2 Shy 2 Try
Recently, after a blissful day of bike riding and shopping, I decided to drop in to a favourite local hangout for a late-afternoon beer. As I sat watching passersby on the sidewalk and listening to the din of conversation, a guy came in and sat down not too far from my perch. He was a regular and I’d met him once or twice over the years. After a quiet ‘hi’ to me as he walked by, he tucked himself into the corner seat by the bar and proceeded to take out his laptop.
As I was finishing my beer, the owner of the place popped by, offered me another beer and said, “Hey Andrew, can I ask you a favour?” I told him yes with a laugh and on he went. “See Joe (not his real name) sitting over there. He asked me to ask you to talk to him about ways to meet men.” I was a little taken aback as I have never thought of myself as being the arbiter of dating and certainly didn’t see myself as a pickup artist. But what the heck, I was game.
Turns out Joe is a very shy guy and has real problems initiating conversations with men. Now, Joe is no spring chicken. I pegged him at being in his early 40s. Whatever, I figured everyone is on a different schedule when it comes to their social butterfly emerging from the cocoon. I waited for Joe to initiate conversation each time he walked past me, as I didn’t want to jump on him, but nothing happened.
Even though he wanted to talk with me, he was too shy to bring himself to do it.
I asked the owner of the place if I was supposed to start the ball rolling and he said yes. Ok, this was going to be a bit of a challenge. The target of the tutorial was actively avoiding me, this after asking to speak to me about meeting people. Ironic. Eventually, the owner took the bull by the horns and stated a discussion that engaged both Joe and I about dating. Joe barely looked up from his computer during our short chat and finally I smiled and went back to people watching. I tried. The owner tried. Poor Joe lost his nerve.
I thought about what had happened and realized this was a man with extreme social phobia. Even though he wanted to talk with me, he was too shy to bring himself to do it. As I watched him sitting, immersed in his computer ablutions, my heart went out to him. He probably spends much of his time hiding because he is afraid of rejection. Therefore, he rejects first—despite wanting to connect.
We spend so much of our time projecting our insecurities onto others that we effectively block connections before they even begin. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I have had many experiences where I look at someone and start comparing myself to them. I size them up and then start listing all of my insecurities in my head, counting all of the reasons they won’t have anything to do with me. It’s a psychological tango that I dance inside while calmly smiling on the outside.
Social phobia is very common and affects people to varying degrees.
As it happens, these projections have been off base much of the time. I have actually become friends with some of the people I was initially so intimidated by and discovered they thought I was really interesting and fun. Who knew? Had I let my assumptions, projections and insecurities rule me, not only would I have not made a new friend, I would have validated my own self-created low self-esteem.
Social phobia is very common and affects people to varying degrees. Some are crippled by their phobias while most of us are simply tripped up by them. To the contrary of what many people who know and meet me might think, I am not a natural extrovert. I am actually shy by nature. However, I have learned over the years that I have to push through my own fears and extend my hand first. While not always easy, it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding than sitting in the corner watching the world pass me by.
photo credit: Jess Pac
Tags: Andrew Vail
, social phobia