Severe aversion to flirting
August 7, 2009 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Help me overcome my fear of flirting.

Something in me utterly resists it. Whenever I meet a cute guy, I shut down. I can't meet his eye. I can't bring myself to smile at him, talk to him, even glance in his direction as I walk past. I ignore him even if my innards might be all aflutter. But it doesn't come across as sweet and shy. It comes across as "prickly cold bitch (who probably think she's too good for everyone)." I'm pretty, smart, funny, in my mid-20s - and it's been 4 years since I was asked on a date.

I think it has to do with irrational fear of rejection. I'm terrified that he won't smile back. And since I never put myself out there, I have yet to taste rejection, which just makes me dread it all the more. Every potential encounter becomes fraught, instead of just a casual opportunity for some light playful banter that doesn't have to go anywhere. Other reasons: I'm afraid of opening up / showing vulnerability / being seen as having so little dignity that I would hit on someone (yes...), so I overcompensate by being resolutely unapproachable. I'm painfully aware of how I behave and every time resolve to change. Yet in the moment, I choke and my body goes into automatic "ignore" mode.

Example: I have a crush on an owner of a popular expat cafe in town. I go there at least once a week. The first few times, I could sense his interest. Whenever I caught him looking, I'd snap my head back down. After paying (while coolly ignoring him, though my brain is screaming, "Turn head! Smile! Say hi!"), I stroll out past him. Pretty much as if he didn't exist. A few times he'd smile and try to say something, but something on my face would make his mouth snap shut. A few days ago, he joined a conversation I was having with my friend. The entire time, I alternated between barbed remarks aimed at him (incl remaining stone-faced during his amusing stories), or joking around with my friend. As if I wanted to put him in his place -- "Everyone else might think you're all that, but not me." As if I wanted him to hate me. Tonight, I finally smiled at him, too hugely and jarringly. He grimaced.

The kicker is that I go back to the US in a week. I have NOTHING TO LOSE flirting without expectation, and I STILL can't bring myself to do it.

How can I change my ways ... without hurting my fragile ego too much? (e.g. learning to put out feelers and recognize when a guy is and isn't interested, etc) The date itself would be the easy part. Daring to make the connection that would get me asked on a date is what feels scary and impossible.
posted by amillionbillion to Human Relations (18 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
The fear of failure is definitely the lynchpin of the problem.

You need to get hurt. More than once. That's the only way to develop the necessary calluses.
posted by rokusan at 10:39 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have this problem sometimes. I've found that a pretty good way to make it less terrifying to talk to honeys is just to be really friendly. Act like you're making friends. Once you've built up a rapport, it's really easy to start making plans to hang out in a group or alone, and then conversations just sort of happen. And then you can have a couple drinks and throw yourself at him.* Seriously, once you show that you're interested in a guy as a person, that you aren't a total ice queen, you might be surprised in how little work you have to do.

*[Or take a more dignified route and start hanging out together alone more often.]
posted by oinopaponton at 10:42 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have no advice for you other than a "me too". I am exactly like this, and am especially great at faking disinterest when I really like someone.

Perhaps treating people you are interested in as people you are not interested in could be helpful. Become friends, and when the moment is right, mention your interest. I am OK with doing this. It is my technical writer side coming out :)

BTW, I am a guy, so don't worry, it is not just girls that have this problem.
posted by jrockway at 10:46 AM on August 7, 2009

Best answer: When a kid can't catch a football or a frisbee because they are too scared it is going to hit them, the only thing you can do is make them keep their arms by their side and throw the football or the frisbee at them a couple of times and hit them. Not hard, you don't want to break their nose or anything, but give it a little toss and let it bonk them. Bonk "See that wasn't so bad was it?" They see that, even if they miss the catch and get hit, the consequences of that are minimal.

You should go out with the express purpose of being rejected. Tell yourself "I am going to make a damn fool of myself and have this guy totally put me down." Pick a guy you know to be mean or make yourself look bad or just act like a weirdo, but go out and get rejected. You will see that, even if you swing and miss, which you will do from time to time when trying to meet people, the consequences are not that dire. You get your feelings hurt, you blush for a minute, maybe recriminate for an evening, and then life goes on. The rejecter won't remember it in a week and neither should you. Once you have seen the worst case scenario, you won't be afraid to put yourself out there.
posted by ND¢ at 10:50 AM on August 7, 2009 [14 favorites]

Best answer: i think you just need to practice. and that means flirting with everyone. i'm one of those ppl who flirt with ppl on a daily basis, men and women, young and old. and i don't mean in some sexually charged, i want you kind of way but just in a friendly, i want to make this person feel good kind of way. everyone likes to be smiled at and complimented (as long as you keep it sincere) and to be made to feel spotlighted if for just one moment out of their day. and the bonus is that it will make you feel good in return.
posted by violetk at 10:59 AM on August 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh boy oh boy, do I ever have this problem. It's really almost a reflex, isn't it? Or like your reaction times have slowed down to a snail's pace. Your processor gets overloaded, and then you're unable to muster the ability to flirt until 20 minutes after the opportunity has already passed. I've found that, though positive self-talk is somewhat useful (ie, "What's the worst that could happen? I look really hot today, and he seems interested!" etc.), it doesn't usually help me to loosen up in the moment. What you need to be able to flirt properly is to let your instantaneous, instinctive flirt-urges go free. So when he smiles at you, it doesn't take you 5 minutes to decide to smile back -- you just do it right then and there, and keep the ball rolling.

