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How did you find love or companionship in spite of anxiety?
April 2, 2009 11:02 AM   Subscribe

What steps did you take to find your partner in spite of social anxiety or severe shyness?

This is for the members who consider them to be anywhere from moderately shy to severely social phobic. If you currently are or were in a relationship, how did you meet your SO? What steps did you take to improve your chances of meeting this person. I mean things you did apart from therapy and other self help stuff like getting shape and dressing better and such.

I know the usual advice in reply to questions related to meeting people and finding potential lovers/mates is to "just be yourself" and that "it will happen when you're not looking or least expecting it" and so forth but I don't think it would apply for the majority of those grappling with this issue.

So, did you start with a concrete plan in mind? Did you enlist the help of someone more extroverted? Did moving to a larger city or town make a difference? Or joining any particular organization or activity group. Once you'd encountered that person, did you make the first move? Or were you lucky enough that it occurred the other way around? How did your interactions in the early stages of the relationship play out? Did it all just fall in place because your SO is also just as reserved? In short, how did it happen !?! Any and all specifics that you could share would be very helpful and hopefully instructive.

I'd like to hear from members of both sexes but specially from men since it seems it might have been more of a challenge for them.

I'm working assiduously on my problem but feel that time is running out and with each passing month/year the label of "single, shy 30-something guy" looks even more unattractive and unhelpful. And I fully realize that there isn't any single thing that will work for everyone; I'm just interested in hearing about the experiences of others . My apologizes if this comes across as a bit of a ramble and/or chat filter material.

You can email me at anon.mefi1@gmail.com if you wish to share something in private.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Internet dating. It doesn't help me be any less awkward on dates. But it gets me to the date.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:08 AM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you meet someone you're interested via mutual friend, you might try Facebook. You're a bit out of the age range that is most common on there, but there might be some other social networking system you're more familiar with. My current SO, who is 26, did that since both he and I are moderately shy, and we've been dating for a year and a half.
posted by Night_owl at 11:15 AM on April 2, 2009


I think internet dating will help you a lot.

Second read some of those David D'Angelo books on attraction, dont take everything verbatim but it will help you with you attitude.

Third work on yourself, go to the gym, take a dance class, or join a club....these will help you meet people not necesarily that you date but will open doors to get to those who you do want to date.
posted by The1andonly at 11:19 AM on April 2, 2009


I was very girl phobic and 30. I saw her while on lunch break and fell in love a first sight. I walked back to my office mates and said, "As God is my witness, she will be mine!". Then I did nothing except yabber to friends about how excellent I thought she was. A few months later she got a job in my building (thank you God) and a wonderful co-worker (wife of a friend) started meeting her regularly for coffee and laid all the groundwork I needed to finally screw up the courage to ask her out. That was almost 16 years ago. Boy, was I lucky.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:21 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I became a regular at a bar. And drank. A lot.
posted by ZaneJ. at 11:23 AM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Both my partner and I are pretty damned shy. We met in college so for us it was a factor of a) forced social interaction between the two of us and b) lots of liquor.
posted by muddgirl at 11:28 AM on April 2, 2009


I wonder if it would be worth trying to overcome the shyness a bit - since that's the underlying cause of the difficulty. I'm not an expert on the issue but I understand there are books classes, and therapy groups focused on coming out of shyness.
posted by serazin at 11:35 AM on April 2, 2009


My partner and I met through blogging. We lived in different cities and had read each other's blogs for a while. He wound up moving to my city, so we decided to meet up, and we hit it off. Afterwards, each of us confided in a mutual friend that we wanted to date the other, and the mutual friend told each of us about the other's interest, which made it easier for one of us to ask the other out.

Never underestimate the power of mutual friends (and blogging).
posted by Tin Man at 11:46 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I met my current SO at a science fiction convention - a very small one. This actually has been where I met most of my SO's, this one just happened to actually work out. Go to small conventions where you are interested in the topic - you will meet like minded people.

We then conducted the first year of our relationship nearly entirely by email, chatrooms, and usenet. That put us at a distance where we felt safe with each other, and could open up, and knew the other wasnt lying about who or what they were.

We then went through about 4 years of seeing each other every month or so, sometimes more or less frequently, until he moved to town. We didn't actually move to cohabitation until 3 years ago. So when we did we were totally prepared for our little crazinesses and our own phobias and shyness, and already over being shy of each other.

