You rarely forget your firsts. Your first plane ride, your first sip of alcohol, your first joint, and for me, the first man who made me feel wanted. After discussing this with my close friends, many of whom are attracted to men, I soon came to realize that some of the amazing women I surround myself with feel a similar type of way. They too feel a strange emotional attachment to the first boy who made them feel wonderful and wanted.
Now we could blame this nostalgia or the fear of adulting, or even just plain old obsession, all of which could lead to yearning for past love and lust, or even a middle school slow dance. However, after giving it a lot of thought and research I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason I can’t let go of the first man who made me feel desired, is not because I am fated to never be desired again. Instead, it is because I’m operating under the false belief that I am not wonderful or worthy or beautiful unless a man wants me.
You see, as a tubby teenager who practically graduated high school with braces, I, like many women who didn’t receive male attention, grew up under the false notion that I just wasn’t pretty or beautiful or desirable. For years I was convinced that boys just didn’t like me, and that I would be perpetually ill-fated to one-sided crushes that would never manifest into anything but a daydream.
Now I want to make something very clear: it’s not a woman’s fault if she feels this way. By the forces of socialization women are often at a disadvantage as, according to research, many suffer from what is coined the ‘confidence gap’. This ‘gap’ refers to a societal trend that men tend to feel over-confident in their capabilities and worth, and women tend to feel under confident in those same characteristics. Knowing this, one starts to understand why women are less likely to apply for promotions, more likely to engage in self-blame, or in my case why I let a cocky, Computer Science major named Toby* dictate my self worth for over two years.
Toby and I met at Monte Carlo of my first year. He claimed to drive a Maserati, he told me he was a member of the Rolex club (as he flashed me his $13,000 watch), and right after he gave me my first kiss, he attempted to lure me back to his place with the promise of watching Gossip Girl. Some of you may be thinking this man sounds grotesque— and on a certain level you’re correct. Toby was the epitome of entitlement and conspicuous displays of wealth. However, he carried his 5’6 frame with an air of utter confidence, and looked at me and my body as if it was something worthy of being wanted. It did the trick—I was smitten.
That night I went home with a smile on my face. I thought; it finally happened: a boy thinks I am pretty and beautiful and desirable. For the first time in my life I felt wanted and worthy, and most importantly I felt confident.
However, Toby was inconsistent, and when I gave him the power to make me feel wanted and worthy, I also gave him the power to take it away. While we never dated or engaged in anything consistent, he tended to linger, but only on his terms. What followed was a two year game of cat and mouse: one of us would reach out to find the other was otherwise occupied, only to have the roles reversed several weeks or months later.
Oddly enough we connected more frequently once he graduated. After several meetups, we shared a night at Casa 425 where we cuddled, kissed, laughed, (and other things I probably shouldn’t mention as my mother reads this column) up until the early hours of the morning. He let me see parts of him and his past that felt inherently intimate and I woke up the next morning feeling wonderful. However, that was quickly replaced by a feeling of utter worthlessness when he did a 180 and basically told me to show myself out, not even bothering to look up from his phone as I gathered my things and left.
When I look back on Toby and my strange relationship, I think, shame on him, but also shame on society. Like dogs can smell fear, I believe Toby could smell my insecurity from a mile away, and there is no doubt in my mind that he capitalized on that. He got to have me when and how he wanted me, and the moment he was finished, I was shooed out the door. While it’s objectively wrong to prey on someone’s vulnerabilities, men, especially those who grow up affluent, are often fed the message that the world is theirs for the taking, and that they shouldn’t have to apologize for being an opportunist. This not only breeds hyper confidence and often cockiness, it normalizes a sense of intense entitlement that allows some men to act in manipulative, cruel, and self-serving ways without any consequence.
However, this is strongly contrasted against the way we raise our girls. We live in a society that makes women feel consistently inadequate, a society that inadvertently sends the message to young women that they aren’t something until someone, especially a man, tells them that they are. And if they choose to sing their own praises and confidently discuss their strengths, they are branded as a self-absorbed bitch who needs to check her ego at the door.
Success in business and love are linked to not only competence but confidence, and with this in mind, it’s no wonder women interested in men suffer romantically from the perils confidence gap. How many women reading this have watched their friends date a guy who is an utter twat? How many have watched a friend get strung along for months by a guy who “doesn’t believe in labels”? How many have watched a friend hookup with a guy she’s not attracted to because the fact that she can turn him on is ‘enough’ to turn her on. How many women reading this have been that woman? How many of you have put up with mediocre men because even if you would never voice it out loud, there is this part of you that believes you can’t do better?
Chances are if you’re interested in men and have been sexually or romantically involved with them, you’ve been this woman, and you have experienced the perils of the confidence gap first hand. In fact a lot of you probably have your own Toby. Maybe he was your high school sweetheart, or the guy you sat next to in biochem last semester, or maybe he was your summer camp crush. Whoever he is I want you to know: he’s not worth it.
The confidence gap has the potential to create the perfect storm. You have women socialized to believe the worst in themselves and men to believe the best in themselves. In heterosexual love, sex, and lust this can lead to manipulation, exploitation, and a general lack of common courtesy. However, hope is not lost. While I can’t untangle the mess that is the socialization of human beings in 21st century America, I can close the door on Toby, and hopefully inspire you to do the same . Now, maybe together, we can try and put together our own semblances of self worth.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the individual
10/30, Volume XXIX, Issue 3