I am shy

In many contexts, folks may not know that, or hardly know it at all. But many that know me rather to quite a bit better, do rather to quite know it. Debilitating? No, not that bad. Gets in the way? Oh yes, that, definitely, though sometimes too, though definitely not enough, I manage to work rather effectively around it – but that does not mean it goes away.

Degree of shy? Is it social anxiety disorder or anything like that? No, nothing that extreme – I fall quite substantially short of meeting criteria for social anxiety disorder or the like. But shy, definitely.

Flavors of shy? In reading a bit, I find there’s all kinds of shyness – and also quite a range of degrees. Well, fortunately, at least I don’t have “all kinds of shyness”, but definitely shy – in at least in some commonly encountered contexts. So, flavor(s) of shyness I have …

One-on-one with “perfect stranger”. Most notably, there’s the with, around, and interacting with strangers. We’ll start with the one-on-one bits – and regardless if there are other people around or not (though more around generally makes it worse for me – especially if they’re generally talking/engaged). Some very typical examples: Managing to start or strike up a conversation with a stranger. I do particularly poorly at that. Most anyone I might rather to at all otherwise be inclined to start or strike up a conversation with – or generally even attempt that, probably roughly 85 to 95% or so of the time, I typically just don’t – notably don’t manage to even say “Hi” or some opener that may potentially be at least somewhat more engaging. Even if I do manage to say or ask them something – or they say or ask me something, much as I might wish and be inclined to start up a conversation, I often falter quickly, if not immediately, after either manages to make that initial opener. Rather than start and build the exchange, I often am far too shy / self-conscious … not at all sure what to say next or how to build the exchange, or rather quite do that by “instinct” or “natural reaction” – and really often before I even so much as have time to think about it at all. Often my initial reaction, especially caught off-guard, is a highly quiet, short, shy response. E.g. them: “I like your shirt!”, me, and probably much more quietly than their remark: “Thanks”. Them: “Good morning, how are you?” Me, a reactive and quieter:, “Fine, thanks”, or if I’m particularly “brave” [ha] that moment, it might be more like a muttered: “Okay.” or “Pretty good, thanks.”. If I manage to muster up a reasonable opener, e.g. she looking nice but maybe a bit down (like bit of hard day), a sincerely asked, “How’s the world treating you?”, she: “Oh …” – and she goes on to actually give me like a whole sentence or two or three actually telling me how she’s feeling or what’s going on. Me: [great big long pause, not knowing what to say or how to say it or not being confident to say/react as I think I ought to, … or I say something quite short and quiet/shy that much more tends to squelch the conversation, than open/build/deepen it]. So, yeah, I typically have helluva time getting the conversation going – regardless of who actually says something first. Not impossible to get past that, … but very difficult for me. So, yep, hardest bits – those first few minutes of conversation – get/have it going, keep it going/flowing. Doesn’t mean it can’t have some pauses and silences in there … but too long, and those become quite awkward and tend to quite shut things down. Other random examples: restaurant or wait person messes something up – most of the time I say absolutely nothing about it – okay, serve me a lemonade with a bunch of moldy lemons in it, I’m gonna say something – but off the top of my head, that’s last time I recall complaining on the spot to restaurant or its staff about something they screwed up. Most of the time I’ll manage to say precisely nothing, and just reflect it in how I calculate tip – likewise if they do something rather to quite or exceedingly well. I’m much more likely to fill out and send in a “comment card”, than tell anyone at the restaurant at the time … I might even fill one of those out if I just generally like the restaurant and/or want to see them do well (or better). And probably a good/smart thing that many restaurants have those cards. After all, roughly 50% of the population is shy – to one degree or another and/or in some or various ways (and many of them are also restaurant customers). And if wait person asks me (as they generally do) “How is everything?” or the like? Oh, sure, I respond, but it’s typically going to be something in the range of “Good”, “Fine”, or perhaps “Very good” or “Excellent” – but if something is wrong or not quite right, will I point it out or express my disappointment (other than in the tip)? No, not generally. Another example, (female, not that that particularly mattered) cashier, presumably accidentally, short changed me ten dollars. Did I say anything? Nope. Sure should have, but I just let it slide (yup, me, quite shy, also pretty non-confrontational). Should’a called it on the spot – but didn’t – and too late after that, so I just let it go. But if a merchant accidentally gives me too much change? Yes, I tell them and give it back – somehow I manage to muster the courage to do that – or perhaps more so the ethics that particularly compels me in that case … ought to likewise with restaurant service, etc., but usually doesn’t.

Shy babbler? More rarely I might babble over someone – but that typically only happens in relatively atypical situations – e.g. we’re in situation to interact for a fair while … meet up for a while, walking somewhere together, whatever – and (typically) she (other person, in any case) is being even much quieter (more shy or introverted or whatever) than me … well, … then sometimes I will move into (if I didn’t otherwise already start there) talking too much – filling in most any awkward silences that might otherwise be there … and … well, just keep going – that’s also very much not a good thing … though that’s a considerably rarer occurrence for me.

