Girl Talk: Why Does My Success Send Men Running Scared?

The other day, a guy I have been dating for the last month or so told me — via IM — “you’re a girl with great skin, and I’m a guy with pimples.” He dreamt up this metaphor as a way of explaining some emotional turmoil he had been feeling that I, apparently, had inadvertently set in motion. For so long, he had felt so “together,” but since meeting me, he “didn’t like the person he saw in the mirror.” And, just in case I didn’t get the original metaphor, “pimples = issues.”

Sigh. While I don’t think I’m being bulls**tted, I do think this is bulls**t.

I may have great skin now, but I didn’t used to. I’m always on the verge of a major breakout, but I’ve learned how to ward them off for the most part.

“Everyone has issues,” I replied.

“You hide yours well,” he responded.

“No, you just haven’t gotten to know me well enough yet,” I said.

He had previously described me as incredibly “balanced” and I suppose that’s true, but it hasn’t been without a lot of work. To use his metaphor,

I may have great skin now, but I didn’t used to. I’m always on the verge of a major breakout, but I’ve learned how to ward them off for the most part.

Really, the division between this otherwise great guy and me is that he is not emotionally available, while I am and am searching for someone who is as well. That’s fine. I’m glad I know, moving on. However, what he said — about the pimples — struck a chord with me because I don’t think it’s an accurate description of who I am, yet that perspective has caused problems in my romantic life multiple times.

Sure, being told I’m balanced and “together” is flattering. I’m glad it appears that I have my s**t together and that I’ve created harmony between my professional and personal lives. For the most part, I do and have. But it’s also quite a pedestal to be put on by someone who doesn’t really know me well, especially since there’s nowhere to go but down. At some point, I’m going to get a zit that I can’t cover with any amount of concealer and then what? I’m suddenly flawed. Won’t that be a disappointment?

Here’s the thing: I’ve been laid off twice. I understand what it’s like to not be sure what you want to do or to feel like you’re not getting the recognition you deserve. In short, I was once The Flounderer, one of the emotional cripples I wrote about earlier this week. I wasn’t happy in my job; I didn’t think I was getting the assignments I deserved; and I spent more time obsessing over what wasn’t being given to me rather than making things happen for myself. Finally, I got laid off and instead of hitting rock bottom, it gave me the motivation to get out of my wheelchair and go after what I wanted for my career because no one was going to do it for me.

So while I’m sympathetic to how that chair feels, I also won’t waste my time pushing one around because it doesn’t do anyone any good. I also don’t want to feel like I have to hide how well I’ve done for myself all on my own. I’m sick of my professional success being either intimidating to a man or grounds for him to whine incessantly about how he’s being screwed out of the same opportunities. I want to be someone’s girlfriend, not their therapist; their partner-in-crime, not their career counselor; their lover, not their competitor.

Now I’m a pretty successful woman. I have a job I love that pays me well; I have my own apartment, a dog, a closet full of cute clothes, and a group of close friends. Most of the guys I’ve gone out with haven’t been poverty-stricken temps or ambition-less losers with $67 in their checking accounts, but they haven’t been as “successful” — on paper! — as I am. Though I’m not one to talk about work on dates (especially given what I do — I like to put off the inevitable Google search as long as possible), the location of my apartment, the fact that I sometimes can’t go out on Friday nights because I’m filming a CNN segment early Saturday, hell, even my Dwell duvet cover, are dead giveaways that I’m doing well. And you know what? I’m f**king proud of that.

Emotionally-speaking, yeah, I’ve got it together pretty well too. But anyone who has read this blog over the last couple of years knows it hasn’t always been that way. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, but have both under control, though I still have the occasional can’t-get-out-of-bed day or panic attack. Relationship-wise, It’s only been in the last six months that I’ve felt almost completely free of the disappointment and heartbreak caused by the end of my engagement. I’m more attune to what I want in a relationship. I’ve worked hard to get here, but I still have my moments of regression. I can be insecure and distrustful; I still pin too much of my self-worth on how others see me; and I am occasionally fearful that there just might not be someone out there for me. But I know that it’s on me to snap out of it.

So yeah, my skin is pretty clear. But I get the occasional breakout. I want to meet a man who sees how hard I’ve worked to keep my skin clear, yet isn’t blind to the occasional breakout and also accepts that those flaws are a part of me that may never go away completely. As my friend John DeVore told me, “To love you is to love that you are together and falling apart all at the same time” or, as I paraphrased, “To love me is to know I am just BARELY keeping it together.”

Photo: iStockphoto