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Dating/socializing 101 for introverts
February 10, 2011 9:20 PM   Subscribe

An introvert in an extrovert's world - Teach a perennial shy guy how to navigate dating and relationships

Early 30s male who's shyness/introversion is causing ongoing issues when it comes to dating and socializing. I tried everything (talking to friends, reading books/articles, even trying therapy) and I've come to the conclusion that I have three closely related problems:


1) I'm generally a bit quiet. I've always been painfully shy, and while I used to hate it, I've finally come to accept it as a fundamental part of my personalty these past few years. The shyness isn't debilitating - I still maintain a small circle of friends, go out to many social events and will maintain communication with friends and family, but I still have to be "drawn out" of my shell a bit when around people I don't know well. Not good in dating situations at all.

2) I'm extremely timid. It's not that I'm gutless (far from it actually - I've done a lot of brave/stupid things in my life), it's just that I'm an introvert who usually doesn't feel the need/desire to assert myself in social situations. As a result, I tend to rarely intrude on people, and won't make conversation with someone I don't know unless they talk to me first. Again, not good in dating situations at all.

3) Perhaps the biggest issue: I rarely (if ever) feel the desire to actively chase potential romantic interests, even if I find them attractive! As you can probably guess from the first two points, I'm not exactly assertive, and this seems to be a major problem in the world of dating. I generally don't flirt or show serious interest (like ask for a phone number or follow up on a first date) unless I am getting extremely clear, unambiguous "I am very much interested" signs. Unfortunately, such signs are kind of rare, so I miss out on a lot of "maybes" that I should have probably kept pursuing. But even if the chemistry is reasonably good, I still sometimes get doubts (what if I come on too strong, etc) and won't actually follow through. Obviously this is a rather major issue - for better or worse, us guys are expected to be the ones doing the chasing.


I've talked to a few female friends about these issues in the past, and they all seem to agree with the above. Unfortunately, the suggestions I get are always vague and not very useful ("just talk to them, don't be shy!") ("be more of a flirt! they won't mind!"). At least I seem to get the impression from them that I'm an excellent catch in all other aspects: I dress nice and get told I'm attractive, I love kids, I'm well-read and travel frequently, I have a stable high-paying job I love, and I'm generally friendly and thoughtful (and sometimes even a bit fun/jovial once I'm comfortable around you) - but I just can't get past the timid shyness.

I know everyone on here is going to suggest online dating - I've tried it and honestly I'm burned out on it. While I'm a good writer and do fantastic with the initial contact, I virtually always hit a brick wall when we meet in real life. Yes it is a great tool for us introverts, but I feel I've gotten everything I can out of it and need to focus on meeting and developing romantic interests offline.

On a side note, I noticed many similarities between myself and the guy in this recent thread - the original poster's less-than-stellar opinion of him is giving me even more motivation to figure this out.

So any suggestions to beat the shyness and have a shot at normal relationships? For that matter, can shyness be "beat" at all, or is this one of those things you just have to learn to live with?
posted by photo guy to Human Relations (23 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't "date." Make friends. Get to know people slowly, in a non-pressured, non-dating context. Eventually, you may just fall in love with someone in this way instead. It's the way I always have. I have no idea how people "date." Just be.
posted by millipede at 10:05 PM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


In the thread you linked to there was an apparent absence of love/other deep feeling on the part of the original poster -- that was the problem, not that her partner was "shy AND introverted." So don't be too eager to change because of that lady's preference. I'm shy, too. I try to arrange it so that we don't have to spend the whole date sitting across from each other staring into each others' faces. I like active dates where we walk and talk, take little hikes or bike rides or go to a farmer's market. And then we get to know each other and it's lovely.
posted by Ventre Mou at 10:51 PM on February 10, 2011


An introvert in an extrovert's world

I just want to say something, and I mentioned this in the linked thread as well: It's not and extrovert's world.

It seems like it is, because the extroverts are the ones telling you how much fun they're having at parties. But if I had to guess, I'd say well over half the population is more on the introverted side of things. You just don't hear about them because they're happy to go about they're lives quietly enjoying themselves, and not making a fuss.

The biggest mistake introverts make is trying to live according to the rules of extroverts. The rules that say you have to be the life of the party for people to like you, and that breaks in conversation are the enemy. Embrace who you are, and look for someone who appreciates your introversion as a plus in a relationship.

