LoveFAQ is a weekly advice column for geeks, by geeks about love, life and maxing out your romance meter. Got questions for LoveFAQs? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Love FAQ,
I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for over a year now, and we’re really happy. But as we’ve gotten to know each other better, I’ve noticed that she has some issues with confidence: mainly, she has none.
She doesn’t accept my compliments, because she doesn’t believe them. She also believes she needs to lose weight, even though she’s a healthy weight. And when we first started dating, she was really worried about me cheating on her or leaving her for another girl, even though I made it clear I’m not that kind of person.
I recently met her family, and they all agree that she’s gained more confidence since being with me, but she’s still not able to stand up for herself like she wants to. She’s stands up to me when we disagree, though, but she also knows I won’t dump her simply because of a difference of opinion.
I love her and think she might be “The One,” but I hate to see her not pursue her dreams or stand up for herself. So how can I help her become more confident? She has expressed an interest in me helping her, and we both think that she’d be happier if she had more confidence.
— Looking to Buff
Dear Looking to Buff,
Your girlfriend is looking to everyone for validation and approval: her friends, her family, even you. Everyone, of course, but herself.
But confidence isn’t a bottle of wine you can hand out as needed. It’s a moonshine brewed in your own bathtub, fermented from your own blood, sweat and tears. Your girlfriend can search for validation from every Tom, Dick and Sarah Connor in the phone book, but the only place she’ll truly find confidence is within.
That’s not to say you can’t encourage and support her, of course. You can be an emotional rock, a sounding board that reminds her of her strengths and not her weaknesses. You can role-play stressful situations with her, such as asking for a raise or arguing with a parent. You can even undertake physical challenges with her – running a marathon, climbing a mountain, etc. – that serve as a metaphor for confronting her fears.
But in this battle, you can only be an NPC, not the tank. You can’t build her confidence for her, no matter how much you want to – or how much she might want you to. I know it’s tough to watch someone struggle with self-doubt. But if you try to do this for her, it’s just going to break your heart.
Fortunately, however, she already has everything she needs to brew her own confidence; she just needs to do it. And until she does, just keep on encouraging her and supporting her – from the sidelines.
One last thing: A few cues from your letter suggest that your girlfriend may suffer abandonment issues. This and her lack of confidence are undoubtedly linked, and if she’s not talking to a therapist or counselor, you may want to encourage her to see one.
Dear Love FAQ,
I am a sadomasochist who has just completed a long struggle to accept my fetishes. As hard as it was, I’ve finally been able to resolve my Christianity with my sadomasochism, and I now embrace both aspects of myself.
However, I worry about finding a loved one. I’m not the kind of person who can build a real relationship without sex, and sadomasochism isn’t a common fetish, especially when one of my major fetishes within that group is electric “play” involving jumper cables and a car battery. Couple that with the fact that I really need another Christian to build a loving relationship, and I’m up shit creek. How am I going to find an open sadomasochistic switch who is also a devout Christian — and not completely insane?
I’d try online dating, but few Christians will admit to sadomasochism on a Christian website. Besides, sadomasochism is, first and foremost, a fetish, meaning that most of those dating sites are no more than electronic pimps selling especially kinky whores.
Do you have any advice on looking for a soul-mate for someone as outside the norm as me?
— Gimp Mask Gamer
Dear GMG –
First off: Don’t give up. You’ll find someone; it just might take a while. Kinky Christians do exist – obviously – and you of all people should know that you can’t judge a book just because Jesus is on the cover.
Sex isn’t so much the issue here as is compatibility. After all, how we have sex is not who we are; it’s just an expression of identity, not that identity in and of itself.
So place your focus on finding not the right labels, but the right personality: someone who respects your faith, yes, but who is also open-minded, adventurous, and not judgmental. Because even if you find exactly the churchgoing S&M switch you seek, there’s no guarantee she’ll be your soul mate — only that she looks good on paper. What really matters more here than having the right preferences about gag-balls or New Testament translations is whether or not you can actually get along with her.
Remember that like attracts like, and to find someone open-minded, you too must be open-minded. So rather than ruling out non-Christians, for example, perhaps instead concentrate on finding someone who shares your values, no matter what church they do (or don’t) attend. And rather than looking only for switches, instead seek out a partner who simply loves to experiment.
Everyone has their deal-breakers, of course, and I’m not saying that to find love, you must abandon your standards altogether. But people have a funny way of surprising you, and part of what keeps love fresh is exploring your differences and testing each other’s boundaries.
Who knows, the love of your life may not know yet that she likes hooking her nipples up to jumper cables. She may just need a loving partner to introduce her to the idea.
Above all, remember: Love is patience. Don’t demand she be gung-ho on S&M off the bat – heck, you weren’t either. But the longer you’re with someone, the more comfortable you become with both experimentation and compromise. And that is worth the wait.
Disclaimer: LoveFAQ is written by Lara Crigger, who is by no means a trained psychiatrist or therapist or even a middle school guidance counselor – just a smart gal who wants to help out her fellow geek. LoveFAQ is meant for entertainment purposes only, so don’t take it as a substitute for professional advice. If you have real problems, consult your physician.
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