, at least in my experience.
I am a great deal older than you and I can clearly see how the subject here has led to my situation, ie still single. Alas, no one can turn back the clock.
The whole concept of acceptance, both of yourself and others, is a lifelong process. So it helps to develop patience as well. If you aren't growing some each year, it means you are six feet under. The more acceptance you develop the more confidence you develop.
That said, with what people are sharing here and with your own experiences, you are well on your way to being one awesome man.
posted by jtexman1 at 6:51 AM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Confidence is being strong enough to show your insecurities and communicate honestly. Confidence is saying "hey, I just want to tell you I'm nervous as hell right now, but it's more important that we're communicating about it than that I preserve my ego".

You want confidence with the ladies? Try listening to Reid Mihalko on Tell Me Something Good (very NSFW!), wherein he describes crying from insecurities while engaging in sex with multiple women at the same time.

Confidence is not square jawed standing on the prow in the raging storm taunting the gods, it's saying "this scares the &^%$#@ out of me, but I'm doing it anyway because I'm worth it and you're worth it."
posted by straw at 6:54 AM on February 11, 2016

By coincidence, Ask Polly has you extremely covered this week.
The remedy is to love your insecurities the MOST. Love that chubby kid so fucking hard that he's all, "Aww jeez, I get it, you adore me! Enough already!" Look at old photos of your supposedly awful self as a kid and love that sweet, confused kid with all of your heart. This is the best part of you, not the worst part. This is the real heartthrob, not that handsome, fit breadwinner exterior. Plenty of women will agree with me on that. PLENTY OF WOMEN. Trust.
posted by babelfish at 6:56 AM on February 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

A LOT of young guys out there today are looking for a mother. Or an unpaid therapist/life coach. It is hard and exhausting for women to provide that, both mentally and emotionally. Some guys seem to think women naturally enjoy it, or take it for granted that women will provide that. It's understandable that this is confusing because there are a lot of confusing messages from society to sort through, but trust me- girlfriends don't actually enjoy "fully mothering" young boyfriends. At all. As in, she will probably eventually leave you and you'll be hurt and confused by it. It's not your problems that are the dealbreaker; it's your need to use her as a sounding board.

Please do not rely on a girlfriend to fix you or give you self-esteem.
posted by quincunx at 7:02 AM on February 11, 2016 [19 favorites]

It would be good to know what you mean by vulnerability, because my answer completely depends on whether your definition of being vulnerable means you're a human being and not a titanium douchebag, or if it means you're an emotional mess who really needs a shrink, not a girlfriend .

I think vulnerability can be really attractive early on if it's expressed in gentle/funny self-depreciation, or being genuinely interested in me. It takes a lot of guts to let yourself be vulnerable to rejection, so letting me know you like me by not playing games comes across as really confident. That's not the same as being clingy or aggressive, it means asking a girl out, calling roughly when you say you will, following through on plans, and letting her know you enjoy her company (and this isn't a gender thing, I think women should do the same).

No one is perfect and you don't have to pretend to have everything together. That said, when you first meet someone you kind of have to put your best foot forward (again this goes for both genders). When you first meet someone, on some level you're working out if they're going to add value to your life by making it better. Are they fun, kind, interesting? If your first interactions with someone is about all your faults and problems, and all the ways their life will be worse because they'll need to be looking after you constantly, healthy people will pull away from you.

I don't expect someone to not have any problems, but it would feel really overwhelming and be a complete red flag if someone I'd just met went into a lot if detail about it, or made me feel responsible for fixing it.

An example, if you're a recovering alcoholic and you go on a first date and she asks if you'd like to share a bottle of wine, it's totally fine to say 'no thanks, I don't drink, but you go ahead'. If she asks why say 'I'm in AA' or 'I'm not a great guy when I drink'. And then change the subject. This demonstrates that while you've been through tough times, that isn't what defines you and you've got in under control.

If you answered instead with a long description of your battle with alcoholism, the relationships you damaged and the car crash that your life became, this would be a huge red flag. Not because you went through all that, but because it's too much to put on someone early on. Later on, once you've built trust and shown that you enhance rather than diminish her life, it's totally fine to share those stories. They're a part of who you are.

