How to stop being passive in romantic/social life?
June 16, 2012 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a funk through completely failing to take my romantic/social live into my own hands. How do I fix this?

So I feel like I’m a bit of an Ask MeFi cliché – 26 years old, introverted, never had a girlfriend, too few friends in general and feeling lonely and disconnected. I’ve read tons of other questions from people in a similar situation and have taken on board all of the good advice contained therein (Meetups, online dating etc. etc.) but putting it into practice is proving tough.

I think that my social problems stem from the fact that I am just so completely passive the whole time. I’m the perpetual ‘friend zone’ guy. When I’m with a girl I like, inside my head I’m screaming at myself to say something flirty or touch her on the arm or whatever (low stakes things) but out in the real world I’m not doing anything. It’s like romantic catatonia. I can react to things fine – when a girl makes the first move – but this has happened to me only twice in ten years and spending all my time hoping for something which might never come is a recipe for disappointment so that’s not a winning strategy.

It’s the same situation in my platonic relationships. I do have a few close friends whom I can invite to things but I always feel like they are far more important to me than I am to them and that holds me back a bit. As for acquaintances or strangers: see the aforementioned catatonia. I have a pair of tickets for a sporting event next month (which none of my friends are interested in) and I’m already dreading trying to psych myself up to invite someone to come, chickening out and then feeling like shit when I’m there next to an empty seat - not because no-one wanted to come but because I didn’t even give anyone the chance.

I need to be able to be vulnerable but it’s like there’s a brick wall in my mind which I can’t break through. I have tried to make myself open up to my closest friend about how I’m feeling but whenever I try I just clam up and then get really angry with myself.

My mum said something to me which made me wonder if I might have low self-esteem. We were going through the yearly ritual of her trying to make a big deal out of my birthday and me wanting to do something low-key when she said something like “You know you deserve to be made a fuss of as much as anyone else”. I think that I think I’m worthy of affection/happiness etc. but maybe holding that opinion based on reason and actually believing it are two different things. It might be an indication of the current addled state of my brain that I’m unsure if I’m really feeling what I think I’m feeling!

Because of my introversion, I find that my everyday life at work – an open plan office with small talk, having to ask people questions and talking on the phone – exhausts me. I spend all my emotional capital at work so that when the time comes to invest it in something which is important to me there’s nothing left in the bank.

I’m incredibly frustrated with myself. The reason I’m unhappy is a lack of romantic/social connection and the only solution to this is to reach out to people. I know this but I can’t force myself to do it. It’s like this perpetual battle of wills with myself that I never win and it’s driving me crazy. The dissonance between who I want to be/what I want to do and who I actually am/what I actually do is maddening.

I feel like I’ve always know that the way I am would cause me problems in life. I remember at an early age feeling pretty horrified when I began to realise that it was the socially expected thing that guys do the asking in life! Outdated gender stereotypes aside, I had always kind of assumed that my frustration with myself would build up and eventually I would be able to channel that frustration into breaking through the passiveness. But it seems like the frustration has reached a zenith recently and no breakthrough seems likely so I don’t really know where to turn.

tl;dr: I want and need to connect with people romantically and socially but I just can’t seem to take any action towards making it happen. I’m completely passive and reactive in social situations and I need to change that.

I think my question is: does this resonate with anyone? (The catatonia/brick wall part) If yes, how have you dealt with it? Also, is it altogether wise to try and fight against my nature so much? When it’s getting in the way of things I want I have to, don’t I?
posted by neilb449 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Can't speak to all the issues you raise, but definitely continue to do online dating, and just keep at it until there's mutual interest, which may take another week, or may take years. It solves many of the problems you bring up, as anyone you're communicating with or meeting will have the interest that you're potentially interested in them romantically from the beginning. I did it off an on for a few years without much luck, but then met someone great within a week of signing up for last year.

