Approaching People

In a recent thread, I mentioned that it is incredibly hard for me to approach people at conferences, professional events, university-wide celebrations, etc. Contacting people by email for professional reasons is something that I also can’t really face. (I’m talking of initiating contact, not writing to somebody I already know.) At parties, I dread the need to approach new people. The LinkedIn format of professional networking is just as terrifying. Writing to somebody and then expecting a reply, fearing that they won’t notice you – no, I’d just rather do without networking altogether.

The reason for this fear is that such situations immediately take me back to childhood experiences of approaching a group of kinds, trying to start a conversation, and not being noticed. That’s my greatest fear, communication-wise, that I will speak and people will not hear me and I will feel invisible.

One area of life where I feel the exact opposite is meeting men. When I mentioned that, reader Hazel Catkins made the following comment that I want to address in this post:

I’m fascinated by that, Clarissa. Why was approaching guys so much easier for you? What would you say? Would you just be your regular self, or would you adopt a more confident, outgoing persona? If this needs to be expanded into its own post, so be it.

I’m very happily married now and do not plan to meet any men for romantic purposes ever again. However, when I was on the dating scene, not only did I really enjoy approaching attractive men, I actually preferred to initiate contact. Men who made the first move immediately lost points in my eyes because I don’t like aggressive men. I prefer to make my own choice and then communicate it to people.

So what does it mean that I find it so incredibly easy to approach a person and exhibit a romantic / sexual interest but dread being the first one to express any other form of interest?

If we take friendship, for example, I need to be “courted” for a while by a potential friend. A person who is trying to become a friend needs to prove their intentions to me (seriously, that’s how it feels and how my closest friends describe the experience of developing a friendship with me). This potential friend needs to suggest and organize several occasions for us to socialize. I will also decline his or her offers a few times which, yet again, is a way of gauging if their friendly intentions towards me are serious. I know that this sounds very bizarre, but this is my blog, and I want to be honest here.

I guess the answer is that I feel complete security in my sexuality and I don’t feel this kind of security in other aspects of myself.

Thank you, Hazel Catkins, for getting me to formulate these important insights about myself.

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7 comments on “Approaching People

  1. Hi. Thanks for the post. I think I had already gauged what you said in the last line– I suppose I was just wondering why that is. And I was envying and admiring you, hoping that you could somehow teach the rest of how it’s done, how to go about becoming sexually confident. It’s too much to ask, I know. I’ll learn them on my own, just as you did, but I always appreciate being able to peep over your shoulder when you write your declarative how-to posts.

    I also appreciate you sharing about needing to be courted– that’s exactly how it was with my closest friend, but I was the one doing the courting. I recognized that about her from the beginning and saw that she clearly did not let just anyone into her life, let alone become privy to her rich inner life of thoughts and feelings. I had to prove that I was serious about pursuing her and being loyal to her for the long haul, as well as that we did indeed have things in common and that I had as much to offer her as she did to me. I don’t think it’s that bizarre–some great things are born inadvertently and others are brought about by much intentionality.

    I don’t like aggressive men, either, but sometimes even painfully shy people force themselves to make the first move. So, it wouldn’t completely deflate you back then to be rejected after communicating your desire? Would you just laugh it off nonchalantly? Tell the men off? Graciously divert the conversation to other topics? I suppose you’ve gathered by now that I’m in the thick of this whole interesting process.

    • “hoping that you could somehow teach the rest of how it’s done, how to go about becoming sexually confident”

      – The thing is that I can’t say that I learned it on my own. I was raised mostly by male relatives and, from the very early childhood, have interiorized a model where there are always adoring men willing to do anything I want around me. This is a good fortune which I haven’t in any way created for myself. I’m just lucky.

      “So, it wouldn’t completely deflate you back then to be rejected after communicating your desire?”

      – The step-by-step process is as follows:

      a) Say, you are at a bar. You look around and find a person you consider attractive.

      b) Then, you establish an eye contact with them to make sure that they see you and are interested.

      c) You gauge their interest by the intensity of their gaze, their facial expression and body language.

      d) Then you come up and say “hi.” Normally, there isn’t anything you need to do after that because men are not very used to women approaching them and are very welcoming of any kind of initiative.

      As you can see, there isn’t any actual rejection that can happen in this scenario because everything is very low-key, respectful, and there isn’t really any space for any unpleasantness. The important thing is to establish a non-verbal line of communication before approaching a person.

      “So, it wouldn’t completely deflate you back then to be rejected after communicating your desire?”

      – No, of course, not. Even men have a right not to be interested. :-) It’s normal and really not a big deal.

      “Would you just laugh it off nonchalantly?”

