Why I Used To Be Afraid of Intimidating Men and Why It Does Not Faze Me Anymore

Sad girl looking out into the distance

(Image: Kyle Broad)

(Originally published on Feb 4, 2013)

For a long time up until recently, I used to be afraid of intimidating other people. Specifically, men.

Since my early 20s (I’m now 28), I’ve been regarded as a power woman by peers and acquaintances. My friends would frequently describe me as smart, sharp, driven, strong, powerful, capable, and intellectual. Some would even say that I’m fearless, while a friend once told me that I’m the smartest person she knows (which I found an extreme compliment).

Most of these comments stem from my personal accomplishments, which are quite different from others in my circle, or even in the society I live in. 

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Back in school, in university, I was a Dean’s Lister, an honor roll reserved for top students, and graduated top in my specialization of Marketing. Two years before my scheduled graduation, I was able to secure a place in a Fortune 100 company over hundreds of other candidates, something I was very proud of and humbled by.

Then when I was 24, I quit my well-paying job, right at the start of a financial crisis no less, to pursue my passion and start my personal development business—even though I had no prior experience in the field. I then created the blog you’re reading now, and in less than three years, built it more than one million pageviews a month.

It’s now been four years since I quit, and my passion now earns me more than my previous job. Today, I write at PE to a readership of half a million readers a month, and I’m frequently interviewed in the media, including TV and radio.

Then not too long ago, I traveled around the world by myself for seven months without any itinerary, going from place to place in Europe, then the U.S., basically creating my agenda on the fly. Depending on how things go, I’m possibly going on another long trip this year, exploring places like India, South Africa, and South America.

During the time I did the above (and even at this point of writing), these actions are atypical of the average person in Singapore. In general, the typical person here is expected to get a day job, follow the rules, not talk back, not go against the grain, and do as you’re told–and it’s even more so for women in my generation. I’ve done anything but that, and this is something that inspires (mainly women) and surprises people.

Me with my friends in Hong Kong: FCC, Rita, B, myself

With my friends in Hong Kong

“Powerful” = Unfeminine?

Despite people praising me from a place of good intention, I would feel mixed about being such a “strong” person (woman).

For a long time, my biggest struggle was that by being so “strong” and “powerful,” I would be unfeminine. For while I’m driven, passionate about success and mildly accomplished in my field, these factors are considered masculine, “yang” (as in yin-yang) qualities, and are not necessarily things that men look for when considering a romantic prospect.

If anything, they are seen as negative traits for a female to have, because they make her unfeminine. This is especially so in Asia where I live, where males prefer to have female partners who are more easy-going and less opinionated.

While I’m consistently building on my feminine qualities, I felt—in the past—that my drive, my strength, and achievements would offset whatever femininity I had—and in a way, my “appeal” toward men.

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I felt sad and conflicted because it seemed that I was making myself increasingly unappealing to men by virtue of every step I took in my career and growth. Since becoming more prominent in my career would naturally make me a more powerful character, men would find my success too intimidating and hence back off from pursuing me, rather than consider me romantically.

Note that I do have men expressing and/or showing interest in me; many times I’m flattered by the attention I get from some guys. However, this still did not stop me from having the above concerns, for it is a societal fact that many men (particularly Asians) prefer less dominating, less opinionated females.

By being more and more accomplished, I felt that I was in fact digging my own grave in the area of romance. The further I “climbed,” the harder it seemed for me to find a guy who could match my achievements. People often speak of the archetypal lone career woman who is highly accomplished yet barren in her love life, and I could see myself gradually trawling into this direction.

While I am totally okay and at peace with being a single (I would rather be single than be with someone I don’t like), I don’t want to end up as that archetype if I can have my way. I believe love is an important part of life, and I would love to share my life and myself with another.

So, I would shirk my character. When around others, I would dumb myself down as much as possible. Rather than think critically and share my analytical opinions, I would put my analytical brain on hold. I would hide my opinions, unless asked to speak—even then, I would be very choiceful about what I said and how I said it. I would smile a lot and talk little. I would stay away from talking about myself or anything that would remotely pointed to my “success.”

It got to the point where I felt that I was turning into a brainless, empty—and if I may say so—pretty-face shell.

Still Intimidating Guys Even Though I Was Trying Not To

Believe it or not, even though I was trying my utmost ability not to intimidate guys, I would still wind up intimidating them anyway, through no direct action of my own.

One can tell based on their behaviors. Some would clam up when I’m around. Some would speak nervously. Some would try to put me down and rebut whatever I say. There was this guy I met last year who became highly antagonistic towards me after just three minutes of conversation, even though I was being nothing but amicable. (I later found out from a common friend that he is highly averse to strong female characters, which would include me.)

