Changing his tune on November 23, 1998…
Dear Breakup Girl,
Hmm. Wow. This is weird. I never thought I’d actually be writing to you–I mean, like, ever, in a million years. It’s nothing personal–I think it’s just one of those male ego/”of course I know where I’m going, that farmhouse over there looks just like all the others we keep passing at regular 10 minute intervals because we’re in Nebraska–or is it Kansas?–for God’s sake”/”I don’t need your help, I can quit anytime” kinda things. Plus, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve needed any chick-type advice because . . . well, it’s been too long since I’ve, um, been in any kind of position to need any chick-type advice (which, of course, I will elaborate upon further when I’m done with my really long greeting-paragraph-type-thing). So, anyway, commencing with long-formulaic-breakup-girl- “help-me-help-me-I’m-in-such- utter-despair-and-inner-turmoil” letter version 1.0 . . . or .01 . . . or something like that. . . .
You rock. Your column rocks. Your Mom rocks, your dog rocks, your car rocks, etc. etc. (I mean it all sincerely, but I know you get that stuff all the time, and hearing it from me probably won’t send you up to cloud nine or anything–if, on the other hand, it *does*, then, well, I went ahead and said it).
Allow me to quickly tell you about myself (trust me, it’s all relevant–really, it is). I’m a 19 and a half (yes, I count “and-a-half”s) (okay, I’m going to stop it with these parentheses thingies or I’ll never get this letter written) year-old college student. And I’m a transfer student–I’m from down South, went way up North for a year, enjoyed myself, money and stuff like that didn’t quite work out, came back down South to an in-state school and am doing fine. I’m also–okay, prepare yourself–shy. But unlike a lot of shy people, including those among my friends and most of those who have written letters to you, I’m not really embarrassed about my shyness. In fact, I’ve kind of learned to accept it and to be comfortable with it. Maybe this is a little difficult to explain, or maybe I’m just deluding myself or something, but I figure that the world needs shy people just as much as, if not more than, it needs those who are outgoing; were it not for reclusive, creative people, we’d still be living in caves, wearing fig leaves, and competing with the sabertooth tiger next door for our dinner–nothing would ever get done and we’d all be fighting each other and confused all the time. And to me, shyness isn’t a form of “social phobia”; it’s just another way to be, not something that I need to change, something I need to overcome, or something of which I need to be cured. Besides, as Ralph Ellison so succinctly put it, “I yam what I yam.”
But, that said–how, then, does an introvert get along in such an indelibly extroverted society, especially in matters of the heart, without waning completely Invisible?
It’s been nearly 2 and a half years since I’ve had any kind of [romantic] relationship–well, not counting the short e-mail fling thing I had about a year ago–which is a long time for a young college student to go without companionship. I have a million reasons/excuses for this: I’m secure enough with myself not to feel the biting *need* for a girlfriend, despite that society tells me I should have one; I’m very committed to school, and, being a music major, I’m constantly in class, in a lesson, practicing, performing, composing, or attending a concert; I’m a creative person, and my poetry, stories, and music keep me very fulfilled.
Now, however, I’m feeling that “need.” I, like many shy guys, have always developed crushes easily, and I’ve suddenly got a couple of doozies.
I mentioned that I’m a transfer student, and both girls go to my school (actually, one goes to a nearby college–it’s in the same town and everything, about 5 minutes away), so I’ve only known them for about 2 months. Girl #1–I say I’m creative, heck, I could give her a name like Falinishiwakaneaousimalana, but that would get confusing–I met in the cafeteria. It was one of those weird coincidence things in which she randomly sat down next to me, and it turned out that we went to the same high school, even though we’d never met before. We talked for a long time, and, besides being cute, she was also incredibly kind and sweet and interesting. But I, being my [securely] shy self, didn’t ask for a phone or room number, figuring that she would have volunteered such information if she wanted to become “better” friends with me–or, even if she just wanted to hang out. And, since we’d just met and we barely knew each other, I didn’t want to push the afternoon’s good fortune. We live in the same dorm (different wings), and I thought that we’d run into each other fairly often, anyway. As always, I was wrong. We only see each other when we happen to be in the cafeteria at the same time, which is only every few weeks. For awhile, I’ve been thinking about asking her out–and the last time we spoke, she seemed particularly happy to see me–but I am, without a doubt, horribly, absolutely, positively terrified of that prospect. I’m working up the courage, though, and I’m . . . well, I’m at least considering it.
