Why was I overcome with dread at the prospect of talking to a beautiful stranger while some people actually seemed to enjoy it?
Initially I believed I had this anxiety because of incidents that happened to me when I was young. I was convinced that some traumatic experiences set me on a path to being self-protective instead of outgoing and extroverted.
I remember one particular incident. It was in 6th grade. I’d had my eye on this cute girl in class. Her name was Nicole Waldron. As I sat in art class next to my friend Jamie Graham drawing space shuttles, I mentioned that I was thinking about “asking her out” (asking her to be my girlfriend).
Jamie turned to me and said “Yeah, you should do it. Do it after class.”
Little did I know that my “friend” Jamie had passed it around to all the other students that I was going to ask Nicole out after class.
At the end of class, a crowd gathered around. Nicole stood there and said “Well?”
“I was wondering if you wanted to go out with me,” I said.
“Oh yes, Eric!” she said in mockery as the whole class erupted into laughter. “I’d love to!”
It doesn’t take much more than a few bad experiences like this to make a guy never want to make himself vulnerable to a girl in that way again. Or at least that was my thinking.
But the more I asked around, the more I talked to people, the more I realized the story is slightly different.
There are guys out there with traumatic experiences far worse than mine who are fine talking to strangers. The difference between them and me is how they learned to interpret social situations.
They learned from someone how to talk to strangers. They had a role-model show them how to not be fearful and how to accept situations. They had somebody–a parent, an older brother, a friend–someone to lead them and show them that there is nothing wrong with talking to strangers.
Here is a typical story from a guy I talked to:
My dad would always talk to strangers we’d meet when the family would go out: waitresses, taxi drivers, people we’d meet. I think I learned from him an interest in other people and not being shy about it: from a young age, when I meet someone with an accent or a strange name, I ask where they’re from, what kind of accent is that, etc., and invariably get into a conversation with them about all kinds of other stuff.
Now is that genes or learned behavior? I dunno, a mix of the two? My old girlfriend used to hate it when I’d talk to waitresses and such. She’d get fuming jealous.
For me it’s no different talking with strangers who are women or men. At age thirteen I remember going out with some friends from my soccer team. Someone dared anyone to go talk to a couple of blond chicks in their twenties. I had no problem going up and starting a conversation and flirting. I hadn’t even reached puberty yet.
As I look back on that incident in 6th grade with Nicole Waldron I realize that it was actually a VERY GOOD thing that I did. I was brave! I followed my desire. And I got shot down in a majestic way.
The only “wrong” part about it was how I treated myself afterward, how I beat myself up and felt worthless for failing. And I did beat myself up. I ruminated for years over incidents like this from my adolescence.
The very best guys I’ve seen who are great with women are the ones who are bothered the least by rejection. They are the ones who operate in the high-stakes world of social risk. They get rejected far more than guys who aren’t good with women. And they also reap huge rewards.
It’s part of why it’s a great idea for guys to take workshops or at least get some kind of coaching from a person rather than just reading about this stuff. You need that big brother or parent to take you out and show you that it’s okay to do this. You can learn to become desensitized to rejection. You can teach your body that whatever happens in these situations you’ll be fine.
Actually, you’ll better than fine, you’ll become that outgoing confident person you were meant to be.