I thought one reason for the unwitting intimidation could be my height, which is 1.7m—taller than the average Asian girl. Another reason could be my talking speed, which is faster than the average person. Yet another reason could be my presence, which is apparently quite strong. Often times, people could sense my presence right when I walk into a room (even in MRTs) and look up from their resting state.

This reminds me of this incident two years ago where a friend’s friend, Kev, who is a spiritual practitioner, located me in a very busy location in Hong Kong by way of my aura—during the peak hours no less. (I was there for a business trip.) While my friend Fenix was getting ready to text me and check where I was, Kev simply told him, “No need. I know where she is. Follow me,” and found me in the next minute!

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The amazing thing? Kev and I had never met before. When I asked him how he did that, he said my aura was so strong that it outshone all the people there (probably two hundred at least?). According to him, all he had to do was simply close his eyes and “follow the light.”

Questioning My Femininity

My constant intimidation of male characters without me even trying to do so when I was already dumbing myself down / shirking my character was perplexing. It got to a point where I questioned my femininity.

Am I not feminine enough? Am I not skinny enough? Am I not attractive enough? Am I too intimidating? Am I a very scary person? Am I not appealing enough as a woman? Am I not worthy of pursuing? Is there something wrong with me? Should I lose weight? Should I change to become a different character? I wondered.

Deep down, I thought there was something wrong with me as a woman. Where others have no problems landing the relationship of their dreams, I seem unable to do so. While I have never had any problems achieving business goals or developing awesome friendships, it would seem that getting into a romantic relationship with someone I desire was out of my grasp.

So in my darkest moments, I thought that—hey—perhaps I had failed, you know? That perhaps I had failed, as a woman? That regardless of what I did, be it shirking myself down or being my natural self, I couldn’t never seem to get into the relationship of my dreams. That perhaps, it was just not in my destiny to be with someone in this lifetime, and I could only wish for that in my next life.

Out on the Hong Kong streets: Fenix, Rita, Celes, B

With my friends (from left to right): Fenix, Rita, myself, my friend B

Revelation

It took a while, but I finally found the answer to my heart’s dilemma. I was chatting with my good friend Rita while I was in Hong Kong, and she said something that made me see the situation in a different light.

I had always thought that the solution to my guy-intimidation problems was to shirk my character, dumb myself down, and/or work on my appeal as a woman… so that I would not intimidate guys anymore, or at the very least, not intimidate guys so much that they wouldn’t want to woo me.

However, while I was chatting with Rita, I asked her if there was a possibility that some guys would be afraid to woo me because they didn’t want to hurt me, say due to my longstanding singlehood.

Rita thought for a while, and said, “I think that might be true for other girls. But for you, I think it’s more of a case that guys are afraid you would hurt them.”

While my immediate reaction was to burst out laughing because the thought of that happening sounded so ludicrous, I immediately stopped to think right after. For if it is really true that some guys are shying away from me because they are afraid that I would hurt them, just as there have constantly been guys who would feel intimidated by me no matter what I do (or don’t do, even), then it just means that… these guys aren’t right for me, be it as a friend or as a romantic prospect.

Because I’m not an inherently scary person, or at least I don’t try to be. I don’t try to intimidate people. I don’t harbor bad intentions against others. I buy cruelty-products where I can. I try to help people where I can; heck, I’ve even dedicated my life to doing that. I never try to change others because I believe it’s not our place to tell others how they should behave. I respect individuals as I respect myself. I put my heart forward in whatever I do and I treat people with full earnesty and respect.

If guys can somehow feel intimidated by me even when I’m not even trying to intimidate them at all, if they can somehow feel scared by my character/presence/drive/ambition when I’m simply just trying to be myself and to be a good person, then that’s really just too bad and not a problem I should bind myself with.

Rather than feel inferior about myself, I should take pride in my ability to strike such deep emotions of fear in men no less, because I can imagine it probably takes a lot for guys to feel that—fear, awe, intimidation, all rolled into one—about a girl.

Suddenly, I felt that I had finally solved a long-standing problem that had been bugging my soul and tying down my heart for the longest time.

Hong Kong PE Readers Meet-Up, Group Shot

At the Hong Kong PE readers meet-up! Clockwise, from left: Gabbie, Michael, Elton, Kit, Rita, myself, Serene

Finding Someone “Bigger” Than Me

In light of this revelation, the answer is then simple.

Rather than shirk my character, force myself to fit guys around me and tip toe around guys out of fear of intimidating them, I should instead look out for guys whose characters/ambitions are similar to or “larger” than mine. Because it’s when the guys have similar or larger characters/ambitions than me that they are able to take on my character/ambition, relish what I have to offer, and still want more.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that such guys have surfaced in my life before. For example, my past romantic encounters were precisely with guys with larger characters/ambitions than me. In university, I was romantically linked with a guy who was a top performer in school. When I was in Holland, I had a romantic brush with someone who was a high-flyer and used to be an associate partner at a top firm. While I was in London in 2011, I fell in like with a good friend who has a very solid character and solid head on his shoulders. (I don’t like him anymore and we are very good friends today.)

