Compartment Confidence

The other day at lunch I was recapping my latest dating tragedy to some friends I work with. We were trying to get to the bottom of my disastrous encounters. My friend Julie was asking why I am so uncomfortable and awkward. She was baffled when I said I lack confidence around guys. This is usually because when I meet someone who I think is worth dating, I have a hard time believing they would be interested in me. It’s a truly vicious cycle. I make a bad joke, laugh too loudly, realize I made the bad joke and see that he knows it was a bad joke, then I begin to doubt myself and try to overcompensate and the whole thing spirals horribly out of control.

I leave the night feeling like this:

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Then my two friends said the most amazing things about me. They couldn’t believe that I would ever be anything but confident. They reminded me that I have a lot to offer. That I’m a strong woman who has her life together and is accomplishing her goals. Julie even said she couldn’t imagine what I would lack confidence about.

I was totally flattered and encouraged by their kind words. I was also totally confused. How can I feel this out of control insecure and yet have others perceive me as confident? Then I considered my environment. I was at work, talking with two women who see me in what I like to think of as my natural habitat. I compartmentalize my confidence, relegating it to areas where authority and control are more clearly defined in my favor and separating it from areas where vulnerability is key.

Since I decided I wanted to be a teacher (which was in 5th grade) I have never once doubted my choice. As a high school senior answering the never ending stream of “What do you want to with your life?” I proudly said, “Be an English teacher.” I was then looked at sadly and was reminded that I would never make any money. As if that mattered. My junior year of college, teacher bashing was the popular thing to do. With laws like Senate Bill 5 jumping from state to state, I was encouraged by other teachers to get out. From my friends majoring in zoology and political science, I was looked at by someone who was less than, someone who was looking for an easy ride (HA). Even now, I hear a cycle of jokes from my friends with “real” jobs about how they would like to not work for three months and get paid all year. On a recent holiday when school was closed, someone legitimately asked what it was that I actually did. Mind you this was while I was having brunch with my distance athletes after coming from working with another student on a personal project of hers, on my “day off.” (Oh and for those of you interested, this is what I do). In the face of all this opposition, I smile politely and continue to read my books, write my lesson plans, and understand better ways to connect students to literature.

I know that teaching is exactly what I should be doing and what I want to be doing. These women see me as confident because in a classroom talking about literature, discussing best writing practice, I am. I love my job and I feel completely comfortable in a classroom- even when I spell something wrong on the board (happens all the time, thanks a lot autocorrect). I love school and I love learning. Unfortunately, there is no real class on how not to be awkward around men. This is one thing I can’t study and study and then ace the final exam. Each time is an experiment, a process of trial and error. The best way I know how to enter into a new dating situation is based on my past experience. However, a lot of my past experience isn’t great. In high school, I was easily manipulated by guys as I followed them around like a pathetic puppy dog, waiting for them to treat me right. In my first ever long term relationship, I was clouded by my feelings of love and let my better judgment be swayed and again manipulated. If I’m looking at past experiences, I’ve learned that in a dating situation I am not often true to myself. I know this is due to insecurity. My logical side allows me to see very clearly where my behaviors are breaking down and creating unhealthy relationships. However, my insecurity usually overrides my logic. I make decisions or choices based on the emotional temperature of others, not what is necessarily in my best interest.

In this dating experiment, I am not comfortable with so many unpredictable variables. Which is ironic since every day at work is unpredictable. Just last Friday, I had three girls coming into my room crying for various reasons. During a production, there is no way for me to predict what will happen on stage (no matter how many times we practice). For as confident as I am in a classroom, directing, or coaching setting, I go back to feeling 16 and helpless when a guy I like gives me attention.

How do I transfer my confidence? How can I be strong and not condescending? How do I learn to carry myself as the strong woman I know I am in every setting (and not scare away a potential date)? Am I the only one who seems to have this “split personality” issue?

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/1/2014

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