By Psychologist Paula Lorimer
Valentines Day is a celebration of love and relationships. For some people who are single or otherwise alone, Valentines Day can be a tough and lonely day. For shy or socially anxious individuals it can be a reminder of the difficulty of meeting people and dating.
Shyness is fear-based. It is an awkwardness and discomfort about meeting and talking to people as well as showing nervousness while doing so. It is a fear of being exposed and judged negatively. When we feel shy we tend to avoid social interactions because of these negative feelings. Shy people often report they are seen as aloof or a snob when really they want to connect with others but are overcome with anxiety and fear.
Dating requires facing these fears by putting yourself out there, meeting new people, navigating social rules, and ‘performing’ in some way. It’s like being on an interview and having to be clever, charming, and attractive in the opinion of someone else. There are risks involved: being rejected, judged or getting hurt, feeling vulnerable or exposed, and those dreaded awkward silences. For shy people these risks can be daunting and a deterrent to getting out there and dating.
In spite of these less desirable realities, it is important to know that there are also benefits of dating; getting to know yourself better, discovering new interests and activities, understanding what you want in a date/partner, facing your fears and overcoming obstacles, as well as meeting someone special and developing an important intimate relationship.
Here are some easy ways to reduce the risks and enjoy the benefits of dating:
Get out of your head
If you’re a shy person, you probably have a tendency to think, think, and over think in new social situations. Shift the focus to what is happening in the conversation now instead of worrying about how you look or sound and what you are going to say next. Pay attention to your date and not your performance. Take a deep breath and focus on listening rather than thinking.
Make small goals
Create small goals you can achieve on a date such as talking about what you do for work or your favorite activities and interests. Prepare yourself first with some things you’d like to know about your date as well as things you might like them to know about you. Focus on meeting these goals rather than all the possible unknowns of meeting someone new. You’ll feel more in control and more at ease.
Play to your strengths
Know yourself, your preferences, and what makes you more comfortable. If you know you don’t like parties or crowds, don’t have a date there. Instead check around your area for things you like to do and suggest them for a date, such as going for a coffee instead of dinner, a museum or art gallery instead of a bar or club, or a date during the day instead of night. Stack your dating deck for success.
Rat yourself out
At some point while dating you’re going to find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. You might feel on the spot, not know what to say next, causing a seemingly endless awkward silence, or struggle with small talk. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and admit what’s happening, ‘I can be shy sometimes and don’t always know what to say at first’ or ‘I find small talk hard sometimes, but I’d like to know more about what you do’. Showing a little vulnerability can also put your date at ease and break the ice making things more comfortable.
Dating can be fun and provide many benefits, even if you’re shy. Play to your strengths and stack the deck in your favor for a successful dating experience.