Dating while socially awkward
July 10, 2013 8:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm no good at conversation. Should I bother with dating?

I am very quiet. When I am out with friends, they do most of the talking. This is not due to nervousness: though I do have social anxiety, it does not cause much of a problem when I'm with a small group of friends. Instead, it is simply due to not having anything to contribute to conversation. Because of this, I don't do well in one-on-one conversation.

Most of the time this isn't a problem. Though I'm probably not super interesting, I'm a nice person and my friends invite me to things. However, I've been thinking about dating, and then my quietness becomes a problem. There's nothing wrong with having a friend who doesn't talk much, but I don't think I would make a good boyfriend. It's no fun going on a date that's mostly awkward silence. And I'd feel weird asking someone out since I'm not very impressive or interesting.

I am looking into therapy for my social anxiety, but I don't think that will help me come up with things to add to conversation. If anything makes me better I think it will be time, but I'm tired of waiting. Is it worth trying to date now? If not, is there anything I can do to make this better? If so, is there anything I can do when asking someone out so I don't sound presumptuous?
posted by enigmatologist to Human Relations (26 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
You need to do a shared activity kind of date, which will naturally lead to conversations, rather than a having dinner and staring at each other trying to find things to talk about kind of date.

However, you probably won't get many dates when you're projecting so much negativity about yourself. Nobody wants to hear how terrible and boring and uninteresting you are.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:06 PM on July 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

One of my closest friends is married to a man who almost never talks. He's a perfectly nice guy, he has thoughtful things to say when he says them, but he's not a conversationalist. They are very happy and devoted, and as her friends, we all like and respect him. We crack the occasional joke about his non-talking ways, but those jokes are strictly from a place of affection -- it doesn't bother us that he's not a talker, and it clearly doesn't bother her or she wouldn't have recently married him after something like 10 years of them being a couple and him not talking much.

Not being a talker will make it difficult for you to start dating in some mainstream ways -- 'let's go get coffee and get to know each other' dates are likely to be hard. Chatting up girls in bars isn't likely to be your thing, either. Unless you're much better in txt/IM/email than in person, there's a good chance internet dating will not be your thing because of the get-to-know-you date.

But if you have hobbies and interests that involve being around other people while doing things, there's a good chance you will meet other people who also share those interests. And maybe one of them will be a talker who will appreciate silence to fill. Or maybe one of the will be a non-talker who will appreciate someone who can co-exist in companionable silence without having to natter on all the damned time.

The point is: there are people like you out there who have successfully dated and formed relationships. Your particular personality may make you a good match for a lower percentage of the population than someone chattier, but there are people out there who appreciate people like you, and for them, you're going to be part of the relatively small percentage of the population that they're into. It's just a matter of finding the right kinds of people and dating those people.

There's an old saying about how even if you're one a million, that means there's 6000 people just like you. With population growth, that's now 7000 people, so, hey, your chances are increasing.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:19 PM on July 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

I agree with Ghostride about activity dates where conversation will be a smaller piece of the pie and also be provoked more naturally. But also, what about the idea that dating will make you better at dating? You don't have to be successful on the first try, or on the forty-fifth. You've heard that line about there being plenty of fish in the sea; unless you live in a very small town there'll be plenty of girls/guys left to date after you mess up with the first dozen, so go practice on a few.

And yeah, therapy and a book about projecting confidence wouldn't be a bad investment. Lots of people aren't "super interesting"—like, no nuclear physics degrees, they've never been to Antarctica, etc—but I enjoy spending time with them nonetheless. People will enjoy spending time with you, too. I know this because it's statistically near-certain and also because you mention having friends.

Lastly? I didn't have your anxiety issues, but it still took me awhile to become a "good boyfriend." After a couple decades I've picked up a few tricks and I'd say I'm maybe 40 percent there. It's not easy and they don't teach us, although they do teach us algebra and that's far less useful. Stupid algebra.
posted by cribcage at 9:21 PM on July 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you don't date, how will you ever get practice with learning how to talk with people you're dating?

