I’m a Strong, Confident Woman Who Wants to Soften Up Around Men. But How?

I’m a Strong, Confident Woman Who Wants to Soften Up Around Men.

Hi Evan, I recently purchased your e-book, Why He Disappeared,” but I wanted to ask you a personal question! I grew up with very strict parents and my father was abusive physically and verbally towards my mother; growing up I was very submissive. Although confident and outgoing I could be quite timid – as a result throughout my adult life I would meet men who would generally treat me like crap and, as anyone would, I feared going out with aggressive men – but as soon as I hit my 30s I changed and became a strong, independent woman.

I’m confident, self sufficient and can be very direct. If I don’t like someone/something, I tell them! I think this all stems from not having a voice as a child (not being allowed to have an opinion,) and I carried this through until I hit 30. I’m now 36, and my worry is: I don’t know how to show my “softer” side when I meet men! Straight away I get the “you don’t seem like you need a man.” But, with men who are willing to date me, very quickly (after a few weeks) it becomes clear that I’m not as confident as I appear (and I do tell them that in the beginning.) They say things like “wow – you’re a pussycat and really caring.” Which I am! Evan, can you help?

I don’t know how to switch off/tone down my confident side when I’m with a man that I’ve just met. I want to be a little more submissive so that he feels like he’s in control and I’m more of a woman, one that he feels he can protect and look after. I must have this guard up that I’m completely not aware of that says to men “back off! I don’t need you, I have my own money, business, home and I’m doing just fine, thank you!” I don’t WANT to send these signals. Yes, I’m doing OK, but I still want the Alpha male who will protect and look after me when required . How do I bring out the softer side at the attraction stage? Please, can you help? Thanks, Sian

Dear Sian,

I was on the phone with one of my Inner Circle clients last week (the Inner Circle is intimate small-group coaching that I do for women on a bi-weekly basis).

If you say whatever is on your mind, don’t wonder why men pull away.

Natalie is in her early 60’s, divorced for many years, and has a tough, no-nonsense exterior. The second I got on the phone with her, I knew that we’d either be a match made in heaven…or a match made in hell. See, after 7 years of being a dating coach, I can pretty much tell you if I can get along with — and help — any given woman. If I can’t, I don’t bother to work with her; it’s not worth her time and investment to hire me if she’s going to consistently argue with me and ignore all of my suggestions to her.

Anyway, I told this very thing to Nancy on the phone.

She immediately broke down crying. Hard exterior. Chewy nougat center.

Natalie told me that she’s made so many mistakes with men and that she just can’t HELP herself. She says whatever’s on her mind and then wonders why men pull away.

I covered this territory thoroughly in Why He Disappeared. Women want to be able to speak their minds without being censored; yet they go ballistic when men speak their own unadulterated thoughts:

“You should grow your hair out.” “You look heavier than your photo.” “I’m just getting out of rehab.” “You want to have casual sex?”

As a woman, you might not think you’re doing the same thing, but you are. And usually it’s because you feel you have the right to just be HONEST.

Don’t sabotage any chance of making a connection by offering criticisms and incompatibilities when you should just be FLIRTING.

Like my client, Bonnie, who wrote in a first email to a guy online last week: “I like you better without your beard than with it.” And, to another man, “I noticed you like going to church. I’m not very religious, so if you’re not comfortable with this, let me know.”

The way Bonnie sees it, she’s “saving time” by getting answers now. But she’s really not, because she’s sabotaging any chance of making a connection by offering criticisms and incompatibilities when she should just be FLIRTING and making him FEEL GOOD.

If I said to a first date, “I want Jewish children. How do you feel about this?” it would be a tense, awkward, non-starter of a conversation. Six months later, when my future wife and I were in love, it was an important and easy one, where we were both willing to make compromises for each other. It would have been ridiculous to think that she’d compromise for someone she’d never met before.

From what little I know about you, Sian, you have similar issues to Natalie and Bonnie. You’ve overdeveloped your tell-it-like-it-is side to compensate for having no voice as a child, and now you say you can’t help yourself when you tell-it-like-it-is.

It’s a valid observation and explanation as to why you are the way you are.

But it’s still no excuse.

Your blind spot is even visible in your writing: “I don’t know how to switch off/tone down my confident side when I’m with a man that I’ve just met. I want to be a little more submissive so that he feels like he’s in control and I’m more of a woman, one that he feels that he can protect and look after.”

