DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: One of the most common pieces of advice that I’ve received as a male looking to date women is to “be confident”. This sounds good on surface, but it’s something that I’ve really struggled with.
In particular, I have some serious insecurities around dating, and I feel like these insecurities make me incredibly undesirable. After all, it means that I’m not confident, and according to Reddit (not the best place for advice, I know), an insecure man is deeply unattractive. He’s seen as weak and needy. Of course, this makes me even more insecure.
Another thing that I’ve struggled with is that I’m not stereotypically “masculine”. I’m not necessarily “take-charge”, “confident”, and “cool”. I consider myself to be a kind person, both to men and women, and like to connect with my partners deeply. I want to be loved and admired, and I often feel needy because of it. One thing that really bothers me is the “nice guy” trope. While I’ve never been nice in a manipulative way, nor gotten upset at a woman for telling me “no” (I always respect others’ boundaries), I still feel bad. I feel like my kindness and need for connection are “non-masculine” and unattractive. This ties in with my struggles with confidence too. I will say that many of my behaviors tended towards those who have anxious attachment, meaning I can be somewhat of a people pleaser (usually in romantic situations only though). Of course, I understand that this is something that I should work on for the sake of my own happiness, and I’ve made efforts to do so. For example, I’m now very up-front with my feelings for someone — if I want to get my needs met then I must voice them.
But still, I really feel lonely and undesirable. I know that I shouldn’t depend on external validation to feel good. But at the very least, even if I’m not being actively pursued by anyone, I want to feel *worthy* of being desired. Instead, all I’ve gotten is shame. Most online dating advice perpetuates shame and self-hatred, and then turns around to tell you to be more confident if you ever want to find love. Reddit is particularly culpable of this. Yours is one of the few that I feel are actually helpful and not toxic, which is why I’m reaching out to you.
Why is my confidence so important? Why am I not worthy of love without it? I just want to be told that who I am as a person *is* enough, and that I don’t need to radically transform myself to be worthy of love. Of course, that doesn’t mean that self-improvement is out the window — I strongly believe in becoming the best version of ourselves. But this should be internally motivated by your values, not externally by what is deemed “desirable”. Right now my pursuit of “confidence” seems to be an effort to be more “traditionally masculine”, and thus more attractive. If I felt no external pressure to be confident, of course I would still want to improve it, but I wouldn’t place my entire sense of worth into it, nor feel so bad or anxious about it being low. But unfortunately, it feels like no woman will really respect or desire me until I do improve it — and if I ever lose it, then it’s over. This feeling is likely exaggerated in some way, but I need support for an alternate point of view. I want to feel worthy of love as I am.
The pursuit of confidence is precisely what makes me so insecure. It is precisely what makes me feel unworthy of love, and that’s something that I want to change. Nobody deserves to feel undesirable and unworthy of love.
Insecure Young Adult
DEAR INSECURE YOUNG ADULT: OK, IYA, there’re more than a few misunderstandings and disconnects going on here, but I want to start with this one: confidence and being confident isn’t a prerequisite to being worthy of love. When people talk about the importance of traits like confidence, they’re not saying that people without them are “unworthy”. You’re confusing and conflating “unattractive” with “unworthy”, which are two very different things. You can be worthy of love, but not be attractive to someone. Attractiveness, after all, is very much in the eye of the beholder. You can show me the prettiest person on the face of the planet and there’ll still be folks who wouldn’t f--k them with borrowed genitals and the celebrity of their choosing to do the pushing.
Whether you’re attractive or not to somebody isn’t about worth. Worth and worthiness doesn’t come into it. Or, rather, not in the way that you think.
Here’s the thing though: worthiness and unworthiness are tied to confidence… the fact that you describe yourself as being unworthy is where that lack of confidence comes into play. Your lacking confidence in yourself is a big part of why you feel unworthy; you see these aspects of yourself and think it makes you undeserving of love. This is very much a case of “the call is coming from inside the house” – or, more accurately, inside your head.
The concept of confidence and self-confidence is one a lot of people get wrong. I could fill a book with the number of letters and conversations I’ve had with people who think that confidence is tied to success or dependent on achievement. But that’s not true at all; you can see people all the time who’ve achieved amazing things who are deeply insecure and lack confidence.
Ever notice how thin-skinned certain tech leaders and “billionaires”, especially ones running social media sites into the ground can be? You’d think that, with all their money and all their supposed influence and skill, they’d be the most confident, secure people in the world. Except they very clearly thirst for approval and acclaim from others that they never get and never will.
Similarly, ever notice how much the so-called “alpha males” lose their s--t as soon as anyone questions them? Half of the “alpha” philosophy of folks like this is to respond to “challenges” and “establish dominance”, which tends to show just how very fragile their egos and sense of confidence they can be. One would think that these masters of the universe would snicker and just go about their day, instead of leaping into the fray as soon as someone looks sideways at them. But they don’t, precisely because they don’t feel confident in themselves. It’s very much posturing and bluster, not something they feel within.
Confidence isn’t about achievement. Confidence isn’t about proving you’re the biggest swinging dick on the block. Confidence is about knowing yourself, being sure of yourself and – importantly – being comfortable with yourself.