Each of these guys was very conscious (at the time I knew them) and had similar or “bigger” character/ambition than myself when we knew each other, which was why we liked each other at that time.

I also have very close guy friends today who are able to take on my natural self and actually thrive in my presence as I do in theirs. For example, my friend Karl loves hearing what I’m up to and consistently supports me in what I do. He and I often make sarcastic jabs at each other every time we converse, all done in good stead. My good friend Wen enjoys and celebrates the fact that I’m a woman of power and in power. We often have conscious, intellectual exchanges which he loves, and he constantly reminds me not to change myself for anyone else. Another friend who comes to mind is Derek Sivers, a renowned TED speaker, who enjoys my opinions and soaks in everything I say.

What’s more, I’m starting to meet more and more of such conscious guys today as I progress in my path. It has made me realize that it is only by embracing my true self that I will meet more compatible guys—not the other way round, where I force-fit myself to be compatible with guys around me. The latter is a fruitless path and will only make myself miserable in the end, as evidenced by the years where I held down my natural self to “match” others (and with abysmal results to boot).

To All Ladies Out There Who “Intimidate” Men

If you’re a woman who often intimidates guys around you, my advice is to simply to get out there and meet guys with equal or “bigger” characters and ambitions as/than yours.

By “character”, I’m referring to consciousness, personality, and emotional, mental, and spiritual capacity.

For “intimidation” only happens when the guy chooses to let himself be threatened by you, perhaps because of his own inferiority in areas of his life.

I remember the first few times I met my friend, Karl (who is happily married just so you know). Karl is a highly accomplished person—in fact, he is one of the most successful persons I’ve known. (He was the CEO of Groupon Singapore.)

I was very conscious to behave in a way that wouldn’t intimidate him—something I used to do with everyone I met before my revelation. I tried to talk slower, hold down my high energy, not talk too much about myself, and avoid any mention of things which would remotely suggest that I’m a woman of drive, ideas, and ambition.

As Karl and I became closer friends, I continued to hold back parts of my real self lest I turned him off (as a friend). Until one day when I asked him if my talking speed was an issue and if he thought it was better for me to speak slowly.

“No, why would it be an issue?” he said. “I think it’s perfectly fine.”

“Really?” I replied in surprise. “You don’t find that I speak too fast or that my energy can be a little overwhelming sometimes?”

“No, not at all. I mean you talk fast and you have a high energy, but that’s what I like about you Celes. That’s part of you being you, and that’s part of what makes you such a great and fun person to be around. I don’t think you should worry about this at all. Just be who you are, Celes. You are fine the way you are.”

I was absolutely taken by surprise by his answer. Here is a true friend who was basically giving me the space to be my true self, which, in my opinion, paved the start of an authentic friendship between us. Today Karl and I are very close friends, and I can’t be more grateful for this friendship of ours.

Conversely, if a guy has a fraction of your character/ambition/worth, he will find it very hard to accept you. He will feel constantly intimidated by you, even when you aren’t trying to intimidate him.

For example, I once knew this guy who kept feeling intimidated by me even though I wasn’t trying to intimidate him at all. He would have issues with me—from my actions, my non-actions, my kindness, my friendliness, my positivity, my personal success, to my influence on other people.

It got to the point where I realized that the issue wasn’t with me—the issue was with him and his own insecurity with himself. Didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, he was always going to find fault with me at the end of the day. In the end, I cut him out of my life because I didn’t need such vitriol.

I know it can be tough meeting compatible guys sometimes, be it for friendship or romance. However, I ask you not to give up. Know that this “difficulty” is only part of the journey, and it will only make you appreciate the great guys who will come your way eventually.

And believe me, they will. I’m living proof of that. Even though I’m still single today, I have many great guy (and girl) friends, including the three guy friends I have cited above, who accept me just the way I am and celebrate my real self. I think such connections are the purest type of connection you can ever, ever ask for in life.

I wish you all the best in your journey of romance and great social connections. ♥ Here’s to all of us women of power and in power. Let’s celebrate our power with great joy and not bind or hold ourselves down out of fear of intimidating other people, because we should never live our lives in fear, but instead, love. ♥

Banana and Celes

With my good friend B

Update Sep 2013: A month after writing this article, I found my soulmate and he is every bit the “larger-than-life” guy I described in this article, and much more. :) It’s funny reading this article in retrospect because I didn’t realize I was so near to meeting my life partner when I wrote this piece. Read my soulmate series for the full story, as well as my guide on how you can find your life partner: How I Found My Soulmate (7-part series)

Check out my Love category for more posts on finding love.