The most helpful thing for me has actually been to do things that put me into good mood -- specifically, a physically powerful, loose and relaxed, happy and sexy mood. And what I've found works best to get me there is exercise. Something about running until I'm tired, stretching till I'm all stretched out, and taking a hot shower just makes me feel more confident and more able to trust my instincts. Strange? Maybe. But it's worth a shot. If you don't already exercise regularly, try doing so in the couple of hours before you go to the bar. Just my two cents, YMMV.
posted by ourobouros at 11:36 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

The above advice sounds pretty good to me.

However, your situation seems like more than just fear of rejection to me. It sounds like fear of...acceptance. Hence the barbed comments. Keep him distant...and you safe. You may not know what will happen if you connect somehow.

Visualize yourself accomplishing whatever it is you want from the man. Do you want him to kiss you? Just talk? Flirt? Then work backwards, mentally, how you got to that point.

Eventually, you need to break the ice. Maybe approach him with an apology, and tell him - sincerely - that you feel like you got off on the wrong foot with him. See how he responds. Open up a little, don't be afraid to be vulnerable.

Don't try to flirt. Just talk.
posted by Xoebe at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2009

Isn't it sad how often the mind works in a vicious cycle like that? There's a Zen fable about a sick man who got some medicine but was told that if he thought about monkeys while he drank it, it wouldn't work. Sort of the same phenomenon. And it's a tragic fact that people often read negative emotions into another person's shyness or self-recrimination.

A tactic that often helps me when I'm facing some sort of anxiety is a trick (and it's really not a trick at all) that insomniacs sometimes pull when they're trying to get to sleep: they simply admit to themselves that they might NOT get to sleep, and by accepting that possibility they can often ratchet down their anxiety quite quickly.

So, if I were you and my stomach suddenly knotted up in front of this guy, I would try telling myself, "Accept the fact that I probably won't provide wonderfully flirtatious banter at every opportunity" or "Accept the fact that he might not smile back at me" or "Maybe my recent behavior weirded him out!" Hopefully, if you keep confronting and accepting these negative thoughts as they crop up, you'll soon find yourself appending them with "...oh well!"
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 12:18 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Exposure Therapy! Take yourself to a place you'll never go again and where you're surrounded by people you'll never see again. Mill around and force yourself to flirt with and ask out every cute guy you see. Be awkward about it and expect rejection. Let yourself get rejected a dozen or more times in one day. Then go out and do it again the next day. Eventually you'll desensitize yourself to the rejection. It's an embarrasing way to spend a day or two but it will totally work. You'll realize that you can survive the rejection, that the sting of it doesn't really last that long, and that it's just not the worst thing that can happen to you.
posted by dchrssyr at 1:44 PM on August 7, 2009

Just talk to guys like you are trying to make a friend.

If you aren't confident - pretend to be. Seriously. If you pretend to be, you'll trick yourself into really believing it.
posted by sporaticgenius at 1:59 PM on August 7, 2009

Best answer: So obviously if you're shy and awkward and scared of flirting you're not gonna go ask out a dozen guys just to do it. But do it once - pick an OK looking guy on the train who's reading an interesting book and say "hey I like that book.. would you like to grab coffee sometime if you're not seeing anyone?" It's SUCH A RUSH to do this. Who cares if he says no - it's probably because he IS seeing someone.

Next time you're meeting someone in a group-of-friends situation, pretend you're not interested in them like THAT. Pretend you're only getting to know them as a friend. Have a conversation inside your head with an imaginary friend where you're telling your imaginary friend "what?? John? no that's ridiculous, I'm not interested, I'm just bored and talking to him for now." I feel like saying that in my head makes me believe it, and then it's easier talking to someone with the intention of just being friends. And also easier to cover your ass later if someone is like, "you were talking to John, sorry to tell you but he has a gf" and you can say "oh, him? no, I was just being nice" without feeling like you have to pretend because you've already convinced yourself you're not interested. Does that make ANY sense? Because it does in my head. I lie to myself a lot =)

Practice flirting with new friends you meet, even ones you're not interested in. It'll be easier because you won't actually care what they think. Compliment people sincerely. Ask them questions about anything they mention - their job, hometown, band they went to see last night, their love for rock climbing. People like answering questions about themselves and receiving compliments, and once they get a conversation going you'll be more at ease and won't have to worry about flirting.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 2:14 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Good advice above, re going into a situation intending to act in such a way that you will be rejected, expecting rejection, and looking at the situation as a making friends kind of thing instead of acting like it's the decisive battle of the civil war.