I have never said to be anything less than confident.

I have never said to be submissive.

I have never said that you’re more of a woman if he can protect you.

You can be smart, strong, successful, confident and opinionated and do GREAT with men. You just can’t be their boss.

You can’t criticize them.

You can’t pressure them to commit to you.

You can’t tell them that their clothing sucks, their manners suck, and their friends suck.

If you don’t like something about him, you have two choices: break up with him because it’s a dealbreaker (addict, cheater, slacker, doesn’t want to have kids), or tolerate it because, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter (everything else.)

Finally, Sian, I don’t want you distorting words like “confident” and “honest” as some sort of attributes that are working against you. They’re assets.

Want to stop driving guys away? Then stop giving off the “I don’t need a guy” vibe.

The thing with confident people is that they don’t have to TELL others how great they are. They don’t need to tell others what to do or how to think. And they don’t need to pressure their partners into a relationship. Confident people can adopt a “live and let live” attitude because they know that their dates would be silly to pass them up. No need to micromanage or criticize anyone.

“You don’t like me? Fine. Good luck to you in your search.”

So this isn’t about confidence at all — this is about misplaced assertiveness as a defense mechanism built up from early childhood. I don’t blame you for this, but I can’t help you with it either.

Want to stop driving guys away with the “I don’t need a guy” attitude? Then stop giving off the “I don’t need a guy” vibe — a very defensive posture that repels confident men like mace.

Trust every new man who takes you out.

Make him feel like a million bucks for choosing you and planning the date.

And when he asks you out a second time, you’ll know that you’re doing it right.

Oh, and since you bought “Why He Disappeared”, you might want to open it up again — there’s a section on specific things that women can do to be great first dates.

Hope it makes a difference for you.

Join our conversation (39 Comments).
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  1. 1

    Being “submissive” is not the same thing as being “softer” or even being “feminine”.     A woman can be feminine as well as soft, while being assertive, while being confident and while expressing her opinion without compromise.     IMHO, it could help to think about how these qualities are not exclusive.
    I think this is one of EMK’s best blog posts:


  2. 2

    No one  should be “submissive” in a relationship. You just need to be complimentary. You can still be confident and be able to voice your opinions, which I believe you should. As long as you don’t act/talk all “high and mighty,” most good  guys will welcome differences in opinion on any subject. My advice is to sit back, relax, and enjoy some friendly banter/debate. You can voice your opinions and still be light hearted and funny about it.

    My personal opinion… I think “beta” males are good protectors too 😉

  3. 3
    Christie Hartman, PhD

    This is a great example of how people (especially women) misconstrue what “strong and confident” really means. As Evan said, real strength and confidence have nothing to do with being critical, overly assertive, or “honest” (“honest” in this case being a euphemism for saying negative or disrespectful things). I’ve found that women who are described as “strong and confident” are often just hardened and emotionally “well-defended” in an attempt to hide their vulnerability and their fear of being hurt.
    Don’t tone down the “confident side” of you. Focus less on protecting or proving yourself and focus more on how to make a man feel comfortable with you. Smile, listen, pay a compliment now and again. And if you find that a man doesn’t treat you right, you have the strength and confidence to dump him and find one who does.

  4. 4
    Karl R

    Sian said: (original post)
    “I’m confident, self sufficient and can be very direct. If I don’t like someone/something, I tell them!”

    What you call “direct” the rest of us would call “rude.” It’s not a sign of strength, independence or confidence.

    You can have an opinion without voicing it.

    Sian said: (original post)
    “I don’t know how to switch off/tone down my confident side when I’m with a man that I’ve just met.”

    Don’t. Confidence is good.

    Sian said: (original post)
    “I want to be a little more submissive so that he feels like he’s in control and I’m more of a woman, one that he feels he can protect and look after.”

    submissive = he controls you
    independent = you are comfortable being in control of yourself
    confident = you are comfortable letting him be in control of himself
    bossy & controlling  = you try to control him

    Most men prefer independent and confident women. Most men don’t respect submissive women. Most men hate being around bossy & controlling women.

    Sian said: (original post)
    “Straight away I get the ‘you don’t seem like you need a man.’”

    As a man, I don’t want to be needed. Needy people suck the life out of those around them. I want to be wanted.

