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Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013

Introvert Seeks Help Meeting Women

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I am 25 years old and I have been depressed for about eight years. I used to see [a counselor] during college, but stopped for a while and am now starting to see a counselor again.

I am extremely introverted when it comes to women. I have never had a girlfriend, never had sex, let alone even kissed a woman. People in general never seem to acknowledge me. It’s as if I am completely invisible. I don’t know how to tell if a woman is attracted to me and I don’t know how to attract a woman. Whenever I’m in a social situation (that rare occasion) I get pretty anxious and just sort of shut down. Of course I’d like to be more outgoing and extroverted, but I just can’t seem to get there. It certainly doesn’t help that I have literally no friends. How do I go out to the bars and get some liquid courage when I have to drive back home again?

I really have no idea what to do anymore and I keep trying to figure out how I even got into this position in the first place. If you could have some kind of advice for me I’d appreciate it.

I’m glad to hear that you’re seeing a counselor again; sometimes depression can have a huge impact on a person’s ability to socialize and relate to others. Seeing a therapist and dealing with your depression is an essential step in addressing the situation you find yourself in.

I consulted two colleagues before answering your question—a therapist who specializes in sex and relationship issues and an educator, The Redhead Bedhead, who recently taught a class about dating at the Tool Shed and helped me with another dating-related question a few weeks ago. Their answers differed somewhat.

My therapist colleague shared the following thoughts, with which I agree heartily. First, there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert in dating situations or life. Introverts are not better or worse than extroverts. The real underlying issue in your situation is the long-term depression that you mention. Before doing any dating, we strongly encourage you to focus on addressing your depression, lack of self confidence and general negative view of yourself. Before you do this, you’re not ready for dating. Finding a romantic or sexual partner won’t fix your depression or any underlying problems that may be the source of it. Since you have been depressed for such a long time, you may be experiencing chronic chemical depression, and this may need to be treated with medication as well as therapy.

Once you have addressed your depression, there are lots of different ways to meet people that don’t involve going to bars and drinking. I wrote a column a couple of years ago that encourages people to forget about “dating” and focus on doing things that they’re passionate about.

The Redhead Bedhead recommends online dating as a way for introverts to deal with the anxiety that social situations often cause. She says, “Online dating gives you the opportunity to create a snapshot of who you are and put it out there for other folks who are like you to find. Introverts generally don’t compete for attention (if others are talking they won’t talk over them) and this can lead to feeling invisible in typical ‘pick-up’ scenes. Online dating (or, actually, many kinds of online communities, not just dating ones) creates the space to turn down the volume on the rest of the world and let people see how awesome you are. Also, you can start talking to people and building a rapport from the comfort of your own home before meeting them in real life. For an introvert, this is great because it cuts through the awkward small talk.”

She also emphasized that your depression is influencing the way you view yourself and the way others interact with you. All three of us say—please focus on your mental health. You’re worth it. Then worry about dating.

On a final note, even though people frequently use alcohol to “get their courage up,” I actually don’t recommend that. Not only is there the drunk-driving thing you’re talking about, but alcohol clouds people’s judgment, makes them do embarrassing or stupid things sometimes, and definitely doesn’t allow a person’s authentic self to show through. It’s like a temporary crutch instead of a long-term solution to the problem. You can do better than that.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than fifteen years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXPress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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