Exposure Therapy

Alright, so remember I’m fresh from reading a bunch of books, watching online videos and totally spinning from all the advice on how to find, attract and size up the “right guy”.

So I start with the advice of a book about dating when socially anxious and try exposure therapy.

I go into stores, purposely talk to sales people and then don’t buy anything. I drop things loudly on the bus and make people stare at me a second. I try small talk on the bus with the LAST person I would ever choose to talk to. I worked up to walking into a store BACKWARD just to get a stare. I eat alone in family restaurants. I start complimenting a different person I don’t know every day.

Basically I try to do all the things that I’m sure are going to be awkward as fuck. I want to teach myself that being temporarily embarrassed and feeling socially inept won’t kill me. With the help of an amazing therapist, I went forth.

I had some really uncomfortable conversations, but also some unexpectedly good ones. I was surprised how quickly people went from staring at you to going back to whatever they were absorbed in. I became to actually like shopping, which was strange since I typically purchased everything online to avoid talking to people and *shudder* the horrors of the mall. 

Every day for two weeks, I do a little exposure therapy. It sounds crazy… but you know what? I feel pretty confident actually. I’m doing these things now not because I dread them as therapy, but because I’m enjoying the interaction.

They make for great stories. Example:

There was a girl on a bus I took home that was probably in her teens. I normally avoid talking to teenagers like the plague. However, I noticed her shouting over my music, and I turned down my headphones to hear her cursing loudly. I turned my music off and listened to her. While people were shooting her sideways glances, I immediately recognized she had tourettes. However, she was happily talking to her friend as they were riding along about typical girl things. Boys, makeup, clothes, television. Her friend got off and she was sitting alone, still randomly shouting obscenities. I decided to turn around and compliment her on her purse. Normally, the social awkwardness of talking to someone so young would have killed me. The desire to shrink away from the bubble of awkwardness surrounding her was palpable. Instead I had the nicest conversation I had all day with an incredibly bright woman. We talked about purses and online shopping, she cracked jokes easily and did not let her tic pause her for a minute. We did not wax philosophical, talk politics or science, but she was generous with her compliments and I was equally genuine with mine. We talked about shopping and swapped tips about our favorite stores. Her smile was warm, and we chatted until she got off at her stop.

I never would have normally talked to another girl about shopping. NEVER would think about talking to a teenage girl about it, but doing both ended up the highlight of my day. All 15 minutes of it.

One of many, many examples.

I have always heard in my favorite super hero movies that courage is not being afraid, but doing the right thing anyway.

Working on my social anxiety took courage. A lot of it. Notice I didn’t say “getting over”. Because I’m not. I’m still terrified many times, sometimes to the point of bordering on a panic attack- but I force myself to go through with it anyway. Not every interaction is positive, but the net sum of them are. And the ones that are not? I learned I can survive them.

I know it is not that easy for many people. I don’t mean to diminish the paralyzing effects of social anxiety. This is what worked for me, at this time, at this point in my life.

So I dive right into the deep end and sign up for speed dating.

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