I love Dan Savage's Good Working Order idea:

"People generally look for partners who are in good working order. No one is perfect, of course, and no one who wants to be partnered seeks perfection. But you do need to have your shit together to attract someone who has their shit together. If your shit isn't together, get it together. You don't have to be an Adonis or financially secure or without challenges, you just have to be on top of your problems and working to overcome them... Turn yourself into someone you'd be open to dating—not a perfect person, but a person in good working order, a person with his shit together—and then you'll be datable."
posted by Dwardles at 7:07 AM on February 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

On a practical level, I am always put off when a date front-loads a lot of problems, especially very personal stuff, especially stuff where they seem to expect a lot of emotional response when we don't know each other very well.

There was this girl years ago - so cute! - and we went to dinner, and after some enjoyable conversation she somehow started telling me this huge romantic drama about her obsession with someone during college, and their wedding, and...just a whole bunch of stuff that didn't reflect well on her and was totally not something that was appropriate for a first-and-a-half date. It wasn't that I'd never want to hear that story from a partner, or the fact that it didn't reflect well on her - it was the fact that she unloaded all of this on me when we didn't know each other well and seemed to expect that I'd be emotionally engaged by this long monologue about her college relationship issues. It suggested to me that we'd get way too enmeshed too fast and that she didn't have good boundaries. We hung out a couple more times, but it never went anywhere.

Basically, I think that vulnerability is fine in a relationship, but there needs to be a good relationship first. Before you start talking about your fears and anxieties and certainly before you start requesting heavy emotional support, you need to build a strong connection and some mutual trust. I think that for men in particular, it's important to show that for you, the relationship is not primarily about what a woman can do for you, but instead is about how you enjoy engaging with each other and how you enjoy mutuality. This means that most of your interactions should be about mutuality - doing something you both enjoy, focusing on being present, talking about things of interest to both of you, balancing what you share about yourself with what she shares about herself. The dates should be, IMO, about the dates - not about getting emotional support or processing your feelings with someone.

If you have obvious material things that our culture considers "vulnerability" (like a health issue, the need to care for a parent, etc), sure, share those as appropriate - saying that you have a hip injury and so you need to plan your museum visit around regular sitting time or that you need to coordinate your dad's care isn't the same as saying "take care of me".
posted by Frowner at 7:15 AM on February 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

Like most words, "vulnerability" is used for many different ideas, which are similar to each other but in effect totally different.

The idea here that's the attractive one is actually a product of confidence.

Knowing yourself well, knowing what your weaknesses are, means that you know for certain your strengths. Knowing that you are no stronger or weaker than others means you don't need to feel shame. If you are not ashamed, then you can acknowledge your weaknesses (and strengths) once you know you can trust the listener -- once the listener has shown that she also realizes that everyone has certain weaknesses and strengths.

Being able to share those weaknesses means that you and she can deal with them, or not, as situations arise.
posted by amtho at 7:23 AM on February 11, 2016

So I'm not sure if you do this or not, but I wanted to mention it just in case. Something I used to do a lot (when I was much younger and more insecure) was to proactively broadcast the things about myself I thought were lacking. Like I thought people were going to harshly judge me for certain things and I wanted to let them know that I was aware of it. So I'd find ways to casually slip it into the conversation - "oh, I know I'm so fat!", or "I was pretty poor growing up." or whatever.

What I found over time was that a lot of the time (maybe most of the time), people didn't care about the things that I found so disturbing about myself and probably wouldn't have even noticed had I not brought it up. So by using that defense mechanism, I was drawing attention to the things I thought about myself that I felt worst about (e.g. I'm ugly, I'm dumb) - and which were often things that the other person didn't think at all. So, if I was like "oh I'm so fat" and they said "you look great", I'd almost argue with them. "Are you kidding, look at my double chin, look at my arm fat". Which, by pointing it out, drew their attention to something they never would have noticed otherwise. These are kind of extreme examples and while it may seem I was fishing for compliments, I wasn't, I just desperately wanted them to know that I knew, and they didn't have to judge me so harshly. Anyway, at some point I learned that if people were going to judge me on things I was most insecure about, I should just let them figure it out on their own, instead of taking their hand and leading them right to it. It requires a leap of faith to a level of confidence I didn't have at the time, but I've found that my very worst fears about what I thought people would do or think about me have not materialized at all, which in turn has boosted my confidence over time.

