Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Single and Shy: How to Work With Your Shyness

A few days ago, a Singletude reader, bobbyboy, suggested that I blog about the plight of the shy single. I can only suppose he suggested this because he sees right through my timid writer's persona and knows that inside lies a poised, confident tigress of an extrovert trying to claw her way out.

{sigh}

The truth is that, along with at least 40% of the population, whenever I meet with new people or even people I don't know well, my heart stomps like a clog dancer, and my insides whirl around and do-si-do. As a writer, I have a job that allows me to work in privacy most of the time. But as a single woman, my shyness can be a hindrance. It hampers me from meeting new people and inhibits me from revealing my full-on humorous, fun-loving personality to those I do meet.

Research indicates that people who have social anxiety, debilitating shyness across social settings, are less likely to marry. While Singletude recognizes that some people prefer to remain single, a problem arises when singles want to date but can't due to a profound fear of social situations. The suffering of a shy single isn't confined to his or her love life, either. Shy people may have a hard time forming friendships and business connections, which are particularly essential for a single person, who otherwise runs the risk of becoming socially isolated. Less likely to succeed at work or school, shy singles seem to have the cards stacked against them.

What's worse, although shyness may be learned, there's substantial evidence that some people are born temperamentally shy, so it's not a trait you can just "grow out of" if you try hard enough. That's why this post isn't about how to overcome your shyness but how to work with it. Although shyness is still a daily reality for me, I'll share with you some of the methods I've adopted to make it my friend instead of my foe.

First of all, you have to accept that it's okay to be shy, just as it's okay to be single. Shyness is a normal, adaptive personality variation, just as singlehood is a normal, adaptive state. Because shy people are more cautious than most, their genes were naturally selected and survived. You don't have to push yourself to become temperamentally different than you are, a task which is no more achievable than becoming 6'3" if you're 5'1".

Second, you need to conform your environment to who you are, not conform yourself to it. On the job front, it's absolutely fine to pick a position that requires mostly solitary work. Despite all the dire warnings of social psychologists, shy people can find job satisfaction in more careers than ever before. The explosion of the tech industry has provided all kinds of jobs where a worker's closest colleague is his computer. Creative types like audio producers, copywriters, graphic designers, and the like also work mostly in solitude and are judged by the quality of their output, not their communicational skills. The same applies to scientific researchers and mathematicians. In an effort to be greener and more family friendly, many businesses now allow their employees to telecommute, as well, reducing the need for face-to-face contact. If yours doesn't, approach your employer about giving it a trial run. Alternately, consider self-employment. Running your own business can be immensely rewarding, both financially and emotionally. Independent contractors, web retailers, caterers, pet sitters...These are just a few of the pros who run their own show and do so with limited personal contact.

On the home front, it's perfectly okay to live alone in a cottage in the country if you wake up smiling and refreshed every morning. Many shy singles need a place to retreat and recharge so they're ready for another bout with the world. If this applies to you, make your home your sanctuary. It's worth it to live a little farther from your workplace if it means you can afford to live by yourself. When you get home, don't feel obligated to answer the phone. That's what voicemail is for. Don't spend all evening responding to email, either. Force other people to respect your boundaries by responding during work hours only.

On the social scene, most shy singles tend to cultivate a few good friends rather than a circle of party-hopping, club-going butterflies. It's okay to dislike large crowds and parties, and it's equally okay to decline invitations to group events. A false sense of obligation has pinned many a shy single to the wall of a nightclub, commiserating with the nearest potted plant. This doesn't have to be you. If you know that you've never enjoyed social functions in the past, quit telling yourself that maybe next time will be different. It won't.

Instead, explain your shyness to the friend who thinks she's done you a favor by rescuing you from solitude on a Saturday night. Communication is very important here because you want her to know unequivocally that you're not refusing her invitation because you don't like or want to spend time with her. Inform your friend that you're painfully shy in crowds, that it's something you've struggled with all your life and have come to accept as part of who you are. Follow that up by inviting your friend to hang out, just the two of you. If your friend values your company, he'll be happy to make yours a one-on-one friendship. If he fades away, then he wasn't worth having as a friend.

No matter what, it's imperative that you remember that your friendship style is as valid and worthwhile as that of any Mr. or Ms. Popularity. No one is capable of maintaining more than a handful of close friendships at a time, and people who flit from one party to the next are less likely to have time to develop the rich, deep relationships that you have.

But what about when you, as a shy single, want to find new friends or potential dates? It probably seems like you act out the same scene in a different setting every time. Whether it's the bar, the break room, the gym, or the book club, you go with the best intentions of yakking it up with like-minded people and return alone, without any phone numbers or email addys, after burying your nose in a beer or feigning interest in a bulletin board for an hour. How do you overcome this paralyzing shyness?

