Your challenge is to channel that spirit into the right time and place
I’m an extroverted guy who loves life, enjoys people, and is pretty exuberant. When I’m out on a date, I’m relaxed and don’t really engage in a lot of formality. If I see a piano, I might just sit down and play, and if a girl looks distracted, I’ll sometimes ask her straight out, “Was I boring you?”
I like to think that I’m still well within the bounds of being appropriate, and it’s not like I don’t have any filters. But I’ve been told that I need to tone it down, that I’m overwhelming the girls I go out with.
I’m really confused by that. This is who I am. Isn’t it weird to hide that while dating? And if a girl doesn’t appreciate this part of me — a part I really like — isn’t she just not for me?
Loud and Proud
Dear Loud and Proud,
I’m happy to announce that in addition to these two titles, you can also add the adjective “smart” to your self-description. Because while you loudly proclaim your right to “be myself” for the whole world to hear, you are also wise enough to consider another perspective and ask for guidance. So good for you! Let’s see if we can provide some of that guidance in a meaningful way.
I once heard a lecture from Wendy Shalit, author of A Return to Modesty. She made a statement that has stayed with me since. She said, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” And that might have some value in this conversation.
Let’s start with the premise that if this is who I am, I want my date to know, and if she doesn’t like it, she’s not for me. Which seems to be a reasonable premise. And yet… you keep getting feedback that this isn’t working. So what’s the problem here?
Timing, my friend. Timing.
Imagine a young and devoted mother going on a job interview three months after her baby is born. Now, everyone knows by the soft glow in her eyes that this baby is her life. That she will inevitably miss work, because when this child has a fever, there’s no way she is going to let anyone else care for that sick baby besides her. And everyone knows that on many mornings she will be utterly useless at work until she has had her third cup of coffee. However, she is not going to mention any of those facts at the interview. Why? Because that’s not the right time to have that conversation. At an interview, her job is to showcase her strengths and what she can contribute to the position.
When you date, the assumption is that you are putting your best foot forward, especially in the beginning. As the relationship evolves, you peel away the layers of image carefully and mindfully and begin to share who you authentically are. Any time this process is rushed, it backfires, because there’s no shortcut to closeness. A relationship needs to ripen. Think of peeling a banana before it is ready. It just doesn’t taste right.
And that’s what’s going on here. The girls you date are left with a feeling of “that just ain’t right.” They may not be able to articulate what is off, but it doesn’t feel good. There’s a sense of “thou doth protest too much,” like you’re trying too hard to act comfortable when the relationship has not yet progressed to the comfortable stage.
Now you might say to me, “Hey, that’s not fair. I am that comfortable. It’s not my problem that she’s not.” Except that it is. Being socially functional means being able to read a room. And being in a relationship means having the intuition, and/or connection to another, to sense when it’s okay to move on to the next stage and share the next part of yourself.
If this only happened to you once, I’d say clearly this wasn’t a fit. But the fact that it’s a pattern that the good people in your life are pointing out makes me think this might be more about you. Something about the way you are expressing yourself is projecting an insecurity, and healthy people run from neediness. People who are truly self-confident don’t go around announcing, “I am self-confident.” Everything about them says it for them.
I’d urge you to look at the way in which you exhibit your exuberance. Is it too early? Is it unnatural in a way that makes it feel like too much? Does it reflect a need for validation that might make others uncomfortable?
Let’s differentiate between two things. You are not too much. You are awesome. It sounds like you have so many good qualities and a great energy that will make life for your spouse a lot of fun. Your challenge is to channel that spirit into the right time and place, and titrate it in a way that it is pleasant and a joy to receive, as opposed to being overwhelming. Think of it as sipping a Slurpee through a straw versus dumping a whole cup down your throat. Everyone loves a good Slurpee, but no one wants to swallow it whole, especially not first thing in the morning.
Wishing you and your dates a joyous experience as the real you emerges in a healthy, beautiful way!
All the best,
Sara Eisemann, LMSW, ACSW, is a licensed social worker and a dating mentor. She lectures on topics related to relationships, personal development, authenticity, and growth. She welcomes questions, comments, feedback, and interaction at email@example.com.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 780)
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