Your palms are sweaty. Your breath is shallow. Your heart is racing. It took you hours to decide what to wear and you were so preoccupied by agitation that you nearly got lost on the way to your destination. Does this sound like you? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Nerves and feelings of shyness in unfamiliar social situations are entirely normal and to be expected, but when these feelings lead you to cancel dates or to decline to meet a potential love interest, they can lead to lost opportunity. After losing one too many chances with someone, you might start thinking that you need to ‘fix’ your shyness. So how do you combat this without becoming a different person?
Introversion vs extroversion
Loners, wallflowers and introverts; there’s plenty of names you can give to someone who is the quiet and retiring type and most of them are derisive. Being introverted rather than extroverted – that is, being the kind of person who likes alone time and is often drained by too much time spent in social situations – is often thought of as an undesirable trait, no matter how many articles suggest that the reign of the extrovert is over and that being an introvert is ‘hip’.
The Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University has found that people are not really born shy, but approximately 15 to 20 percent of us are born with an “inhibited temperament” which means they exhibit excessive physiological and behavioural reactions to environmental stimulation. Basically, people born this way are more likely to have difficulty in social situations, and these people are just not as likely to easily put themselves ‘out there’. It follows that feeling shy in social situations is something that can make life tough, and it can ultimately lead to lost opportunities.
Hate Social Interactions? Try Honesty.
One of the hardest things to do when you’re shy is to engage in small talk. Small talk is unappealing to anyone not predisposed to fill silences with chatter, but it is a useful tool when you’re meeting someone new and it’s too soon for deep and meaningful conversation. But how do you ‘do’ small talk when you hate it? Remember that conversations aren’t necessarily all about revealing things about yourself before you’re comfortable doing so. Good conversations aren’t dominated by one person either, so you shouldn’t feel pressured to drive a conversation all by yourself. Ask a question you genuinely want to know the answer to, and see where that leads you. A good conversationalist often asks questions until they find safe ground – they don’t just focus on themselves and their own interests. Stay on a two-way street.
Another tactic for when you are trying to engage with someone socially is to start by acknowledging your shyness. You could try saying something like “I always find it difficult to chat with someone new – I’m pretty quiet and prefer to be buried in a book (or gaming, practicing yoga, playing the guitar, watching television… whatever you like doing).” This kind of statement can open a conversation about whether or not your date feels similarly, what they’ve been reading or watching lately, or what they like to do when they’re alone. If you stay honest and you’re not trying to be something you’re not, you won’t feel like you’re trying on a mask that is uncomfortable for you.
But what if I get rejected?
If you put yourself out there, there’s always a possibility you will be rejected, and yes, that can be a terrifying prospect. Let’s face it: a lot of those feelings of shyness are born from a lack of confidence and/or a shaky sense of self. You shouldn’t feel too bad about it though, because everyone has a hard time feeling good about themselves from time to time. As long as you’re not feeling acute anxiety which is preventing you from living a happy life (in which case you should see a professional), you will continue to feel better if you confront those feelings of shyness by getting yourself out there and being brave enough to risk rejection.
The important thing to remember when you’re feeling shy about meeting someone new is that when someone rejects you on the first or second date, it is a circumstance of incompatibility. That incompatibility doesn’t make the rejecter better than you; it makes them wrong for you. The instinct is to pick apart everything you did and said to find where you went wrong, but if someone found your shy nature repellent, it’s not a matter of you changing; it’s about you finding a better fit.
We’re all flawed
You know that clichéd advice that people trot out when someone is shy about public speaking, the one about picturing the audience in their underwear? It’s so worn out it’s really lost its impact, but the point of the cliché is that when you’re nervous, you have to do something that will help you remember that we’re all faulted humans. Shyness is often felt when you don’t feel equal to those around you, and concentrating on those feelings should be avoided. Everyone is a bundle of idiosyncrasies and faults and quirks, and it’s not about changing these or hiding them, it’s about finding someone who can work with them. And that’s your real job.