Valentine’s Day can be far from a happy occasion for many of us. It’s a time when we can feel very alone and get deep into comparisons, self-criticisms and shame. With hearts and flowers everywhere we look, it’s easy to feel a heightened, more painful sense of our own perceived flaws and wonder if we’ll ever find that person who really ‘gets’ us and accepts us for who we are.
Looking back at my history with men though, it wasn’t really finding a man who accepts me that was the problem (as much as it felt better to blame the hurt and rejection I felt on the guys at the time). No, the real problem was the way I sabotaged my own chances of happiness.
Going right back to my school days, I’d quickly say no if a boy asked me out, automatically assuming it must be some kind of dare. Even when I was told the guy I had a crush on was going to ask me to the prom, I ran in the opposite direction when I heard him call my name; there were so many prettier, more confident girls that I thought he were better suited to.
This was a pattern that continued into my adult life. Sure, I wanted to truly connect with someone but, at the same time, there was a part of me that didn’t believe I was deserving of someone’s love and attention. I couldn’t see I was lovable -or even particularly likable- and I didn’t want to be found out and rejected. It was safer to stay away, avoiding the risk altogether. Even so, there was always that little part of me whispering “what if?”
This internal turmoil spilled out into the way that I behaved, ever more complicated by this fiery mask of alcohol I’d reach for. Looking back, I can see how my inner conflict -the push-pull of what felt safe for me vs what I really wanted- showed up with men. It started with avoidance. If a man were persistent enough (or less so if I’m drunk) I’d give myself a chance, before getting ‘too close’, freaking out and pushing away. If I were lucky, they’d come back. And repeat. As kindhearted and empathetic as I am, I could easily let my misguided survival instincts take over and shadow this part of me. And I know how much this hurts; I’ve been on the other side of the fence since.
I know I’m not alone in that old pattern of rejecting myself before others can reject me; truly believing I could never be good enough for anyone and often hiding behind that boozy mask. But I was pretty sure I was alone back then.
So yesterday, I found a little something I’d written in my early 20s; my way of exploring the internal conflict and sabotaging behaviours for myself. In the spirit of vulnerability and speaking the unspoken, I’m gifting my find to Quiet Connections to share a sense of common humanity; so if you’re in a similar place right now, you know you are not alone. And if you’re on the receiving end of this behaviour, my words might open up your eyes about what could be behind it.
Maybe we fear the thing we want the most. What I wanted the most was meaningful connection, and to feel accepted for who I was. With the chilling breath of shame on my neck, I was so busy second-guessing these men; I didn’t notice they were giving me what I wanted all along.
To the one(s) that got away I ran away from
To Mr. Outgoing,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry the ‘me’ you fell for wasn’t the me who I really was. She was my disguise, my shield from the anxiety and crushing self-hatred. I lost count of the number of times she fell or acted stupid. I don’t even know who she is. It’s as if another person entirely had taken control. I didn’t hear a word she said and even our first kiss is a blur. I drank a potion and became a fool, but I thought I was free and I felt no pain.
You told that ‘me’ that she was pretty and fun. It felt like a lot to live up to in my alcohol-free moments. You must have been disappointed when you met the sober me. The shy girl. The one who wouldn’t hold your hand in public. Who wouldn’t show you affection in front of others. The one who wouldn’t commit and could only seem to enjoy spending time with you when booze was on the table. Perhaps you thought I was embarrassed to be seen with you. That I just wasn’t that into you.
I saw that my excuses confused and frustrated you, but how could I be honest? I didn’t believe such a confident and social person could ever understand. I didn’t think anyone could. Would you have got it if I’d tried to explain to you? Your ‘normal’ was my panic. I was fearful of situations that had not yet presented. Meeting new people was like jumping into a shark tank and I felt like a total misfit amongst your fun, loud, outgoing friends. It looked like we were chalk and cheese. I was awed by your ability to be the life and soul of the party by night and the knowledgeable bookworm I saw by day.