The answer is you don't. Again, you work with what you have.

When at a social event, chances are you'll know at least one or two other people in the group. Try to sit near them and ask them to introduce you to other people so that you'll have an entree to conversation without having to think up lines about the weather. Hone in ASAP on what you have in common with whoever you've been introduced to--maybe you're both new in town, work in the same industry, or recently traveled to the same country--and center your conversation around that. It's easier to keep the conversation going if you know what you're talking about. If you find that you don't have anything to talk about, instead of hemming and hawing in a desperate attempt to revive a dying conversation, just excuse yourself and move on.

If you're going to a party or other function and know already that you'll be in a roomful of strangers, invite a friend to accompany you. Sometimes, all you need to boost your confidence is the knowledge that you have a safety net. You and your friend can work the room together, picking up the slack for each other in flailing conversations and providing solace for each other if either of you gets overwhelmed.

If you can't bring a friend, seek out others who are attending alone, especially those who are obviously ill at ease. Chances are they'll be especially grateful that you approached them and relieved them from the company of the potted plant. Plus, fellow introverts can make the best friends and lovers because they understand another shy single intrinsically. They won't throw earthshaking parties and insist that you be the guest of honor, they'll murmur in sympathy when you bemoan the speech you have to give tomorrow, they'll share their own tips and tricks for dealing with social anxiety, and most importantly, they'll be glad to give you lots of one-on-one time and plenty of downtime to yourself because they need the same to maintain their sanity.

Finally, don't overlook the Internet as a haven for shy singles. Today, there are whole web sites devoted to the socially anxious. Even those that attract a more general audience allow shy singles to fulfill some of their social needs without face-to-face (FTF) contact as well as to get to know potential FTF friends or romantic interests in a comfortable, nonthreatening environment. Since many shy singles are verbally oriented but can't display this talent under the pressure of an FTF introduction, they're thrilled to discover that the web is a more natural forum for them to shine. Most of all, shy singles have an advantage on the Internet because they can build relationships slowly in a virtual setting and delay FTF contact until they feel relaxed with their new friend or date, so they never have to wade through that awkward stage that turns off so many of their potential friends and lovers.

In the end, there will be some single introverts who will either refuse to embrace their shyness or will be so crippled by social anxiety that even the above tips aren't viable. In those cases, Singletude advises seeking a professional therapist who is experienced in treating social phobia. There are cognitive-behavioral techniques that can help painfully shy people work through their inhibitions as well as prescription medications that can alleviate some of the stress of social interaction.


Are you a shy single? If so, how does your shyness affect your life? What steps have you taken to either work with or combat your shyness?


Fun Link of the Day

7 comments:

bobbyboy said...

Elsie, thanks for writing about this subject, I think it's a biggie for many singles out there.

"I can only suppose he suggested this because he sees right through my timid writer's persona and knows that inside lies a poised, confident tigress of an extrovert trying to claw her way out."

hahaha not quite. Although I do see a bit of a confident tigress. I just think that shyness is such a stumbling block for many more singles than need be. It may possibly be the biggest hurdle to overcome and the more advice on the topic, the better.

"This evidence suggests, of course, that people are born with SAD, which indicates that there are biological factors that contribute to its development, not simply environmental factors."

This partial quote from one of your links is stunning! I had never realized the possibility that shyness could be genetic. Another day, another thing learned for me.

I think that in this day and age most people have some type of social anxiety disorder, unfortunately. But, I see that there are some good tools to deal with this out there!

There are many times where I am an extrovert and the life of the party, loving to make people laugh and have a good time. That doesn't mean I am all that comfortable giving speeches in front of large crowds, no thanks, I'll leave that to the real comedians.

Also, as my philosophy is "Friends first" when it comes to the ladies, I don't normally have anxiety about approaching ladies in a romantic way because, well, I don't do it. But, I read this blog as if I wanted to approach a lady and found some good advice.

I found that ladies on average say to just be polite and offer to buy them a drink for instance, and more importantly, be yourself and keep it simple. In your blog previously, you reinforced this truth as well.

I didn't know that there even was dating sites for shy people (Goes to show my web surfing experience).

I think this blog, as well as your others, will be very helpful for those that choose to read it. Thank you very much Elsie for taking the time to share this with us as I know you are a busy lady.

p.s. I can see why people pay you to write for them!

Victoria Gothic said...

Yeah, this defiantly has some application to me. Now then, this is where I become somewhat paradoxical; while I am never ill at ease with my friends and have done quite outlandish things in their company, I usually don’t like approaching new people. To continue the paradox, I have a fascination with people I don’t know. I find them really interesting, mostly because I find it so amazing to contemplate what they think of things. Well, despite this fascination, I usually don’t approach folk upon a random basis.

