Awkward!
August 4, 2010 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Help me not be a socially-awkward weirdo around men I find attractive.

I'm a 30-year-old straight woman. For the most part, my social skills are strong. I make friends easily, am a good conversationalist, and can read people pretty well. I even have a career that relies on said conversational and people-reading skills, and I'm good at my job. When it comes to social/friendly interaction, I'm very lucky.

There is one enormous exception to this: I am absolute crap at social interactions that involve flirting, dating, etc. Well, that's not exactly true. I'm great at a sort of low-key, friendly flirting with guys that I find interesting or entertaining on a social/mental level. But when I find a guy physically attractive, it's like a complete systemwide shut-down of my social skills. Typically, one (or sometimes all) of three things happen:

- My normal low-key-life-of-the-party style goes into caricature mode around him - I become that loud, and somewhat crass, saying weird things just to get his attention. I often find myself blurting out things that make me cringe to myself for weeks. Normally I'm pretty tactful and discreet, so this is always jarring.
- I try to completely ignore the person. I will talk to everyone in the room but him. If I see him coming down the hall, I'll duck into another room so we don't have to interact. I understand this one is pretty normal, but it's really annoying.
- If I do interact with the guy, and manage to do so without being a boor, I turn into a totally de-sexed version of myself. This is to "reassure" him, myself, and anyone observing that, no, I don't want to have sex with him, perish the thought. My style becomes almost masculine, "one of the guys." I'll get all jocular and impersonal, avoid eye contact, etc.

It's the third "symptom" that bothers me the most, because I feel like I have the least control over it (with #1, I can tell myself to shut the hell up, and with #2, I can just make myself keep walking, or force myself to interact). I've tried the standard female flirting things (playing with my hair, catching his eye and looking down, touching his arm), and they just make me feel ridiculous and totally obvious. But again, they only make me feel ridiculous when I'm actually physically attracted to the guy. I find myself doing all those things unconsciously when it's a more cerebral connection going on. This makes no sense, right?

I should also add that, at age 30, I've only recently realized this was an issue. I used to think that the fact that so few guys asked me out, etc was just "further proof of my essential unattractiveness." Work with a good therapist helped me realize that I had some fairly deep-seated issues around sex, intimacy and self-esteem that caused me to have some thick walls around myself for a long time.* I'm pretty sure these walls, and my paralyzing fear of rejection (which led to my reluctance to flirt or otherwise show interest in a guy), are a big reason why I've had so little success with guys. In retrospect, there have been many attractive guys that were into me, but I was so convinced that they couldn't be interested, and so terrified of rejection if I showed my own interest, that things rarely got off the ground (the few exceptions involved guys I was already friends with and copious amounts of alcohol).

But now I'm in a much, much better place emotionally. I feel a lot more emotionally and physically open. I'm not terrified of rejection anymore, which is a wonderfully liberating feeling. But my behavior has remained the same. It's like I need to deprogram myself from my almost physical reflex not to flirt with hot guys. Any thoughts/advice on this last hurdle? If you'd prefer to respond privately, you can email shouldagotasockpuppet@gmail.com.

* Not sure this is really relevant, but in case it is: a lot of my issues with this came with the fact that I'm fairly sexually submissive/kinky and tend to be wildly attracted to guys that seem to have a strong dominant streak (along with other attributes, of course). But I was really ashamed of this part of myself - I saw it as "weak." I was also completely terrified of letting go and losing control and so I think this might have been part of the reason I built such high defenses. Accepting this part of myself was a big step towards feeling more emotionally open. I also learned more about D/s sexuality and realized that a. these complicated feelings are not uncommon and b. there's a way to go about it that doesn't make me really weak or powerless.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
and they just make me feel ridiculous and totally obvious

That's the whole point. These "totally obvious" behaviors are how we have culturally evolved to let others know we fancy them without coming straight-out saying it.

Of course, there's something to be said for just coming out and saying it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


* Not sure this is really relevant, but in case it is: a lot of my issues with this came with the fact that I'm fairly sexually submissive/kinky and tend to be wildly attracted to guys that seem to have a strong dominant streak (along with other attributes, of course). But I was really ashamed of this part of myself - I saw it as "weak." I was also completely terrified of letting go and losing control and so I think this might have been part of the reason I built such high defenses. Accepting this part of myself was a big step towards feeling more emotionally open. I also learned more about D/s sexuality and realized that a. these complicated feelings are not uncommon and b. there's a way to go about it that doesn't make me really weak or powerless.

This is extremely relevant.

The fact that you're aware of this now is huge. In my (possibly unpopular and maybe a bit retro) opinion, you will meet a guy who is confident enough in himself and dominant enough to find your awkward defenses both charming and alluring. He will be aggressive and cut through those defenses, which really is what you want.

It sounds like you have done 99% of the work already, by getting to know yourself and recognizing your behavior patterns. But don't force it any more than you have to -- smart men find all that crap adorable.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:04 PM on August 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


you will meet a guy who is confident enough in himself and dominant enough to find your awkward defenses both charming and alluring. He will be aggressive and cut through those defenses, which really is what you want.

This. I've often felt the same way about myself (minus the D/S but I don't think it matters). My whole life I dated guys with whom I had to try really hard to let that "one of the guys" defense go. Or be really aggressive. The best relationships I've had were with guys who WEREN'T intimidated or put-off by my lack of conventional flirtation.

