How to Keep Steady?
May 25, 2009 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Please help a fella out with the next stage of his Courtship Reeducation Program: How to stay cool when you can't stay ambivalent?

Yup, DatingFilter, your favorite and mine.

A little over a year ago I got fed up with my poor romantic track record and set out to do something about it. The idea was to address the things I felt stood in the way of my having a fulfilling love life and the goal was to sort them out while I was still young.

That meant getting in shape, dressing better, disabusing myself of the impossibly high-pressure "soulmate" theory, curing myself of Nice Guy Syndrome and basically embracing the status of "single" as something that's actually pretty fun and exciting to be. This reeducation program is ongoing and I'm in no rush whatsoever to wind up in a comitted relationship any time soon. However, I have reached something of an impasse, and I was hoping to get the HiveMind's help with getting around it.

See, as a lifelong shy bastard, I recently learned that flirting is a total blast and, in spite of the panic you may initially feel, getting to know a woman usually doesn't put you in any physical danger. When I'm ambivalent about a gal, I have absolutely zero difficulty keeping these facts in mind. If I find a girl kinda cute and interesting, talking with her is super fun and easy.

If she's gorgeous and fascinating, however, it all falls apart. My tongue goes five sizes too big and maintaining eye contact feels like it's gonna blow my head off. That once-omnipresent panicking pressure to be funnyandinterestingandattractive at all times comes back and I feel like I gotta dive for cover. Which is what I usually wind up doing, which is a drag.

I'd like to make unraveling this malfunction my summer project. I've gotten pretty good at staying cool when talking and flirting with women I'm ambivalent about; how do I do this when a gal's really rung my bell? Mild attraction is no longer terrifying, but I've still got this situation going where, the more my type a woman is, the less likely I am to talk to her. The surest sign I really dig a girl is that I never say a word to her, and that's a trend I'd like to reverse.
posted by EatTheWeek to Human Relations (13 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Look up a few techniques aimed at people experiencing anxiety. Breathing techniques, for one. Learn to breathe more slowly despite the rush of excitement. Use counts in your head to take control. Use that also to pause for a second before you want to say something. Practice and you'll learn how to do this imperceptibly.

Nice guys are wonderful, by the way.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:21 PM on May 25, 2009

This isn't about flirting precisely, but the biggest stride I made when facing my own anxiety issues was making the switch from trying to supress or push down my anxiety to accepting anxiety for what it is, recognizing its symptoms and moving on.

Maybe that sounds a little New Agey, but look at it this way. You've met Miss Thing, and suddenly your fight-or-flight instinct flares up. You can either struggle with the secret that you're freaking out, worry about not freaking out, freak out and fail, or you can think to yourself, hmm, heart racing, feeling loopy, this girl is for real and then just keep going. I promise you, it works.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:24 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

What if you tried assuming that if she's your type, you might well be hers, and that she'd probably enjoy chatting with you? It sounds like you have a long way to go before your self-confidence turns into self-importance. Try not to think of it as pressure to act funnyandinterestingandattractive. Try to remember that you are funnyandinterestingandattractive and this gorgeous and fascinating girl is going to enjoy your company. Whether or not she agrees to go out with you is another question, but if you're just working up the confidence to approach her and flirt a little, I think you should practice being just a wee bit presumptuous. The guys who have impressed me most have been the ones who assumed I'd give them the time of day. I'm not talking about assuming any girl will want to date you, I'm just talking about assuming you're likeable and interesting enough that any girl--whether she's just kinda cute to you or totally gorgeous to you--will enjoy meeting you. I don't know of a way to do this other than to force yourself not to dive for cover, not to avoid talking to the interesting girl.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:25 PM on May 25, 2009

You're looking at this from the wrong direction. You shouldn't want to act cool based on how you feel, you should reflect how they are acting towards you. That is, many times it doesn't matter whether they're ringing your bell because that doesn't predict success at all. What does influence success here is how they feel and act toward you. Your description seems to illustrate that you prioritize two birds in the bush over one in the hand.
posted by rhizome at 12:34 PM on May 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

How can you be truly attracted to someone you've just met?

I'm not being facetious. Think about it for a second: once you get past good looks, if the person doesn't charm you in other ways, you're left with only the most shallow of attraction. And who wants that?

The point is to dial back your attraction until you actually get to know someone. Then you can decide to get all week in the knees or not.

You're jumping the gun.
posted by wfrgms at 12:35 PM on May 25, 2009

The guys who have impressed me most have been the ones who assumed I'd give them the time of day.

second this! as a pretty girl, my problem has never been guys falling over themselves to talk to me but rather guys being too afraid to make conversation. old dudes on the street can do it, men hanging out of their car windows can—why can't nice guys?
posted by lia at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

You do it with a shear force of will and determination. Force yourself to interact with these beautiful and interesting women. The more you do, the easier it will become. Remind yourself that these beautiful and interesting people are not immune to insecurities. They've got loads, just like the rest of the human race. As an attractive, and normal-everyday-flawed, person I find it charming and exciting when people want to talk to me. I'm attracted to their confidence and friendly nature.

I think we feel we look bad and nervous to outsiders when the reality is nobody can see our hearts beating or our palms sweating. People can't read your mind. Unless you're a stuttering mess most people will not be able to detect your anxiety. Remind yourself that you have nothing to lose. There might be a good chance that you will never see a particular beautiful woman again. She is a practice subject.

