The Lowdown on Confidence

[This was originally a writing sample for a guy’s mag.]

Dads, dudes, ’n’ dorks, I’ve met ’em all. So I’d like to share with you a few pearls of my hard-won wisdom.

Guys, listen up – confidence is a turn-on for many women. Okay, so it’s not news, but believe this: assertiveness is an outward expression of confidence, and if you’re neither assertive nor confident by nature, and aren’t able to fake it, you’re not going to be a happy camper in life and love.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

The babysitter. When our daughter, “Alana,” was a feisty 2 1/2-year-old, my husband and I decided to employ our teenage neighbour to babysit so we could go out and pretend we were a well-rested, carefree couple. “Lawrence” was a polite, trustworthy fellow of 15 whom we liked and knew well, and Alana adored. After a lovely evening consisting of a decent B movie and pizza, we came home to an utterly exhausted Lawrence. As he dragged himself to the door to greet us, we exclaimed, “What happened?!”

“Ohh,” he croaked, “she made me read her every book in her book box!”

What struck me about the incident was this: how can a guy 13 years older than the perpetrator, supposedly smarter and 80 lbs. heavier, be hoodwinked into such a situation? The answer of course is simple. He was not confident enough to say, after a while, “No more, I’m pooped.” This guy is headed for a difficult dating future. See my next example:

The high-school senior. When our friend’s son “Pete” was around 16, he had his first girlfriend. One day when I was visiting, I saw he was getting ready to go out… but looked miserable. Usually Pete was a cheerful guy, so my antennae were up. When I asked why he looked so down, he said he was going shopping with “Serena.” I pointed out that he looked rather like he was going to his own execution, and he admitted that he didn’t really want to go shopping with her. Naturally, I asked him why was he doing it, then! To which he replied, sheepishly, “She made me say yes!”

I must spell this out – excluding certain arenas such as, say, the justice system, or the mafia – no one can really make you do anything you don’t want to do! Unless she’s a crane operator, lifting you by the back of your jeans from one spot and setting you down twelve miles away as per her whim, you have a voice! It’s waiting to be used!

Of course, being confident and assertive doesn’t refer only to the business of saying no. Sometimes you may find it difficult to say “yes.”

The father. When my parents had been married for a few years, an ideal home-purchase opportunity arose. Lots of cheap post-war housing units had become available almost overnight. Yet although mortgages were ridiculously easy to obtain, and they lived in a dingy third-floor walk-up with zero green space nearby, my father just didn’t have the moxie to say, “Let’s go for it!” Fearful of owing money to anyone, he was too nervous to take out a loan.

If only he could have faked confidence and said “yes.” My mother would have been so proud of him, for he would have been taking a calculated risk on behalf of his family. Now that’s showing your love.

The guy who really surprised me by copping out was a post-divorce boyfriend I had years ago. I say “surprised,” because I’d thought he was confident; he’d always seemed so.

The boyfriend. “Craig” wasn’t someone who could ever shy away from a debate. Not only that, but he usually won every argument. Supremely confident, he eased his way through many situations that would give others pause. So I was amazed at his refusal of a gold-plated job offer that would have meant relocating across the country. He had just sailed through three interviews and impressed the CEO of a huge software company. Yet he decided at the last moment not to accept the job. I learned that Craig had just wanted to prove that he could have gotten the job if he’d wanted it. But deep down he didn’t truly believe he was capable of doing it.

Remember, though, confident and assertive does not equal aggressive and arrogant. As Andrea Madison,’s Relationship Correspondent says, the Confident Guy … “is totally secure and sure of himself. He is assertive in public, and gives off an aura of power and control (within reason, of course, as the ‘cocky guy’ is not on this list).”

At its core, confidence is not believing that you’ll never fail; rather it’s a calm understanding that if – no, when you fail, you can get back up and try again, or try something different, and succeed.

To show you what desirable confidence looks like, here is my last example: my doctor.

The neurologist. If any physician has ever earned the right to adopt an arrogant “God” complex, it’s Dr. X. As past director of a medical institute, mentor to many, a caring clinician, and a researcher who’s managed to obtain million-dollar grants over decades – all this rolled into one marvelous medicine man, Dr. X is a dream doctor. He has a quiet, mellow confidence… call it humility. He knows what he knows, but more importantly, he knows what he doesn’t know.

Say you ask him about his research. He will put on his “teacher” hat and patiently explain many of the details to you, illustrating his impromptu lesson with jottings on a scrap of paper. But when asked how such a drug works or why such a result was obtained, he will say, “I wish we knew” or “We don’t understand how it works yet.”

As a single and admittedly predatory female, exactly his age, I once surreptitiously asked Dr. X’s secretary if he’s married. “Yes, he is, sorry,” she said apologetically, with a chuckle. I sighed.

Ah… confident, humble and single men – I’ve yet to find you.

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