I can't recommend this method enough - we've outlasted most of our friends who got married, and do not plan on it any time soon.
posted by strixus at 11:51 AM on April 2, 2009


I recommend reading Intimate Connections by Dr. David Burns and following the instructions therein.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2009


Focus on doing things that you really love. Join a club, start a new activity, get a library card, whatever works for you (in my case, it was marching band - yeah, I'm a nerd). You'll be more likely to find someone who shares the same interests. Being passionate about something also helped me overcome a bit of my social anxiety; I wouldn't talk much normally, but if you got me going about a topic I cared about, it was a lot easier. Worst case scenario? You're still doing something that you love.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:26 PM on April 2, 2009


You could try something that I'm considering: put an ad on Internet dating sites and/or Craigslist saying that you are looking for new friends but are open to the possibility of more--eventually. That could take away some of the pressure of OHMYGODADATE that can be difficult for shy people (and I speak as one of those myself).
posted by chicainthecity at 12:40 PM on April 2, 2009


I'm working assiduously on my problem but feel that time is running out and with each passing month/year the label of "single, shy 30-something guy" looks even more unattractive and unhelpful.

I take it you haven't tried online dating, where people use "shy" as a positive all the time.

It's soooo much easier to be brutally honest from before you even meet someone if you're just typing words on a computer screen.

Are there people who are turned off by "shy"? Of course. They won't contact you. And if you see a profile that says "I'm an extravert and mainly get along with other extraverts" (yes, people do say this explicitly), you won't contact her. That's why I italicized "before you even meet someone" -- that's key, because then you've already broken the "I'm shy!" ice beforehand.

I'm just interested in hearing about the experiences of others

OK, here's my experience: I'm a shy and introverted guy, I called myself an introvert in my OKCupid profile, I met my girlfriend on OKCupid, and the chances we would have met if we hadn't tried online dating are about 0%. It's up to you to decide whether it's worth it for yourself; I have now doubt that it was in my case.

I know the usual advice in reply to questions related to meeting people and finding potential lovers/mates is ... that "it will happen when you're not looking or least expecting it"

You're right to be skeptical of that common advice. Rationally, the way to increase the chances of accomplishing something is to make an effort. That might not sound as effortlessly attractive as the way people act in romantic comedies (where starting a relationship is as simple as two people bending over to pick something up at the same time before they charmingly make eye contact), but that's life: you usually have to try hard at something, and often fail miserably and then try again, to get it done.

And yes, the advice to just "stop looking," do whatever you feel like doing, and wait for the magic to happen is particularly ill-suited to shy/introverted men.

Even if there is some chance of getting what you want without trying, the question is how to increase the chances, which means making a specific effort. As I've said, online dating is just one idea -- other people have suggested and will suggest other ideas -- but do something.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:44 PM on April 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


And my email is in my profile.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:47 PM on April 2, 2009


Practice chit-chat/small-talk with everybody, not just potential dates. Construction workers, old ladies at the supermarket, pretty much anyone. It's easy when you don't fear being sized up by a potential partner. "Damn, you must've been cold as hell out there today" or "I never can figure out how to use asparagus, and once I do, it's out of season." Once you get used to this kind of thing, all of a sudden you'll break it out on a cute member of the opposite sex without even knowing it. And that's a helluva good first step, I've found.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 12:49 PM on April 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


I was in my 20s when I first had a girlfriend, and that was because she was in my social circle, and she was more outgoing than I. My second serious relationship was with my now-wife, who I met through another social circle. We talked online first, and then decided to see a movie together, and that ended up being a date. Though not as socially outgoing as my prior girlfriend, was more outgoing than I was, which made some of the interactions easier. Both circles were part of college, which provides a lot of groups of similarly aged people with less effort on your part.

Since you're in your thirties, you'll have to put more effort forward in finding dates. I agree that you should do social activities that you like, which could expand your circle of friends and possible dates.

One bit of advice: don't be overly critical of yourself or potential dates. I'm not saying lower your standards, I mean you shouldn't focus on flaws. I have a friend who is struggling with dating, and it seems he has almost unrealistic standards. Everything is attainable, but if you turn down dates because of the other person's hair style or choice of initial restaurants is off, it'll take you a lot longer.

Also, look at the dating experiences as having fun. Yes, it's stressful and nerve-wracking, but if you focus on the fun parts of it, doing something you enjoy with someone new and interesting, you might not end up with another date, but you could get a friend instead, and that's not a terrible thing. If you didn't get a second date, don't spend too much time focusing on your choice of clothing or where you lost the other person. Remember the fun you had, and then you might look forward to the next attempt a bit more than before.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:55 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Internet dating all the way. Explicitly stress that you're shy in your profile, and be sure to make said profile charming, well-written, and full of character to compensate for a potential first date when you may be too shy to show your true charm. Then make sure to send really well-written emails before & after the dates. Not long emails or many emails, mind you, but well-written emails. I usually think ppl should invest as little time on e-communication as possible to cut their potential losses, but since you aren't gonna be a talker on date #1, make sure she knows you're worth the wait by being cool over email. You can re-use parts of these emails for different girls, too- they'll never know, and how many amusing ways are there to say, "I'm a systems analyst, wanna grab a coffee"? If you can find a cute way to say it, don't feel bad to use it on different people!

