Part 7: Being “unsafe” without even knowing it, plus a safe/unsafe chart


(OkCupid original post date: 5/13/12)

Quick vocab lesson if you didn’t read the first post about nice guys:

“Safe” – Predictable, caring, very nice guys who you know will drop everything to be with you, eager to please, very sweet. The type of guy you’d want to have a family with – good father, dependable, doesn’t cheat, etc. The type of guy who often ends up in the friend zone.

“Unsafe” – It’s about being your own person. Not being needy, being independent, being self-assured, making your own decisions, and not caring so much about what other people think about you. Someone who doesn’t need a lot of validation from others and has an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude.

Also, for reference: The safe/unsafe chart, which originated in this post.


Lately I’ve been thinking about all the guys I’ve ever been attracted to. Not your average random guy walking down the street who looks nice physically, but guys who I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about. They range from innocent crushes where nothing happened, to full-blown relationships and everything in between. So then I started thinking about all the characteristics of these different guys, and where they sit on the safe/unsafe spectrum. I started plotting them in a chart in my head. The chart looks something like this:


As you can see, the ideal type of person would have all of the characteristics in the green zones. Does such a person exist? Not that I know of. This chart is fluid. You most likely will find characteristics of yourself in a few different categories. For instance, the guy I dated from OkCupid was selfish and unreliable, but he was also confident, independent and had the capacity to be caring. My current partner has everything in 3, is confident and secure with himself (2), but can also be co-dependent and predictable (4). But these are only *my* perceptions of him. Another girl dating him who is less unpredictable/fleeting than me might not think that at all. Each relationship has a different dynamic.

I’ve never been attracted to anyone who has a lot of characteristics in the red zones. I don’t have much of a thing for needy, clingy types or the giant assholes on the other side. If you’re a nice guy who has trouble dating, I predict that you’re somewhere between a 3-4. If you can shift closer to 2-3, you might have more success with women. (Or, if you’re attracted to women with low self-esteem who try to ‘fix’ men but can’t, who then say, “all men are assholes,” you could shift over to 1).

So while I was doing this mental plotting of guys I’ve been attracted to, I came across one guy who did not fit easily on the chart. While he consistently has many characteristics in 3, I also thought he shifted a bit from being less 2 and more 4. But this was not because he fundamentally changed as a person. Our dynamic changed. Let me explain…

This is a person who was older than me. When I first met him, he was in a position of power over me. I liked his intelligence, the way he thought about the world, and his laid-back style of activism. He had strong opinions about things and wanted to make a difference, but he did it in a passive way. If you liked what he had to say, you could ask him more and he would be happy to explain. It you didn’t, he didn’t mind. He was very much his own person, opinionated but non-judgmental, and confident in himself. Sounds like he had the whole ‘good unsafe’ thing down, right? Well, the answer is yes and no. If you were to meet him and date him, you would probably say that he’s a safe guy. With me, he was “unsafe but unaware of it”.

Before I continue, let me just say that due to a number of reasons, there was no way this could have been a viable relationship. We were both aware of that from the start.

Now let me try to explain the whole “unsafe but unaware of it” thing. When I first started having a crush on him, he had no idea how I felt. I never said or did anything obvious to suggest that I liked him. No flirting, sitting extra close to him, anything like that. We’ve talked about this since then, and he really had no clue. I believe him. He’s not the skeevy supervisor type whose eyes linger just a little too long during one-on-one meetings. Far from it. He was totally professional and not the type of person who would consider doing anything inappropriate with a person in my position. Which, of course, gave him points because if he *was* the type of person to abuse his position of power, I wouldn’t have been interested at all. All this led him to being that irresistible mix of safe/unsafe, at least towards me.

Me? I was interested in what he had to say. His ideas about people and the world aligned closely with mine, but he knew so much more than I did. I wanted to learn.

So here we were, him being the interesting, confident, non-skeevy person that he is, and me being attracted to him because of that. We start to email each other and sometimes go out for tea. We connect because we have many similar interests and our interactions are helping me to come out of my shell. He’s like a mentor: encouraging and supportive, but he also doesn’t sugar-coat things. If I need to shape up, he tells me. I learn a lot from him, and he helps to build up my self-confidence. There’s a line in a song I like which reminds me of him: “Thank you for making me see there’s a life in me, it was dying to get out.”