[/rant]

Other than that, to answer your questions: Kiss her. If you're not sure what to do, kiss her. If you can't tell if she likes you, (try to) kiss her. All the issues you list are the same as thousands of other introverted guys and gals out there. There's hundreds of AskMe's that are substantially the same as yours. The only solution to your problem is to just fucking kiss her. Either she goes for it and you're on the right track, or she doesn't and you can stop wasting time with her. Solves all your problems in 3 seconds of effort.
posted by auto-correct at 11:59 PM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I know everyone on here is going to suggest online dating - I've tried it and honestly I'm burned out on it. While I'm a good writer and do fantastic with the initial contact, I virtually always hit a brick wall when we meet in real life. Yes it is a great tool for us introverts, but I feel I've gotten everything I can out of it and need to focus on meeting and developing romantic interests offline.

Change is always hard. This is true for everyone.

Listen I don't mean to be critical, but the way you described it, your problem with "online" dating is the offline part. But seriously, everyone has this problem to one degree or another. If you were like me, maybe you initially had high expectations for online dating. And found out it was more of the same. People not clicking, awkwardness.. probably even more extreme than you would find in normal life. Definitely easy to burn out if you go into it with a little bit of low self-esteem. Which a lot of people (including myself) have. So all in all, dating is just naturally pretty hard.

But don't put yourself down so much. I hear you saying you're not "a go-getter," and all the go-getters get the chicks. You're comparing your insides to other peoples' outsides. I do want to introduce the idea that some of the best relationships I've ever had were not the result of a pursuit. They came to me when I wasn't looking. So maybe your lack of "go-getting" is not the root of the problem.

Somebody pointed out to me recently that the insecurity that goes along with dating can for some people be debilitating. But that's not entirely true, because dating is naturally always going to be insecure, for everyone. There are no guarantees in dating. Rather, it's the fear of that insecurity which is debilitating. And once you make this distinction, you are free to face that fear and realize that's all it is. And it's keeping you from something that you want. Companionship. Love. Intimacy. A new friend. Push onward.

If you're feeling adventurous, I recommend a little rejection therapy. In other words, don't think your way out of this, just act as if. You need to start manifesting opportunities for yourself, poke around a little in this world. Look at life as giving you learning experiences, and stop thinking of things in terms of success and failure. What if you fail 99% of the time and end up finding the right person? Was it worth all that failing? Yes. You can't deny that. But if you don't try.. you'll never know. As Wayne Gretzky said: "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."

Sometimes focusing on something you like to do outside of work is the best way to meet someone new. Like a hobby - like hiking. Or photography. You could find a meetup group in your area. I have made some very neat people this way.
posted by phaedon at 12:13 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a fellow introvert, I find that making friends is a far more rewarding and pleasurable then putting myself out there and date. Eventually you are going to find that one friend who really delights in hanging out with you, who would find excuses (subconsciously or not) to spend more time with you -- and everything else will come naturally from that.

"Other than that, to answer your questions: Kiss her. If you're not sure what to do, kiss her. If you can't tell if she likes you, (try to) kiss her. All the issues you list are the same as thousands of other introverted guys and gals out there. There's hundreds of AskMe's that are substantially the same as yours. The only solution to your problem is to just fucking kiss her. Either she goes for it and you're on the right track, or she doesn't and you can stop wasting time with her. Solves all your problems in 3 seconds of effort."

... is the worst advice ever. Even if I am romantically attracted to you, I would like to get to know you better first before I allow my personal space to be invaded. And if I'm not romantically attracted to you, poof - there goes the potential friendship.
posted by moiraine at 12:36 AM on February 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


+1 to moiraine's post, *especially* the kissing part.
posted by TrinsicWS at 3:00 AM on February 11, 2011


You have asked a lot of questions recently soliciting dating advice, and it seems that you keep running into the same problems of not knowing how to initiate or follow up.

I'm going to speculate here that your real problem with dating is the same problem that keeps bringing you back to Ask Mefi for advice: a lack of confidence.

It's OK to be an introvert. If you're a nice-looking nicely-dressed guy, you'll get approched at social events even if you're off by yourself. But if you then mutter and mumble and don't have anything to say due to shyness... well, you have to be REALLY good looking for women to persist.

You say yourself "As you can probably guess from the first two points, I'm not exactly assertive." This is your problem, not introversion, not lack of knowledge. You probably DO know what to say and how to follow up, but you don't trust yourself. It's likely you ask your friends for advice as frequently as you do Ask Mefi.

I don't mean to beat you down futher, though. The good news is, confidence and assertivess can be learned! I would even ignore dating for a little while, and just work on your confidence. It's attractive, and it feels good, too.

