How did you find confidence in social interactions, esp dating?
September 17, 2017 6:49 AM   Subscribe

I also wrote this question, and many people rightfully said I just needed to stop overthinking things and have more confidence... the thing is, I don't know how to do that!

While this is somewhat related to the question above, it's a bit broader. This problem has nothing to do with living in China, as it has plagued me since... forever. I've seen multiple therapists about it, and while they've helped me think about why I might be this way, nobody has been able to help me actually be more confident.

It's weird. I'm sort of a split brain. When it comes to interactions with people I know, professional interactions, that sort of thing... I'm fine. In this domain, I think that I have worth. But when it comes to pure social interactions, especially romantic ones, I just feel completely and utterly worthless. After reflecting a lot and talking to therapists etc, I think it boils down to some unhealthy friendships when I was young, and some bad experiences dating in college.

I do not have any serious defects. I'm a bit short in America at 5'6, though in China this is average. I'm a bit chubby, though of a stocky/strong build. I'm a bit hairy. I'm a person driven by big questions, and am very curious about...everything and everyone. I believe that I make a good friend, but not a very interesting boyfriend. All of the women I've dated were women who I grew on, and they all basically told me at one point or another that they didn't find me very attractive, but that they came to appreciate my looks (not really great for my self esteem).

I have many friends, including many female friends, and they all like to tell me how great I am etc etc, but I know that my fundamental issue is just confidence. When I'm around new people, especially large numbers of new people, I just feel like a burden to them. I assume that they are just "humoring" me by talking to me etc. Dumb example: at the language school I'm currently at, many chinese people eat in a room off to the side, and some of the language students eat with them. But I feel way to shy to "intrude" on their lunch, even though I know some students eat with them! And it'd be a great way to interact with more locals...

I've had girlfriends (and boyfriends), I've had relationships that lasted more than a month, I guess I just want to say that when it comes to like... being with people, being friends with people, I think I am fine. In fact, the aforementioned girlfriends who I "grew on" over time all were very sad when we broke up.

The thing is though, I've never had a good date. I've never been a prolific dater... in my life I've probably gone on 30 first dates, and 2 seconds dates, and no 3rd dates. I also despise a lot of the gender roles that come with heterosexual dating. I dated men because while I generally prefer women to men for longer term romantic relationships, I find dating men has a lot less baggage. I do not think that I make this obvious on first dates, but I do think that I do not... sort of have the general "go get em" confidence and attitude that a lot of women find attractive. My dates tend to be 4 hours long, we chat a ton, and end as friends.

I'm rambling, but I'm trying to give a picture of my interactions with people. I don't know. I don't know where people's confidence comes from. When it comes to men, I just see so many men filled with this... sense of entitlement. They seem entitled to affection, and they feel absolutely worthy of attention and desire. I've never felt that... and it is sort of double bad because I see that impulse as tied to a lot of the structural violence against women in American society, so it makes it hard for me to "project" confidence because when I contemplate it, I feel like I'm just stepping into this horrible patriarchal role. I know I'm horribly overthinking this, but that's my problem. I have been completely unable -- including with the help of therapists -- to break out of this mindset.

The upshot is that I am happy with myself. I'm doing things I enjoy, I have a lot of friends I care about (though not in the place I currently live). But I do want to make new friends, I do want to find long term companionship (or even short term companionship if that's what someone is down for), and so I know that this is something really holding me back from having some of the rewarding relationships I think I'm capable of having... and all exacerbated by being in a new place where I know nobody! Thankfully I'm not too prone to loneliness and I'm just focusing on studying the language and living my life, but I know that it will start to get a bit lonely out here if I can't make some friends and at least dip my toes in the dating pool.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
When it comes to men, I just see so many men filled with this... sense of entitlement. They seem entitled to affection, and they feel absolutely worthy of attention and desire. I've never felt that... and it is sort of double bad because I see that impulse as tied to a lot of the structural violence against women in American society, so it makes it hard for me to "project" confidence because when I contemplate it, I feel like I'm just stepping into this horrible patriarchal role.

I agree with a lot of that, but there's an excluded-middle fallacy at work right at the core of it that I think it would pay you to overthink a bit more carefully.