Anyway, so we’re emailing each other a lot. I like him even more. Our emails are innocent, just talking about random things like books and news and music. Receiving emails from him become the most exciting part of my day. I check my phone frequently if I’m not near a computer to see if I have any new messages from him, and keep in mind that this was before smart phones were all the rage. I had one of those Nokias that were basically indestructible, but also pretty useless at doing much more than calling or texting. It took me about five minutes to navigate to the email screen.

Not long after the emails begin, I move away, and he is no longer in a position of power over me. We continue emailing each other and seeing each other once in a while. Then, a few months into it, the mood shifts. We start talking about erotic fiction, another shared interest. I believe I brought the topic up. We start writing one together, chapter by chapter, through email. The innocent emails are no longer innocent. Soon enough, the written words roll over into the real world. I don’t sleep with him, but we do other things.

I’m young. I’m having fun. He’s having fun too, but something begins to change. He starts looking at me differently (literally, not just figuratively). The power dynamic is shifting. He is now becoming more interested in me than I am in him. He starts saying and implying things that make it obvious to me that what we’re doing means more to him than just friends with benefits. Even though we both know that nothing more serious can happen between us, he’s become emotionally involved. He becomes safe. He needs more validation. If I don’t email him for a few days, he doesn’t like that very much. Meanwhile, I’m off in a new place, with a new job, meeting new people, and having fun new experiences. I don’t see him all the time like I used to, and this combined with his stronger need for my attention result in me pulling away.

I break it off. He doesn’t understand. I don’t know how to explain it to him either and we go around in circles discussing it over email. The best I can come up with is, “I felt like you started liking me more when I was expressing that I wanted less.” He disagrees with this. I don’t know how else to put it. Now, thinking about it, I think what I really meant was, “I liked you more when we first met. Not only were you interesting, intelligent, and kind, you were also independent, self-confident and did whatever the fuck you wanted, without being rude or inconsiderate. Those were the things that attracted me to you. Then something changed. You started liking me back, and gave away some of your power to me. I didn’t want your power. You started needing more from me. We talked about this. We knew it couldn’t go anywhere. I didn’t want you to need my attention or validation. I wanted you to keep being your own person, someone who would be okay with having me in or out of your life.”

Let me write that out again, with an emphasis on safe/unsafeness.

“I liked you more when we first met. Not only were you interesting, intelligent, and kind (good safe), you were also independent, self-confident and did whatever the fuck you wanted, without being rude or inconsiderate (good unsafe). Those were the things that attracted me to you. Then something changed. You started liking me back, and gave away some of your power to me (bad safe). I didn’t want your power. You started needing more from me (bad safe). We talked about this. We knew it couldn’t go anywhere. I didn’t want you to need my attention or validation (bad safe). I wanted you to keep being your own person, someone who would be okay with having me in or out of your life (good unsafe).”

This was kind of a strange situation, because in most relationships, it’s fine to let yourself get more attached to each other (like when you go from ‘just dating’ to ‘seeing each other exclusively’). But like I said, this was not a typical situation.

Okay, so where is the lesson in all this rambling? That you might be unsafe in some areas of your life, and safe in others. This older guy was not TRYING to be unsafe with me, his job description just naturally required it from him.

Another example: Someone commented in a previous post, “It’s interesting because when I do things for myself like snowboarding, I have the “unsafe” attitude. I might hurt myself going off this jump, but at the same time, it looks fun, so I’m just going to do it. On the other hand, I often feel like I need validation in social situations, which is probably why I come off as unconfident and have a difficult time finding a girlfriend.”

Think of yourself. Think of times when you feel like you’re the absolute shit and nothing can faze you. You’re confident, self-assured and don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. Let’s say you fancy yourself as an amateur chef. Your friends say, “chili powder in hot chocolate? That sounds gross.” You’re like, “no, it’s actually amazing.” You put chili powder in your hot chocolate, regardless of what anyone else says. Because you’re confident in your abilities. It tastes good to you. Why does it matter what anyone else thinks? Yeah, it doesn’t. (I didn’t make this up by the way. The Aztecs used to make hot chocolate like this, but I have no idea how it tastes.)

With women, try to apply the same concept. Borrow some of your unsafe energy in other situations and apply it when talking with women. Picture that you’re snowboarding, or cooking, or whatever you’re good at. You’re amazing. You’re confident. Be calm. Be normal. Do not seek their validation. You don’t need it in other situations, so you can do without it here too. Good luck.

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