So now (leaving aside the fact that I tend to be a bit of an oversharer), once I've gotten to know someone a little better I might let them know little things about me that make me feel vulnerable. I do it in little bits and pieces, gauge their reaction and proceed accordingly. If they don't seem interested, I stop. If they want to know more or commiserate with me, I'll tell them a little more, but if it's still early days I still won't go that far. I don't dwell on anything or go on and on about things until I know someone pretty well. Because I also think it's important to try to recognize the line between appropriate sharing and sharing with someone in a way that is burdensome because they feel obligated to make you feel better. This can be a little harder on men, because women are socialized to soothe and comfort people all the time and it can be genuinely hard to tell what your sharing feels like to her. It's hard for me to tell sometimes with women, and I am a woman. What I do (both with men and other women) is just expose little pieces at a time and see how it plays out. Do they seem interested? Do they ask you more about it at a later date? Do they commiserate with you? It can take awhile but I can generally get a feel for people over time.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:27 AM on February 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is the most pat and sometimes-meaningless dating advice there is, but: Be yourself. Trust yourself to proceed in an appropriate way without going by a script of commands where, robotically, you apply vulnerability now. Wait five minutes and apply vulnerability again. Apply confidence ten minutes after that. Etc.

A lot of dating advice out there will tell you there is a formula you can use to get the "right" combination of vulnerability + confidence to charm/ensnare a woman. As a rule, you should (please) avoid any dating advice that relies on gender essentialism or pseudo-scientific biological determinism, e.g. "women will naturally go for an alpha male who exudes masculinity and blah blah, and if you pull back at just the right moment it will make her feel blah blah and you will have control." That type of thing is toxic and it doesn't work. Men are all different from each other; women are all different from each other. Approach someone you like as an individual approaching an individual and, if you're interested, allow yourself to be genuinely interested. Ask her questions about herself and respond in kind. Allow yourself to enjoy her company! You don't have to play it cool. Really.
posted by witchen at 7:28 AM on February 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

A lot of guys that I have worked with went through this cycle:

- Genuine guy who needs help
- Then they lose weight, get a better job, level up, gain confidence
- Discover the Seduction Community and start running Game (aka the Neil Strauss/Mystery crap)
- Become jerks
- Discover that they have become jerks
- Try to find a way to get back to being Genuine Guy and integrating all their selves into a healthy, holistic whole person

I help guys with the last part. If I could make your life even easier, I would say please don't buy into any of the PUA/Seduction community nonsense. Focus on improving yourself in every way, shape or form. Chase your dreams. Be kind, genuine and true to yourself and others.
Don't ever confuse being honest, and being vulnerable with being WEAK.
Be yourself.
It may take you a while to discover who that is, but it is worth the journey and the effort.

I wish you the best.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 7:40 AM on February 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

"Confidence" is not a code word for a specific set of behaviors. Confidence should not be a mask we put on to conceal all our human insecurity and vulnerability. Confidence does not equal being proud of ourselves; it means to feel comfortable with ourselves, in all our flawed humanity.

If we can only be "confident" when we are proud of ourselves 100%, then we can only be confident when we are perfect, and then nobody would be confident because no one is perfect.

If you only show people a "confident" mask, then yes, you will draw people to you by a false pretense, and when that mask cracks--so likely will their attraction. Best to be your real self; weeding out those who wouldn't saves much effort in the long run.

A man can be as completely vulnerable with a woman as one fellow human can with another. To what point? will come when you understand that, to be able to rely upon another is a gift and a blessing, and can never be taken for granted nor demanded. And like any good guest, we must be always grateful to the host, and prepare ourselves to leave before we outstay our welcome.

