"I Was Broken, Anxious, and Exhausted. Then I Started Dating Again"

Kelly E.

What it took to find confidence and a voice

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Photo by Katrina Berban on Unsplash

“What do you want to do for dinner, you choose.”

I shook my head. “No that’s okay, you choose. I don’t mind what I eat.”

My friend, Nate, turned toward me and held my shoulders. “You’re choosing tonight. Whatever you pick, I’ll be happy with.” He smiled.

We were taking a trip out of town and had just finished a long chat in the car. My inability to make decisions had come up and Nate was determined to help.

Recently divorced, my confidence was at an all time low.

I felt vulnerable, broken, and exhausted. Decision-making was one area my lack of confidence showed up.

What if I picked the wrong thing? What if my choice upset someone?

Confidence is attractive

I first realized the power of confidence in my twenties when I became friends with Tia.

At first glance, people might consider Tia unremarkable looking. She has none of the stereotypical model-like beauty, but she’s one of the most attractive women I’ve met. I’m not the only one who thinks so either.

She’s always surrounded by men, and women, vying for her attention.

She’s the kind of person everyone wants to be near — and when she wants one, she’s never short of a date.

Usually dressed beautifully and with a great sense of humor, Tia has traits which undeniably increase her attractiveness, but they aren’t the main things that draw you in — it’s her confidence.

Two years ago, as I headed back into the dating world again after 15 years of marriage, I thought of Tia and was determined to find that same confidence.

But there I was, standing in a car-park surrounded by cafes and restaurants, lacking enough confidence to even make a decision about what to eat.

“I can’t do it,” I complained.

“Yes, you can.” Nate’s stubbornness annoyed me, but I knew he was trying to help.

With a groan, I headed for the dairy next to where we were standing. I grabbed a chocolate bars, ice-cream, and a bag of chips. “There. Dinner.”

He laughed. “Sounds good to me.”

Losing my voice

Decision-making is one thing, but low confidence also made my social life tough. During my teens and twenties I struggled with social anxiety. You wouldn’t have guessed it to look at me — I could fake confidence, go out to parties, smile and dance — but inside I was a wreck.

When it came to dating, I mostly avoided it. The majority of my relationships were with guys I’d been friends with for a long time.

Then, when I got engaged at 23, my anxiety and low confidence was so bad I hid in my room to avoid my own engagement party!

My throat tightened, my heart pounded, and I could barely breathe.

There was no way I was facing 80 plus guests, especially when most of them were strangers. By my thirties, I was able to manage my anxiety better — I no longer hid in my room, but I hid in other ways.

As a natural introvert and highly sensitive person, it was easy for me to disappear into the background. I’ve never been shy but I became a people pleaser. I said what I knew others wanted to hear.

I avoided speaking my mind in case I said something stupid, embarrassing, or offended someone. It’s easy to go along with what other people say. People’s opinions seemed to matter so much to them!

The main thing that mattered to me was that everyone was happy. I wanted to keep things calm and avoid conflict.

So I was there in person but I hid my true thoughts. I hid who I was. My voice disappeared and I barely noticed.

How to be your own friend

After my marriage ended, I went on a few dates and forced myself to meet new people.

One weekend, a new friend invited me to go mountain climbing.

It was an easy climb and afterwards there was still half a day to fill. I felt lost. I’d been married 15 years and wasn’t used to all the free time, let alone days of it!

“I have no idea how to fill my weekends now. With the kids off at their dads, it’s just me.”

I was secretly hoping he might want to spend the whole day with me but instead he gave me a simple, powerful answer that changed everything for me.

“You need to be your own best friend,” he said.

My own best friend? What would that even look like?

That statement rolled around in my mind for weeks. Was I treating myself like I’d treat a best friend? The honest answer is no.

If I wanted to heal from my breakup and be ready for a healthy relationship, I needed to prioritize myself. I’d been placing my needs and wants at the bottom of the pile. I spent too much time keeping everyone else happy. It needed to change. I would be my own best friend.

By the time my new partner came along, things were starting to change.

The man who stopped talking and listened

We’d been friends for a few years before we started going out but on our first date he was nervous. For once, I wasn’t.

I was still healing from my divorce, but being my own best friend had changed my mindset.

“Well, I am a catch,” I joked with him.

“You are,” he smiled. “I like that you think so.”

Prioritizing my needs and asking myself what I wanted had boosted my confidence. All those small decisions: “What do I want to do today?” “What would I like for dinner?” had made an impact.

I saw my value. I saw that it didn’t matter what other people thought of me; it mattered what I thought of myself.

I took a good look at myself and saw a smart, positive, kind, driven, and capable woman. I was loving my own company. I found the confidence my old friend Tia displayed — a confidence based on how I valued myself, not on how I looked.

My new confidence changed the kind of men that I wanted to date too.

In past relationships, I’ve chosen men who talked a lot — perhaps so I didn’t have to. My new man is different. For the first time, I’m doing my equal share of talking. My opinions matter to him. He wants to hear my voice and stops talking to really listen.

But even with a man who listens, and encouraging friends, healing is never a simple path.

Confidence takes work and I’m still working on it.

I choose every day to be my own best friend — treat myself well, share my thoughts, express my wants and needs, and think of myself as having value.

Finding confidence isn’t about changing ourselves.

You don’t need boob jobs or weight loss to get confident. You can value yourselve for who you are — you are talented, smart, successful, unique, funny, kind.

You are irresistible. You're a catch!

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