Now then, as I’m reading this, I’m beginning to unconsciously think of when I am and am not shy around others, and it clicked into place when I read “shy singles seem to have the cards stacked against them.” Dear me, what are the odds? (Double entendre, AP Lit is really getting to me). I feel most at ease when I’m staring across the table with the chips in hand, although it is common for me to feel a blood rush when someone is following all of my raises and I’m sitting on a straight, but that’s to be expected, right? So, as I see it, when I’m playing poker, it’s all about controlling how you feel, or appear to feel. Sometimes, when I see shy people they act in a manner that almost deters interference. They seem to be shunning everything around them, even though that’s obviously not the case, but I can’t help feeling that they really just want me to go away. Sometimes I’ve lived through such situations by appearing to be at complete ease, which makes you much more approachable; because of this, someone will step over and start up a conversation, thus saving you from maintaining your poker face. (Extended metaphor- Thanks AP Lit). As I see it, if you don’t appear shy, you will fit in with the group easier, thus alleviating the feeling of shyness. In all reality though, that’s too deep for me to contemplate so I’ll just stick to poker.

Now, I just have to clarify, this is my additional take on the subject. I want to add that I completely agree with Elsie’s conclusions upon this topic- my poker diversion is just a bit of how I see the situation.

Also, neat new picture, but I do kind of prefer the picture of you- this need not be taken as a demand at most nor a request at least, merely a statement.

Clever Elsie said...

I'm really glad this latest post was useful to you and thanks for the compliments. :)

I had never realized the possibility that shyness could be genetic.

According to the research, 10-25% of the population is shy by nature. The remaining 15-30% of self-identified shy folks were supposedly conditioned to become that way by negative social experiences.

I think that in this day and age most people have some type of social anxiety disorder, unfortunately.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that most people have clinical SAD, but I understand that it's the third most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorder, and the percentage of people who consider themselves shy has increased from 40% to 50% since the rise of the Internet.

There are many times where I am an extrovert and the life of the party, loving to make people laugh and have a good time. That doesn't mean I am all that comfortable giving speeches

A lot of social anxiety is situational. That's what separates people who truly have social phobia and are anxious in all social situations from those of us who are just socially inhibited. Like you, when I'm with friends, I can be quite vivacious, but I still clam up when in front of a large crowd with all eyes trained on me. In addition, I find myself nervous anytime I have to interact with strangers, though I usually cover for it pretty well.

ladies on average say to just be polite and offer to buy them a drink

As a woman, I couldn't agree more. This is definitely the right approach in my book!

Clever Elsie said...

Bobby: My response above was for you. Sorry that I neglected to label it!

Victoria: Sometimes I’ve lived through such situations by appearing to be at complete ease, which makes you much more approachable; because of this, someone will step over and start up a conversation, thus saving you from maintaining your poker face...As I see it, if you don’t appear shy, you will fit in with the group easier, thus alleviating the feeling of shyness.

This is all quite true. According to research, almost half the U.S. population is shy, but since the stammering, quaking introvert is relatively rare, we can assume that most of these people are masking their anxiety, as you've learned to do yourself. Some folks, of course, are never really able to master a calm facade, so they have to resort to other strategies.

bobbyboy said...

"Bobby: My response above was for you. Sorry that I neglected to label it!"

Hey, no worries, I kind of figured that one out ;)

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that most people have clinical SAD"

Yeah, maybe I should have said that in my experience, it just seemed that way.

Melanie Martin said...

Oftentimes generalized fear will turn into a full on social phobia which is a much more severe form of the condition that has now become a psychiatric disorder. The signs here in addition to the extreme self consciousness are severe fear and anxiety to go with it. http://www.xanax-effects.com/

Clever Elsie said...

Melanie: I had my doubts about publishing your comment because it seems to me that you might be hawking Xanax, but since you raised a valid point, I figured I'd post it anyway. My apologies if that wasn't your sole purpose here and if you're actually interested in the issue at hand.

Sometimes extreme shyness is indeed Social Phobia or part of another disorder. My post was angled more toward people who are naturally introverted rather than true social phobics, but if your shyness is causing you extreme discomfort and interfering with your life, you shouldn't be afraid to seek professional help.

On the other hand, I think we Americans are a bit overmedicated. Ever since the pharamaceutical giants started marketing directly to the consumer, more and more people have adopted a quick fix mentality toward psychotropic drugs. It's like they want to do a medical hit and run--go see the doc, grab the Rx, and pretend everything is fine and dandy till the meds run out. But unless someone has a chronic chemical imbalance, as with Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, the meds can become a crutch and an easy out from the more emotionally difficult work of psychotherapy.

I hope anyone considering meds will thoroughly discuss all the alternatives with a doctor as well as the side effects and interactions so that you can make an educated decision. While meds can help someone over the hurdles of life, long-term usage doesn't need to be the goal for everyone.