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THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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.
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
It's been nearly 2 and a half years since I've had any kind of [romantic]
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
I'm a creative person, and my poetry, stories, and music keep me very
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
know how well that message would go over. And I almost feel like I'd be
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
--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,
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
just that my shyness makes me insecure"). And it is your way of
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, who
doesn'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
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
But what interests and reassures me -- as it should
-- is that your rather baroque self-description does not give rise to an
fantasia. I like what you like about
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
Breakup Girl does not, however, like what you don't
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
think about saying, "Hey, baby ...!" -- or, for that matter,
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
orchestra of nerves and hormones and nightmares ... but all they are doing
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
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.
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