First: In which areas of your life are you awesome? Are you good at any sport or hobby? Are you a reliable and throughtful friend? Do you excel in your job? I bet that in there are situations where you know JUST what to do or say, without questioning yourself or getting awkward. When a friend is upset and needs to talk, when a big work project is on your plate, when you encounter a tough boss in a video game - whatever. You have confidence! Think about how it feels to trust your instincts. Try to apply that in other areas.

Second: Set up situations where you're at your best when meeting people. If you're great at your job, maybe not at work, but at a professional conference where you've just asked a thoughtful question. If you have awesome, supportive friends, go out with your friends and let them be your wingmen/women. Etc etc.

Third: Practice! You don't know what to say on approach? Prepare some stuff to say - you're interesting enough that you surely have some conversation topics or stories to trot out. Yeah, it feels a bit cheesy to have canned conversation fodder, but if you can practice it and sound confident, it'll help you segue into other topics more naturally. Role-play with friends, even or practice small-talk with people you encounter in your daily life. Can you get a smile out of the barista? Etc. Take a public speaking course, or even a language class, something where you have to interact.

You can still be quiet, but there's no need to be scared. You're awesome! Believe that.

(Oh yeah, and please ignore the "just kiss her" advice. Once you start trusting yourself you'll know when the moment's right.)
posted by jetsetlag at 4:24 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know that you all have a point about friendships naturally leading to relationships, but that's never really worked out for me. I think part of the problem is that, despite being a somewhat social person, I don't have a "normal" social network. I've moved a couple of times this year in an attempt to find work (which did pay off!) but as a result I've had to settle for maintaining most friendships via Facebook and the like - not quite the same as being able to drop in and have a few beers with someone.
posted by photo guy at 4:27 AM on February 11, 2011


...got interrupted. Guess I shouldn't do this at work!

I think jetsetlag actually has some good points - confidence is definetely an area where I could use some work. I generally have some rather wild stories I can tell or interesting facts/tidbits I can share, but I never have to guts to speak up.
posted by photo guy at 4:40 AM on February 11, 2011


I am a lot like you, except female. I guess it has been "easier" for me in a sense, because there is still somewhat of an expectation that the man makes the first move, so at least I didn't have to be the one getting rejected.

During college, I thought I'd never find anyone and I'd die alone. In my early 20s I ended up joining a local club which, based on the subject matter of the club itself, tended to attract a lot of introverts. I ended up meeting the future Mr. Ipsum there. At the first few meetings, we would occasionally make polite conversation, nothing special. After a few more meetings, having gotten to know more about him, I decided I was interested, but didn't really do much other than try to be very friendly to him and sit near him when given the opportunity, etc. Eventually he asked me out. Turned out that like me, it had been several years since he had been out on a date, so I guess we were a good match. And almost 10 years later, here we are, happily married.

So I guess my point is that, if you can meet people in a casual setting where there is no pressure to hook up or find dates, you may end up meeting someone that you have something in common with, which may eventually lead to romantic interest. Maybe you can try meetup.com to look for clubs in your area, based on what you are interested in. I met my guy when I was least expecting to.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 5:44 AM on February 11, 2011


So you've got a job now, and you're feeling settled into a particular spot, geographically. Now is the perfect time to start developing your social network. Go out and look for groups of people doing the stuff you like to do! Meetup is a great place to start as it is full of people just like you who are looking to make some new friends. I met my current boyfriend at a Meetup group that I started. I met a huge bunch of my current circle of friends through the same Meetup.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:48 AM on February 11, 2011


As a fellow introvert, I find that making friends is a far more rewarding and pleasurable then putting myself out there and date

Yes, and this is, I am sure, what the OP is contending with. It will always be more easier and more securely in the OP's comfort zone to meet friends and meet people who want to meet friends. He doesn't need excuses to stay in his comfort zone where he will just make more casual friends and acquaintances who aren't interested in dating him. I take issue with the advice people are giving to form a long term friendship with someone and date one of those people he's known for a long time because the truth is that over the long term, a desirable single person is going to date someone else during the time the OP is waiting around trying to decide whether he is comfortable with that person.

auto-correct's advice is good for extroverts-- that is, people who are good at grappling with social cues and feeling social chemistry accurately.

My impression of shyness is that it is something limited to people you don't know and people you're not familiar with, so the answer (for me) is to find common ground with someone so you can treat them like someone you're comfortable with. And if that doesn't work with someone, stop. Beg off to get another drink and chalk it up to "lack of chemistry."