The structural violence you're talking about comes from a belief that the perpetrators are entitled to affection and worthy of attention and desire regardless of how they behave. We've all seen countless examples of the dumped boyfriend who pesters the ex for years, even all the way through subsequent relationships, trying to extract some kind of admission that they were not in fact a totally insufferable prick.

If you are a person who is generally attentive and respectful to others, even if you don't know them already, then I think it's perfectly reasonable to have a default expectation that this attitude will be reciprocated.

Note carefully: an expectation is not at all the same thing as an entitlement. Entitlement involves taking it really, really badly when your expectations are not met. The expectation itself does no harm. What you do with the expectation can.

A healthy confidence is the natural consequence of deep-set self-acceptance. Not even approval, necessarily; just acceptance. This is something that a regular mindfulness meditation practice can help you cultivate, so it would be worth experimenting with that if you're not already doing so.

Proper confidence is essentially what's left over when a person learns to give their inner critic's opinion the weight it deserves, as opposed to treating its every little insinuation of unacceptability (even for just showing up!) as gospel.

The other thing it might pay you to reflect on is that desire is pretty much orthogonal to worthiness. You could be the most garbage human being on the planet and somebody would still desire you. Unfortunately for the purposes of dismantling the patriarchy, being desired is absolutely not some kind of reward for good behavior. Desire is just a thing that happens when people with compatible chemistries enter each other's orbits.

There's no behavioral formula or script you can follow to make any person in particular desire you; it's a lottery. If being desired is your aim, the only procedure that actually works is just to keep on interacting with people until you find that mutual click. In particular, there's no step-by-step by-the-numbers formula that starts with Learning To Project Confidence and ends with happy sexy fun times, and anybody who tells you different is trying to sell you something.

The main thing that tends to derail this project is feeling some kind of attraction toward a person who doesn't feel the same thing for you, mistaking that as desire, and then spending months on trying to persuade them to feel it back because that seems in some way only fair. That way lies stalky creepy sadness, not desire.

Finally: given that you're clearly (and healthily!) uncomfortable with the patriarchy, perhaps you could spend some time musing on how healthy human interactions ought to work in a post-patriarchal society, then keep an eye out for others who appear to be behaving in a manner compatible with that. You might find that interacting with people like that does not actually require the kind of fundamentally dishonest Confidence Marketing that you quite reasonably find kind of disgusting.

Anyway, this is a bit of a rambling answer to a somewhat rambling question, but I hope at least some of it is useful to you.
posted by flabdablet at 8:20 AM on September 17, 2017 [13 favorites]

I've been going on OK Cupid dates here in the US and can relate to to your struggles around social structures and confidence, etc. Here are my tips based on what's worked for me. YMMV. Figure out at what time of day your confidence is at its highest. Conduct dating business (asking people on dates, going on dates, building an online profile) at those times. Stay current on upcoming local events because certain activities lend themselves to awesome dating experiences. For example, any kind of expo (comedy, hot sauce, arts n crafts) that you and your date both appreciate could be great because you can talk to each other, but can also lose yourself in the atmosphere. You'll have things to comment on, and are likely to have fun regardless of whether you're enjoying each other's company. In these ways, this type of date beats a high pressure, heavy eye contact experience of "grabbing a drink," and yet there is more interaction than watching a movie. Before a date, try not to have too much lag time. If you get out of work at 5 and are meeting at 7, do not spend those 2 hours becoming an anxious mess. Stay busy. If needed, though, I've found that a quick <10 minute confidence-boosting guided meditation can work wonders. You can find something like this on an app like Insight Timer. Next, on your date, take things lightly. Remind yourself it doesn't matter if they like you or love you. A first date doesn't need to have sparks flying. If generally you're getting along OK there may be a second date and then a third and you will grow on your date, especially if you're not overly invested (which can read as needy or intimidating). Be polite, of course. Finally, it seems nearly everyone on dates is wondering to some degree if they know the rules of dating. Which is to say no one knows the rules of dating. If rules were to exist, they'd probably be oppressive (noting the patriarchy tag on your post. Old school rules had men leading the show and paying for everything, etc.). So, really, it is about being present for your date, having a light touch... In a way it's not easy, but also with the right person things will click into place a little better.
posted by shocks connery at 8:22 AM on September 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

My dates tend to be 4 hours long, we chat a ton, and end as friends.