Expect a slow success rate from internet dating. Maybe for every ~40 people you meet one will seem compatible. That sounds like crappy odds, but they're totally reasonabled. Think back to your highschool graduating class- in mine, there were maybe 60 people of my preferred gender & age, and yet I only fell for one of them. Online dating is like meeting your whole social circle one at a time: it takes longer, but there's less pressure and you can pre-screen the ones you think are uggers. Keep the dates short & inexpensive (an hour for coffee), and frequent (1-2 a week) and you should find at least a few interesting people & potential romances by the end of the year. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:16 PM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I went to a meet-up.
posted by bonehead at 1:39 PM on April 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've been somewhat successful with internet dating (while not really finding people to date, I did make a fair number of new friends when going that route), but what has been most successful is really what ZaneJ said here. Becoming a regular at a bar not only helped me meet new people, but also helped me get more comfortable with making small talk and chatting with people I didn't know very well.

I met my girlfriend at a porn store. My band at the time was playing their grand opening party. There was a lot of booze -- that certainly helped us meet each other.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:42 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


the advice to just "stop looking," do whatever you feel like doing, and wait for the magic to happen is particularly ill-suited to shy/introverted men.

This is very true. Because that's where I am, and it's not helping. Save yourself -- this ship is sinking.
posted by _Skull_ at 1:58 PM on April 2, 2009


I used internet dating. I am seriously nervous the first time I meet someone or go somewhere new, but after that it gets better for me. Internet dating gets you to the date, and you can take it from there. Practice makes perfect (so the more dates you go on, the easier it gets - it won't make your anxiety go away, but it helps you to learn how to cover it), and even if your social anxiety shows a little during the date, many people (at least, the people you want to be dating) find it endearing.

Go for it. Online dating is the way to go, because you know that the other person is also looking. It worked like a charm for me.
posted by different at 3:14 PM on April 2, 2009


For all of the people who advise "internet dating" (which I'd love to be a huge huge fan of, if only I could get it to work)... what do you suggest to people who live in smaller towns that have an anemic (borderline non-existent) dating pool ?
posted by jmnugent at 5:28 PM on April 2, 2009


the advice to just "stop looking," do whatever you feel like doing, and wait for the magic to happen is particularly ill-suited to shy/introverted men.

As a shy/introverted guy who is no longer single, I sorta-agree with that advice, but think it needs to be worded better. Here's my attempt:

Step 1: Don't make looking for a partner an obsession - make sure you have other interests and activities and things you are good at. This will a) Boost your confidence, b) Give you something to talk about and c) Hopefully widen the circle of people you encounter with common interests.

Step 2: When you do meet a potential partner, no matter how amazing you think they are, try to approach the situation with a bit of a "don't care" attitude. By this I mean that you should of course be polite, kind, attentive etc, but try to be 'que sera, sera' about a possible relationship - give it a go, but "if she isn't into the awesomeness that is me, well that's her loss, not mine". If you can pull that off, it will allow you to have a relaxed, normal interaction without you being stressed that OMFG!!! This might be the one!!! which will just make you over-awkward. And don't stress overmuch that you might come across as less-than perfect in some way - if she really is awesome, she won't expect perfection.

So, don't stop looking, but do it in conjunction with other things, and if you can stop caring about it so much, it does make things easier.

Another bit of advice that I really wish someone had given me when I was single. If you have [as I did] geeky interests, try to cultivate an interest in something more mainstream. This gives you something to talk about that hopefully won't bore people if you find small-talk difficult.

For me, that has been making wine - I make some wines that are unusual and very popular, and taking a few bottles along to a party can be a real ice-breaker. Just recently I was at a housewarming, to which I brought a bottle of quince, and a bottle of plum wine. As various people tried my wine I was drawn into several conversations and ended up spending a good hour talking to the hottest woman in the room - not bad for a shy introverted guy who in earlier years would avoid trying to talk to hot-looking women because I'd get tongue-tied and anyway I don't really do small-talk. Now as it happens we're both married, but if we'd both been single, who knows?
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:37 PM on April 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


How to Win Friends & Influence People can be read in one sitting and teaches you how to talk to listen to people, which will make them like you without their knowing why.