Have you considered being "set up" with someone by one of your friends? You know, get together with a bunch of common friends, meet someone on "familiar ground" and get her contact info with an eye towards hanging out with her on your own, later?
posted by deanc at 7:19 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


People like to feel admired, appreciated, and desired. My guess is that your lack of what you call 'assertiveness' could often actually be experienced by others as a lack of enthusiasm for them.

Asking someone for their phone number is another way of saying, I really like you, enjoy your company, and would like to spend more time with you.

Maybe a way to get there is to practice expressing admiration and appreciation for others in other ways, if you're not quite ready to put it in phone number form. And this is not only for romantic advice, it's also how you make a friend, however platonic, out out of an acquaintance.

I'll also just put it out there that no one ever disliked someone for liking them (well, no one with decent self esteem). Even when I don't like someone as much as I think they like me (again, whether platonically or romantically), the feeling that they like me generally makes me feel more positive and warm towards them, and I assume it works similarly when I admire someone disproportionately to how they feel about me. That's not the part where you get creepy or overbearing.

That part comes when you make it hard for the other person to turn you down (again, either just socially or romantically). You can do that both by nurturing a crush that you never explicitly express as an invitation that can be turned down, so that the other person has this feeling that you want something from them that they have no polite way to let you know you'll never get, or by continuing to invite and invite and invite or by inviting in ways that are hard to really reject - 'want to hang out with me some time' as opposed to 'want to go for happy hour next Monday?'


It's also totally possible for a guy to get into relationships by letting himself be pursued and caught rather than pursuing, but you have to be paying attention! Even to the women you don't already have a thing for! And you have to be willing to at least respond when they pursue you.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:24 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know everyone on here is going to suggest online dating - I've tried it and honestly I'm burned out on it. While I'm a good writer and do fantastic with the initial contact, I virtually always hit a brick wall when we meet in real life. Yes it is a great tool for us introverts, but I feel I've gotten everything I can out of it and need to focus on meeting and developing romantic interests offline.

To me this doesn't really make sense. It sounds like you may be doing it wrong when it comes to online dating, the point is to find potential dates there, send a few messages to figure out that neither of you are crazy weirdos, and then conduct normal offline dating from that point forward. If you start talking to someone online on Monday, you should be shooting for going on a date with them on Friday or something, don't drag it out.

To get more comfortable dating you probably need to get more experience doing it, and online dating is pretty much the best way to go on dates with a lot of people. You can try flirting with people in bars or whatever, but it's a lot harder in those situations to filter out the people who are available, interested in you, and compatible with you. But whether you make the connection online or in person, the date part is basically going to be the same.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:31 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, to expand a bit: Maybe a way to get there is to practice expressing admiration and appreciation for others in other ways

"That was a great point." "You look great." "How did you learn so much about xyz?" "I'd love to hear what you think about abc." "I like your taste in novels/books/scifi/etc." "It's really fun hanging out with you" "Great glasses" "I just noticed your eyes are such a cool shade of green/blue/brown/hazel/what would you call that shade?" "Is it ok if I come to you with all my sports/science/arts/vocabulary/political questions??" "I've never heard such a cogent analysis of the political situation/scientific problem/plot denouement/etc."

It's a bit harder to take up (or feel like you're taking up) too much room socially when you're making it about positive things about the other person, so that can be a good way to be more engaged in conversations too.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:36 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the best advice is the first poster, millipede's suggestion. Don't date. Get to know people first.

In my opinion and experience, I think getting to know someone in a non-dating non-romantic context is usually the most ethical and easiest way to get to know someone. In the dating world, people deceive each other, over-analyze/misinterpret conversations, and falsely amplify the other person's flaws and insecurities. Casual sex is also far too prevalent in the dating world and is not conducive to establishing genuine intimacy and respect.

In the dating world it's easier for people to use you. When I was younger and a bit more naive, I was the object of a few fuck 'n chuck scenarios which hurt and confused the hell out of me. This confusion eventually led me to use the same methods with other men in which I was the user. I've since reformed my ways. I am staunch in my opinion that if you wait to get to know someone, and wait a little bit until you both 'really know' to become physically intimate, things will eventually grow into something more meaningful and all the more interesting and exciting! True love does wait :)
posted by GEB's fun world at 8:57 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I generally have some rather wild stories I can tell or interesting facts/tidbits I can share, but I never have to guts to speak up.

