It wasn’t until I read the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain that I realized I’d been lied to for my entire life. I wasn’t shy. I was introverted. The biggest difference for me was that I had no problem with who I was and showing who I was, I would just have rather not been put into positions where I had to. Seriously, though. Me, shy?
Even without being shy, introversion can make dating hard. I’m the one at the party pretending the bean dip is really interesting or having conversations with the cat, maybe gently swaying from side to side in a small group of people I already know really well, hoping I don’t have to introduce myself to anyone. I have also, somewhere in my lifespan, perfected the bitch face. That gentle way your lips and eyes rest that tells the world “I hate you, fuck off and die.”
The problem with this is that I also have a small extrovert hiding somewhere inside of me that occasionally whispers “Now Lo, don’t you recognize how wonderful humanity is? All these people! They’re all different! Unique in their own special ways! Don’t you want to know what they can bring to your life?” So I’ve had to learn subtle techniques that convey “I’m really excited to be here and I like you as a person” when really I might be thinking “when this is over I’m going to see what I’ve missed on the news and eat a bowl of cereal.”
It’s not that I don’t get any pleasure out of social interaction, but, well, this quote sums it up pretty nicely.
“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”
How do you convey “I’m interested in you” if you’ve got the social skills but are lacking in the energy? Like the quote above says, most of my energy goes towards people I already have in my life. People I’m already friends with. When there’s room left after all that, I try to keep the momentum going by making dates or spending time with people I don’t know as well. Without further ado,
Here are some things that have helped me.
1. Don’t put yourself down
Part of it for me is believing that I’m interesting and worth getting to know. I often times forget what it is about me that people might find interesting. I don’t want to go on and on about myself. I’d rather listen to other people talk about themselves and reflect on that. It’s helpful to remind myself that people would like to hear me talk a little bit about myself sometimes. An easy way to do this is by expanding something short and simple into a personal narrative. If your date asks you “Where are you from?” – for instance – don’t respond with “Portland” and then look shyly into your margarita. Where the fuck are you from? How did you get here? Make it a story. I assume that the people in my life who like me already don’t require this kind of story telling (also false, alas) but it can be exceptionally helpful with new people who you are trying to click with. Take those bits and pieces of yourself that you are accustomed to and make them shiny and new, present them outwards.
2. Remember your body language
A year or so ago I took a course on non-verbal communication. In the course we learned all kinds of things about how what we don’t say is still involved in communication. From things as obvious as what we wear, to things as small and difficult to control as eye movements or the crinkles in our brow. I try to be present and aware (and control the bitch face) by looking people in the eye, smiling, nodding, and positioning my body to face towards the people talking to me. Sometimes that can be incredibly difficult all on its own. Other things that are helpful: asking questions about what people say to show engagement, gesticulating when you talk, touching someone if it is appropriate (like a hand on the shoulder), and leaning in to whisper something quietly. Even if you are a listener, you can easily make it seem like you are more actively involved in the conversation by how you position yourself and how engaged you are.
3. If you don’t have anything to say, it might be a sign
Sometimes you are with someone and it feels absolutely natural, as if you’ve known each other forever. Here’s my final pointer and my small confession. I usually know if I’m going to like someone within the first few minutes of getting to know them. It is the combination of how real to themselves they seem and that body language that they put off. Some people you click with instantly and your conversation flows. You can finish each other’s sentences, you have the same sense of humor, you get one another. Sometimes chemistry is instantly there – no need for further developments. Other times you chat and you find you have many things in common but you know that you would not enjoy them as a romantic or sexual partner. Sometimes you’re not sure – and you give it a second shot. Even as an introvert I know that sometimes not knowing what to say or feeling uncomfortable in a certain social situation doesn’t mean it’s me. Sometimes its a sign that you and that person just don’t get along. These situations can be even more painful, but even more useful as well.
Because, well, what do you talk to someone about if you don’t know what to talk to them about? There’s the challenge.
Really it truly is all about looking at each person as unique and special and wanting to understand what makes that person tick. Whether or not you go out on a date and find chemistry, I think it’s possible to find each person interesting for themselves and what makes them them. Handling dates in this way can help take the pressure off. Go, have fun, talk, listen, open up, let them open up, and see where it takes you.