Dear Sara: I’m a 34-old-girl who never had a proper relationship. l started to feel so lonely, and seeing [people] all around me having someone makes me feel bad about myself. On the other hand, I do like my independent and free life but still want someone next to me. I wonder: Do I ask too much or is it because I don’t know what I want, that’s why I don’t get it? I’m so confused and frustrated and on top of that is that every time I like a guy I get overshy and awkward and I end up sounding like a dumb and silly girl—hate that feeling!! What can I do to stop all of that and be more confident? – C
Dear C: There is a myth in our culture that there are two different kinds of people—those who wish to merge their lives with another’s, and those who wish to be independent and free. While there certainly are people who exist on each end of that spectrum, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We want a special person to share our life with, and we want to be able to do our own thing. We want someone to talk to, and we want time to think. We want to be able to dash off at a moment’s notice, and we want someone sweet waiting for us at home.
So if you feel that your expectations are unreasonable—well, so are most of ours. This isn’t a problem to be solved, but one to relax into. Most all of us carry around a mass of contradictions. We are complicated and messy, and our best hope is to find a partner who likes us enough to put up with our nonsense—and vice versa. So be patient with yourself—it will make you feel less stressed, and it will be good practice for when you will invariably need to be patient with someone else.
And when you meet the person who makes you feel jittery and weird, be patient with that, too. Believe me, I know how it goes. I once liked a guy so much I could barely get a sentence out when I talked to him on the phone. It was awful, and at the time I chastised myself for being such a freak and putting him off. But looking back on it, I can see that the signs that he wasn’t into me were there from the start—like the fact that he never called me, ever. (And yeah, these were back in the days when one made actual phone calls. When you had to do ten minutes of deep-breathing exercises before finally picking up the receiver, heart pounding.)
When you feel that nervous energy that means you’re alive. You’ve met someone who makes your heart sing!
Still, one needs to get out coherent sentences so here is my advice. Don’t worry about impressing him or putting on any kind of show; flirting and social anxiety don’t mix, take it from one who knows.
Instead, just be curious about this person. He might seem like your manic pixie dream boy, but he’s really not. He’s just a guy—someone with his own frailties and insecurities. Shift your focus away from yourself and on to him. Ask him questions about his job, his dog, his vegetable garden, and really listen to his answers. This does two things. One it will make you feel less self-conscious because you will be thinking about what he’s saying, not how you’re coming across. And two, you’ll make him feel good because you’re showing a genuine interest. I’m not taking a deep-throated “I’m interested in you;” Just more a “Hey, fellow citizen of the world. I’m curious to know what’s up with you.”
Wanting contradictory things is human, and so is getting nervous when you’re talking to someone cute. If you can learn to ease up on yourself, these very normal feelings won’t go away but they can become much more manageable.