“Crowd” of strangers. “Crowd” can be relative – might only be 4 or 5 people total or so, or some larger group (party/group of 20 or more or whatever). I generally do rather to quite poorly with that – at least in general. Whole lot of different ways it “just doesn’t work” for me. Let’s start with the easiest. Quite small crowd – like 6 or less people – or maybe quite a bit more, but much more spaced out, and zero to negligible “pressure” or expectation to be particularly interactive. Well, that isn’t really any more difficult for me than the basic one-on-one with a stranger, … which, … well, is, unfortunately, quite difficult for me. From there, it only gets worse. Let’s say there’s situation to be quite interactive, with a bunch of people, in succession, in the “crowd” – even if it’s not all that huge or big of a crowd. Well, that can go highly badly for me – e.g. might manage to “force” myself through it more-or-less okay, but feel very uncomfortable through it, like cr*p afterwords, and though I might think I’d recovered some hours later, … no, takes days or more. Well, most “crowd” situations, fortunately, aren’t (nearly) that bad for me. Okay, maybe I don’t manage to even interact as “well”, or more or more effectively than that (relative) “disaster”, but at least most of the time I’m not (nearly) as devastated and wiped as that event did to me. But effective? Even for a group of not-exactly “strangers”? Example, a social gathering of smallish bunch of coworkers – about half a dozen. A semi-regular occurrence. So, a lot of talking/interacting going on. I manage to actually say something. Reaction of one coworker? She: “[my last name], he speaks!” – making light of how quiet I typically am in such situation, and how rarely I speak at all. Not exactly never, but with incessant rolling conversation in small group like that, most of the time I’m quite unlikely to break into the conversation. Sure, sometimes, … but not most of the time. Anyway, crowd, crowd of strangers, … I don’t do so well with that. If I know them all fairly to rather well, sure, I speak a bit more – but not much (e.g. the aforementioned coworker gathering). And if I don’t know them at all? Depends on the scenario, but most of the time I’ll typically be saying little to nothing. Maybe some small-talk, but typically not much more. Hmmm, I can even feel myself tense up a wee bit as I think about it. I guess too, part of it, is I’m much more interested – almost all the time – in having some one-on-one conversation, and not this “group interaction” thing. So, I guess also I mostly, at least typically, feel much more self-conscious having 3 or a half dozen or whatever number, of people listening to me, rather than just one. Not that one is exactly easy for me, but generally it’s significantly easier. I guess too, my perception in other scenarios – e.g. random folks out in public, at some event, on some commuter train – the more I think/feel folks can listen in or overhear (e.g. more closely/tightly packed together), generally the less inclined I am to say anything, let alone anything that might be more “conversational” in nature.

Public performance anxiety? Oh, I typically do fairly well on that. Wasn’t always so much the case. Practice does certainly help … probably “easing into it” also helps – though not 100% sure on that one. I can give, e.g., a technical talk/presentation to 20 to 50 people or so, no problem. Fairly likely I could handle lots more, … with some practice, at least. E.g. I’ve talked on radio – call-in talk show … where I was calling in, … live listening audience around 10,000 or so people. First time I did it, sure, quite tense and nervous – could definitely feel it in the strain in my vocal cords, among other things. Third or fourth time? No big deal at all. Unfortunately most all those other areas where I’m shy, I’ve not been able to make nearly as much progress, … nor nearly as fast.

Other random shyness. Not sure exactly what “category” this one might fit in, but definitely noticed this one recently. So, on my OkCupid profile – I used to have link directly to my blog here. And, I’ve got lots of rather private/personal stuff regarding myself on this blog. So, … I remove that bit from the profile, and in the section:
“The most private thing I’m willing to admit”
I completely replaced the text in that section with just:
“I have a blog of much that’s personal and private to me.
Just ask if you’d like me to share that with you.”
and, “oddly”, I feel nervous/shy putting that there – as opposed to / compared to, earlier putting direct link to blog in even more prominent place on my OkCupid profile, and not feeling shy/nervous about putting or having that there, leaving it there, making note of or reference to it, or noting about it “much that’s personal and private to me” or the like. So, yep, shy. And why over something like that? Because someone might actually ask me! … as opposed to them not even so much as having need or reason to so much as ask. But, really, geez, isn’t that the point! I should get folks to ask and want to interact with me, etc.