While you're waiting to meet someone, work on developing your hobbies and interests. A dating profile, first date, or even just hanging out with a new acquaintance is a lot easier if you can talk about your dog, your interest in restoring antique furniture, your upcoming hiking trip, whatever.
posted by deadweightloss at 9:28 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're annoyed with social and parental expectations. And you're identifying your "nature" with the part of you that most resists those expectations. If there are things you want, that your nature is thwarting, surely the aspect of you that wants those things is ALSO part of your nature, right?

Not that I don't sympathize and identify. What helps me in such situations is to have a kind of zone of autonomy where no one is pushing me one way or another, and I can just sort out for myself what I actually want, and what I'm willing to do in order to get it. Reaching this zone usually requires me to distance myself from people offering me pushy advice (even if they're nice people who have my best interests at heart etc. etc.).

Since you've told all this stuff to us, but not to your best friend, it seems like the internet is a relative autonomy zone for you. (Seconding deadweightloss.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:48 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It does seem like you have some self-esteem issues. Even though you know the solution to your problems the reason why you don't act out is because you fear of making that change that could lead to rejection. You fear they will not like you. You think you're not good enough for them. You obviously said it yourself: ...but I always feel like they are far more important to me than I am to them and that holds me back a bit.

You think they don't value you as much as you value them. You need to stop that kind of thinking. You need to tell yourself you're important and an amazing person. You shouldn't fight against your nature but rather embrace your nature. Whoever don't value you are not worthy of your attention. When you love yourself, when you are confident with who you are, people will also love you too. There will always be somebody who will like you for you. You don't want to be somebody you're not, that will eventually become tiring and stressful for you.

Speaking as an introvert myself. My advice:
Just be yourself, keep yourself busy and get out there in hopes of meeting like-minded people whatever route that maybe (forums, Meetup, dating sites, clubs etc). Take the risk otherwise you'll always be stuck like that. Through determination and persistency I put myself out there, went to events I didn't want to go to and probably went through meeting 100 different kinds of people only to make one real friend. But for that 100:1 ratio it was worth it! Finding, making and maintaining friends requires effort - if you don't put the effort in it will be your loss.

And with the right friends and partner - you will find yourself opening up to them with great ease.
posted by sawako at 11:15 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mentally replay one of those incidents.

Do it slowly.

You'll probably notice that in the instances that you hesitated, you were making a series of images in your head, often of possible negative consequences.

Shrink the "negative" images; that is, focus on a given image and then *imagine it shrinking in size*.

Start substituting new, "positive" images into the image sequence; make these new images big and bright.

If there are negative thoughts-- "voices"-- follow the same principle: Turn down their volume, then substitute positive, encouraging voices.

Run this new sequence over and over again, faster and faster. Run the new sequence until it begins to feel natural. Run the new sequence in your head at every opportunity. Go hang out around women, and keep running the new sequence in your head. Run it before you talk with a woman, and even while you talk with a woman.

Basically, this is a mechanical problem; just change the mechanics of how you're internally reacting in the situation, and you'll start behaving differently, with better results.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:36 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel your pain. I have a hard time making close friends, and I have constant doubts about how much the friends I do have like me. I spent a long time feeling like I was Mr. Friendzone and then stayed in relationships long past the expiration date because I was afraid I'd never be able to get another girl.

But I learned how to manage this alienation in a sort of LifeHack-ish manner; I've learned how to handle this feeling more gracefully through lots of practice and observing exactly what it is that makes me uncomfortable. For example:

I get uncomfortable at parties where I don't know anyone besides the host. I figured out that I need to know at least 1/3rd of the people in a social group in order to feel comfortable with the situation. However, I no longer fear parties -- instead I show up early (e.g. when they're scheduled to start.) I know that this tags me as sort of a dork, but hey, someone's gotta be the first one there. Then, as people come in, I get to know each one of them in a comfortable setting where I've got a favorable ratio of new friends to strangers. I still have a lot of trouble at parties where I don't do this, but at least I can sometimes enjoy myself.

Dating is another area that I've had to develop a workflow through trial and error. I've written about this extensively before, so I won't repeat myself. But the reason I talk about it so often is not because I find dating easy; rather, I find it extremely difficult and this is the only way I can do it at all.