Girl #2 worries me, and our situation is necessarily more complicated (I’m really sorry this is turning out to be so long–I’m sure that I’m very average and that everything I feel is completely normal, but it’s always totally new and different when it happens to *you*, and I really must get this off my chest). She goes to a nearby women’s university, but we met in church. Girl #2 is, in many ways, perfect (and I know nobody can truly be perfect–I’m just saying). She’s beautiful, sweet, humble, religious (for me, religion is a very important thing), funny, caring, intelligent, and I could go on. Her laughter is . . . it’s so, well, the sun that burns the sky and melts the snow in the spring, the white baby bunny rabbit that you barely glimpse as it bounces away from your yard, the itty bitty bumble bee that pollinates the great big sunflower; her cute little freckles are so . . . okay, I’m detecting a saccharine overload, here–but, suffice it to say, I am truly smitten with this girl.
Of course, as in everything, there are problems inherent in any would-be more-than-friendship relationships with her. She is, for one thing, outgoing. Extremely outgoing. This, in itself, is not a problem for me–all of my close friends are (and have always been) extroverted, and, from what I understand, shy people and outgoing people often hook up successfully. I have no problems dating an extrovert (I have, actually, dated them). But Girl #2 is . . . well, she hugs everybody. She’s very touchy-feely. When we first met, she was wrapping her arm around my waist and hooking her arm in mine–and she still does that. But she does it with everybody (I’m not complaining about this–I think it’s great, and I wish more people were that way). She’s also the, uh, co-president of the little college-student-youth-group thingy at church, and this is where things get a tad bit confusing.
First of all, I’m worried about my reasons for developing this great big crush on her. Am I really interested in her as a person? Or is it merely the fact that she has been nice to me and careful about getting me involved with the group that I see her as this goddess figure? As the co-leader of the group, it’s kind of her responsibility to make sure that I’m not left out. See, this youth group isn’t just a group that gets together every once in a while to do stuff, they’re a group of really close friends–and all semester I’ve been the “new guy” (to complicate things, I’ve been the “shy new guy”). Now it’s not so bad anymore, and I am developing strong friendships with many of those people, but Girl #2 was very instrumental in making me feel welcome, and I don’t know if that is part of the reason that I like her so much.
Secondly, since she is the “co-leader” of this group, I feel that it would be weird to initiate a relationship with her. I feel that, if it didn’t work out, or even if she turned down my initial request, it would destroy our budding friendship and alienate her from me. Then she would “know”–and this sounds so stupid–but it would be incredibly hard to face her after she “knew” (and I know that’s an immature point of view, and you’re going to tell me that it’s no reason not to ask anybody out, but, to me, it’s very powerful). Then there would be messy politics with her friends (i.e., the youth group), and since, right now, the vast majority of my friends also come from that group, it would be extraordinarily tough to deal with. It would all just be so . . . weird. I can’t come up with a better term, but “weird” pretty much describes it. And it’s like–if I asked her out, I feel like she would think that I was misinterpreting all of the little things that she does (i.e., the touchy-feely stuff) among all of her friends–I would be saying, essentially, “I want to be more important in your life than I am now, and, based on the way you treat me, I think that you want the same,” and I don’t know how well that message would go over. And I almost feel like I’d be overstepping my bounds to say this, because I guess I just don’t think I’m worthy. Do ya see what I’m sayin’?
Okay. So that’s my problem. I like Girl #2 *so* much that it just burns me inside–when she ignores me, and when she doesn’t say “hi” to me, it just kills me, because half the time I feel like she thinks I’m completely invisible, and she doesn’t see me or notice me at all, and if I just disappeared off the face of the planet it wouldn’t matter at all. But then, when I’m around her and she *does* talk to me, I become this raving idiot, and I feel like there’s nothing I can do about it. If I’m terrified about asking out Girl #1, then I’m just beyond mortified about asking out Girl #2.
Should I “settle” for Girl #1 (that sounds bad, but I know I could easily grow to love Girl #1), or should I go for Girl #2, despite the weirdness and potential problems it could bring?