That's nice, but it's not really the way to meet women. Women want a guy to be interested in them. Asking them questions and really listening to the responses is more useful than being able to rattle off some factoid or anecdote. Like Salamandrous said.

Confidence doesn't have to be chest-thumping braggadocio, but rather security in being yourself. When you've got that, it shows. Think Gary Cooper, not John Wayne. In fact, watching old movies could be a good learning tool for you. Think Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:26 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my opinion and experience, I think getting to know someone in a non-dating non-romantic context is usually the most ethical and easiest way to get to know someone

That's true. But it's not the easiest way to date someone. And it might not be ethical, either, given that you're creating a situation where you are clearly interested in dating that person but are pretending not to because you feel it's easier to get to know them that way. Maybe this works for two very introverted people who don't have an interest in dating (in general) in the present but might have an interest in the future if the circumstances are right. But the nature of socializing is such that it's hard for introverts to meet each other, unless you go LaurenIpsum's route and make specific efforts to participate in activities which attract introverts.
posted by deanc at 9:36 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, it's only ethical if you enter the situation with an open mind and with no intention other than getting to know them. The decision for romance or sex comes after a friendship and a clear path of communications has already been established. This is what I was suggesting but did not elaborate. I think just simply meeting people first for the purposes of friendship, with no lecherous motive, is the best way to gain confidence and experience in dealing with people.

And yes, I understand that it's only ethical because you are not 'pretending' to get to know someone, when the ultimate outcome with be sex.
posted by GEB's fun world at 10:30 AM on February 11, 2011


Thanks for the answers so far everyone! A couple of points that I wanted to comment on:

So you've got a job now, and you're feeling settled into a particular spot, geographically. Now is the perfect time to start developing your social network.

Unfortunately this isn't the case. I am settled career-wise and have really good financial footing, but I already know I'll be moving again within the next 2 years for work. It's just a necessary tradeoff of my particular job - I get to live in/visit lots of exotic places and make really good money, but the moving every few years does make building a social network a bit of a challenge and has made dating even more difficult (feels like I'm under some sort of deadline).

I would be open to settling down more permanently if I had the opportunity, but I'd rather not settle down permanently for a while yet unless I have a really good reason (like meeting someone). Nonetheless, I've been trying Meetup, local cultural groups, couchsurfing, etc to build a social network while I'm here. It helps me keep a full calendar, but that's about it.

People like to feel admired, appreciated, and desired. My guess is that your lack of what you call 'assertiveness' could often actually be experienced by others as a lack of enthusiasm for them.

Bingo! I'm well aware of this, yet I still seem to inadvertently give off "I'm not interested" vibes. I think the reasons are complex - sometimes I'm just tired and don't want to make the effort, sometimes I just can't find any common ground, sometimes I just chicken out and lose my nerve.
posted by photo guy at 10:36 AM on February 11, 2011


I am settled career-wise and have really good financial footing, but I already know I'll be moving again within the next 2 years for work. It's just a necessary tradeoff of my particular job - I get to live in/visit lots of exotic places and make really good money, but the moving every few years does make building a social network a bit of a challenge and has made dating even more difficult (feels like I'm under some sort of deadline).

My suspicion is that this kind of career structure is actually a really bad idea for an introvert, where you basically have to recreate a social circle from scratch every two years. For now, since you're in DC, you actually have a lot of social opportunities, if you make a couple friends who tell you about the various events going on in town and accompany them where you will meet more people. What you're going to need to do is give yourself enough social stability where you meet women you're interested in meeting while well-within your comfort zone.
posted by deanc at 11:02 AM on February 11, 2011


My suspicion is that this kind of career structure is actually a really bad idea for an introvert, where you basically have to recreate a social circle from scratch every two years.

I actually disagree with this. Yes I have to deal with meeting new people more often, but that's exactly why I'm trying to address the issues I listed! Besides, I generally enjoy the traveling. It's given me an identity and made me a little bit more extroverted - the problem is I'm still not extroverted enough...
posted by photo guy at 11:45 AM on February 11, 2011


Speaking as someone who is habitually afraid of coming on too strong, you should learn to ignore the voice in your head telling you to back off. Make a point of doing things that seem (to you) like you're definitely coming on at least a little bit too strong, being a bit too handsy, etc. Notice how, when you get a reaction at all, it will often be positive, and even if it's negative, it will almost certainly be very mild.

I had some pretty big "ah-ha" moments when I read the SIRC Guide to Flirting.

Ignore the people telling you not to date.
posted by shponglespore at 4:48 PM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


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