How to Succeed with Women teaches you how to meet women. The first step is to look sharp. Understand that you will fail a lot. Overcome this with numbers: say "hi" to a LOT of women. Say "hi" to 20 women a day--if you get a 5% yield you're golden. You'd be surprised how effective just saying "hi" is.
posted by neuron at 8:05 PM on April 2, 2009


Mr. F is seriously shy and has a Giant Hot Brain, so when we ran into each other on a message board and then on IRC, the text-basedness of it made it a lot easier to hit it off. That led to meeting up in person on holidays, tentative phone calls at other times, and eventually to dates, and then to me moving down here and us getting married last year.

He's still shy, and his brain is still giant and hot-- oh, and he was 32 when we finally got together. Mid-30s, male, and shy is probably more common than you think.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:13 PM on April 2, 2009


My husband asked everyone he knew to fix him up with anyone they knew that they thought might be right for him.

I never tried this myself, but it worked for him. And he was 35 and had never been married when we met.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:43 PM on April 2, 2009


I am shy about "making the move" but with the handful of guys I dated... I felt confident enough to make the move because they made me feel confident and desirable. There is something to be said for the effect that the "right person" has on you. The situation may not be as anxiety-worthy as you think.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:57 PM on April 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Second read some of those David D'Angelo books on attraction, dont take everything verbatim but it will help you with you attitude.

Those books are for woman-haters and losers. Stay far away.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:18 PM on April 2, 2009


I met my husband through a personal ad in an alternative newspaper.

It turned out that we had a couple of acquaintances in common, but the likelihood of us connecting in any way except the personals was probably about 0% because of my shyness.

I liked being able to be upfront about being shy in the ad, so I didn't have to have an uncomfortable conversation about why I was so quiet. Also, I had listed a lot of my interests in the ad, which gave him lots of things to talk about, even when I was too nervous to say much.

One thing that I think helped a lot was that I looked at the ads of women in my age range before I wrote my ad. Most of them were pretty generic ("25 year old woman seeks caring, responsible man for long term relationship") so I wrote one that I knew would stand out from the rest.
posted by creepygirl at 9:47 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


What worked for me as a shy twenty-something:
- groups I belonged to where I could meet women (doesn't matter what so much, but it helps to find an interest where there's a higher proportion of women than at, say, a science fiction convention - although I met an ex at one of those).
- friends who set me up with people - this is how I met my wife.

And another +1 to Jaltcoh's advice not to just "wait for the magic to happen". Things improved markedly for me when I overcame my shyness enough to start asking people out, but I wasted a lot of time dropping hints and hoping - borderline "nice guy" behaviour.

If I was starting now, I'd definitely look at internet dating - the acceptance has grown so the pool of people is bigger, and you know you're meeting people who are looking.
posted by crocomancer at 4:46 AM on April 3, 2009


Yeah, I think luck has a lot to do with it--but I'm 56 and I've pretty much given up. Being alone is familiar and comfortable.

In my youth I rationalized that I should support equal rights for women, and not be a wolf (interesting how "wolf" has evolved into "dog" in modern social jargon), and allow them the opportunity to ask me out. Only none of the women I wanted to go out with ever did.

I've developed a sort of learned helplessness because I've had no luck with imposing my own designs on this river of life, and the best things have always just fallen into my lap. So I'm really not the person to give you any advice.
posted by Restless Day at 6:28 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Practice chit-chat/small-talk with everybody, not just potential dates. Construction workers, old ladies at the supermarket, pretty much anyone. It's easy when you don't fear being sized up by a potential partner... Once you get used to this kind of thing, all of a sudden you'll break it out on a cute member of the opposite sex without even knowing it. And that's a helluva good first step, I've found.

Exactly everythings_interrelated! No matter how you deal with your shyness, deal with it long enough to get out and meet some new girls. Practice on random strangers so it's not a big deal if you are awkward. For me I literally had to start by joking with a waitress when out with friends. It wasn't long until I graduated to real flirting with an adult human male.
posted by soelo at 11:48 AM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


My first step was buying a computer. Of course, I had no idea that was the first step at the time. One of the first things I did online was a join a chat room for internet newbies. I was crazy lucky and that chat room had great bunch of people. My now-husband was one of them.

Chatting online really helped to bring me out of my shell and lessen my Social Anxiety Disorder. Having the electronic distance between myself and others allowed me to interact with people without worrying about the stuff that didn't matter (appearances, for one). I'm still fairly shy, but I can now at least chit-chat with people I don't know.
posted by deborah at 4:52 PM on April 8, 2009


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