Best of luck.
posted by enlivener at 7:47 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think initially, everyone (gender doesn't matter) wants to date someone who's fun to be around. Those first dates should consist of positive interactions, and be about getting to know each other through shared interests, not therapy. Initially, I think *brief* self-disclosures, in passing, are ok, when they're presented as facts, and not issues with huge feels behind them (which might compel the other person to want to do something about them). As people are saying, the key thing is not coming across like you're trying to rope someone into solving your problems. But you can and should be honest about your life.

I'm not saying anyone needs to be 100% free of worry or insecurity in order to date, but at least working on accepting who and where you are, and feeling good about your progress, will make things easier for everyone. I mean, I don't know what you're not proud of, but shame is toxic (and painful). Also not always easy to get over - it's a lifelong process, for lots of people. Just keep working on addressing the issues (whether they're about family of origin, money, status, body image... you're doing the best with what you have, and you're moving forward. That's all anyone can hope to do. Tell yourself that as many times as you have to.)

It will help to maybe not date someone who e.g. really needs their partner to be pulling 100K+. You want to trust that the other person won't judge you; it'll be easier to date someone you can relate to, who's dealing with similar kinds of things. But like witchen said, being yourself (presenting yourself honestly when you meet people in life or online) will help you find the right people.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:00 AM on February 11, 2016

It's hard for me to pin down, but I think maybe there's a use/mention distinction to be made. It's fine to acknowledge your vulnerabilities — "I avoid those shirts because I don't like the way they look on my body", "I always feel a little out of my depth in those seminars" — and it even shows a commendable degree of honesty and self-awareness. Actually just letting your insecurities out is not so good — "I'm too fat for those shirts" (reassure me!) or "I'm not smart enough for that seminar" (tell me I am!).

As relationships develop, you might well end up in a position where your SO will be helping you offload some of your baggage (or vice versa), but it's a little presumptuous to meet someone and immediately say "carry this!".
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 8:09 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think vulnerability is about more than just insecurities. It's about being able to express your honest emotions fully to another person. So that could be being the first person to say "I like you" or "I love you" or "What do you think about making this exclusive?" It could be being able to cry when something makes you really sad. Or sharing some information about your past that not too many people know. Or yeah, sometimes insecurities as well, of course, but not exclusively that!

I also think vulnerability needs to develop organically in a relationship, not be a tool you're trying to insert into a situation to move things along. I have occasionally met people who are instantly THIS IS ME with revealing every single detail and emotion about themselves immediately, and honestly it makes me pretty uncomfortable (whether in a dating situation or just a friendship situation). I mean, you do you, but I think for most people, the normal course of things is to start off a little lighter and more surface level and then to allow relationships (of all types) to grow deeper and more vulnerable over time. Vulnerability should grow with trust.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:22 AM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have friends that are in your age group? Are any of them women? I ask because fundamentally the answer to most questions about "how to do X when dating" is "the same way you do X when you're dealing with any human."

My advice would be to make friends. Not "friends" with the goal of eventually dating, just regular friends. Friends of all genders. With friends, too, you will have to find the balance between sharing yourself and oversharing/making your problems their problems. You will learn who can be trusted with what information, and why. Through all of this, you will get more familiar with boundaries and vulnerability and all, with somewhat lower stakes, and it will all be a little more intuitive when you do find yourself in a dating situation.

If you do already have a circle of good friends, well, then the trick is to start viewing potential dating partners the way you view those friends. Dating is just friendship+.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:29 AM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

So will it really damage a relationship to express your concerns or your insecurities to a woman? Is there any way a guy can be vulnerable without ruining the attraction or respect a woman feels for him?

What? My heart is actually breaking for you reading this question.

What the broader world tells you is needed to attract a mate is a) really fucking debatable, and b) not what is needed IN a relationship. In a relationship you gotta be vulnerable so that 1. your partner knows who the fuck you are, and b) you can ask for the support you need.

