The fear of expressing interest
An exploration of courtship and truth
This will be a little different of an essay; I've been doing a lot of work unraveling the life events that sit at the base of my character flaws and figured that these explorations might prove useful to someone besides myself. Enjoy :)
A lie that largely shapes my view of the world is the idea that if I am open about my feelings toward someone I'll be rebuked and disdained. This fear is not entirely unfounded – rejection is endemic to life. The degree to which I have become sensitive to this fear, however, has held me back in ways that I have recently begun to pick apart. So, for the purposes of my edification and your contemplation, this will be an exploration of where this fear stems from and what things I've been doing to fix it :)
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I was a pretty late bloomer, shying away from any romantic encounters until college. The first girl that I was romantic with initially thought that I was asexual. I was dumbfounded when she told me this, but have had similar experiences in subsequent relationships; my fear of rejection revealed itself to others as an indifference towards them – this was the case in both platonic and romantic contexts. A healthy aversion to rejection likely contributes to humility, but I found that even when I was in a relationship I would struggle to show that I cared. Physical contact, words of affirmation, and many of the other niceties that are unique to romantic partnerships felt off-limits.
As a kid my mom would always tell me that I had an intimidating presence and that I should be more vocal as to not unnerve strangers; as a 6'5" black dude I've been told I have an imposing presence. I took this advice and tasked myself with cultivating a welcoming aura. What came of this shift was that the majority of my friends during my teenage and early adulthood years were girls. Because I came across as a "nice guy" and stifled my desire to make any romantic advances, they felt free to rant to me about their lives. A frequent topic was their frustration with "creepy men." In many context this characterization was perfectly reasonable; being cat-called or having to ward off persistent romantic advances from someone who you have expressed disinterest in must be difficult. Some of the encounters that these friends of mine identified as "creepy", however, seemed fairly pretty innocuous – well meaning dudes wanting to shoot their shot who were rejected, promptly accepted the rejection and moved on. There seemed to be a lack of nuance between the archetypal "creep" and just the regular respectful man who had an interest in a someone that wasn't reciprocated. The internet made this fear worse; twitter was a hotbed of viral tweets from women voicing their frustrations with modern dating. Being innundated with anecdotes of the struggles that women have with courtship combined with a lack of male role models or guidance on positive and constructive courtship cultivated in me a deathly fear of coming across as "creepy" – the logical solution was to ensure that I never externalized any attraction that I had.
As someone predisposed to shyness and introversion, I already struggled with being the first mover in new relationships. My growing fear to express romantic interest in women gave me grounds on which I could rationalize my issue, and continue acting in fear. I shyed away from physical contact to ensure that women never "got the wrong idea", even when that was precisely the idea that I wished to convey. I wasn't wholly romantically disinclined, thankfully, but I subconciously resolved to only pursue someone if there was no risk – if I knew with 100% certainty that they were interested. This often resulted in my ending up in relationships that I wasn't invest truly in – I was "taking what I could get". This was wholly unfair to my romantic partners.
This fear of expressing interests manifests in my personal life in more subtle ways: I've tended not to fully show my cards, am often the last to speak (yet most agreeable), and have been known to craft my personality such that it complements the person I am engaging with like the missing piece of a puzzle; the things that I really think or feel would weigh in my heart like an anchor. This tireless effort to be seen as an attractive friend resulted in a dissonance between the characters I exposed to those in my life; can I introduce people I know to each other? Which version of Seyi do they know? Are the facades of myself that they have each met compatible?
My internal life isn't as machievellian as I am making it out to be, but fear of rejection is a persistent internal struggle that I have dealt with in small ways over my lifetime. In recent months – as I have been unraveling the ways in which I deceive myself and others – I have realized that building a community of people who accept all of me is inextricably linked with potentially warding off those whose values don't match mine. This is undoubtedly the a better way of living than I resorted to in the past; I've often taken the route of being a social chameleon.
The question for me now is this: How does one become ok with expressing interest in others AND put their whole self on display? I've found that there are a few things that help, the most important of which has been to have some sort of spiritual base. I have been falling back into the latent faith of my childhood, learning to lean on God. It gives me an anchor of sorts and abstracts my worth from any individual or commodity. There is something dangerous about staking your worth in anything physical or temporal; people and things are fickle, and I've found that trusting in something bigger than myself tends to be a hedge against falling prey to my character flaws.
Leaning on close friends and family is another one. We are not made to exist in a vacuum; for a long time I have been emotionally distant for the fear of becoming codepenent. The other end of that spectrum – the idea that you can handle everything yourself – is also a dangerous place. This brings me to my third point: don't swing too far in the other direction. At times in my journey I have overcorrected, thinking that I need to be overly open and vulnerable with every person I meet to make up for all the times I wasn't. There is such thing as a healthy sense of propriety, I just find that I too frequently fell on the conservative end of that spectrum.
Consistent reminders of my worth are also invaluable. It's helped to remind myself daily of the things that I believe and the ways that I've been blessed. My buddy, Chris, used to tell me that every morning he aimed to "do something that reminded himself of who is he is every day, in case he forgot" – this way of thinking has proved immeasurably useful.
Lastly, it's been helpful for me to have ambitions that are geared towards serving others. A large part of what I believe contributed to my fear of expressing interest is the assumption that I play a much larger role in the minds of others than I actually do. While there are a handful of people who I have had a significant impact on, it's been important to remember that I am not the center of the universe. Having ambitions that are oriented towards serving others has helped me to correct some of my selfish patterns. I once heard someone say that self centeredness and self consciousness are two side of the same coin; all you are thinking about is yourself – that statement holds a lot of truth.
I'm super thankful that I've been able to realize these things over the past few months, and I strive to be better while ensuring that I am loving myself and the process of becoming a more wise and fully-formed individual.