    Sian said: (original post)
    “it becomes clear that I’m not as confident as I appear”
    “I must have this guard up that I’m completely not aware of”

    The guard you have up is the facade you portray in order to hide the fact that you aren’t particularly confident.

    I don’t know you, but I’ll take a few educated guesses based on what you’ve said:
    You don’t need to tone down your confidence. You need to build up  genuine self-confidence  to the point where you no longer need the facade.

  5. 5

    Sian, I can really relate to you here. I had very similar childhood experiences, and honestly did the same things as an adult. And, this may be unpopular, but in true childhood   victim reasoning, I don’t care 😉 it’s great that you have come to this on your own time…your on a journey, of getting to know yourself, what your expectations are in a relationship, and what you honestly want for your future. This is a process, at least it was for me, and I went through very similar stages.   Aggressive in my abilities and ambitions, then thinking I should submit and subscribe to the “feminine” nature in me, then believing I am a balance of both and  striking that balance between the two  that made me happy. I think your on that journey, and maybe I’m wrong, but you have to find that balance for yourself, what percentage of “submissive” (which btw, does not mean you have to give up your own ideals, it just means for people like me, and  I suppose you too, that you let certain things go that you might not normally, bc like EMK said, in the big picture does it matter…) and assertive is going to fulfill you, and satisfy that drive you have. You will (and this may be unpopular too…) find a man that will go with you on your journey, and be patient with that discovery process and allow you to be you. We are all on a journey and it never ends. You are where you are, and that is ok. I try really hard (and sometimes fail miserably) to consider things in an ‘end of the day’ way. At the end of the day, does this matter to me?? If something bugs me that my partner did, I try to sit with it until the end of the day, and if by then I can’t let it go, then I need to talk about it…. Maybe start there in your “softening” process, and, I particularly agree with one thing Karl said, you do need to build some self confidence, you are great the way you are on your journey…and any man that can’t see that isn’t worth shaving your legs for 😉

  6. 6
    No Crap

    Same. Old. Story. Women have to bend and fold themselves into shape, while men get a pass.   Dress it up any way you like, but it’s still a steaming pile. You can’t criticize men?   Why the Hell not? If some man is being a jerk you better BELIEVE I will criticize him.   And if I have to change what men don’t like about me, why shouldn’t men be expected to do anything because of what I like? Oh, that’s right, I remember, because I’ll end up alone.   Well, there are worse fates than being alone, and twisting myself into a pretzel just so I can say I “have a man” absolutely qualifies as worse.

    1. 6.1

      If he’s being a jerk, you leave. If he wears bad cologne, you leave it alone. Just as you would want him to act with you.

      No one is saying you have to bend and fold yourself. But face facts here – if you try to out-man a man, or you criticize or control him, he’s going to walk. And why shouldn’t he? Why should he put up with your crap in that way?

      Yeah, you can live alone just fine, but then why are you here?


  7. 7

    @No Crap – You change to attract the man you are attracted to. You can stay the way you are thus you have to compromise/settle on what your looking for. If you are attracted to a certain kind of man than you have to change to become what he is attracted to. Unless you want to settle.

  8. 8

    I think there is a big difference between criticizing a guy because you don’t like his beard or his church-going, and being a strong, confident woman. If you don’t want a religious or bearded man, don’t date one. Likewise, telling a woman “you look heavier than in your photo” is rude. Saying “Do you want to have casual sex”? (unless you’re REALLY certain she does), yep, insensitve.
    The rest of this is a spurious argument. Just about every man I’ve known has told me he’s looking for a woman with drive and ambition. The men I’ve dated have been interested in, and impressed by, my accomplishments. I’ve never gotten the impression that a man thinks I’m less “feminine” because I’m not super dependent. In fact, when I was in my twenties, I WAS much more of a slacker, and that caused more problems in my relationships than anything else. Healthy, confident guys aren’t looking for shrinking violets or wallflowers, or less than equal partners. I’m sure there are men who want passive, dependent women, but I’m not dating them…