Your low self-esteem is crippling you. Don't let it -- fight those feelings of inadequacy and definitely seek therapy for your social anxiety.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:34 PM on July 10, 2013

My husband is usually the silent guy at the table in a group of friends.

But he and I talk all the time. Pretty much ever since I randomly joined him at lunch and he didn't try to get rid of me, we've been talking. Neither of us could have known. It just happened. So, data point for you.

(And yeah, stop looking into therapy and just give it a shot or three.)

Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 9:39 PM on July 10, 2013

Maybe you should date someone who loves to hear themselves talk, so you can just nod silently and they'll be, like, self-entertained. And you're lucky: the world is CRAMMED FULL of people like this. Most of them aren't a lot of fun, though.

But here's what I don't get. You say, "I'd feel weird asking someone out since I'm not very impressive or interesting." Wait, what? You know what else the world is filled with? Unimpressive and uninteresting people. And those unimpressive, uninteresting people are HOOKING UP RIGHT AND LEFT. They're having fun, making friends, falling in love. In ALL SORTS of unimpressive, uninteresting ways. So it isn't about not being impressive or interesting - it's about the way you've chosen to look at it.

You've basically given yourself an excuse to bail on the whole deal. You've made a trade-off. "OK, if I feel kinda bad about this all the time, I won't have to feel really bad like I would if I got rejected."

Which is technically true, but that's the worst kind of true. What it leaves out is the possibility of success. It leaves out the opportunity for joy. That sucks.

Good news is, it really is about the way you've chosen to look at it.

See, you can choose to look at it differently.

But lets talk about anxiety for a second. Anxiety is a physical thing, right? Heart hammering, breathing strained, chest tight, hands clammy, eyes dilated. Anxiety is a thing your body feels. But there's a flip side -- those physical manifestations of anxiety are very, very similar to the physical manifestations of EXHILARATION. Anxiety is like a negative thrill. It's all the sweat and palpitations and none of the fun.

But it doesn't have to be that way! You can transmute anxiety into exhilaration! You can train yourself to fool your own lying brain!

But it takes stepping out of your comfort zone. But that's ALL it takes, because once you are uncomfortable, you get anxious, and bam, there you are! Sit in that anxiety for a minute. What does it really feel like? What can you control, and what is involuntary? What are your hands doing? Your mouth? Your feet? Really sit and feel that anxiety. Don't feel it in your head, feel it in your body. It's almost like being on a roller coaster, isn't it? Or skydiving. Like leaning against the handrail at the scenic overlook.

It's almost.... exhilarating.

Now go find another boring, uninteresting, unimpressive person. And introduce yourself, and smile, and listen.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:51 PM on July 10, 2013 [33 favorites]

You are an introvert. Perhaps surprisingly, you can do well dating an extrovert. Extroverts love to talk. All you have to do is listen. Learn some active listening skills and you'll be fine. Extra bonus if you date an extrovert -- they can handle small talk at events or parties you go to. My girlfriend does this for me all the time. As for what you're providing an extrovert-- often two people with outgoing personalities can clash, which can be frustrating. Just being stable, there, and supportive can help people with extroverted tendencies feel balanced and secure.
posted by empath at 9:53 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with the advice to date an extrovert. As an introvert myself, I once thought that finding someone introverted like myself would be a good match. WRONG. It's just led to some excruciatingly awkward coffee dates, because neither the other person nor I were good at carrying the conversation. So definitely look for an extrovert, or at least, someone who's only partially introverted.
posted by dean_deen at 9:57 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have social anxiety and I am an introvert. I never dated, ever. Surprisingly, I did have boyfriends and I did get married! My family is still amazed by this.

I am sure you are interesting. I agree with others, find an group activity you like and go. Join a pizza tasting group, an old architecture tour group, ceramics studio, what ever you like. Don't just go once, keep going until people get to know you. Nothing bad will happen if you trip up and sound like a fool, HONEST, it is OK. Just keep plugging away.
posted by buzzieandzaza at 10:00 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are an introvert, if you want, you can meet and date other introverts, but maybe you need to explore some ground rules and expectations. A date in a coffee shop where you have to sit and look at each other amid caffeine-fuelled examples of 'normal' interaction, and then interact, is probably not a good date for two introverts. Maybe going to an art exhibition at a museum might be.

