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How should I move forward?
December 26, 2009 8:13 PM   Subscribe

The New Year is approaching and I need some guidance on how to move forward with my life.

I’m 27, male, straight, and British. I’ve only ever been in one relationship, kissed one person, and had one sexual partner. That relationship lasted from age 14 to 23 and included some long-distance time, and several years of living together and studying at the same university. Since then I’ve been completely single (no dates, no kisses etc), and I’ve also been socially isolated (no friends, unstable employment). I’ve also been depressed at varying levels of severity for who knows how long (the first serious episode being around 2004). I’m currently studying part-time, employed part-time, am trying anti-depressants, and am living with my parents.

Recently I’ve been feeling somewhat less depressed (though still moderately so), much more capable, and somewhat less socially anxious. I also have a few regular acquaintances through my studies (not friends by any means, but nice acquaintances). Also, I’ve gradually been becoming more interested in girls again. Specifically, I’ve been missing the intimacy (emotional and physical) of being in a relationship and have been feeling romantically wistful, lonely even. I rarely, if ever, receive any flirtatious signals from women and it’s clear that if I’m ever to meet someone I’ll have to take a more active approach than I ever have before. Things being as they are, I’d like to do this as gradually and tentatively as possible (in order to take care of myself as well as possible, and to work through my anxieties). My previous relationship taught me a lot of things, but I’ve changed so much in the last few years that in many ways I’m a very different person now. There’s little from that time in my life that can tell me how to move forward now.

In terms of my personal qualities, I’m essentially a good and kind person, quiet-natured, soft-hearted, and shy. Obviously, I have some problems, but I have a lot of good qualities as well. I’m a little arty, a little literary, a little pop-culturey, a little geeky, have a really good sense of humour, and people tell me I’m very intelligent. In person I think I come across as a fairly confident and capable, if rather quiet, man. I tend to keep people at a distance and I find it difficult to open up to others, perhaps for fear of rejection or negative judgement. I tend to crush easily on girls but have difficulty interacting with people whom I’m attracted towards.

Anyway, I’m sorry for writing so much and if my writing voice annoys you (as it does me), but if you have anything to say that might help me I’d be very grateful. It’s hard to boil this down to a specific question, so maybe we could start with these. Please try to read between them as much as possible.

- How should I begin working towards meeting women?
- How should I cope with my anxiety when interacting with women?
- How should I deal with my sexual and social inexperience?
- If you have been in a similar position to me, what has happened since?
- How do people make friends?
- How is it possible to open up to someone when talking, writing, or any form of personal expression feels like a distorted compression of the inner consciousness? (That sounds so pretentious – I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! If you know what I mean, you know what I mean.)
- If you’ve been depressed or anxious for some time, tell me about the steps you took socially and romantically as you moved towards wellness.

Thank you so much.
(disposable: itoocannotthinkofausername@googlemail.com)

PS: I know - therapy, therapy, therapy! Maybe in the Spring.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have Social Anxiety and found the book "Intimate Connections" by David Burns very helpful, as well as another called "Shy and Single". But truthfully it was just luck that enabled me to find my current partner six years ago. I e-mailed people in my local area on a social anxiety site asking if they wanted a pen-pal and she replied. Eventually she asked me out I sometimes wonder if she hadn't if we would still be just friends or if I would have been the brave one. Maybe things like attending local Meetup.com events would help you in interacting with people of the opposite sex, which would make things much easier when you finally met someone you felt compatible with.

Good luck!
posted by AuroraSky at 8:30 PM on December 26, 2009


How should I begin working towards meeting women?

Cultivate a wide circle of acquaintances and friends through which you'll meet women on casual and friendly terms, without the pressure of dating.

How should I cope with my anxiety when interacting with women?

Pretend they're men. Meaning, pretend they're not women, they're just people with whom you're interacting in a pleasant way. Don't think about dating them, being romantic with them, having sex with them, or anything that's about sexual difference. Live in the moment, socially.

How should I deal with my sexual and social inexperience?

Becoming good at casual interaction is good practice for more involved interaction, both in terms of feeling comfortable just talking to and being around people, and in terms of building up your confidence that you're a person worth being around.

If you have been in a similar position to me, what has happened since?

I was always lousy at small talk and at being friendly with people who weren't like me (meaning very bookish and intellectual, and very middle class). When I took a job at a factory, I learned to interact with people from very different backgrounds, as I outlined in my previous answer--just casually being friendly and pleasant, listening to them and speaking back to them on the same terms. Over time, I learned that being sociable is a learned skill and that practice pays off.

How do people make friends?

By building upon casual acquaintance through interaction, history, shared experience, and time. In other words, gradually, without drama, and by making a conscientious effort to simply be a friendly person.

