How to be enough for someone
Marisa Manuel
Illustrator: Julia Hanke
September 28, 2021

Janet W, a marketing manager from Georgia, has a tight network of friends, a prestigious career, and is generally confident in her approach to life. When dating, that confidence usually shines through, allowing Janet to enjoy herself regardless of whom the date is with or where it takes place. Yet, sometimes, when her date is a particularly good match, Janet finds herself nervous, doubtful, and worried. She begins to wonder, as many of us have, whether she is “enough”—and how to be enough for someone else.“When a person is especially thoughtful or impressive professionally, it’s attractive,“ she shares, “but it also makes me self-conscious of my own knowledge in those areas. It’s exciting, but it feels like more pressure. It’s kind of an impostor syndrome.“Like Janet, Alan X, a construction worker, sometimes questions his own dating worthiness. “I’m a total mess in many ways, but in a cruel twist of fate, I’m a self-aware mess,” he says. “So when I find someone who puts up with my messiness, it just seems too good to be true, that I don’t deserve it."In both cases, these feelings can seem like a problem in need of solving, a question of “How to be enough for someone” without an answer. But it’s not that there isn’t an answer. Not exactly. We just need to ask other questions first.

What Does it Mean to Be Enough?

Oftentimes, “enough” feels like a matter of comparison, our own worthiness compared to someone else’s. “People sometimes overemphasize one or two dimensions that they’re insecure about, leading them to feel like they’re not enough, such as not feeling successful because their partner earns more money,” explains Justin Sabree, Ph.D., founder of JustPsych. “But sometimes you just have to take people at face value—that what they say is what they want.” In this case, differences in perception are at play: one person may feel less worthy because they have an objectively smaller social circle or a less traditionally attractive appearance. But none of these things determine “worth,” and there’s so much more to a person than any one trait.“Maybe your partner cares more about kindness,” says Sabree, “and they look at you and say, ‘Wow, they spend all their time volunteering, helping friends.’ You might just be weighing things differently, and your own scale might not align with what your partner thinks is important.”However, there are also situations in which perception and reality align, such as when you treat a date poorly. If you constantly arrive late or never listen to them, they might decide you’re not worth the effort—because that’s how you’ve made them feel.Sometimes, it’s okay to change for a date, especially if it means correcting some of your less thoughtful habits. Other times, a relationship is just not meant to be because you aren’t ready, and that’s also okay. “Very few people can manage a healthy and happy relationship on their first try, and some relationships we need as very important lessons,” says relationship therapist Yana Vikulova. “[But] if you want to make changes as a gift to your partner and they feel natural to you, you don’t have to twist yourself into knots in order to make them. This way, you can ensure that you won’t regret these changes after you’ve made them.” In short, you don’t need to be perfect to date someone, and you can always work on improving what you want to improve. “Enough” isn’t really quantifiable, because we’re constantly changing, learning, and growing.

Why Do We Doubt that We’re “Enough?”

If you’ve ever been ghosted or received zero matches on a dating site, you likely know that these situations can easily lead to feelings of not-enoughness.But is that really the case?So often, our self-worth ties back to others’ validation—not just in dating, but also in professional settings and friend groups. Being ghosted can be a real hit to our egos, but in truth, ghosting and missed matches are rarely a reflection of us. Instead, they may simply be a reflection of our dating profiles, a misalignment in interests, or even something wholly to do with the other person. “There are so many reasons why someone would swipe on a profile or not respond,” says Sabree. “Is the reason no one is messaging [you] because you’re totally undateable? Probably not—that’s a pretty extreme response. I’d first look to see: how does your bio read? Do the photos you’ve chosen show your personality? There are more tactical approaches to take before saying the reason is only this one dimension.”Similarly, we may doubt our worth as a partner due to previous bad relationships. It can be difficult to overcome these insecurities on your own, but the good news is that you don’t have to do so.“When things get serious, don’t be afraid to share the pain from your past with your new partner,” advises Vikulova. “If you calmly and straightforwardly state the problems and fears you have after the previous relationships, you will be able to see what the new person does with this trust and minimize the risk that they will hurt your ‘sore toe’ by accident—just because they don’t know you have it.”In other words, hiding your insecurities can actually make them harder to manage. But by sharing them with a partner, you can avoid a resurgence of the very issues that caused them. In turn, you can start to feel more powerful in who you are, what you want from a relationship, and the idea that you’re “enough.”

How to be Enough for Someone: Whom Should We Be Enough For?

When a date goes sour or doesn’t happen at all, it’s easy to feel like you’ve done something wrong. But even if something you’ve said contributed to a date fizzling out, that doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of love or companionship.“When dating, just remember how much they know about you and how much they don’t know about you,” says Janet. “Especially in the early stages. If they make the judgment they don’t want to talk to you, it’s not a reflection of who you are as a whole. It’s because they’ve seen just a tiny piece. Why let one person who sees you at one pinpoint in your life define who you are?”Instead of wondering how to be enough for someone else, try questioning how to be enough for yourself. You don’t need to love yourself before accepting love, but it makes relationships a whole lot easier. And even if you’re not at the point where you love yourself, entering a date with confidence can bring joy to both you and your partner.“I like making people happy,” shares Alan, “especially someone I have a romantic interest in. So when I see I’ve made a partner happy, yeah, it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel valuable.”