Even the quiet and quirky can enjoy a storybook ending
My 9th-grade girlfriend and I broke up after three weeks. At 28 years old, that was still my longest relationship.
Sure, there were flings every so often, and I dated women, but committed relationships never sprung from those experiences. I almost bridged the relationship threshold during my senior year in college. I fell hard for a woman who happened to be my best friend.
We hugged often, held hands, and if we were both a bit tipsy, we’d kiss on the lips instead of the cheek when we said goodnight. We had checked off all the boxes of a romantic couple, except for sex. Despite our mutual desire, we never crossed the boundary from friends to lovers.
One night we were out at a bar, and she sort of made a move. By that, I mean she had her friend talk to me.
“Barry,” her friend said. “Anne really likes you. Tell her how you feel. You do want to be with her, right?”
This opening was more than just a chance to make my dream a reality; it was an invitation. For months I had harbored this not so secret crush on her, and now I had confirmation of her feelings for me.
And then, in a fit of fear, I responded to Anne’s friend, “Nah. We’re just friends.” And that’s what we remained until our friendship faded into oblivion a few months later.
With the benefit of distance, I now realize I had overplayed the significance of that night. I had plenty of opportunities to communicate my feelings during the previous six months. The overture at the bar was not my one big shot. It was my final shot. It was her way of communicating, “Enough already. Are you interested or not?”
And when I said we were just friends, she moved on with her life.
Six years passed, and my relationship struggles continued. My continued lack of experience in a committed relationship drew suspicion, which made me less desirable. Okay, that probably wasn’t true, but this was part of the story I told myself.
Stories that disempower us
I was an odd and quiet kid, and I remained so as an adult. Between the ages of 16 and 31, I felt undesired and undesirable. But why? I was somewhat normal, though I was a bit quirky and shy.
I went on dates, enjoyed occasional flings, but nothing serious ever developed. In hindsight, I can write with confidence as to why I struggled. I had sold myself on a story that disempowered me.
I wanted and feared a relationship
I couldn’t admit it to myself back then, but my actions aligned with someone who resisted relationships. The situation with my college best friend and subsequent first and second dates all pointed to the same conclusion.
I pulled away anytime I got close. It was almost always me. And if it weren’t me, it would have been eventually. I was too afraid to get close to someone, no matter how strong my feelings.
The source of relationship resistance
I once believed it was due to being the child of divorced parents. For a long time, I tried to pretend my quiet, quirky personality preferred solitude. These excuses were a subconscious attempt to deflect responsibility.
I had lived with the belief that I was undesirable and would be lucky to find anyone interested in me. That led to a fear that potential partners would figure me out and leave me. This toxic story both limited my opportunities and destroyed the few that came my way.
If you’re in the same position I was, devoid of relationships and thinking you repel potential partners, take a step back. There’s probably nothing wrong with you.
You need to be honest with yourself and question whether your desires conflict with each other. Perhaps you crave a relationship. But what if you fear getting hurt, or fear a loss of independence, or maybe you lack confidence in yourself? Once you recognize the truth, you’ll understand the story you tell yourself.
How I changed my story
At 28 years old, I broke my relationship spell by dating someone for a whopping three months. I was determined to make this one work, no matter what.
After two weeks, I felt those familiar feelings of fear re-emerge. The urge to bail was strong. But I was also at an age where “save the date” wedding notices started to flood my mailbox.
I felt like I was getting old. I began to worry about spending the rest of my life alone. It wasn’t long before my fear of ending up alone dwarfed my fear of relationships. When the opportunity I came, I forced myself to make it work.
The right compliment at the right time
Despite my resoluteness, I lacked confidence, and it showed. But soon, a pivotal event occurred. My girlfriend made an offhand comment while we strolled the sidewalks of New York City. She asked me why I liked her. I can’t recall my reaction, but I remember struggling with the question.
And then she bailed me out. “I’ll start,” she said. “You’re quiet and quirky. It took some getting used to, but it’s kind of endearing.”
We lasted only three months, but that one-liner had a profound impact on my self-worth. From then on, I valued myself. I felt confident that I had something to offer.
I emerged from that relationship like a new person. My feeling of self-worth flourished. I was desirable; it just took time for others to notice. I adopted a new story to tell myself, and it changed my future.
What it means for you
When you’re quiet and quirky or your personality doesn’t fit the norm, you’re bound to struggle in the early stages of relationships. People think you’re odd, and most will give up before they get to know you. After a few disappointing experiences, you develop a negative attitude. You look at relationships with apprehension, skepticism, and fear.
That’s what explained my issues. I got tired of hearing that I didn’t talk enough or that I was too weird. I developed a jaded attitude, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I owe my transformation to both restlessness with my situation and that offhand comment, “You’re quirky. It took some getting used to, but it’s kind of endearing.”
Was it really that one-liner that changed me, or was I so fed up with my state of affairs that I grasped at the first lifeline someone threw me? I’ll never know, but it came at the right time, and it formed the basis of a more productive story.
Maybe you’re the quiet and quirky type who’s struggled with relationships. Or perhaps you possess some other quality that throws people for a loop at first. Just know that your uniqueness makes you awesome; the masses, however, need to get used to it.
Be honest about the story you tell yourself. Is it empowering or disempowering? Construct a new narrative, one that serves you.