I’m a very confident person but my girlfriend is extremely shy. I can tell she likes the compliments me and other people give her but it’s like she doesn’t believe them. I think she’s the most beautiful woman ever but she doesn’t even want me to go to the gym because she’s worried I’ll be looking at other girls. I don’t want my relationship to dictate my life like that though. I’m okay working out at the house if that’s what I choose to do but I don’t want to do it if I’m told I have to. It’s strange right? I’m attracted to her but she doesn’t trust that I am so she acts in ways that make her less attractive. Why can’t she see that me wanting to go to the gym would keep us together instead of pushing us apart?
Ah, a classic issue. Someone potentially loses someone by not realizing they already had them. Regardless of which gender is wearing which shoes, this is an incredibly popular issue for people to struggle with. The upside is that it can appear that the couple is a bad match, but in fact it’s an indication that it’s a very good one.
First off, the human spirit is smart. Really smart. Your history is who you were, but what you’re doing is who you are now. And doing is growing, even if all we’re doing is growing the number of times we’ve done the same thing. Our spirit intuitively knows it exists by expansion. It is a verb not a noun. When we reduce ourselves to nouns we trap ourselves within an ego-fence made of self-prescribed definitions. The issue here is, you have one definition for your girlfriend and she has another. But she can’t see yours just like you can’t see hers. But you can both feel that innate desire to grow—to expand. And since you can only become what you are not, your growth comes from becoming more like her just as she expands by becoming more like you. You heal your blindness by allowing your partner to teach you how to see.
Since it’s your spirit’s natural inclination to expand, can you see where a shy person would recognize opportunity? They would recognize and value what they could not have because of who they think they are not. So they’ll see bold people getting things and experiences and those victories will stand out because those are not things or experiences that the shy person would/could grab. But they want to grab them. And so they’ll understandably be attracted to people who do seize those opportunities. Because that person will look impressive only because they can do what the shy person tells themselves they cannot do.
Even though your confidence is what attracted her, it’s also what’s generating the friction. The act of wanting that skill is ironically what causes her to perceive that she doesn’t already have it. She tells herself a story about how she can’t do this or that thing and because she hears herself tell herself the story, she believes it. So she thinks she can’t walk into a party and feel comfortable and yet the only thing that’s uncomfortable is the story she’s telling herself regarding how she can’t be comfortable at parties. Note: you don’t tell yourself a confident story when you go to a party. You don’t tell yourself any story at all. You accept that you belong and are wanted. From there you can relax and just be comfortably aware. But she doesn’t think she’s earned her way in yet, so she has to hang back and be quiet until she thinks of whatever amazing thing she imagines will make her acceptable and thereby allow her the same freedom you have. The same freedom she denies herself by believing her own story of incapability.
Now, what most people do in that situation is encourage others to just do this or that, but of course those ideas and plans stem from the confident person’s history. They know they can do this or that because they tried and succeeded. The shy person either never tried, or they quit after a failure or two. In short, they defined themselves against their negative experience. They are defined by what they cannot do, not what they can do. But you’re the same way, only backwards and more subtly.
You would find it strange and uncomfortable to be in a room and not assert yourself. You automatically feel your opinion, ideas, experience and even your pure presence is of value. That’s why you present it. We don’t give things to people if we don’t think they’ll want them. So you automatically assume you have something valuable to offer and your girlfriend automatically assumes she doesn’t and each of you acts accordingly.
What you can see in each other and not in yourselves is that each of you is following a strange voluntary script. You can see that shyness is a script she’s playing out because you don’t have the same story for her that she has for herself. You see someone great and deserving of confidence, and she sees her failures and her desire for respect. In fact her desire for that respect is what keeps her there. She thinks she’s not already the creature you fell in love with. That’s why she doesn’t want you going to the gym—because she does not yet feel attractive enough to hold you in her orbit so she doesn’t want other heavenly bodies near you. You don’t see those people as a threat even if you are attracted on some level, because you see your beautiful version of her, whereas she sees her weak version of herself. You can talk and use labels all you want, but until she believes she’s worthwhile, in her reality she won’t be worthwhile.
I know you wrote in wanting to help her change for the better. I can totally understand why you would want her to live her life feeling as beautiful as you feel she is. But she’ll have some version of that for you too. Wants don’t lead anyone anywhere. You can’t change each other, you can only change yourselves. So speaking of you: if she’s that insecure then you’re own insecurities are likely play out in bigness. Meaning it’s less an issue that you’re capable of holding a room’s attention and it’s more that you need to have its attention.
If that’s the case, then consider this: your bravado and confidence comes from you not having any question that you’re welcome and honoured. And her meek shyness comes from her having too many questions about whether or not she’s worthy. Like I said at the start, the healthy choice is to meet in the middle. Can you see that if you started checking in with her for any kind of social advice, that she would gain confidence from you asking for her assistance? Can you see that she sees you as capable, so if you need her help then she must have something to offer? And she certainly does. But she won’t know that until she believes it.
Our perspectives are legitimate but uniquely our own. So in a relationship we cannot think we are a teachers who have lessons to impart, we must feel more like grateful students who are thankful for the patience of their teacher. Help her not by teaching her what you know about confidence, help her by learning what she knows about insecurity. What to say to her will come more naturally when you can actually see things from her perspective. And always remember, if you want more love and less negativity in your life then don’t try to get the negativity out of your partner, try getting more positivity into you.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.