  9. 9

    I was close friends with a man once who said anything that was on his mind. He’d just give it to you like it is. He’d rattle off a list of things he didn’t like about you, and try to convince you to change. “Those lunches and dinners, you’re costing me a fortune”. “You’re going to wear this?” “Get a new car, you embarrass me with this one.” Last time I ran into him a few years ago, he opened the conversation with: “You’ve gained weight. Don’t worry, this happens with age.”
    He wasn’t being confident, he was just being an obnoxious jerk. If he hadn’t said any of those things, that wouldn’t have made him submissive, just polite and tactful. FWIW, his communication style wasn’t working so hot for his career, either. He had a reputation for being an obnoxious jerk of a manager (surprise). I ended up cutting off contact after the dude just got too toxic.
    What I mean to say here is, I’m pretty sure men face the same choice here as women do – if a guy doesn’t like something about me, he can either break up with me because of it, or he can learn to live with it. Only thing he cannot do is tell me to change and get results. This is what I am. I’d like to be something I’m not, but I can’t. I’ll be tolerant of your little quirks, you be tolerant of mine. Works both ways.

  10. 10


    god, that guy sounds like a nightmare! He reminds of some guys I see online- in their profiles they write, “just so you know, I’m REALLY sarcastic, so you better be able to take it.” ???? Seriously? Code for “I’m going to insult you every chance I get and I expect that you’ll be okay with that.” Sheesh.

  11. 11
    Karl R

    No Crap said: (#6)
    “Women have to bend and fold themselves into shape, while men get a pass.”

    You really have a skewed perspective on everything.

    As a guy, I can change myself as much (or little) as I decide and am capable of. However, I can’t change my girlfriend at all. I either accept her as she is, or I leave.

    The same applies to everyone (including women). You can change yourself, not other people.

    No Crap said: (#6)
    “You can’t criticize men?   Why the Hell not? If some man is being a jerk you better BELIEVE I will criticize him.”

    Then you get to be “a jerk” too. And just  like the guy who is a jerk, people (men and women) won’t want anything to do with you either.

    No Crap said: (#6)
    “if I have to change what men don’t like about me,”

    You don’t have to change what men don’t like about you. Furthermore, you show no inclination to change either.

    How is your rant even relevant to this topic? Sian is under the mistaken impression that she needs to become less confident and more submissive in order to succeed in relationships, and everyone has told her the same thing:
    She doesn’t need to become submissive or less confident. She needs to become more confident and more polite (two traits which will  benefit her in all areas of her life, not just romantic  relationships).

    It appears to me that you have a chip on your shoulder, and you’re trying to start a fight for no reason. Any person (male or female) who has those traits is unpleasant to be around, so  sane people  (male and female) avoid having anything to do with them.

    If you want to be beligerent, you don’t have to change. But the natural consequence of  your behavior is what Goldie described (#9).

    1. 11.1

      Actually Karl I agree with you.   I work with different cultures and because of this, my spoken language is usually more direct (so that they understand better).   Nowadays, I think twice before saying something as directness is nearly always perceived as rude.

  12. 12

    @No Crap

    No one likes to be criticized, man or woman. It’s just considered rude. If a guy is being a jerk you can talk about it without jumping down his throat. And if he is still a jerk,  then that is his true colors and you should walk.

  13. 13

    Sayanta, you said it! I’ve seen those profiles too and always stay far away from those men. And it can be any number of things: “I’m x, y and z and you better just except it because I am *just* that wonderful”….or “if you are a x, y and z woman don’t contact me”. Even if I am not the type of woman described why wouldd I be movitvated to be intereted in him anyway? He is showing his negative and sometimes disresepectful side.   I think both men and women today don’t know how to self edit or consider others sometimes. We are also   more socially “connected” and exposed, I think it also causes over-exposure and more of a battle wary disposition.

