Why Do We Never Talk About Imposter Syndrome In Dating?
Despite an outwardly sunny demeanour, I suffered from pretty low self-esteem for most of high school. Not in reference to my grades (although some teachers would argue I should have…) and never in reference to my friendships, but instead when it came to appealing to or engaging with the opposite sex.
Basically, every time a boy spoke to me or fawned interest, I thought they’d been put up to it by one of their mates. A kind of, “Hey, I’ll give you this six-pack of Diesels if you go up to Maddy Walker and pretend to flirt with her for seven minutes.” Literally, that scenario played on loop in my brain from the age of about 13 through to 17. I found it unfathomable that a teenage boy – with a singular chest hair and a litre of Lynx Africa – would want to go to the movies with me in a non-platonic, non-ironic way. And despite making a tonne of progress in the arena of self-confidence since then, despite learning to recognize my inherent value and worth, despite Doing! The! Work! When it comes to dating in adulthood, I still find myself slipping back into what feels a lot like Imposter Syndrome.
Women are more than a little familiar with Imposter Syndrome. Defined as, “A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist”, Imposter Syndrome is the internalised and constant fear that you will be exposed as a “fraud” in your career. That you are undeserving of your successes, no matter how small. Like when we all found out that Drake had a ghost-writer (devastating). ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and “a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overrides any feelings of success or external proof of their competence”. It’s basically that unshakable feeling that you shouldn’t have been invited to the meeting, that you weren’t the most deserving candidate for the role, and that you haven’t, in fact, earned the pay rise.
But we never really talk about how Imposter Syndrome plays out in our romantic endeavours. When a guy slides into my DMs on Instagram, I automatically assume they’ve been put up to it by a friend – maybe they’re playing a drinking game?? – or that they’ve messaged the wrong account, or that they’re just being friendly. In face-to-face interactions, if a guy openly flirts with me, I assume I’ve misread his politeness and he’s actually married with kids. And I don’t know a single straight female who hasn’t, at some point, engaged in self-sabotage by pushing away a perfectly good guy simply to avoid the inevitable rejection when he discovers she’s not as intelligent/together/funny/attractive as he initially thought. To leave before being left.
I’m a reasonably intelligent person, but a guy I recently spent time with made me constantly feel like an idiot. Well, not an idiot, but like I was “ditzy”. I felt as though there was nothing I could say to him that he didn’t already know, no conversation that he hadn’t already had, no book he hadn’t read, and I ended up feeling like a dork during most of our interactions. And not only did I not feel intelligent enough for him, but I never felt pretty enough or funny enough either. (That should have been the first red flag, because I know *for a fact* that I’m fucking funny).
When I was suffering from Imposter Syndrome with work a couple of years ago, my Dad gave me some really good advice. He told me to get a piece of paper and right down all of my career-related achievements to date. Every single one. Then, I was to put that piece of paper somewhere I could readily access, and every time I felt like an imposter I was to go back to the evidence. “It’s really hard to argue with facts”, Dad said. Now, am I suggesting you do the same exercise with all of your romance-related achievements? That you compile a list of every person you’ve ever slept with that you thought was out of your league, every soppy text from someone declaring their love, every nude you’ve ever sent that was met with a standing ovation? Honestly…maybe.
But here’s what I can’t stop thinking about: Does Imposter Syndrome disappear once we find the right person? Does the right person silence the imposter in our head? Or must we overcome our Imposter Syndrome first, in order to attract the right person? It’s like the ‘chicken or the egg’ debate. Which must come first?