The third thing happens because the first one does.

not only because of that, of course. and I'm sure there are people who went on a 25-hour date that ended in flying to vegas to be married. but not as many as those who say "but we talked for half a day, we couldn't stop, how can there be no chemistry." I do this all the time too so I think I know what's wrong with it.

The part of it that comes from no confidence is, I think, a belief that if something is going well you can't be the one to halt it because what if that ruins it and it never happens again? but if you're going to date strangers who must be intrigued and courted, you have to give away somewhat smaller portions of yourself and your company so that nobody goes away thinking they've seen the best of you already. you don't want to leave someone thinking "well that was delightful, we covered everything, guess I'm done now that I know all there is to know about him!" it's an illusion because there is more to anybody than can be expressed in four hours. but it doesn't always feel that way.

it is a lesson I need to learn myself and it is not about gender in the way that a lot of unpleasant confidence suggestions are. the alternative is to date pre-existing good friends but you have been unsatisfied with that.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:26 AM on September 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Another thought, that applies to a tremendous number of these inability-to-X-despite-years-of-trying questions: so many people seem to treat their inability to achieve X as the inevitable consequence of feeling Y whenever they attempt X, and spend thousands of hours and often thousands of dollars in pursuit of reasons why they feel Y and/or some way not to feel Y any more, on the basis that if they feel Z instead then X will then just come naturally.

But here's the thing: especially when Z is confidence and Y is various flavors of its absence, this is pretty much exactly backwards. Approaching X with confidence is the consequence of a reasonable belief that you are adequately skilled in the art of X because you've already done X enough times to have got familiar with it.

In most cases, the only way to get to that point is to give yourself permission to suck horribly at X while you're still building that skill, and permission to feel the hitherto unacceptable Y, and just keep doing X until you've actually put in enough practice to become reasonably competent at it. This can take literally decades, for some particularly difficult kinds of X such as playing musical instruments well or regulating the weight of a body with maladaptive genetics for an environment where food is plentiful.

In other words: don't waste your time trying not to feel Y whenever you X; work on convincing yourself that whatever you feel is acceptable as long as you're not actually doing or taking damage, and just get on with it.
posted by flabdablet at 9:45 AM on September 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

I do think that I do not... sort of have the general "go get em" confidence and attitude that a lot of women find attractive. My dates tend to be 4 hours long, we chat a ton, and end as friends.

The problem here isn't your lack of confidence, it's that 4 hours of "chatting a ton" is a friendship move. Dates can be 4 hours of interaction maybe (maybe not, on a first date). But 4 hours of "chatting"?

Are you absolutely sure that you want to be dating women?

A lot of the excuses that you are giving about why you don't like dating women really just read as excuses to me. Plenty of men don't go along with the "standard heterosexual norms of dating". Plenty of women don't either. And they aren't neccessarily ardently political individuals. I mean yeah, you need to show an interest. You can't be totally aloof or passive. But you don't need to be some macho man type to date women.

>they all basically told me at one point or another that they didn't find me very attractive, but that they came to appreciate my looks

This is just a shitty thing to say to someone you are dating and they should not have said this to you. You deserve to be treated better. Period.

What is it that makes you prefer dating men, but being in relationships with women? Whatever you like about dating men and whatever you like about relationships with women may be more predominant qualities in one sex but certainly not exclusive.
posted by windykites at 10:03 AM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding shocks connery’s idea of an activity date. It's a great way to prevent both the awkward silence and the infodump.

Regarding talking for hours and ending the first date as just friends: whenever I've been comfortable enough to sit and talk to a guy that long after just meeting, I've never been offended by a peck on the cheek, putting his hand over mine, squeezing my hand, or some little respectful gesture that he's still interested in more than another buddy. Yes, in an ideal world a woman would be free to make that move first, but unfortunately I don't think we live in that world *quite* yet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:13 AM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't have any advice on changing your behaviours, but I can suggest that your mindset would benefit from the knowledge that absolutely without any shred of doubt, the practices and qualities that make you a good friend are also the same things that would make a great boyfriend.

Also, it has been proven in studies that the more exposure you have to someone, the more attractive they become. Everyone has "a type" that turns their head on the street, and yet often we don't end up dating that type. Why? Because we became attracted to someone physically after getting to know them.