Do they know I’m shy? Many/most don’t. E.g. well into an initial “date” meeting, I manage to mention that I’m pretty shy. She: “You don’t seem shy.”. Some would even be like, “You? You’re not shy.” – ah, little do they know. Those that know me better know I’m shy – but many/most don’t know me that well. Nervousness, “fear”, anxiety – whether there’s a lot of that, or only more modest amounts, that, from shyness, is often used to mask the shyness – essentially externally covering it up or masking it over – or overcompensating so it’s not particularly apparent. There’s relatively extreme example of that for me when I tried speed dating (ugh). But a lot of evidence is readily apparent – at least for those who manage to notice or catch it. E.g. semi-regular event I somewhat commonly attend, dining, tables of about 6 to 10 people, maybe typically about half of which I kind’a know, and half of which I’ve never met before, or maybe only met once or twice before, and typically not recently. So, N people around the table. Do I contribute to 1/Nth of the conversation? Nowhere close to that. More like 1/4 of 1/Nth of the conversation, or less. Sometimes (not too uncommonly) at or very close to zero – and even with me being a rather prominent member of these particular gatherings. In relationships? Oh, for any rather to quite good and long(er) term relationships, they quite knew it. I wasn’t shy with/around them, … after I got to know them rather to quite well. But that didn’t make other shyness go away – and most of them knew and understood that quite well (only exception I can think of is one relationship that was quite not good – certainly was not good for me, anyway).

Is there hope / there is hope? Well, first of all, thankfully, I don’t have social anxiety disorder and/or a whole bunch of other kinds/flavors of shyness, or have shyness worse than I’ve got it as it is. Shyness? Curable? Not really, but work-around-able? Yes, at least generally much more likely that. At least in my bits of reading and research (I’m far from anywhere near an expert on it), shyness isn’t exactly the kind of thing one “cures”. There are, among other things, biological factors that at least contribute heavily – yup, down to the genes and genetics. Environment certainly does make a difference too, so it’s not like there’s a “known 100% shy gene” or combination thereof, but there definitely are markers and rather to quite strong correlations. Regardless, even if it’s not “curable”, much of it can be rather to quite effectively worked around. And that can be more-or-less “good enough” – at least for many/most cases. And, … toward that end, how have I been doing on that? Eh, so-so, … made some decent, but slow progress over several weeks of trying … e.g. probably about doubled or tripled the conversations I’d open with “prefect strangers” (and especially any women). I’d managed to get that from, oh, maybe roughly about one such conversation or attempt (where I at least managed to say something) maybe about per week or so, up to maybe about 5 or so such starts of conversation per week. That’s still dang little, but nevertheless a very significant percentage increase. And managed to have all – or at least most all – of them, go “well enough”, it certainly wasn’t all that bad. Still not doing well at getting past the initial bits even when I manage that start, but, well, … one more thing to work and practice on – at least when I manage to start, anyway. So, … that was going fairly well, … at least some measurable progress. Then, well, … ugh, one event happened … that probably set me back a few weeks or so … but hopefully that’s “only for a while”, and I get that reasonably moving forward again. And on the relationship/friends/etc. front? Sure, not getting those initial conversations going sucks – probably a whole lot of missed opportunities there. But, … at least once I make it fairly well past those first several minutes or so, I generally do rather to quite well. Probably the first 30 seconds to minute being the hardest. Make it reasonably past 2 to 10 minutes, fairly likely I’m in reasonably good shape. Make it well past 20 or 30 minutes, I’ll probably do and keep doing fine with that person. Might have a bit of awkwardness/shyness next time I see/meet them, but at a second meeting that will pass much more easily and quickly. And for the most part, and third or subsequent meeting, it’s generally going to be a non-issue.

Yup, shy. Defies logic (at least in most all reasonably objective contexts). There’s probably some evolutionary basis for it. Maybe about half the time, the non-shy creatures would get their heads eaten off – like upon greeting the friendly appearing, but hungry predators. And maybe about the other half of the time, the predators would be intimidated by the non-shy, and would instead go chow down on the shy. I guess something like that would leave about 50% shy, 50% non-shy – predators wouldn’t know quite what to expect, and would never be 100% successful with their potential prey. And predator consumption would alter the shy/non-shy mix in future prey generations … but the predators would evolve too, to consume the more predominant available flavor of prey. So, it’d likely shift about for a while, but mostly end up averaging around roughly 50% or so. Anyway, one guess at possible explanation.


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One Response to “I am shy”

  1. MichaelBerkeley Says:

    After fair bit of time, *mostly* recovered (or fairly well recovering) from that speed dating experiment (egad!). Some weeks before that, was only managing to start to initiate a conversation with complete stranger maybe about once or twice a week on average. Had been working on improving that over several weeks. Got up around roughly 4 to 10 such conversation starts per week (guessing maybe 5 to 8 on average). Then the speed dating “disaster” – at least for me, anyway. Quite a setback. Lost a couple or more weeks ground on my progress. Anyway, some several weeks after that, getting closer to where I was just before the speed dating experience. Probably starting up around 3 to 7 or so conversations per week with total strangers. Okay, so maybe most of the time (almost always?) I don’t manage to keep the conversation going, … but it’s (literally) a start. One step at a time. Have to have starts of conversations before making it further along in conversations anyway – if there aren’t any starts, then continuations from a start can’t be there at all.

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