“Sometimes I feel like I’m too intelligent.”
“I’m basically a doctor [since I’m in dental school].”
“My restaurant is ranked number one in this city on TripAdvisor.”
“Other people don’t take risks. But me? I started my own company right after university even though it was risky.”
These are just a few of the things I’ve heard on dates with different men. But, recently, a man I went out with brought something to my attention, albeit unintentionally: his confidence was in stark contrast with the way that I portray myself.
A few days after our first date, the man I’d gone out with sent me a simple text message: “Hey, hope you’re having a productive day.” He sent this perhaps assuming that I was at work.
I responded with, “Not so productive,” then listed a few of the things I had done that day.
“I’m not sure what your definition of productivity is,” he said, “but that sounds pretty productive to me.”
Only then did I realize he was right. On that particular day, I didn’t have to work, but I prepared a presentation for work, attended a Chinese class, went to a charity event, and perused an art exhibit. It was, by most people’s standards, a pretty productive day—even a fulfilling one. So why did I say it wasn’t?
This got me thinking about the way I typically talk about myself on dates. On my first date with this particular man, I found myself needing to verbalize a lot of things about myself that I never had before. I found myself answering questions I had never answered before. In that moment, I realized, and immediately told him, that I normally let men talk about themselves a lot on dates. I do the asking. I listen. And most of them are completely okay with that.
“Tonight, I don’t want to talk about myself too much,” he said. “I want to get to know you.”
Sometimes, once you notice something, you notice everything, and memories of things I’ve said about myself on dates came flooding back.
I’m just an English teacher.
I’m kind of a writer, but I don’t write as much as I should.
The university I went to isn’t famous. You wouldn’t know it.
I don’t know what I want to do in the future, maybe just get a PhD or something.
Why would I talk about myself this way? Why, when I’m on a date with a potential partner, would I downplay my accomplishments, interests, and passions like they’re no big deal?
Though some men happily jump at the opportunity to talk about themselves and exhibit confidence or even arrogance on dates, I don’t blame them specifically for my behavior. What I do is clearly something I have internalized: I subconsciously bought into some kind of subliminal message that told me, “Sit back and listen. Smile and nod. Be humble. Be modest.”
I’m not totally meek and agreeable. I will speak up. If a man says something I don’t agree with, I will challenge it. But when it comes to talking about who I am and what I do, I sell myself short.
Maybe it’s because I still remember people saying “modest is hottest” when I was in high school. Maybe because I’ve repeatedly heard that men are intimidated by successful women. They might not say it outright, but, in my experience, many men would still prefer to date women who are less educated than they are and who make less money than they do. Some research supports this too: according to a study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, many men said they’d like to date intelligent women, but in reality, their actions suggested otherwise, and a woman’s intelligence felt like a threat to their sense of masculinity.
Especially in the past, men were expected to be able to provide for their families. This line of thinking still impacts many people today. Therefore, they might emphasize their achievements to make themselves seem like a desirable partner. Women, in contrast, learn, maybe not explicitly, that masculinity is fragile. If you achieve too much, your man might not feel like a “real” man. Modest is hottest.
I don’t think about these things consciously. I have no desire to preserve traditional gender norms. And yet they’ve still impacted me somehow.
To me, modesty isn’t always a bad thing. A bit of modesty looks good on anyone—not just women. But there needs to be some sort of balance between modesty and confidence. I’m just an English teacher can become I’m an English teacher. I’m kind of a writer can become I’m a writer.
I realized I have to remember why I’m dating: to find a compatible partner. Not to stroke men’s egos. Not to uphold traditional masculinity. Not to learn a ton of things about what a man has accomplished without saying anything substantial about myself.
“I feel like I learned a lot about you tonight,” the man said after our date. I felt that I had learned about him too, and I realize now that this is how dates should be.
If a man is right for me, he won’t be put off by my confidence. If a man is right for me, he won’t feel threatened by my ambitions. If a man is right for me, he will listen to me speak about my passions. But I also need to give him the opportunity to listen; I need to talk about myself in a way that is unfiltered, honest, and confident.