Maybe it would be useful to reframe what you were told in a more graceful way. It does not sound like your exes told you that you are fundamentally unattractive, more that you are such a compelling person that they became attracted to you physically after getting to know you. That's pretty amazing!
posted by liminal_shadows at 12:05 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

The problem here isn't your lack of confidence, it's that 4 hours of "chatting a ton" is a friendship move.

I want to push back on this a little - this is how I found literally every one of my long term boyfriends and eventually my husband. For some people, when you click and don't want to end the date, that's a good thing!
posted by corb at 1:38 PM on September 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

Is it easier to date men because they tend to be more assertive, so you can be more cautious and passive about pushing the date forward when you go out with them? You probably do need to be more assertive on a date with a woman than with a man, because most women are socialized to let the man lead in early dating. In order to do that, you don't need to feel more confident, but you need to be more willing to tolerate rejection.

In general, I think that you need to be more assertive and more willing to tolerate rejection. Like with the lunch group -- yes, it is possible that someone in that group will secretly, silently think to themselves that you're intruding. Not everybody is going to like you. But that's just a risk you have to take in order to make an overture of friendship (or "make a move" on a woman). If you don't make the overture, you're going to miss out on those potential friendships and relationships, no question.

I know that is incredibly difficult to be socially assertive. But you need to push yourself, because no risk means no reward.

And the thing is, being more assertive can be totally decoupled from confidence. You don't have to feel confident to be assertive, you just have to have the discipline to push yourself out of your comfort zone despite your nerves. Don't let your cautiousness keep you trapped in the tiny bubble of your comfort zone. Also, don't put the burden of drawing you out of your comfort zone on the other people who you're interacting with. You can and should carry that burden yourself.
posted by rue72 at 5:53 AM on September 18, 2017

I just feel like a burden
I just feel completely and utterly worthless
I assume that they are just "humoring" me

Man, it breaks my heart to hear that you feel this way. And as if feeling that way weren't bad enough, it could also very well be making it that much harder to break out of your rut.

I don't want to give you a complex or anything, but a lot of times when people feel as though they have something to apologize for simply by daring to exist or speak to someone else, that cringing, self-deprecating body language and tone of voice is pretty hard to disguise. Frankly, not many people want to start off a relationship feeling like they need to feel sorry for someone else, which is what you may be inadvertently communicating when your internal monologue is giving you this terrible intel.

This is usually the part where the advice "fake it 'til you make it" gets thrown around, normally without actually explaining how one might, in fact, fake it or make it. So here's some ideas for how to do that.

Let's start with making it. I think flabdablet nailed it:

A healthy confidence is the natural consequence of deep-set self-acceptance.

I think part of the trouble might be that you are conflating confidence with larger-than-life swagger or aggression. But all a healthy confidence really is is just not believing you are any better or worse than anyone else, that you have the same right as anyone else to sit at a lunch table, say hello to someone new in your class, or have a nice evening out with an interesting man or woman.

This confidence can come from a lot of different places (excelling at a hobby, meeting personal or fitness goals, self-reflection and meditation, quality time with friends and family, etc.) but the end result is that if you believe you are an interesting, capable, worthy person who is happy or at least comfortable with your own preferences and limitations, that is something that tends to shine through in non-verbal communication, even if you also feel nervous. And it normally has a much better effect on new people than cringing does.

Which brings us to faking it. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you try not to over-compensate for nerves and end up in that intense, manic territory that can come from trying too hard to be interesting or put on an affected air of nonchalance that tends to come off as negative and snobby. That will not fix anything, and may in fact make new problems.

"Be yourself" is kind of the standard advice, but if you don't feel like you totally like yourself just yet, this could be tough. It may help to try to think of yourself as if you are thinking of a separate person and use that third-party you as a type of neutral avatar when meeting new people. It's much harder to be as intensely critical of someone else as we are of ourselves.

Finally, one of the best things you can do when meeting a new person is to make them feel interesting. Asking questions that give another person the space to share something about themselves and feel like they are being listened to will endear them to you greatly, and BONUS if you are actively listening to them, you are probably not dwelling so hard on feeling unworthy.

You sound like a considerate person with enough situational awareness to be able to notice when you are not being received well. You thereby have this internet stranger's permission to assume that in the absence of stinkeye, monosyllabic answers, or active rudeness, you're probably not unwelcome. Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 2:38 PM on September 18, 2017

« Older I feel insanely unlikeable   |   Besides "To an Athlete Dying Young" Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.