Though I'm probably not super interesting

I think you probably are.
posted by carter at 10:06 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

In "Over the Hedge," the persian cat falls madly in love with the lady skunk. He thinks she is gorgeous and he had no sense of smell, so he doesn't care that she stinks. Moral of the story: Every trait you have is a feature, not a bug, to somebody.

I am very chatty. I get a lot of flack from folks who wish I would shut up already. One of my favorite movie scenes is in "The Bourne Identity" when the girl apologizes for talking too much and Bourne tells her it was soothing, his headache was finally starting to go away, and please keep talking. In real life, I had a boyfriend at one time who, like you, was quiet and didn't say much. I was initially very uncomfortable because I felt I was dominating the conversation and not letting him get a word in edgewise. He told me he liked listening to me and that he was a good listener. And he really was. He would make brief remarks but it was clear he really listened and was engaged. He told me once that I did not talk more than other women. I adored him for saying that. We were together for several years and I was crazy about him. I eventually learned to accept that I did most of the talking and it really was okay.

Tldr: Some people will love you for being quiet. You just need to find those folks.


Also, seconding that dating per se isn't necessary. I am not a fan of dating and was married for 22 years.
posted by Michele in California at 10:08 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try some online dating. People with interesting profiles often have several things you'd be interested in learning more about, so you've got some conversation fodder before you even start, and once you've gone on a few dates with various people, you'll start to loosen up and hopefully start being able to enjoy them more as interesting activity, regardless of whether it might lead anywhere.
Once you're enjoying dating simply as a (usually) enjoyable way to spend part of an evening, then that simple fact renders moot a bunch of things you're worrying about.
posted by anonymisc at 11:58 PM on July 10, 2013

It sounds like your struggle isn't with being quiet, it's with poor self-esteem. That is something to work on if you'd like a good relationship.

Nonetheless, consider: The best conversationalists aren't people who talk about themselves - they're people who ask thoughtful questions and then listen. Just because you don't like talking about yourself doesn't mean you have to sit in awkward silence.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:43 AM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

This sounds like a self esteem issue to me as well...and I agree with Solon and Thanks that the best conversationalists aren't people who talk about themselves.

You should try online dating - go with okcupid or another free service and just give it a shot. It will give you practice at making conversation with new people in a relatively low stakes environment. If nothing else it's a good life skill, even if you end up finding that you prefer to meet people in other ways.
posted by fromageball at 5:18 AM on July 11, 2013

I mean this with all the love possible, since you are me/my people, but- be interesting! Go do something you normally don't do. walk in new parks. Go to museums. Take up new hobbies. Do more with people who like your hobbies. Volunteer. Succeed at some things, fail at others. Don't let anything stop you. You really don't have to be a rockstar or rocket surgeon to get dates :) And tons of ladies like quiet, smart guys.

Also, dating and conversation and dating-talk are skills you can learn like any other, just like in SKyrim :D Good luck! Don't Panic.
posted by Jacen at 6:48 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Work on your anxiety and self-esteem issues. Then take yourself on activity dates. Build houses with Habitat for Humanity, join a wine or beer tasting club, wherever your interests take you.

You'll find that people will be attracted to you for your quietness. Husbunny had social anxiety and people loved him anyway. As he got more comfortable with the group, folks found that he was a warm, funny guy and now they love him even more.

Every pot has its lid.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:54 AM on July 11, 2013

If no socially awkward people dated, none of us would be here! Even my most socially smooth friends have committed some fabulously embarrassing gaffes.

Just put yourself out there. Have fun with it. And pay attention to the little signals a lady will give to show she's interested. That's your "in." If you think she's neat too then it will find a way of working itself out, despite yourselves.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:02 AM on July 11, 2013

The thing that finally pushed me into therapy for my social anxiety was that I was in my thirties and Still couldn't date. There was always some good reason (I need to lose weight / get better at interacting with people / be interesting FIRST), but I couldn't get over them on my own.

