When we tell people that they often look at us in disbelief. We just don't match the socially awkward loner stereotype of the shy person they envision.
We are not lacking for confidence, and we interact with others well. Angelica has a wonderful exhibitionist streak (as those who have been privileged to witness her hooping, poi, or burlesque performances can attest). I enjoy teaching and have no problem giving presentations to hundreds of people. In a room full of folks we know, we can be the life of the party.
However, while the definition of the word shy may vary, for us it means that in a room full of strangers, we often struggle to overcome the inertia that keeps us in our personal bubbles.
Our personalities both tend to be on the introvert side of the spectrum (and yes, we understand that shy and introverted are not synonymous), but neither of us see that as something we need to fix (I highly recommend giving the great book Quiet by Susan Cain a read for examples of the positive traits associated with introversion). However it does mean that our personalities are sometimes at odds with our desire to make new connections when looking for new friends and play partners.
Let me give you an example. When we go out to a club (or LS social event), we always make a point of greeting and interacting with new people. As the evening progresses however, we find the effort draining, sapping us of our enjoyment, and we tend to retreat to our comfort zone – the company of each other, or friends we've already met. The problem is that to outside observers it may appear that we are aloof, unfriendly, or cliquish, none of which are true. We are just naturally shy and burnt out from fighting against it.
We understand that some parts of our fundamental makeup are not easily changed. We are not going to switch from being introverts to extraverts or from shy to gregarious simply by force of will. However one thing we have found helpful when facing a daunting social event is to leverage social lubricants.
Social Lubricants, it's not just booze
Often social lubricant is taken to mean getting drunk (alcohol even has the nickname of liquid courage for this reason). And while we enjoy the occasional drink, we prefer to leverage other options instead.
Let's start with some easy examples.
Angelica and I always love dressing up for theme nights. We both love fashion (especially fetish) and enjoy the shopping for and planning of our outfits. Since this is already something we enjoy, it works great for us as a social lubricant. Showing up for an event in theme, advertises to the group that we are approachable and opens the doors for people to comment. Every comment is an interaction that we did not have to initiate.
Another thing we've found that works is to leverage Angelica's exhibitionist and performance streak. She will often bring one of her hoops or set of glow poi to the club or event so she can put on a bit of a show. It is impressive (and quite sexy) to watch, and again it invites people to comment, offer compliments, or ask questions.
Another simple option is to make contact with people in a venue where you do feel comfortable. If it is easier to email or chat with someone new online, then initiate contact there. For instance, Cafe Desire, our regional LS site has ads with attendee lists for all of our local club events. We will often try to get the conversation started there, rather than waiting until we are at the club.
Bring Value, Become A Destination.
We recently attended Valentines in Niagara (VIN), a long running Lifestyle couples convention held in Niagara Falls Canada. This hotel takeover event attracts several hundred couples every February for a weekend of seminars, socializing, partying, and…
This was our second year attending VIN and in addition to our usual techniques listed above, we decided to try a couple of other ideas.
I cannot remember where I heard about it, but at Catalyst Con last year, Reid Mihalko offered shy bracelets to the attendees during his kickoff session. This struck Angelica and I as a great idea. No, it doesn't ‘fix' your shyness (just like a “Student Driver” sign on a vehicle doesn't automatically make the student a better driver) but it does inform those around you and spawn conversation.
I ordered some cheap tyvek smiley face wristbands online and posted a poll to Cafe Desire asking if anyone would be interested in wearing one. We also offered them to anyone who we met during the first evening's speed dating event.
We explained that these were shy bracelets, they let people around you know that you are shy, but still open to being approached. Shyness is often a source of anxiety to those of us afflicted by it. Outing ourselves with a bracelet gets that out in the open right away. Tongue in cheek, we also told people that if they saw someone wearing a shy bracelet, they should make the first move, because the other person wasn't likely to.
Some people thought that the wristbands were silly, some thought they were a great idea, some told us they didn't think we needed them. For us though, each wristband we wrapped around someone's wrist was an interaction that happened seamlessly, without sapping our limited supply of SBE (social butterfly energy).
A great success in our books.
When we attended Desire with the Swingset crew last November, Char Travel provided everyone with the beads and cords to make their own name necklaces. Aside from the letters on the beads dissolving from our sunscreen, they worked out great. I have a horrible time remembering names, and having them around everyone's neck removed a major source of anxiety.
We thought that name necklaces would be a great addition to VIN this year too, so off to our local craft store we went in search of beads and fixings (pro tip: when gluing clasps on to suede cord with crazy glue, always wear rubber gloves – just sayin').
A couple of times during the weekend, we set ourselves up at a table in the hotel's communal courtyard and started making necklaces. We'd invite one person to have a necklace made, and then people would gather to find out what was going on, ask questions, and some would sit down to make a necklace for themselves. Chatting while they did so.
Picking Our Battles
The ideas I've presented here all have a common theme. We focus on the things that we can do effortlessly. We are shy, artsy, nerdy, and a touch alternative, and while we could try to diminish those traits and maximize others in order to be more popular, I think it is far more sustainable to leverage them to our advantage.
You may argue that none of these techniques will get us the interaction with that special couple or person, the ones we're pining for across the room, and you'd be correct. But the one thing we've learned is that finding a couple we click with is a numbers game, the more people we interact with, the better our odds. By encouraging a bunch of interactions that are effortless, we save our limited energy for the few we choose to pursue.