How is it possible to open up to someone when talking, writing, or any form of personal expression feels like a distorted compression of the inner consciousness? (That sounds so pretentious – I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! If you know what I mean, you know what I mean.)

For myself, I cultivated a sense of looking at myself from the outside, and specifically from other's perspective. I learned to read emails that I'd written as if I was receiving them, I learned to listen to what I was saying as if I was the person to whom the words were directed. In other words, I tried to separate what I was communicating from what I was feeling and thinking, so I could see what I was communicating as others saw it. Seeing the difference between what I was thinking and what I actually said served to clarify a lot of what I thought and said.

As for having the confidence to open up and express yourself, it means accepting that words are an imperfect medium, and working with them the way you would any imperfect tool--consciously, and mindful of its limitations.

If you’ve been depressed or anxious for some time, tell me about the steps you took socially and romantically as you moved towards wellness.

I went through depression in university and found it to be, for me, a habit of thought in which I was trapping myself. Over time, with conscious work, I broke the habit. What I didn't do was try to involve others in my own therapy or use my depression as a way to interact with people. I succeeded in the "fake it until you make it" school. I was most successful socially and romantically when I was acting like I wasn't depressed, and over time, the way I learned to act with others replaced the depressed way in which I'd learned to act with myself.

That's not to say that depression isn't real, or that it should be treated individually rather than with qualified help. But one of the many barbs of depression is that it reinforces itself by poisoning your relationships, so to the extent that you can build relationships with others while keeping depression out of it, that's beneficial and worthwhile in itself.

The constant theme of my answers is that sociability and confidence and conversational ability are all learned skills that are built up gradually and are accessible to you, most easily as a gradual process of simply going out and getting to know people with no expectations and no plans. The more you build up a history of social success, the better and easier it'll be for you, and that success can help you with the depression. It's a virtuous circle that starts by just getting out and being casually friendly with no other objective in mind than enjoying yourself with other people at the moment. As you keep going, more involved relationships will feel possible and positive. Best of luck.
posted by fatbird at 8:37 PM on December 26, 2009 [20 favorites]


Or you could do some online dating, along with all the good things fatbird and AuroraSky suggest. The advantages there are a) both you and the women you're meeting have already stipulated that you're looking for dates, and b) the first communication is through email or message or whatever.

Something to think about!
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:00 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


- How should I begin working towards meeting women?

Online dating!

- How should I cope with my anxiety when interacting with women?

Deep breathing. Not analyzing while you interact.

- How should I deal with my sexual and social inexperience?

Ignore it. No reason for it to be an issue.

- If you have been in a similar position to me, what has happened since?

I've made some friends, gotten married, and become more comfortable in my skin.

- How do people make friends?

By being together repeatedly over long periods of time.

- How is it possible to open up to someone when talking, writing, or any form of personal expression feels like a distorted compression of the inner consciousness? (That sounds so pretentious – I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! If you know what I mean, you know what I mean.)

Stop analyzing. Start getting in touch with your emotions. Slow down, relax, be present. Take up yoga and/or meditation.

- If you’ve been depressed or anxious for some time, tell me about the steps you took socially and romantically as you moved towards wellness.

I didn't do anything special socially or romantically. I saw/see a therapist and took/take Zolof for the depression/anxiety. I gradually increased my socialization and I used online dating to find various first dates, a few relationships, and finally, my wife.

The good news is, things can get much better pretty quickly. :-)

Feel free to email.
posted by callmejay at 10:51 PM on December 26, 2009


Let me just build on the "stop analyzing" part. Anxious/depressed people tend to constantly analyze themselves. Constantly. There are two problems with this. One, the analysis gets in the way of life, by paralyzing you, distracting you, and making you self-conscious. Two, constant analysis is generally of terrible quality anyway. So you're constantly jumping to conclusions, focusing on the wrong things, ignoring the right things, etc.

Instead of analyzing, find a therapist or at least set aside specific times to analyze (or better, go through the exercises in a CBT book like Feeling Good or Thoughts & Feelings.) When you're with a woman, be with the woman. Don't be in your head constantly analyzing whether you said the right thing or what you should say next or whether you're coming off as too eager or too nervous or too quiet or too stupid or too pretentious.

The thing is, nobody is smart enough to analyze in real time and base their actions in the moment on that analysis. You have to let go and just let yourself do what you do. Imagine trying to play basketball while constantly thinking before each step, "Hmm, if I take one step this way and then raise the ball while looking that way and then maintain perfect form as I rise up to shoot ("keep that elbow in!")..." You couldn't possibly function. There is a time for analysis, but while you're playing is not that time.
posted by callmejay at 11:01 PM on December 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sidhedevil: "Or you could do some online dating, along with all the good things fatbird and AuroraSky suggest."

Because of what you wrote in your post, I thought the exact same thing as Sidhedevil.

