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July 24, 2000   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

"Shy extrovert"! That's me! My God, BG, thank you for finally giving me a label for my problem.


Doesn't fix the problem, but hey, it's a start. I am, to the casual observer, a very outgoing spontaneous person. I am in theater, I do comedy improv. I am in sales, which means lots of interaction with people. My friends think I'm witty and a shoe-in for finding "The One". I, however, do not. I am 6'0" and 130 pounds. Every girl I've dated ended things kinda half-heartedly, as if to say "I think this might be the best thing for both of us," only the majority of the time I'll have second thoughts, but they've already found their next beau.

I have the ability to speak at graduation, to do improv in front of large crowds, yet, I cannot initiate conversation with a cute girl I've just met. The "eye contact" thing you mentioned hit really true with me, too... I work at the mall, and walking around, I'll see attractive girls, and I won't know whether I should smile or just look down to the ground so they won't know I was looking. I smiled once, and the girl actually quietly smirked and laughed to herself while walking by. She liked me, my friends say. She thought I was pathetic, I'd say. I've been laughed at (not with) by girls before. I feel like the main character in Swingers who is called "so money" by friend,s but just comes off as a clumsy dope who can't get his ex out of his head whenever another girl comes along.

Anyways, I've been tongue-tied for over a year now. Specific advice for a "shy extrovert?" What to do?! Help mebefore my self-esteem takes a swan dive off the Rock of Gibraltar and starts affecting my outgoing self like it did in high school!

-- Chris

Dear Chris,

You do improv? Perfect. And not just 'cause of what Diane said.

See, everything I need to know I learned in improv. You've learned it on stage; now apply it elsewhere. Specifically:

1. Don't "block."

As in:

IMPROV GUY 1: Yum! I'm so glad we came out for pizza.
IMPROV GUY 2: What? This isn't a pizza place. This is the Rock of Gibraltar.

Improv Guy 2 is blocking. Makes for bad improv, as well as unpopularity.

Application: Listen to what your friends say. Take their word for it. If that's what they say -- even if you think you have a better idea -- go with it.

2. Never try to be funny.

Just as I told Paul. Don't dig for the joke on every putative straight line. Keep asking questions, making suggestions; forward the plot. Let it find you when it's ripe, good and set up, when the groundwork's laid. Then it's funny.

Application: This approach takes the pressure off every single exchange, every single interaction. Is there a punch line there, a phone number even? Maybe, maybe not. So what? More getting-to-know; next setup. Meet people in groups, through theater, work (where you feel comfortable). Let rapports blossom. Go for the zinger when it goes for you. (By the way: I know listening for the laugh got you in trouble at the mal and elsewhere, but that's different. Sure, giggles sting no matter what, but I wouldn't focus so hard on the "at" part of her laugh. Eye contact and smiling are good, but they make some people nervous. And some people laugh when they're nervous. End of story. Don't dwell.)

Okay, Chris? You're doing fine. (Think of all those people who'd say "Oh my God I could never get on stage, especially without a script!") Just practice, make sure you eat and exercise, and before long you'll be saying, "I need a location ... for a date."

Breakup Girl



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