If you don't have 1 and 2, why bother?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:46 AM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you are in a relationship and not merely dating you can start to open up more about your issues and insecurities. In fact, it should be mandatory for both people in the beginning stages of a relationship to show more of your true self. Everyone has life problems and insecurities and part of being in a strong relationship is helping each other with those problems.

I don't think it is advisable to open up all the floodgates at once but as soon as you can you should introduce the bigger issues you have. If your partner doesn't want to consider someone with those issues that is a good point to move on before you become too involved.

You can't damage a relationship with someone worthwhile by being honest about who you are.
posted by JJ86 at 9:52 AM on February 11, 2016

Another advice tidbit comes to mind. This helped me a lot when I was dating around and in the early times of relationship-growing with my now-fiance: "You can't say the right thing to the wrong person, and you can't say the wrong thing to the right person."

If someone is not really feeling it, that's fine (another one: "You're not for everyone, and not everyone is for you") and you can't really say or do anything "right" to change that. That is fine, and it's helpful to have those experiences so you know what that feels like.

But if someone really really digs you, not just for how you are on paper but for elusive chemistry reasons, it will be really difficult for you to fuck that up unless you hurt them on purpose. I was all KINDS of flippant and clumsy when I was dating my fiance, but he was/is really into me so it ultimately didn't matter. And the same in reverse. He makes weird dad jokes and stays up late with anxiety sometimes, but I love him so much it doesn't even blip on my radar.
posted by witchen at 10:16 AM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dynamo05, I went back and read your prior questions and I think I have a better idea of where you're coming from. You're very insecure about your sexual/romantic inexperience, and you probably also feel like you've had a traumatic past re: your family of origin and experiences socially growing up, etc.

I think you need to establish a firm base from which to move forward into a healthy relationship. (IE, not a one night stand/sex worker. A one night stand is absolutely fine, but it's not a relationship.) I think you have this idea right now that a woman will be doing you a favor to be in a relationship with you, so you're worried about measuring up. Honestly, it is true that you may have issues, but so do a lot of people. The real problem is that you're insecure about your issues and your past. "If you have a problem, and then you get upset about it, you have two problems."

Instead of thinking about how much a woman will be doing you a favor and how you don't measure up, start thinking about what you can bring to a relationship. What can you give someone? You have a lot of life experience with hardship and can understand another person who has not had a perfect past. That's something. You presumably are STD free and do not have baggage from exes, and will not compare a woman to past lovers. That's something. You have shown determination and self-improvement. That's great. All of these are real things you can GIVE someone. The women you date will not be perfect either. (You should not be looking for perfect ladies- they don't exist anyway.)

To expect to be vulnerable and flawed and accepted by someone else, it is fair to believe you will also need to accept someone else's vulnerabilities and flaws. Have you ever done this? Have you ever been in the position where someone was relying on you? How did it feel? Good, but got overwhelming if they couldn't help themselves at some point, right?

I agree with everyone that being honest about who you are is necessary and healthy. But it will be a problem if YOU don't like yourself. (By the way, I dated a guy who lost his virginity at 26 and he was "legitimately cool" and in a band. I would never have guessed and it just become part of who he was. Not a big deal. I think he was raised pretty fundamentalist Christian and changed a lot later in life.) If you are comfortable with being a virgin, comfortable with your challenges in the past, etc., then of course you will be honest about it and it will make her more comfortable with those things as well. If you are very obviously uncomfortable, and feel like you can NEVER get over past baggage that you're always carrying around with you, and feel the need to tell someone about how it's unfair and it hurts and have someone listen to you and provide sympathy and encouragement, I really urge you to get a therapist, right now. Do not wait for a girlfriend.
posted by quincunx at 10:26 AM on February 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

What about vulnerability being seen as humility?
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:47 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

You cannot achieve real intimacy without allowing yourself go be genuinely vulnerable. This involves establishing trust. A good way to start testing the waters is to trust them with something small that matters so if they do betray you, the damage is minor.

If there are things over which you have serious baggage or which you have objective reason to believe is a potential deal breaker, it helps to make sure people have a chance to know that about you before the first date, preferably in as undramatic a fashion as possible. I am quite open about my age, lack of physical perfection, abuse I endured as a child and serious medical condition. If anyone expresses interest anyway, I try my best to assume they are okay with those things, even though I know some people absolutely would not be.