I don't know why you don't like your writing voice. You come across really well. And you sound interesting, and fun, and decent, and cool. Put much of what you've written here into your online dating profile, maybe not all of it (like, change the "depression" part to "ups and downs of life" -- it's not a lie -- and leave the anti-depressants out for now, plenty of time to tell anyone later if they make the cut) but keep the tone the same and the layout of who you are, where you are in life.

You're not the average man, a far cut above, seems to me. And you have great long-term dating experience, which just has to be a plus with the right sort of woman -- so many young guys have dating experience, yeah, but it's Mary and Sue and Jo and Flo and on and on. Not you. 27 years old and you've a 8-9 year relationship behind you, no kids, you lived with her, you've lived so much yet you're not jaded nor burnt nor burnt out by love. You sound like a rock.

Just my take on it. You've got a lot going for a 27 year old man. Use the strength of the internet -- the power of the written word, cast out to a much larger audience than anyone could ever have reached before -- and one of your strengths -- writing clearly and expressing well who you are and how you got there. I can't see how it could hurt you in any way, and I can see many ways it can help you. I really do hope the right woman gets to your profile first, so you're not distracted by others who knock on the door.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:25 PM on December 26, 2009


I feel for you; I'm also 27 and started dealing with some serious depression and anxiety issues around 2004-2005.

You've probably gotten some good advice so far but I'd just like to remind you that even when you do everything "right" you might still strike out. Please don't let little rejections get you down. I hope I'm making sense.

FWIW I think you'll be fine.
posted by Neofelis at 11:35 PM on December 26, 2009


Listen to The Smiths 'Ask' over and over. It worked for me.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 2:13 AM on December 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


- How is it possible to open up to someone when talking, writing, or any form of personal expression feels like a distorted compression of the inner consciousness? (That sounds so pretentious – I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! If you know what I mean, you know what I mean.)
  1. Practice until it feels normal. MetaFilter is a great space for practicing sharing thoughts and emotions and experiences. There are some threads here with suggestions of other forums as well. You can always get a username that isn't connected to any of your other usernames if you're nervous about privacy.
  2. You keep putting yourself down and apologizing (pretentious, sorry, annoying writing voice). Don't do this in social interactions. Let other people decide what they think of you; don't let your insecurities decide for them. And don't do this in your head. I know, easier said than done. Check out Feeling Good by David Burns for strategies on how to learn to stop.
  3. The best thing about online dating is that if the date goes bad and you're embarrassed, you never have to see them again. I've gone on dates where I've definitely overshared. So I was able to go home and think "Whoops!" and never see the guy again, and then go on to the next date without making that mistake again. Clean slate! On to the next! Go ahead and practice!

posted by heatherann at 6:18 AM on December 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


- How should I begin working towards meeting women?

I would recommend that you mix with people doing the things you like to do. Don't go places just to meet women, go to places where you know you will enjoy doing the things that take place there. That may be a bowling alley, a jazz club, a library, a hockey rink, a church--any one of a number of places.

In fact, don't go to just *one* place--try to get to two or three different places a week. Take part in the activities--that's very important. You don't have to talk a lot, if that's not your style, but if there's a party that needs organising or something, offer to help out.

Volunteering is a super way to meet people, by the way. Think of your favourite charity, whatever it might be. Is it connected to a health issue (e.g. cancer), animals (e.g. a local Humane Society), human justice (e.g. Amnesty International) or something else? Make sure you volunteer somehow for them--all charities depend on volunteers and you can meet a ton of people that way.

Be friendly to everyone, not just the women. Just get to know people. Maybe make it a rule for yourself that you say hello, or at least nod and smile, to everyone you see when you go to your places. You can also exchange a few words with one or two people each time (I'm talking really low key--comment on the weather!). Each time you go to these places say, "hello again" to the people you've chatted to before, and follow up with another comment. Try to expand your circle by chatting to one new person each time. It won't always be possible, but you can slowly get to know more people.

Take it slow and concentrate on being a pleasant person. You will definitely meet single women that way--either directly or as you get to know people who might introduce you to someone, maybe at a party.

Don't set up expectations for this, either, timewise--don't think, "Oh, well, it's been two months and I haven't met anyone, time to try a different place/method." It might take a year or more--but it won't matter because you'll have been meeting *people* (men and women) who will become your friends.

- How should I cope with my anxiety when interacting with women?

First, remember that many people feel anxious around people of the opposite sex--it's not just you.

Second, remember that women are just people with their own anxieties.

Third, it might help if you try dealing with all the women you meet not as "women" and potential partners, but just as people--just someone you want to be polite and friendly to.

- How should I deal with my sexual and social inexperience?

