I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
She hopped in my car as fast as possible while trying to escape the rain that was coming down in white sheets. I calmly looked over my shoulder and asked if she was okay and she laughed and said something about needing a shower anyway after the hot summer day. I took off and headed south on Clark towards downtown.
She was chatty and started asking about my night. I made surface yet friendly banter until we hit North Avenue when she asked about what I did for a living. I gave her the 30 second breakdown and she perked up.
“Oh, do you have any single friends that would like a sarcastic and loud overachiever?”
I laughed and said, “I’m sure you don’t have any trouble finding dates.”
“Dates I can find.” She said, “But keeping them around is a different story.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“Because no one can handle me.”
I said, “And what does that mean?”
I find this is a common response people like to use when they can’t seem to make a relationship work. While yes, statistically most relationships all of us have will fail, there should be a balance. Meaning, it should last long enough for us to accurately assess the situation. You’re nice, they are respectable, you meet for coffee, drinks, dinners, then after a small amount of time you make the decision to ether move forward or cut off relations so you both have the opportunity to go back to window shopping. But there are people who never make it that far and they can’t seem to figure out why.
“No one can handle me.” She said. As if that was clarification enough.
So I asked her to clarify. And like so many people who go unchallenged, she stammered over her response.
“Well, I mean, like I am just too much for most guys.”
“Again, what does that mean?”
“I don’t know.” Her voice rose with frustration, “It’s like they just can’t handle an assertive woman who knows what she wants.”
“And what does she want?”
“Respect, I don’t know. I just know what I want and I’m not willing to sell myself short.”
“Well, I think that’s probably how most people feel.”
“I guess.” She said.
“So why do you think asking for respect makes you come off as undesirable in the eyes of all of these dates?”
“Because men don’t seem to like a confident woman who has her shit together.”
I said, “I disagree. I think most people would love that trait in a person. But what it comes down to, like most character traits is – how it is presented.”
She scrunched up her nose and said, “What does THAT mean?”
“It means that any aspect of your personality, good or bad, if it is presented in a rude or entitled manner is going to rub people the wrong way.”
“Are you saying I’m rude or entitled?”
“I’m not saying you are or you aren’t. I don’t know you that well. And what I think is irrelevant in the scope of your happiness. But what I do know is that, of varying levels, all of us are unaware of how people perceive us.”
“Well I don’t give a shit how people perceive me.”
“And there lies your issue.”
“What the hell does that mean?” She said in just under a yell. I could see that I hit a nerve.
“If you don’t care how people perceive you, that’s fine. You are under no obligation to appease anyone. But the way you treat others is a direct reflection of who you are as a person and what you earn. You treat people unfairly, you don’t deserve to be treated fair. If you project respect, you earn respect. And if your problem is that you can’t attract people who want to stick around for any length of time, you might want to re-evaluate what you are projecting into the world. I’m not telling you that you have to change who you are or what you want for yourself. I’m simply suggesting that you might want to take a closer look into how your approach comes off on your dates. Keep in mind, in the beginning of a relationship people are hyper-aware of your actions. You could be simply scaring people off because they see your clumsy approach as a deal-breaker or a red flag of something more significant.”
“Well, if they can’t handle me at my worst then they don’t deserve me at my best.”
She couldn’t see that I rolled my eyes at the most over-used Marilyn Monroe quote on the internet when I said, “We all have off-days. No one is expecting you to be perfect all the time. And while hopefully or good days outnumber our bad, you have to understand that any healthy relationship is based upon a mutual and shared respect. If someone gets the impression that you don’t have that ability, they won’t even give you the chance to show your good side.”
I looked at the rear-view mirror and saw she was silently looking out the back window and I said, “Look, I know you just want to be loved and that you have a lot of love to give. If you didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. All I want is for you to maximize your chances to find someone to share in your happiness.”
We pulled up in front of her building and she said, “I’m never going to find anyone who can handle me, am I?”
“Sure you are.” I said, “But one of the most important aspects of dating you can learn is that there is another person involved that is just as scared and insecure as you and they just want to know that you’re going to be cool and nice and funny and not take advantage of their love and honesty and vulnerability.”
She gave a defeated laugh and said, “I guess I don’t have my shit together as much as I thought.”
“That’s okay,” I said, “But keep in mind – none of us do.