I'm naturally independent, opinionated and somewhat confrontational.

“Tell us how you really feel, Clara” is a phrase that’s been thrown my way more times than I can count.

I’m someone with an opinion and I don’t fear making that opinion known. I can be punchy and direct and endlessly sarcastic.

But I’m also a total golden retriever. I want to love on people and nurture them and bake them cookies. When friends visit me in the country, nothing makes me happier than greeting them with fresh coffee and a soothing playlist first thing in the morning.

I was reminded of this dichotomy recently when a friend asked:

“Why is being “aggressive” about getting what we want, making a plan, etc. the 'wrong thing' if that's our personality? Won't the right person for us be ok with that? Aren’t I supposed to be my true self?” she said.

Yes, always be your true self. But I get the conundrum. It’s something I’ve experienced personally, in dating and beyond.

The other day I had to leave a note for my neighbor (this is something one does in the country). The fence that separates our two properties is falling down. It’s my fence and I’ve hired someone to put up a new one. But where the fence currently stands, well, it’s inaccurate. According to property lines, it should be set another two feet back. Another two feet, on to my neighbor’s property. So I had to deliver that news. To alert them they were both encroaching on my property and that they needed to move the stuff they’d piled up on said property. Not a fun note to receive.

I was careful with my language. I acknowledged the annoying nature of the matter (on their part), that I was flexible on timing and happy to help in any way I could. Even though I was asking them to do something they probably didn’t want to do, the overall tone of the message was kind. Or so I assume, because they left a sweet voicemail the next day saying they were happy to work everything out.

The charge of something—the energy behind it— is really important. The charge of my note was kind even though the content was essentially “Move your crap.”

The same is true of dating. When our vibe is more “This is who I am. So either go with it or get out of my way (asshole),” that reeks of defensiveness (and ultimately, complete lack of self worth). The more confident thing to say is something like “Hey, no pressure, but I was hoping to see you again this weekend. My Sunday is wide open for a coffee. Would that work for you?”

The second statement is clear but vulnerable. Warm and open, but ends with a direct ask. It commands a response but in a respectful fashion. Just like my note to my neighbor.

There’s an element, too, of letting someone come to you. When I left the note for my neighbor I was worried this method wouldn’t work. Maybe they didn’t check their mailbox frequently? How soon would they respond? Should I tape it directly to their front door? I was so tempted to be more pushy and less patient.

I used to go through the same mental gymnastics in dating, thinking, a greater sign of bravery—of being myself—was being unabashedly direct. My internal dialogue was “If they don’t like me, on to the next!” But I was conflating my effort to not be a people pleaser with being impatient. Flakiness is one thing, but giving someone the space to get to know you (and you to get to know them), knowing however things shake out, you are held— that’s independence. That’s strength. That’s something to strive for.

Clara Artschwager