A few weeks ago, I posted a survey to my Twitter, asking my followers what they wanted to see in this column. (It’s still live, so you can feel free to add in your two cents!) I got a whole slew of responses, but versions of the same question kept popping up over and over again: How do I stop being so intimidating?
My answer to that question? Don’t stop being intimidating. Just stop dating people who call you intimidating. They suck.
I myself have been called intimidating a lot throughout my life. It all started with my father who, trying his hardest to console a weepy teenager who didn’t have a date to prom, told me that it wasn’t my fault that men didn’t want to date me. “They just find you intimidating,” he said. He totally meant it as a compliment — he’d raised a strong, outspoken young woman, and he knew it — so I tried to take it as such. But as I got older, and the men I’d date started calling me intimidating as a way to weasel out of the situation we were in, I realized that the opposite sex didn’t always see intimidation as a positive thing. And in talking to my queer friends, I found that this phenomenon seems to mainly occur in heterosexual relationships. The queer men and women I spoke to had never been given the excuse of intimidation as the reason why they weren’t finding dates (though, admittedly, my findings are 100% anecdotal).
So, being a woman who used to mold and fold herself to meet society’s standards of “the girl he wants to date,” I started Googling to see exactly what men found intimidating in a woman, all in an effort to fix it in myself. The answers I found were actually super enraging — especially on one particular Reddit post I’d stumbled across. Some answered, “If she’s better looking than me,” while others brought up words like “smarter,” “stronger,” “funnier,” and “outspoken.” Women who made more money than their male counterparts, or had a better job or seemed more successful in general, were also penalized. Basically, it seemed to me that if a woman is better than a man she’s dating in any aspect of her life, she’s automatically cast as “too intimidating.”
I was immediately pissed, because a lot of the characteristics that men evidently considered intimidating were fundamental parts of me. I’ve always been incredibly driven in my career, and I consider myself moderately successful. I tend to let things roll off my back, but I’m not afraid to speak up if something pisses me off. I’m independent — I live alone, I support myself, and I don’t need anyone to help me change a lightbulb. (Yes, this is one of the things certain men found intimidating.) And I like these parts of myself a lot.
Consider your intimidation the best fuckboy filter on the planet.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me a few years ago. Being the person I was, I started to try to tone down my personality. I’d ask my date a lot of questions about his life, so that I wasn’t talking about my job or my studio apartment all that much. If I disagreed with him on anything, I’d avoid even a friendly debate, and smile tightly and change the subject. I tried to make myself appear smaller so I wouldn’t overshadow the man I was out with. And you know what I ended up with? A string of egocentric assholes who wanted to keep me small so that they felt bigger. The men who I wanted to be dating, on the other hand, wouldn’t call me for a second date, because they’re men who like forthright, independent, complicated women — and that’s not who I was being.
It took me a while to understand that, by covering up my supposedly intimidating attributes, I wasn’t “fixing” myself; I just wasn’t being true to myself. It’s an odd realization to make, because part of what makes dating so complicated is the idea that you need to perform for the person sitting in front of you. People have written over and over again how first dates are like interviews, and that you have to put on a shinier version of yourself so as to not scare away the person across from you. I believe that to a certain extent — I won’t open up and spill all of my neuroses on the table right away, even though I overthink everything. But I now also believe that you need to still be yourself, not the person you think your date wants you to be. At a certain point, the jig will be up, and then what kind of relationship will you be left with? And frankly, attempting to even figure out what people want from you — and what they deem “intimidating” — is a losing battle.
I’d love to say that I woke up one day and realized all of this on my own. But actually, it was my therapist who offhandedly made the connection that the qualities I liked best about myself were the ones that were intimidating to the men I was dating. Sometimes, you need someone with a different perspective to show you what’s right in front of your face.
It was then that I gave myself the freedom to stop caring about being intimidating. Instead, I decided to just be myself — loud mouth and all. I embraced my independence, my outspoken nature, my wit, my smarts, and, also, the flaws that make me me. I quit hiding parts of myself from my dates so that they could really tell who I was, and this made me a better dater in a lot of ways. It allowed me to fully discuss my standards and what I was looking for. And most importantly, it made me realize that the person in control of my dating life was me — not the person sitting on the barstool next to me.
So, to all the women who wrote me, asking me how to stop being so intimidating, I’ll say this: I’ve learned to lean into those parts of myself. If a man is worth his shit, he’ll never make you feel like you need to hide them. Consider your intimidation the best fuckboy filter on the planet. As for me, I’m convinced I’ll one day find a dude who sees the things some call “intimidating” as incredibly exciting. But until then, I’m happy changing my own lightbulbs, thank you very much.
Photographed at The Penrose in NYC.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at maria.delrusso@refinery29.