She’s so insecure!

My girlfriend is brilliant but wracked with self-doubt. Her need for reassurance is wearing me out.

Topics: Since You Asked,

Dear Cary,

For the last six months I’ve been seeing a talented, intellectual woman in her mid-20s (I’m 29). She’s had a ton of academic and professional success for her age — or for any age. I’m not exaggerating to describe her as genius or near-genius level. She’s extraordinarily attractive, very compassionate and a natural socialite with literally dozens of close friends. Within three months of meeting her, my social circle had easily tripled.

But she has essentially no self-confidence. Zero. She knows it, and we talk frequently about it, trying to help her feel more secure both in her life and in our relationship. Most of the conversations are loving and communicative, but emotional conflicts happen more than I’d like. She has a lot of deep emotional losses and unsupportive authority figures in her past, though no criminal abuse I’m aware of.

In our first month, she confessed her deep insecurities to me and asked if I could handle them. I told her I’d be supportive in every possible way, but I was human and couldn’t promise with certainty I could. She seemed very pleased and said such an honest situation would be an ideal environment for her to work on growing her confidence. Unfortunately, after six months I’m getting burned out after all.

We have chronic conflicts about her many fears, for example: that I’m not truly committed, that she “doesn’t measure up” to my exes, or that I spend time with her just to be nice rather than out of actual desire. Twice a month I’m defending some new nuance of her worth against the perceived perfection of my ex-girlfriends until 3:30 a.m. I often suggest we let issues cool until the morning so we can be rested. Sometimes I’m so tired I’m afraid I’ll lose patience, raise my voice and start a real fight. But she has a terror of issues festering unresolved, her tears trump, and I always give in. We both lose a lot of sleep this way: It always ends up with her reassured and me spending the next couple days exhausted and resentful (but hiding the latter).

On her own she’s relatively independent; she certainly has the skills and intelligence to get through her day. But when we’re together, she seeks my approval of everything from clothing choices to the wording of minor e-mails. She often won’t run even basic errands without my company. I love her company, but I’d rather spend our time together doing more fun and romantic things than a special trip to Rite Aid for hair clips. I work from home so my time is somewhat nebulously available; it gets sacrificed regularly.



I’ve tried everything to reassure her. But my responses to “You … really do find me attractive?” are starting to sound wooden from sheer repetition. I’ve found far more patience for late-night difficult conversations than I thought I had. But I’m starting to need larger blocks of solitude to recover my energy, and I fear she’ll pick up on that and confirm all her fears. She claims she’s OK with me reserving time for myself, but my two previous attempts generated enough worry and conflict that the time gained hardly felt worth the process of reserving it.

She even expresses fear that her insecurities and admittedly irrational concerns are getting in the way, self-fulfilling prophecy-style. She’s right, but I don’t dare agree for fear of worsening the problem!

When we aren’t arguing about exes or the like, we have a ton in common and really enjoy each other’s company. My attempts to reassure her aren’t acting, I really do love and respect her. I’d like to turn things around, but I’m running out of ways to tell her she’s a wonderful person! I’m not sure what approach to try next. Help!

Drained in the Rockies

Dear Drained,

Suppose you’re working and she comes into the room and says, “Do you really think I’m pretty, or are you just taking pity on me?” You may feel like keeping your concentration on your work, like not giving her any attention. You may feel that this was an intrusion, a kind of aggression. If you work with ideas, you may feel that breaking your concentration for even a minute is going to cost you hours of lost time, so you may hunch your shoulders and try to hold whatever thought you had and give as little as possible to her.

Or you may abandon your work and turn to her and listen and talk for hours, fearful that if you try to set a limit on it, she’ll collapse or become angry, but all the time feeling that something is being stolen from you, and becoming over time resentful toward her.

But you need to handle this differently.

Look at her and hear what she has to say. Don’t rush her. Hear it all. Give her a squeeze. Say something kind to her. Set her down on your lap. But tell her that in five minutes you have to get back to work, and then stick to your word. Spend a few minutes with her in a quiet, intimate way, and then turn back to your work, but with a promise that when you’re done you’ll take a long drive together, or go out for a meal, or make love.

If you can do that, you will give her a structure she can put her insecurity into: She gets immediate reassurance because you respond to her lovingly; and she gets something on which she can hang her anxiety for the next few hours: When you’re done, you’re going for a drive, or out for a meal; you’re going to be there. Reassurance in the moment and a plan for the next few hours: That’s a strategy for dealing with her attacks of insecurity.

It may not work perfectly the first time you try it. You’ll probably sound awkward and fake; she may become indignant or angry. And since you’ve been doing the wrong thing for a while now — spending long hours trying to reassure her verbally, which reinforces her cycle of dependence and manipulation — she may sense the change in your approach (and indeed any independent action you take) as a mask for some deep and threatening betrayal.

So it would be good if you could get across to her that you’re in this for the long haul — that this change in your approach isn’t a sign that you’re abandoning her, but a sign that you are committed to her. Tell her that you know her insecurity is a problem but you want to be with her and you’re trying to help her through it and that’s what this is about. (You’re going to have to work at this for a long time, so if you’re not up for that, you should just tell her and break it off, because prospects for the short term are rather arduous and demanding.)

I don’t think she’s crazy, i.e., destructive or deeply manipulative. If she were, she might work harder to undermine you and harm you (if that happens, you may have to rethink your compassionate project). But I don’t get the feeling that’s what this is about. I get the feeling she’s had her world shaken by something she wasn’t quite ready for, that she’s got a bad case of nervous insecurity, but she’s basically sound and functional.

What I’ve observed is that in otherwise healthy and strong people the mind and the emotions, after a crippling blow or a bad few years, can be retrained and healed over time through habitual acts of the will — deliberately sane actions, repeated until they begin to take root and become second nature.

So what you need to do is come up with those actions, things you can do when she is in this frame of mind that help you both get through it, coping actions that lead, through repetition, to eventual liberation. And part of that requires you to read and respond to the real emotion behind her words. She is feeling: Lonely. Unhappy. Unloved. Cold. Respond to these things: Give her some of your time; do something together that makes her happy. Put your coat over her shoulders. She needs love more than anything. That’s what’s going on here. If she gets love from you, it will strengthen her so she can withstand the various emotions that crop up.

But don’t spend hours wallowing in the mud with her. That doesn’t help either one of you. It’s like you see her stuck in the mud but you don’t want to embarrass her or hurt her feelings so instead of saying, Hey, get out of that mud! you get down there with her. Don’t do that.

She knows she has a problem. Don’t be afraid of it. Love her but help her out of the mud.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked Directory

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>