Now, let’s take a step back and look at the way you describe yourself in your letter: you talk about feeling bad about yourself for being “non-masculine” or about not being “take charge” or “cool”. More to the point: you make it clear that you feel like these are deficiencies in your character, things that you need to fix.
But what if I told you that being confident isn’t necessarily about “fixing” these things? What if I told you that confidence is about owning those aspects of yourself as just who you are and being cool with it being part of who you are. You’re not the dominant leader of the group, not the “Crunch Buttsteak” of every room you enter. And? Not everybody is, nor do they need to be. There’s nothing unmasculine about being caring or emotional, tender or gentle. Not everyone wants to date Blast Hardcheese, and not everybody wants to be him. Rather than lamenting your “lack of masculinity”, how about just recognizing that you are who you are and that’s part of what makes you uniquely you and uniquely awesome. Are you “manly”? Well… are you a man? If the answer is yes, hey, welcome to manliness. You do man s--t because what you do as a man is man s--t. A man with traditionally femme-coded traits is no less a man for having those traits; that’s just his version of manhood. Masculinity isn’t tied to the incredibly narrow, restrictive ideas that ultimately lead to misery, emotional isolation and an inability to trust or rely on anyone.
Now, where things go wrong is in neediness and being a people pleaser. There’s a difference between not necessarily being “take charge” and letting people walk all over you, or relying on other people for your sense of self-worth and emotional well-being.
Part of the reason why neediness and insecurity are unattractive is because of what it says about the person expressing it; why should someone be into them if even they don’t believe in themselves? Forgive a problematic metaphor, but would you buy a product that mostly apologizes for its existence? Would seeing something advertised as “We’re just not as good as the other guys” inspire you to try it?
But the other part of why neediness is unattractive is because of what it asks of other people – especially the people you’d want to be in a relationship with. Neediness and relying on external validation means that the needy person is going to be relying on someone else to handle their emotions for them. Most people aren’t going to be interested in that; they have enough on their plate dealing with their own issues. The people who are the most interested in dealing with someone who’s needy or relies on external validation are almost always people you don’t want to be with. They’re the ones who rely on someone’s lack of self-worth and self-security because those people rarely have strong boundaries. Grifters, scammers, toxic “friends” and partners rely on the needy and insecure because they’re so easy to take advantage of.
A person who’s secure in themselves, who has no problem saying “no” or refusing to set themselves on fire just to keep someone else warm – especially someone who doesn’t care if they burn out – isn’t going to tolerate behavior like that. They’re not going to allow the users and toxic people to maintain a hold on their life. There may not be a way to keep toxic folks from showing up, but they sure as f--k don’t let them stick around.
Right now, it sounds like you’re relying a lot on other people’s opinions to decide whether you’re “worthy” and it’s causing you no small amount of pain. That is precisely why external validation is a trap; you are basing your entire sense of self on the opinions of others, including faceless strangers on the Internet who have absolutely no idea who the f--k you are. You will never feel confident or “worthy” as long as that’s true, because you will be putting your entire sense of self and self-worth into the hands of others. You are surrendering control to people who often have no interest or motivation to keep propping you up and may well have a vested interest in keeping you feeling insecure and like you need to sacrifice your own needs to the whims of others.
This is why validation needs to come from within, first. The approval of others – people whose approval may be worth seeking – is great… but it can’t be the most important thing. You have to believe in your own worth and approval first.
This is why, for example, focusing on being your best self is about being your best authentic self. If you’re a quiet, gentle soul, then you want to be that and love yourself for it, rather than trying to force yourself into being Slab Squatthrust. It’s why self-compassion and acceptance is as important as self-confidence. That compassion brings understanding. And that understanding of yourself helps you be authentically who you are and to be cool with being who you are.
But it’s also why you can’t rely on things like dodgy subreddits to tell you what you “need” to be, especially when you’re already willing to put the untested opinions of total strangers on such a high pillar that you feel like you’re “unworthy” because of it. That’s where the lack of confidence is coming in. Be willing to look at advice which may be irrelevant to you or even just plain wrong and say “nah, that’s not it” and move on without worrying that maybe they’re right and you need to change everything about yourself.
Yes, work on your insecurities, that part’s important. Work on not being a people pleaser or letting other folks walk over you, rather than being willing to stand up for yourself, advocate for your own needs and to draw a line between what you will and won’t accept. That lack of willingness to be your own advocate is what women won’t respect, because women aren’t looking for doormats any more than they’re looking for someone to “keep them in their place”.
But you also have to look at yourself and like who you are for who you are – not who others have told you that you “need” to be. You can cosplay the Dominant Alpha Male all you want, but not only will that never fit you properly, but it’s not even what most people actually want in a partner… and it certainly won’t mean that you’d be dating people you would want to date.
Which is part of where confidence come back in. If you want women to be attracted to you, do you want women who want who you are trying to pretend to be? Or do you want women who are attracted to you for who you actually are? Because hey as it turns out? What women are most attracted to is the intersection of confidence and kindness.
Learn to like yourself first. Be your best self… but your best self is still your true self. If that person’s kind, gentle, not necessarily the loudest or most strident voice in the room, that’s great. There’s a difference between that person and someone who’s given up any semblance of control of their own sense of self to others.
Be who you authentically are and love yourself for it. Don’t let other people tell you that you’re wrong for doing so. That’s where true confidence comes from.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org