That's probably not exactly what you're looking for since this is a behavioral change you're looking to enact. SO, my best advice in those other situations is to think of it more as a game, which you are trying to win, where you want him more interested in you than vice versa. This works because you can play off the one-of-the-guys feeling by being competitive, channeling it into the female act of flirting.
posted by ista at 5:21 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Everyone is like this. Just learn to keep going and focus on doing flirty things without feeling comfortable about it.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:29 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


You absolutely need to watch this episode of the sitcom Coupling.
It's about your problem exactly.
posted by w0mbat at 5:34 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I completely agree with this:

The fact that you're aware of this now is huge. In my (possibly unpopular and maybe a bit retro) opinion, you will meet a guy who is confident enough in himself and dominant enough to find your awkward defenses both charming and alluring. He will be aggressive and cut through those defenses, which really is what you want.

Only in the case of SOME women. Sounds like you're one of them.

But you do have to make it somewhat obvious that you like him. I have occasionally said "I like you so I'm acting ridiculous". Yeah, suave, I know.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:28 PM on August 4, 2010


I'm happily monogamously married and I still have this problem around really hot men. It's very annoying/distracting. I wish they'd wear burkas or something. :)

Anyhow, turning into a gibbering idiot or painfully awkwardly silent around attractive members of the appropriate gender seems to be a relatively universal human behavior regardless of whether you do or do not have "issues" or a relationship or whatever. I don't think you can just turn this reaction off, but you should stop beating yourself up over it. The hot ones are probably used to it anyway, since others have had the same reactions to them.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:36 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree with the overeducated alligator that your small-font aside at the end is extremely relevant to your situation. Resolve that, and you are miles ahead on resolving the other issue.

And, to maybe contradict myself slightly, remember that you don't have to resolve this totally -- you just need to find someone who is cool how you are at the same time you become more comfortable in your own skin. Flirting can be fun, but there are a million ways to flirt, and only one of them is the smooth and easy kind you see in the movies. It may be less that your flirting style is all wrong, and more that you are flirting with the wrong guys (such as, say, the kind you mention in your final small print paragraph).
posted by Forktine at 8:50 PM on August 4, 2010


That's probably not exactly what you're looking for since this is a behavioral change you're looking to enact. SO, my best advice in those other situations is to think of it more as a game, which you are trying to win, where you want him more interested in you than vice versa. This works because you can play off the one-of-the-guys feeling by being competitive, channeling it into the female act of flirting.

I think this is bad advice. If you treat man-catching as a game then you'll start to treat man-having (i.e. actual relationship stuff) as a game, which is childish and lame but more importantly unsustainable and self-defeating. Flirting 'tactics' are bullshit for the very same reason: as soon as it becomes a game rather than a way of showing affection and interest, the self-referentiality of gameplay just fucks up the organic connection you're trying to form with the guy.

You're scared of something so you're avoiding it. That doesn't sound complicated. The fact that it's about fucking doesn't make it complicated either. Well...how do you normally get over such fear? The goal here isn't to get laid, it's to no longer be scared. Do you need different surroundings? A partner who'll help out in meeting-guys situations and occasionally kick your ass when you're being chicken?

You're under the impression that you have something to lose in these interactions, and you do not. Quite the opposite, in fact. The guys you want to fuck are people. Stop treating them as characters in your private psychosexual drama and just talk to them as you would with any other person. In doing so you acknowledge their dignity and, little by little, get over your fears, which is to say get over yourself.
posted by waxbanks at 9:36 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


One of the things that's always impressed me about d/s relationships is the amount of trust that needs to be exchanged in order for it to work. If you feel like a sub, then at some point, you need to make that leap and let somebody take charge, at least if that's who you're attracted to.
Think about yourself a little bit. What sort of girl do you think you are? There's nothing unflattering about a shy girl, a boisterous girl, or really any other sort of girl. The larger question is who you want to be in that relationship?
Don't be afraid to look for what you really want. Don't think you can't find what's right for you.
posted by Gilbert at 10:44 PM on August 4, 2010


You and I have very very similar approaches to flirting. My first instinct to unexpectedly seeing someone I'm interested in is to dive behind a bush. If there are no bushes handy, I will study my shoes very intently and pretend I can't see them. Apparently most people read this as disinterest rather than extreme attraction. Go figure. So I'm not exactly an expert, here to give you expert advice, but here are two things I've been thinking about lately:

I approach almost everything else in my life working off the assumption that it takes practice to get better at something, but I tend to forget that flirting takes practice too. There's no magic bullet or big red button. It takes work to get better at it (maybe not for everyone, but for people like you and me), and learning something new always means doing a whole lot of stupid, awkward things while you figure out how to do it. So you've got to cut yourself some slack. You can start small. If you know you're about to go into a conversation with an absurdly attractive person, say to yourself, 'Self, I am very attracted to that person, and it is okay to show it. That's the point, after all, in this, and no one has ever died of awkward.' And then ignore the way the back of your neck, or your entire skin, prickles with the thought of that potential awkwardness and walk into the conversation anyway. Teach yourself and your body that throwing the 'Holy shit, I'm the most awkward person ever' switch doesn't actually have to stop you dead in your tracks.

Also, give the people you're flirting/not-flirting with some credit too. One of my best friend says this to me all the time, and it's finally begun to sink it: 'When you're trying to flirt with someone, you're not the only person in the conversation. That person has free will too, and the ability to make their own choices.' I've decided I am a bit megalomaniacal, because I tend to wander around in the world shouldering the blame for absolutely everything that goes wrong, which means that I'm essentially acting like I'm the only person in the world who has the ability to make choices. This is, as I have realized recently, a rather skewed way of approaching the world. That's all a rather long way of saying that creating a relationship of any kind requires two people, not just you, and when you find the right sort of person, things will probably click into place in ways that you would have declared impossible before.

Hmm. Sorry for such a long ramble. As you can see, this stuff has been on my mind a lot too. Good luck to you.
posted by colfax at 5:37 AM on August 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


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