Socially--just be polite and friendly to everyone and don't try to be someone you're not or pretend knowledge of something you don't know. The phrases "I don't know" and "I'm afraid I don't know anything about ___" aren't used as much as they should be! But I feel so much better when I know that someone else doesn't know something about a topic, and you might be putting a lot of people at their ease if you use these phrases. I think you will earn people's respect, too.

Someone mentioned online dating. Another thing you could try is virtual reality tool such as Second Life . It's free and you can just download the software and get up and running in 5 minutes. It comes with its own pros and cons--on the one hand it's a good way to learn to interact with people, on the other hand you can't be positive that people are who they say they because it's all anonymous. For example, there are a lot of men pretending to be women there. But if you can work with that, it's an interesting way to chat to people.

Sexually--same applies, I would think. If a woman judges you negatively because you don't have a lot of sexual experience, well, I don't think that's a woman you want to be around.

- How do people make friends?

See above for meeting them. For making them (speaking as someone who is slow to make friends), I would recommend that you just take your time, but when you meet someone (male or female) that you would like to know better that you say so, more or less.

Work with men or couples first. Just say, casually, at the end of a time when you've seen them in a group, "I'd love to talk more with you about this" or "I had a nice time talking to you. Let's have lunch sometime." Watch their reactions, and if it seems as though they'd like to, either set a time on the spot or E-mail/phone them a week or two later and set a time.

Coffee works too, but I personally prefer lunch. Everyone has to eat, and it gives you a predetermined time to interact.

From there you can suggest other outings as you get to know people better.

- How is it possible to open up to someone when talking, writing, or any form of personal expression feels like a distorted compression of the inner consciousness? (That sounds so pretentious – I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! If you know what I mean, you know what I mean.)

You sound fine. Don't be so hard on yourself.

It sounds to me as though you need to just get used to your own voice. Have you considered keeping a journal? Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way, recommends that people write 3 pages every day.

That's a terrific book that isn't just for artists. I'd actually recommend that you buy that book and work through it--it has helped a lot of people through a lot of tough spots, and I think it could help you significantly. The Morning Pages, as she calls the journalling, can change your life.

It also helped me work with my voice. I got used to how I sounded when I was writing what I thought, and although some of it was sometimes whiny or annoying or pretentious, it wasn't always. Plus, the bonus was that I learned to leave most of the whiny/annoying/pretentious stuff there.

- If you’ve been depressed or anxious for some time, tell me about the steps you took socially and romantically as you moved towards wellness.

I've never been depressed, but I've had anxiety, and I found that counselling helped. For me anxiety was all about repressed emotions, and once I could allow myself to feel the emotions, and once I learned how to deal with ongoing life issues by setting boundaries with people, the anxiety vanished. That reads as though it was a short and easy process, but it took me a year at least.

That was long before I started writing the Morning Pages, and I found that those helped *a lot* with ongoing issues.

*****

I hope that helps!

And, on preview--what dancestoblue said, and everyone else.
posted by purplesludge at 12:27 PM on December 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Behind the affable presence in your voice, it sounds like you are filled with self-loathing. Like the way you repeatedly apologize for things that you have no reason to apologize for. It's often part of the depressive syndrome. Sometimes people who do this are putting out "LEAVE ME ALONE! I AM WORTHLESS" signals without realizing it. In other words, what to you might seem like it's harmless self-effacement might actually be chasing people away.

This is actually good news - it means that instead of figuring out new skills, it might be that all you have to do is stop doing something that you're actively doing. Maybe the question is not what can you do to go after and "get" people, but rather, can you *allow* people to get close to you?

If you can tolerate self-help books, I'd urge you to visit a book store and just browse until you find a book that seems to speak to you. FWIW, I've heard good reports about Get out of your mind and into your life.
posted by jasper411 at 12:40 PM on December 27, 2009


Nthing volunteering on a regular basis. It's a good way to meet people, gives you something to talk about, and helping others helps you as well. Best of luck to you!
posted by wiskunde at 1:30 PM on December 27, 2009


Making new friends can be difficult. I don't really have any advice other than what has been said above.

But I will reiterate what others have said in that, when it comes to women, don't look at them as potential dates or partners - just try to treat them like you would a guy (well, not COMPLETELY - don't talk about your ball sweat, but you know what I mean). This can work out well. Very occasionally, you will suddenly think "Hey, I like this woman, we've gotten along well for quite a while, we know each other pretty well, she makes me laugh... maybe I can try to take it further", but don't think that way up front.

I also have to second purplesludge's comments about Second Life. I was on that for about 2 years, and I think it did a lot to improve my skills in interacting with others and increasing my confidence. It can be very easy to talk to people there, the demographic is not all kids (I think the average age of a user is 30-something), and most people are there to meet others and interact. It can be good practice, and you can make some really good friends out of it.
posted by Diag at 6:55 PM on December 27, 2009


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