As others have said, you don't want to just dump on dates or treat them like your therapist. You do need to be honest about who you are. The really squishy stuff is something you don't share with just anyone. It takes time to establish sufficient trust to start confiding in them. If you are dating casually, you might not get into that stuff. That is more LTR territory.
posted by Michele in California at 12:05 PM on February 11, 2016

So will it really damage a relationship to express your concerns or your insecurities to a woman? Is there any way a guy can be vulnerable without ruining the attraction or respect a woman feels for him?

My experience is it depends. Some women I have dated do not want to see a man vulnerable. I can think of one time where it was just painful.

Some want to see some vulnerability after a while, to make them comfortable with you.

My advice is take your time, no need to open up quickly, feel it out.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:12 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

For healthy people, the early stage of dating is essentially selfish: am I, in this instant, amused and attracted? Can this person, in the near future, show me a good time, ideally good times of a novel type? Does this person (at a minimum) manifest none of my long-term relationship deal-breakers? Most displays of "vulnerability" (along with displays of "confidence" that overshoot to pretension or self-absorption) are going to flunk those questions broadly.

SO what should you do, lest you somehow end up stuck with someone with no compassion for your shortcomings or past troubles? Let her display those qualities by proxy for the benefit of your selfish assessment. There are lots of ways a woman can manifest compassion and sympathy. Get her talking about her volunteer experience, her thoughts on religion, her political interests. See how she acts towards waiters and salespeople. Unsympathetic jerks really can't hide it for very long.
posted by MattD at 1:30 PM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am a man who dates women. I am currently reading Models: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson. I'm enjoying the book because it is challenging all of my conceptions of dating and relationships from a fresh perspective, and it talks a lot about the role vulnerability can play in attraction and courtship. Also, big plus: it is very critical of pick-up artist (PUA) culture and norms. Your mileage may vary.
posted by roll away the dew at 6:41 PM on February 11, 2016

Here's what confidence looks like to most women, I think:

- If a guy likes her, thinks she's attractive or funny, he is open and honest about that
- He shares stories about his life and past that clearly indicate that he likes and knows himself
- He shares his opinions with the assumption that his point of view will be considered and respected, but does not assume that she has to agree with him, and listens to her opinions with the same consideration and respect
- He assumes that when she responds positively and with signals that she is interested in him that they are genuine
- He assumes the general best of her and doesn't seem to be holding her accountable for his previous experiences with women
- He's open and honest about his goals for himself and what he'd like to work on
- If she doesn't respond positively or like she's into him, he accepts it without assuming that it's evidence that he's unlovable, or that he'll never succeed with women

Confidence does NOT look like:
- He behaves as though he has no problems
- He isn't comfortable expressing his opinions or with disagreement
- He is overly intimate when talking about himself - putting out "fix me" or "pity me" vibes
- He talks a lot about other people's problems or seems excessively judgemental
- He talks about unfair circumstances in his life or people who have screwed him over a lot
- He doesn't share much about his life or his past
- He seems shaken or overly concerned by her body language or simple behaviors

I personally think it's really easy to get confused about this. There's a harmful trope of the strong silent type, or that it's not manly to talk about your hopes and dreams for yourself. I don't know a single woman who really wants that. What most women I know want, much like most guys I know, is to date someone with a broad spectrum of emotions, an active social life, and who has goals for themselves that they're working to achieve.

That said I do think there's a timing element here. Talking about things you're trying to improve is common water cooler conversation in the right context. Something like "I've been working on getting my personal finances in order" is totally normal to share with an acquaintance. Something more personal, like, "I've been struggling with feeling like a failure because my credit score is low," is probably overly intimate in the beginning. I think as you go on several dates and start to form a real relationship, it's vital to share your insecurities. But if you wouldn't share your insecurities with a work colleague, I wouldn't share them until after a few dates - or until you're actually dating.
posted by pazazygeek at 12:09 AM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

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