You have the right idea about making this a project. This is something you'll have to practice repeatedly. Start by making even more eye contact with people you feel comfortable with. Move on to maintaining eye contact with the beautiful people half of the time and keep practicing to improve your rate. Maintain as much eye contact as you can stand. Listen more than talk. Ask more questions to take the pressure off to be funny and interesting. There's no reason you have to be "on" all of the time. People (women like me) love a confident and mysterious person. Great eye contact is a confident person's trait. You don't have to say much just keep your eyes on theirs. You're über cool and chill and you're just taking it all in, baby. They'll never know what's going on inside your head.
posted by Fairchild at 12:51 PM on May 25, 2009

It depends on whether you are comfortable being sincerely direct. Time has nothing at all to do with it. So many people place a hedge around themselves when they are confronted with something that by taking action would mean making it a habit. I dodge myself, we all do. But you have to sell yourself, remember, even if she picked you out of the crowd in the beginning.
posted by parmanparman at 1:58 PM on May 25, 2009

Remember that she's used to having people judge her by how she looks, so a regular conversation with a man who's not hitting on her immediately could be a welcome change. Not all gorgeous women are looking for the flashiest guy in the room. There's a person under there, so treat her like one. And, yes, beautiful women don't get asked out as often as other women, mostly because men are afraid of being rejected. I'm not saying she'll be grateful, but she just might remember you if you're not panting and drooling and are treating her as if she has a brain. And never, ever treat a beautiful woman like a decoration sent to make you look better. (OK, it's been years, but I finally got to say something to all those men who thought I was a bimbo.)
posted by x46 at 5:19 PM on May 25, 2009

Woohoo - this seems to be the thread where all the mefi hotties out themselves!

Ahem, back to the question. First up, what you describe is a familiar thing to me, and - I would guess - to most people out there. So, for a start, don't feel ashamed or like you're some kind of freak, but enjoy life's little crushes. They're some of the things that make our time on earth richer & more enjoyable.

That aside, here are some suggestions that might work for you:

* Always remember that there's a real person there - that's who you should be interacting with, in the moment, not some projection of your own thoughts or desires. This could be the most fundamental thing.

* Related to the above - just because she pushes your buttons doesn't necessarily mean that you push hers. Pay attention to her signals. Personally, I try as far as possible to reflect whatever energy I feel coming from people in any situation: bright & chirpy dictates a bright and chirpy response. Not that it's always nearly that conscious; more of a natural reaction. In the most favourable of situations, this could be called chemistry, and it's quite obvious when it happens.

* Again, related to the above - try to put your crushes completely out of your mind when they're not around, or else you'll build up pressure upon yourself.

* It also helps to have as many irons in the fire as possible - the more interesting & attractive people you interact with regularly, the less one particular person will send you into a giddy fit. It helps remind you that there are plenty of fish in the ocean.

* Flirting is fun. Do it as much as possible. With anybody at all.

* Remember that whatever people say about confidence, it can also be cute & charming when somebody comes across as a bit of a tongue-tied fool.

* And what Fairchild just said: "Listen more than talk. Ask more questions to take the pressure off to be funny and interesting." - relates back to the first point again; so with that full circle, that's enough random jottings for now.

(now, if I could just practice what I preach a little better...)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:35 PM on May 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

That's Mrs. ex-hottie, to you! And, btw, I never thought I was anything special, but enough other people did to make me downright uncomfortable at times. See, real person inside. And, I turned down the Mr for weeks as I thought he was just another twit hitting on me, but he kept coming back, and he's still here 20 years later (heaven help him.) So, there's a lesson there somewhere.
posted by x46 at 8:01 PM on May 25, 2009

Mrs?!?? Shame that; your husband is a very lucky man, I'm sure! *cheeky wink*

But as an afterthought for EatTheWeak: keep your eyes open, and you should quickly notice that the place is absolutely crawling with good-looking & interesting women, as long as you're not putting one particular woman up on a pedestal (note: pedestalism should be avoided because it's again relating to your own projections and not to the the actual quirky, flawed, history-rich, and hopefully kind & warm person you're actually dealing with).
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:39 PM on May 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Its like this: there's confidence and there's cockiness. There's a very distinct yet subtle line between the two, and you basically want to start on the confidence side and run full-out towards that line before stopping just short of it.

Confidence is knowing that you're a smart, attractive person, capable of addressing issues with skill (as demonstrated in your question above), interesting to interact with, and just generally have a lot going for you. If all of that is a presupposition - something that you think before you think - something in the back of your mind while everything else is going on, you're going to find approaching your particular fancies much easier.

I like the analogy of job interviews - there's basically 2 types of people when it comes to job interviews: those who, for whatever reasons, are nervous and worrisome and end up under-performing in the interview and poorly representing themselves, and those who are comfortable, confident, and speak with ease to their qualifications. Being the latter is a matter of telling yourself that "Hey, I'm more than qualified for this job, and they'd be stupid to give it to anyone else, so if they do, that's their loss, and I don't want to work for anyone stupid anyway. This is more about me finding out if this is a good fit for me than it is them finding out about me." You can see how this is mostly a good thing but also flirts (natch) with over-confidence / cockiness, which you don't want.

Now you just need to apply the same logic to the hot girl - "Hey she seems pretty great, but so am I - if she's not interested than its her loss. This is more about me finding out more about her, than how I come across."

The general idea is to make your behavior and the things you say an afterthought - the same way you're not actively thinking about it when you're talking to a girl you're ambivalent about. This takes work but it is entirely possible - its a matter of retraining your brain, and every time you meet a girl that rings your bell, the first thing that should come to mind is "this is another chance to practice confidence."

Just remember, once you start getting this sorted out, the important thing is to put the brakes on and stop short of making a cocky ass out of yourself. Also, I think you'll find that once you're able to more comfortably flirt with the girls you're particularly attracted to, its a whole order of magnitude more enjoyable than it is with ones you're ambivalent to.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:48 AM on May 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

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