You seemed to see something in me that I couldn’t. I wanted to be who you wanted me to be, someone you could be proud to have on your arm. I told myself it was best to keep the quiet me shut away as much as I could, trading my barrier of awkward silence for a mask of alcohol. But truthfully, I am just as disgusted with both ‘me’s. They both took turns at pulling you close and then pushing you away when things got a little too serious and they freaked out, afraid they were about to be exposed.
You never could know where you were with me. I kept you guessing. Blind-drunkenness numbed my nervousness -and my kind heart. I’m not proud of my behaviour. I understand how it must have looked. I can imagine how awful that must have felt. The way you saw my actions left you feeling used. You said I was cold and incapable of loving. I was angry with me too. I know you expected more from me and I wanted to give you my all. I just couldn’t. I was too self-focused, fighting a constant inner battle: social anxiety vs me. I’m sorry you got caught in the crossfire.
To Mr. Persistent,
Thank you for your patience. The time you spent talking with me, hoping one day we’ll meet must have been tiresome but I loved reading every word you wrote to me. My heart skipped a beat with each message I received from you. I carefully crafted a response to each one and eagerly awaited your reply. I pictured how amazing you would be in real life. And imagined how disappointed you would feel when you met me, for I was not the fun, flirty, talkative type I imagined you saw in my messages. That was just who I wanted to be. I couldn’t think of anything you might like about the real me, I didn’t even like myself!
Eventually I agreed to a date. If I’m honest, dating was a whole new experience for me. It always felt safer to skip that part, letting the drunk me (the ‘fun’ me) take charge and staying as inebriated as possible in a man’s company. I can’t even begin to describe the mix of fear, anxiety and excitement I felt. A part of me was so full of hope. Maybe this time would be different. Maybe I would be different! But the day came and I was a bundle of nerves. Would I find the courage to leave the house? Or would I hide under the window and pretend nobody’s home again. I frantically opened a bottle of bravery as I started getting ready to meet you for the first time. But we weren’t heading to my usual sticky-floored nightclub, and I had drank a lot. What would you think of me?! Nevertheless, it was a huge personal success to make it out of the door. No excuses this time.
You wouldn’t have thought it, but I loved spending time with you. It can’t have seemed that way from your point of view. I might even have appeared bored in your eyes. I wasn’t. I just didn’t know what to say. I was too quiet and tongue-tied. I kept thinking ‘how could you be having fun?’ Looking back, I can see that you were really trying to get to know me. But as I learnt more and more about you, your achievements and ambitions, I felt more and more inadequate and less and less deserving of your attention.
I was afraid to let my guard down and show you who I was behind the alcohol and screens. I got stuck in my head, convinced that I wasn’t enough for you. I wondered how soon it would be before you, too, realised that you were too good for me. I felt I fell in your expectations each time I responded with ‘I don’t know’, or failed to share a story of some awe-inspiring travel adventure and exciting career plans like your own. I couldn’t help but compare myself to you. While you were living the dream, I was barely holding down a job wiping arses for a living. I didn’t see how I could add anything positive to your life and I just knew it wouldn’t be long until I was left rejected and feeling humiliated. So I played it cool, hoping I was wrong.
Even Mr. Persistent wouldn’t entertain the idea of what must have felt like a wild goose chase. But I wished you wouldn’t have taken my behaviour as an indication of the way I felt about you. It was all about the way I felt about me.
Hayley shares her personal stories of feeling shy, socially anxious, ‘not good enough’ and fearfully avoiding the good things in life. Growing her confidence through coaching, gradually stretching her comfort zone and connecting with others, she now uses everything she has learned to help other people grow their confidence in her role as a coach. Hayley is passionate about connecting people with similar stories and creating safe, supportive spaces to make friends and try new things. Hayley dreams of a time when all of the strengths, skills and goodness in ‘quiet’ is recognised and appreciated as readily as being bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight is right now.