Therapy helped me work on self-esteem, dysthymia (and here I thought it was "just" social anxiety), and dysfunctional thinking that was getting in the way. I'm still not a social butterfly, but I sure am happier in all my relationships, including my love life.

If you want to try dating before you see a therapist, go for it. Do activities, ask about the other person - stretch yourself. If you're like me, you'll get better at it with therapy.
posted by ldthomps at 7:12 AM on July 11, 2013

Go to some MeFi meetups if you can. It's usually a lively and really nice group of people, and you can practice talking and listening, also, you might meet person (people) to date. You probably have more going on than you realize, especially niceness, which is under-rated.

Assuming you want to date girls, some girls are more obvious, with makeup, flirting, talking, etc. Many of those girls are terrific, but there are also lots of girls who are quiet, maybe don't go out as much, or flirt, or have lots of confidence. Take the time to get to know lots of people, and ask people out, maybe for coffee, which is short, and low-risk, or to watch the game at the local bar, or to go on a hike or other activity. I think you'll find that there are people who would really like to get to know you better.
posted by theora55 at 7:28 AM on July 11, 2013

You're interesting and wealthy enough to have an account on Metafilter!
posted by oceanjesse at 8:41 AM on July 11, 2013

I am not a big talker. I am lousy at small talk. I clam up in social groups of, oh, 7 or more. I don't generally think my contributions to a conversation are terribly interesting, and so I don't make them. And yet somehow I have managed to go on dates and even gotten married (twice!).

Surely there are some people out there with whom you have found that conversations flow freely. You get together with that person and you can find interest in even the most mundane topic. Maybe there are not a lot of people like that, but they are out there, and there might even be a mutual attraction between some of them and you. You just need to get out there and meet them.
posted by adamrice at 9:11 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it's definitely worth trying to date. Personally, I strongly prefer to date people who don't talk very much - for me, people who talk a lot can be extremely tiring, so spending time with someone who doesn't talk much (and hence having dates that are largely silent) sounds like absolute bliss!
posted by RedRob at 9:57 AM on July 11, 2013

When you find the right person to date, the silence won't be awkward.
posted by hworth at 1:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Should I bother with dating?

If you want to, then of course!
posted by nicodine at 5:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all, I'd like to welcome you to the human race. Here's a secret most prefer not to admit: we're all weird. We're all awkward in our own ways. Some hide it better than others. I hope you can find a way to accept that your awkwardness is actually quite normal. I'd go so far as to say it's A-ok!

Secondly; I'll answer your basic question. "Should I bother with dating?" If you want to, the answer is most definitely YES!

Finally, I'll take a shot at helping you cope. You do so by figuring out what works for you and making a habit of it. You know what doesn't work: small talk. Great! Now, let's find a way for you to go on dates that aren't based on typical first date small talk. Online dating works great for finding dates, but in terms of meeting them, you need an activity. You need something to do other than sit there and say dumb shit like "What do you do for work?" which, by the way, is what too many people do. How about meeting for an evening of beer and board games at a pub? That has really worked for me in the past. I find that silly board games are best, and if you put your own spin on it, that's even better. I once spent a few hours playing an altered version of Connect Four with a woman once. So! Much! Silly! Fun! The game worked like this (in case you're curious): It was Connect Four, but we played by trying to connect five instead of four, and there were no edges. In other words, four that go to the left edge meet one on the right edge and you've got five. Somuchfunsomuchfunsomuchfun. Another one that really works for me is photography dates, where we meet and wander around town for a few hours, taking pictures of anything and everything. Even a smartphone is a good enough camera.. It's just for fun.

Figure out what works for you and then accept that part of the trick is to make a habit of it - meaning, don't expect your first activity date to be magic. You may have to try a few times, meeting different people, to get the hang of it. Believe me, I used to be terrible at dating. Now, I LOVE it! I just had to figure out what worked for me. And you just have to figure out what works for you.

Good luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 9:20 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, keep dating! Some of us are introverts looking for other introverts. I've actually always liked a quiet guy myself.
posted by i_love_squirrels at 12:01 PM on July 20, 2013

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