I know that my shyness is a big factor in this, and I don’t know if I’m just making lame excuses about Girl #2 because it would be so difficult for me to ask her out–and, Breakup Girl, I have to be honest–painfully honest, with you and with myself. I *am* embarrassed about being shy. When I walk around and people look at me, I imagine all the judgments they’re forming about me, and I can hardly stand to return their gaze because I know how much they absolutely detest me, even though they’ve never met me. I can’t ever be in the same *room* as a girl that I like because my hormones start going bonkers and my mind can’t keep control of me and my mouth does the Sahara Desert thing and my tongue lolls lamely over my teeth and I say stupid things and I feel so self-conscious that I just want to die. And I’m so scared about asking out either Girl #1 or #2 because, well, a part of me doesn’t want to risk their friendship, and a larger part of me fears rejection–and an even larger part of me fears that they’ll say something like, “No, I never liked you in the first place, I was just being nice to you because it’s obvious that you’d go kill yourself if I told you that I hated you.”
Come to think of it, asking anybody out right now would just upset the status-quo of my life. Everything is going relatively well–I have time for just about everything (except sleep, but that’s a different story). The avoidance of conflict is a driving force in my life, and I think that rejection would cause a rather large amount of conflict, which is something that I wouldn’t be able to deal with. Maybe that’s why it’s been 2.5 years since I’ve had a relationship.
And to clarify, I wasn’t lying when I said that I’m “not embarrassed about being shy,” as I believe that many of my good qualities stem directly from my shyness. It’s just–well, it’s really hard to explain. I am secure with my shyness–it’s just that my shyness makes me insecure. Perhaps, to elucidate further: I know that I’m a great guy to date, but it’s difficult making sure others know that, and it’s difficult getting a date, taking that first step towards date-hood. Therein lies the problem.
So, I don’t know. Am I overanalyzing this? Should I just throw caution to the wind and say, “hey, baby . . . “? Am I just really good at making excuses and justifying things to myself? Is my personality just so dramatic that I’m making this a much bigger deal that it is? Am I putting Girl #2 up on a pedestal and setting myself up for disappointment? Or am I just a big fat idiot?
–The Invisible Man
Dear Invisible Man,
Oh, you are hardly an idiot. But yep, you are overanalyzing, excusing, dramatizing, and justifying.
That is, you are constantly rehearsing, performing, and composing.
Your “shyness” has become not just a motif in your life, but your entire theme song. Your shyness is your fugue. It is the theme you develop contrapuntally (“I am secure with my shyness–it’s just that my shyness makes me insecure”). And it is your way of disappearing.
I am not saying you’re not unique and special, Music Man. Clearly you are; your letter is awesome. But if you think about it, whodoesn’t go through hormone-flooding, mouth-parching, speech-impairing fear of rejection? If it weren’t “difficult getting a date,” wouldn’t I be done with my column before the X-Files? You should be nervous and shy around girls you like. What’s the problem? If you weren’t, how would they be different from the girls you don’t like? Look, even the Fonzie guys with a million Betties suffer from the same thing, I promise — they just work it out in a different way (how often did The Fonz have A Girlfriend?).
But what interests and reassures me — as it should you — is that your rather baroque self-description does not give rise to an elaborate fantasia. I like what you like about these gals. Especially #2. You cite really great — really real — reasons to like her. She’s friendly, welcoming, independent, conscientious. What pedestal? It’s not like you’re saying: “if only she would date me I’d be cured of all shyness, my life would start to have meaning, and the Bills would win the Super Bowl.” (Granted, bunny/bumblebee metaphors do set off my itty bitty fuzzy alarm bells, but they’re probably the alarms saying, “Don’t write that way in a love note!” not “Don’t feel that way in love!”)
Breakup Girl does not, however, like what you don’t like about you. I will not tell you to quit being nervous and shy. But I will tell you to quit not liking the nervous guy. Cliche cliche cliche, but if you don’t like him, Girl #X won’t either.
So I’d work on your overture. (First of all, don’t even think about saying, “Hey, baby …!” — or, for that matter, “Hey, bumblebee!”). (You know I am SO just teasing you, right?). Listen to this: when you think about approaching someone, you hear this dissonant, squawking, cacophony in your head, right? No problem. That’s just your entire symphony orchestra of nerves and hormones and nightmares … but all they are doing is tuning up. And you are already so much more in tune than you think you are. If you listen — amid/despite the dissonance — you can hear the bright clear pure”A” (as opposed to “A-A-A-A-A–Y-Y-Y!”). That’s A for Approach, Music Man. Your concerns will not go away; nor will the real-life risks of rejection, weirdness, etc. And you might not “know” what you’re doing, no. But if you hum a few bars, well, I’m hoping you’ll get a new, catchier tune stuck in your head.
P.S. Thanks for the kind words.