DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: This is my first time actually writing something like this, but I’ll do my best:
I am a 20 years old woman, just turned 20 actually, and haven’t really dated any one or had sex or even kissed or held hands, or hugged a significant other. I don’t think it’s weird. My problem is, I know what I want in life and I’ve done a lot of research on how to talk to or meet potential SO, but never really executed them.
When I watch shows, I even write down tips on how to flirt with people, but that never goes anywhere either. I don’t have much confidence in myself (possibly because I also call myself a raccoon, but that’s besides the point) I have less confidence when it comes to my approaching someone, but I fear if I don’t, no one would approach.
I know I’m not cute, maybe a little on the unattractive side, I know that, but I try everything else to make up for that fact.
Look, honestly, I don’t feel my situation is unique and I don’t think it is, but I desperately need some advice on what I should do to get more confidence in talking?
DEAR WALLFLOWER: Here’s the thing about social skills, Wallflower: they’re skills. They’re not innate; they’re something that you can improve with deliberate practice. But you have to actually practice them. I know a lot of folks who can tell you all about how much studying they do, how much research they’ve accomplished, how many books they’ve read or even courses and seminars they’ve attended… but they’re still stuck. And the reason for that is because all the studying and theory in the world isn’t a substitute for actual boots-on-the-ground experience. You can take all the notes you want on how folks flirt on TV or in movies — God knows I reference plenty of them as examples — but none of that matters if you don’t put them to work.
That’s why you can’t study or theorize your way to confidence. Confidence is built through experience. Confidence isn’t about succeeding or knowing you can’t fail, it’s knowing that doing something won’t destroy you. Fear + survival = confidence, and that only comes from real-world application.
Now that being said, this doesn’t mean that you need to go out and start hitting on folks for practice. The great thing about social skills is that you can practice them in low-stakes, low-investment environments. At 20, you’re in a good position to actually practice being social. If you’re going to college or university, there’re an almost infinite number of opportunities for you to go to events or gatherings and just work on talking to people. Not to hit on them or flirt or find a partner, but to just talk, without an agenda. If you go with the mindset that you’re just practicing, that you’re only out to meet people and enjoy yourself, then it’s much easier. By not being attached to a particular outcome, you’re better able to relax and just be in the moment, instead of weighing every word that comes out of your mouth or the nuance of every gesture or intonation from other folks. All you’re doing is talking.
The more practice you get in just talking with people and joking with people, especially when it doesn’t “count”, the better you’ll do when you’re in a place where you do want to flirt and joke and maybe see if someone wants to grab a coffee somewhere. The same skills you apply to joke and make friends are the same skills that ultimately help you find a significant other.
Even if you’re not going to college, you have opportunities to practice your social skills. A public-facing job — whether its in sales, customer service, even service industry jobs — means that you’ll have to talk to many, many people from all walks of life. It’s very hard to not become more socially fluent and at ease in those cases. You’re literally required to talk to people and put in the proverbial 10,000 hours of practice.
However, one thing you should definitely stop doing, even if you do nothing else, is talking yourself down. I get the impulse to insult yourself or make fun of yourself before anyone else can; God knows I’ve done it enough in my time. However, constantly insulting yourself, saying that you’re unattractive or that you’re a raccoon or what-have-you affects your self-image. Even if you’re only doing it jokingly, when you say and think things often enough, you train your brain to accept them as true. Self-deprecating humor quickly goes from being jokey-jokes to how you actually feel about yourself and how you expect others to treat you. Learning to love yourself, even hype yourself up is important, and it goes a long, long way towards helping you build up your confidence and self-esteem.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com