      – I’d just realize that I didn’t gauge their interest correctly from the eye contact and their body language.

      “Tell the men off?”

      – Of course, not! Many people have approached me but I wasn’t interested. Would it make sense for them to start telling me off?

      “Graciously divert the conversation to other topics?”

      – I once approached a guy who told me very politely and even apologetically that he had a fiancee. So we ended up having a really amazing time, talking about life, relationships, and literature. Who knows, if a romantic encounter doesn’t happen, a friendship might develop, and that’s very good, too.

      Good luck on your dating adventures!

      • Thanks. Practice will make perfect.

        I was just kidding about telling them off, btw :)

  2. I’m fine with work related networking and/but it is because of watching my father do it; he’s not the most outgoing person but he has these formulae for reaching out: “Hello, I am A B, an X at Y company; we have not met but I am aware of your good work because of ___ and ____. Would you possibly have time, perhaps this week, to answer a question for us about ___?” I’ve always just imitated this kind of formula and it has always worked.

    The *key* to this is, they are going to say yes or no. You have to remember that an answer of either yes or no is what you want. It is vagueness which actually disappoints more, since it can mean bogging down. Once you realize that no, as well as yes, is a desirable answer since it is concrete information and therefore does help to propel you forward, albeit in a different way than that yes does, approaching people for business is not that scary.

    Also on that: it helps to remember to ask for something small and very well defined. You may actually want much more but make your first goal very easy for them to say yes to and rather low stakes. Or if you have only one goal and it is big, come right out with it, not wasting time on awkwardness. These things facilitate.

    Socially and for dating it’s more difficult because I don’t have formulae like that and there are also more variables to take into account since this isn’t for some kind of objective purpose. But, I’m enough at ease that I can do it.

    The thing I cannot do is cocktail parties, they are so artificial and awkward. If I am a host or a principal then I know how to do it but I abhor having to show up to be seen. I feel ridiculous the whole time and try to get away. I do not know whether this is fear of not being in an in group or just not liking small talk — I think it is the latter.

    I just came from one and I am recovering by blabbing on this blog. On a blog, there are topics to speak to. Not there. I saluted the person I needed to cumplir with; I was approached politely by one who felt they needed to be seen by me; I used the opportunity to ask a couple of people some work questions, but I do not like to do that at parties at all and just did it because it was convenient. The only classically good cocktail action I accomplished was, upon coming face to face by chance with a new mucky-muck, say graciously welcome to campus, I am me, glad to have you, hope you’re settling in well, and that accomplished something since it’s nice to welcome people and now he knows me; but overall jeez, what a sea of awkwardness.

    • “The thing I cannot do is cocktail parties, they are so artificial and awkward. If I am a host or a principal then I know how to do it but I abhor having to show up to be seen. I feel ridiculous the whole time and try to get away. ”

      – Oh, tell me about it! I abhor small talk because I can never figure out its purpose. ‘Why are we wasting our lives on this?’ I always wonder.

      ” On a blog, there are topics to speak to. ”

      – Exactly! And you can skip the ones that are of no interest to you without making anybody feel bad.

      “but overall jeez, what a sea of awkwardness”

      – My feelings exactly.

  3. I have no trouble approaching new people, but I don’t enjoy making small talk as it seems like an act. I’m interested in ideas and things, not people so much. I learn something from every interaction, but it is generally impersonal and food for theory. I have a deep feeling that people don’t really exist in the ways they think they do. For instance, I don’t think they are rational or autonomous or what anybody says is necessarily inherently meaningful. I tune in and out when people are talking in a lengthy manner, so that I often don’t get an overall sense of where they fit in any overall scheme of things. I’m more interested in how they structure their experiences and even more curious about how their experiences are structured for them. Because I don’t focus all that deeply on what people are actually saying about their views or jobs, or suchlike, I found myself socially out of tune with many groups. I’m not at all bothered by this, except to the degree that I would have to socialize with them and expose my attention deficit. I’m also not bothered by my lack of capacity to pay attention, except when it becomes an unavoidable necessity for me to socialize with people in a talky-talky way. I don’t get any pleasure from it and I find I can only fake my interest for a short amount of time. I’m much more interested in events that give me a chance to learn something, especially those that add to my theoretical knowledge about all sorts of things.

    • ” I tune in and out when people are talking in a lengthy manner”

      – I tune out all the time. :-) Sometimes, I tune out to the point where the group of small talkers around me changes completely without me even being aware. :-)

      “I’m much more interested in events that give me a chance to learn something”

      – I totally know what you mean. If I don’t feel enriched by a discussion, then I start feeling very out of place, restless and even resentful because my time is being stolen for useless pursuits.

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