How I Stopped Pretending To Be Chill And Started Behaving Like A Strong, Independent Woman

I used to envision myself as a laid-back lone wolf—the chick who doesn’t request a lot of commitment or support and doesn’t give much of it in return. I thought strength was about nixing feelings and subduing my needs, but after a lot of failures and disappointments, I had my epiphany: toughness isn’t about self-denial. It’s about realizing my worth and refusing to accept less than I deserve. Here’s how I grew into a confident, independent woman.

  1. I got tired of faking it. I didn’t even KNOW I was faking it. I thought I’d achieved wry detachment from my own dating dramas. I sincerely believed I was amused when some cute guy went off air for months only to hit me up with a minimalist “hey” because he was bored and horny. I figured I couldn’t get played if I knew his game and participated on my own terms, but somehow “my own terms” kept conforming to some variation of the guys’ expectations. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand my caricatured nonchalance. I deleted every time-wasting number in my address book and sighed relief.
  2. I realized that acting like I didn’t give a damn wasn’t “cool.” Somehow, in my twisted up logic, I’d decided that emotional expression was a form of weakness. I’d assumed that pretending not to care identified me as a hip modern woman. (WTF was I thinking?) I knew damn well that no one truly needs a man in order to live a fulfilled life, so I adopted an “easy come, easy go” philosophy about my romantic misadventures. But rather than empowering me, adopting that relaxed persona actually weakened me. It was time to stop giving in to these jerkweeds and start speaking my mind.
  3. I admitted that I was afraid. The idea of bringing my honest feelings to the forefront scared the crap out of me. Yes, I’d allowed my feigned chill to keep me in unsatisfying situations but my attitude had also become my armor—I figured that if I refused to admit that I was hurting, the hurt didn’t officially exist. Worse, I worried that guys wouldn’t stick around if I tried to enforce expectations like monogamy, regular dates, goodnight texts. It was kind of soul-crushing to realize I’d trapped myself in this absurd fear. Nevertheless, unpacking all my emotional hang-ups, uncomfortable as it was, finally got me headed in the right direction.
  4. I stopped feeling attraction to men who put me in “chill” mode. I didn’t force myself to overcome those go-nowhere crushes. My enthusiasm for players simply dried and withered—probably a direct result of my self-examination. It gave me a ton of hope to realize that I could change my attitude by thinking critically about what I really wanted in a relationship. Immediately, it was clear to me that I’d never find what I needed if I didn’t break the cycle. I spent a long time being strictly single, cleansing myself of all those halfway sorta not-quite relationships. When I came out of my shell again, I was renewed, prepared to be with somebody worthy of me. Or to be by myself if I couldn’t find “The One.”
  5. I figured out that good men never expected me to be detached. Funny how I’d never known before, but some guys I met LIKED connecting with one woman. They were careful with their hearts, seeking genuine intimacy, and they wanted to date a woman who was openly interested. They enjoyed long conversations, absurd inside jokes, and all-day cuddle sessions. These men weren’t as rare as I’d previously believed. Once I recalibrated my must-haves list, I managed to find them a decent number of them.
  6. I thought it was going to be hard to assert myself, but in fact, it came naturally. The anticipation can be so much worse than the event itself. I remember exactly the moment I knew I’d become strong and free-willed. A cutie who’d canceled our previous date texted me to make sure I wasn’t “mad about last week.” I promptly texted back, “Nope, not mad, but I don’t want to go out with you again. Have a nice life.” It wasn’t a struggle to put him in his place. I’d had enough of lame excuses. I was ready to start dating adults.
  7. I learned that “chill” is impossible when you love someone. Falling in love was the antithesis of “chill.” Every petty strategy became an obvious waste of time. After all, it was one thing to shrug it off when all those superficial almost relationships fell short. It was quite another to deny my feelings when I knew I had something real with a man. Far from clouding my vision or making me behave like a fool, when I fell in love for the first time, I began to see more clearly than ever before. I knew I could never go back to my old ways.
  8. I respect myself more than ever and guys respect me too. I always knew intellectually that men would treat me as I expected them to treat me. That if I accepted their BS, they’d continue to heap it on, while if I required them to appreciate me or lose me, they’d have to take me seriously. Seeing the principle in action was super rewarding. I immediately knew that security has little to do with the man in your life. It’s about loving yourself and acting accordingly.
  9. I don’t regret my “chill” phase. It might contradict my revelations to admit this, but I wouldn’t take back one faux-low-key moment of my history. There was a lot of fun mixed up in all the uncertainty. I’m not embarrassed by my past, nor would I deny the complicated joy of those crazy memories. I don’t regret them. I just outgrew them.
  10. I still need a lot of space. The so-called lone wolf vibe was never completely an act. I do like plenty of time for myself. The major difference between my “chill” period and my current attitude: I used to give dudes the space they needed. Now, I give myself the space I need. I can ditch all those self-absorbed bros because I’m too independent to let them in my life. Looking at it that way, I guess I’m more legitimately chill than I’ve ever been.
Jackie Dever is a freelance writer and editor in Southern California. When she's not working, she enjoys hiking, reading, and sampling craft beers.