  14. 14

    Semantics are important here.   When we say women should be “confident,” that’s what gets women who want to be a bit more feminine and approachable in the dating realm in trouble. The light bulb clicked on for me a few years ago when I read about the difference between a woman’s being “confident” vs. “self-assured.”
    Confidence is a masculine trait.   We are confident at work in order to be successful: assertive, ambitious, competitive.   If you’re confident, it means you know without question that you are up to the task, that you can go out there and conquer the world, bring home the bacon, have mastery over certain skills or other people.   It’s about planning and organizing and doing and drive and initiative.   When women bring that type of “confidence” into the male-female realm, they can often come across as bossy, bitchy, controlling and basically hell on wheels to be around.   A confident woman says, “Listen, let’s cut to the chase, do you want to get married and have kids, or what? ‘Cause I’ve got an agenda here, and I don’t want to waste time.”
    Self-assurance is a feminine trait.   If we are self-assured, we have a strong but peaceful inner certainty that our needs will be met, and we’ll be taken care of — whether it’s us taking care of ourselves, or allowing someone else to help protect and care for us.   If I’m self-assured, it means that if I’m with a man who becomes toxic, or hurts my self-esteem, or brings harm or risk to me, or misbehaves in some deal-breaking way, then I will have the inner wherewithal to walk away and start fresh, and move on, and find another, more positive way to get my needs met.    A self-assured woman says, “I have certain goals that are important to me, and I’m looking for someone who shares my values and wants the same things.   If the person I’m dating does not, and I feel that I’ve tried my best to make things work, then I will walk away with dignity and grace and find someone else to be with — or not.   I don’t need a man to fulfill me, but I would like a man to share my life with.”
    That is inherently “softer,” yet still puts the woman firmly in control of her own destiny.   She has veto power — the power to say no, thank you, that doesn’t work for me, and walk away.   It allows her to sit back a bit in the early stages and let the man do most of the pursuing.   He gives while she graciously receives, and then evaluates whether what the man is giving her is what she needs to feel happy, fulfilled and meet her own goals in life.   If not, then she floats away.   She doesn’t waste time or energy butting her head against a brick wall, or trying to get other people to change or dance to her tune.

    1. 14.1


  15. 15


    That is a really insightful post! I never thought of the gradations there- thanks for writing it. 🙂

  16. 16

    @BeenThruTheWars – Elegantly put. Thank you.

    And I would agree that this is one of Evan’s best posts.

  17. 17

    BeenThruTheWars, you know what you are talking about; well said.

  18. 18
    Kat Wilder

    The most important thing we can do to have healthy relationships is to stop letting our childhood influence our adulthood.
    We are products of our parents and how we were raised, and we either replicate some of those behaviors or rebel against them; either way, they still control us. This is not about blaming our parents (heck, I certainly don’t want my kid to blame me!), but about understanding how that impacted us.
    We can free ourselves from those behaviors especially if they’re not working for us in our relationships now.
    I believe strongly in understanding family of origin issues and how they still impact us. Once you get a stronger grasp on that (without knowing you, it would appear you’ve gone from your mom’s acceptance of abuse – aka, timidity – to the more aggressive stance of you father, which you clear don’t want) you can start owning your behaviors and actually have that confidence/self-assurance in your love life now.
    Not saying it’s easy, but it’s essential. Good luck!

  19. 19
    The Seductress


    You have a past for which you have over compensated for. Your defenses are up with new people you meet as if to say, “I’ll show them up front that I don’t take any crap.”

    But truly strong, confident people who don’t take any crap, don’t have to advertise it or ‘show’ it on purpose. They just  ‘are’.  And they are not defensive or feel as if they must  speak up about each and every thing they dislike just in case someone gets the wrong idea about them. When crap comes up, then they deal with it.

    You CAN be a confident, strong, independent woman  AND be soft, and feminine.  You just don’t trust yourself completely, yet.

    Let the man lead on dates, show appreciation, respect. Be a lady. Expect to be treated as a lady.  

    Ask yourself how you behave differently after a few weeks which allows men to see your softer side. Clearly when you relax a little you do show other sides of yourself.

    Only you know what you are saying or doing that may be off-putting, so choose to stop  doing those things and see what happens.  

  20. 20

    BeetThruTheWars #13:
    I’ve been wracking my brain all morning over this paragraph:
    “Confidence is a masculine trait. (…).   A confident woman says, “Listen, let’s cut to the chase, do you want to get married and have kids, or what? ‘Cause I’ve got an agenda here, and I don’t want to waste time.”
    What I cannot understand is… if confidence is a masculine trait, and the above sentence is an example of being confident, then it would sound good coming from a man. When, in my opinion, it’d hardly even sound normal. I’d run so fast if I heard this from a guy.
    One thought I have on the subject is, maybe what works with our colleagues (and, to a point, with our kids) does not work in the dating world, both for men and women. Maybe both men and women should be confident in the workplace, but self-assured with people they’re trying to date. Maybe instead of one side “having mastery over” the other and the other side “graciously receiving”. we could have some teamwork in place. Just a vague thought 🙂

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