I think the main hurdle for you is that you're thinking about you. Flirting is all about thinking about the other person and wanting to make them feel good. Once you master that, whether you are rejected or accepted won't matter nearly as much.

Good luck!
posted by mmw at 3:35 PM on August 7, 2009

If you're having trouble with ditching your irrational fears, here's a random thought that's a concrete strategy. No clue if it will work, but hey, NOTHING TO LOSE, right?

Basically, you have a choice between something that is difficult but potentially rewarding and something that is dead easy with no reward or loss either way (doing nothing). You've seen which one you choose.

Get together with a friend. Come up with a plan for yourself. Something you want to do and know you should do. Then go in there with your friend, being held accountable to him or her for actually enacting that plan.

But wait, you say, while the accountability is an extra push, it really might not be enough! Ah, then come up with a secondary plan for your friend. If you don't go through with plan A, your friend enacts plan B. Plan B involves bringing to life whatever nebulous, unrealistic thing you are afraid of in the back of your mind. Something like actually embarrassing the hell out of you in front of this cafe owner. Commit to this beforehand. (Requires a friend willing to help, but also willing to cause you some grief if needed.)

Then you go in with a choice:
- Plan A, which has a 90% chance of being great, a 9% chance of being neutral, and a 1% chance of being bad.
- Failing to follow plan A, thus activating plan B, with a 100% chance of being that bad thing that was only a 1% chance in plan A.

If a 1% chance of [bad thing] is enough to scare you away from something you want to do, well, a 100% chance of it ought to be enough to scare you away from not doing it.

[My god, I think I just overthought overthinking.]
posted by whatnotever at 9:08 PM on August 7, 2009

If I were you, I would make it your business to smile at everyone.

Furthermore, I would sit down with a notebook and analyse what you're really, actually afraid of.

OK, so let's say you smile at a guy in a coffee shop. He doesn't smile back. What does that actually mean? What is the narrative you are making up in your head about what is happening there? Whatever it is, take it apart and really examine it. Because if you're thinking that ten years from now, that guy is going to be telling a story that goes "And then this one time, in 2009, there was this girl in a coffee shop and she smiled at me and I didn't smile back and HA HA HA LOSER!" I think you'll see that's not very likely.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:12 AM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Exposure Therapy! Take yourself to a place you'll never go again and where you're surrounded by people you'll never see again.

She has this right now -- in a week she's leaving the country.

Once this chance runs out, try it again on some vacation. A week in a strange city... heck, use a fake name, and what's to lose?

I agree this is a good way to get practice at low risk.
posted by rokusan at 1:01 AM on August 8, 2009

How to flirt with people... How about you just quit acting like an asshole?

What makes you think anyone sees your behaviour and assumes it must be because you think you're better? No sweetie. It comes across like you feel so inferior that you need to lash out in a way that also indicates you have no concept of polite social interactions, tact or class.
As if raised by wolves?


Everyone has a crush on the owner. Why do you think his cafe is so popular? Because he makes everyone feel special and welcome. Chances are he wasn't 'interested'.
But some people are very charming and put the kind of smile on your face that catch the eyes of other people you meet throughout the day... What makes you think it's ok to try to stomp friendly attractive people into the dirt?

But then I have to wonder how you treat people in general? I pass for attractive, so I'm quite familiar with how that all works. it's been 4 years since I was asked on a date. the only time you talk to guys is when you think they're cute? Or you just speak like that to everyone? I'm not sure what you mean by that...?

And one more thing. I don't know where you got the idea that rejection is necessarily a reflection on you? I mean come on! Do you think all the people you treat like shit took it personally? Nope. I mean it's still unpleasant and you would actually deserve to be on the receiving end of that. But you should understand better than anyone what a rejection might actually mean...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2009

Please stop putting this woman down she's asking for advice not to have the obvious pointed out to her.

OP: Maybe try, instead of suppressing your negative behaviors, replacing them with positive ones. So instead of trying to keep yourself from doing something ("while coolly ignoring him, though my brain is screaming, "Turn head! Smile! Say hi!"") instead find actions that you can do that are creative and constructive: Give him a compliment. Ask him a question. Remind him of something he said the last time. Offer him a hifive when he shows up or leaves. All while this is going on visualize the great affirmative response you're going to get from your actions. Start from the position that he wants you as bad as you want him and proceed from there.

In the end, I bet you aren't as standoffish as you think, primarily because dudes are often pretty clueless or self-aggrandizing. Don't try to cajole yourself to do things you find impossible, then berate yourself for sucking at it. Take it easy and find weird innovative ways to snap yourself out of your rut instead.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:39 PM on August 10, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - if uyou can't answer this without reliving your own dating nightmares, please don't.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:31 PM on August 10, 2009

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