And I'd purge "friendzone" from your vocabulary; nice guy leads to pickup artist leads to men's rights activist and you really, really don't want to be that guy. I still struggle with this all the time, but both your social life and romantic life will become much, much easier once you think of "people you can date" as a subset of "people you can be friends with" instead of a separate group entirely. I have a fair amount of female friends; at some point I've made romantic overtures to pretty much all of them. Most of them turned me down; we got over it.

Other things that have helped me and might work for you:

Making a point of writing to distant friends every couple of weeks
Making art
MetaFilter Meetups
posted by modernserf at 11:42 AM on June 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

Maybe you should find yourself around more aggressive, dominant women...?
posted by mleigh at 1:59 PM on June 16, 2012

The thing about online dating is that your dates are presumably looking for dates, not friends. So there's no "friend zone"--either you two hit it off or not.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:29 PM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Even people who do take control and take action about these things aren't necessarily feeling any better about it than you are. I feel disproportionately pained by the million and one little rejections that happen every day, most of which are not intentional and/or not even rejections. I also think it's objectively true that most of my friends need me less than I need them. Suggesting meetups or things to do is always quite trepidatious for me, and I usually end up getting turned down or ignored, and I don't like it all that much. My gut always takes it personally, even though my mind knows it's only personal sometimes.

Yet despite that, I still seem to have a choice collection of the most awesomest nicest kindest bestest friends of anybody in the whole world. So I must be doing something right. I think it's partly the fact that I'm doing anything.

Also, I think most men these days expect the woman to make the first move. Or it could mean that I'm totally unattractive, since unlike most of the women on MeFi, I can go a whole year without ever getting hit on. See what I mean about how easy it is to build a case for why your situation is totally negative? I can prove I'm undesirable and nobody wants me! Or I could cut the prevarication and just go on a dating site. Hint: the guys I agree to meet are the ones who ask to meet me and then follow through. The guys I decline to meet - once I've screened out the Hell's Angels and the playerbots - are the ones who go overboard with exaggerated romanticism before they've actually met me, and the ones who stretch out conversations for centuries without ever actually making actual plans for an actual date. No kidding, it would not in fact be difficult for such as you to get a date with such as me. But you would have to ask.
posted by tel3path at 3:24 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: hey neilb449, I wish I could reach out and give you a hug. Last year, I met a guy who might have been you. We spent countless hours talking to each other but he never "made a move", he never even hugged me. I wondered for 18 months whether he's maybe asexual, or a closeted gay, or just too insecure to reach out and grab my hand, let alone hold me close and kiss me. And today, with a heavy heart because he's a real diamond in the rough, I am trying to look beyond him to find my happiness elsewhere..

As an aside, I'm also an introvert, and the only way to "break-through" is to embrace the adrenaline rush.
Explanation: Stepping outside your safe zone is basically an adrenaline rush. If you're not used to it, it's scary. Maybe try some sports that gives you the same rush so that your body/ brain gets used to the chemicals. Seriously. Also, have you tried one of those speed dating events? For you, the point isn't to date someone from that pool, but to be forced to introduce yourself every 3 minutes to a new girl. Everyone is pumped with their 3 minute elevator speech, everything goes by lightening fast and it's exhilarating.
Basically every time you want to reach out to someone, you should embrace that exhilarating feeling again.
Btw, because of the rush, rejection doesn't hurt unless you dwell on it. Under adrenaline, our brains anesthetize us to pain, even deathly physical pain, so verbal or social rejection is forgotten immediately. If you embrace that adrenaline sensation, you might even look forward to the next opportunity to feel it, and that'll get you on your way to courageously engaging yourself into more social circles.
posted by ruelle at 5:01 PM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Being passive when it comes to making plans is not the same thing as being passive romantically. You may hate planning dates and making the first move and be great boyfriend. They are completely different skill sets. You just need to meet more people.

There are a lot of potential women out there who, dating a man who didn't make the first move, would just make the first move.

I'll quote my fortune cookie from tonight: "Let your hook always be cast. In the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish."

More first dates! Try to see this as a good thing, because it won't last forever.
posted by kettleoffish at 9:05 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

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