I’m in my mid 20’s and can list all of the romantic encounters (from relationships to just making out) I’ve had on one hand. I’ve had, and continue to have, a lot of social anxiety in my life, and so whilst retrospectively I can identify when someone I’m into has most likely liked me back, I get very mixed up about it when it’s happening and I can’t bring myself to act on anything for fear of having misunderstood and coming across as a creep.
This is especially in my mind as I see the issue of men being creeps to women being brought to the public consciousness. I desperately don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and I want to be mindful of falling into the traps of mistaking friendliness for flirtation and misinterpreting, well, anything. But, I feel as though I now can’t identify when someone is flirting with me, or when anyone does like me, unless they’ve been the one to clearly show the initiative.
I also feel that in the times I’ve identified to have passed me by that the responsibility lay on me as the man to make things happen, due to the leftover cultural expectations and stereotypes to be the one that asks out rather than gets asked out – and so as I say, the majority of the times I’ve become romantic with someone they’ve done most of the “work” in making it happen. In this way I really feel like a passive and reactive participant in my romantic life, and I’m struggling to be anything other than that when really the thing I want most is to be in a loving relationship and one day have a family.
I feel it’s also relevant to say that I struggled for a long time with even making friends, thanks a lot to the anxiety, though recently I’ve found a good group; most of them are women (with whom I have little to no desire to become romantic with), and so I don’t necessarily have a problem with relating and forming platonic relationships (I still do somewhat but I've been able to work on that). But I do think I lack a lot of the skills needed in dating.
This is going to be you very soon. Jk this is a bizarre stock image that came up when I searched “flirting” I’m sorry!!!!!!
Good morning sweet angel, let’s dive in! Right off the bat, let me say that most people can empathize at least partially with what you’re struggling with. Even those hateful, dreadful folks without social anxiety (how disgusting of them) are usually a mess when it comes to dating, so it’s likely a whole lot less obvious than you think that you’re in a tizzy when it comes romance. All of us are flailing and the fact that people ever liked you or flirted with you—even if you didn’t notice until later!!— is such a good sign for your future.
Here’s a big secret: if you’re worried about creeping people out or being misunderstood, you’re on the right path already. I’m not saying this exculpates you from ever making someone feel uncomfortable. You are, however, already doing half the work, which is trying to be aware of the impact of your behavior. Asking someone out in an appropriate setting (not at work, not on the street, not as the first thing you’ve said to them, not in the DMs of someone who doesn’t know you) is generally not creepy. Of course you don’t have cart blanche to hit on people or comment on their bodies or anything, which I know you know but I feel I must say. You also should not be asking anyone out repeatedly, which IS creepy. But, if you can name three things you like about a person that are not about how they look, you’ve probably talked to them enough that asking them out will not read as creepy.
If you’re really worried about making people feel uncomfortable, the best thing to do is learn how to apologize and apologize sincerely. It can be very emotionally difficult to feel like you’ve wronged someone, and of course, no one need forgive you simply because you’ve apologized. But a heartfelt apology (don’t over do it) will go a long way.
I highly HIGHLY doubt that anyone who is being kind to you—but who isn’t flirting—is going to be creeped out by you simply asking, “Hey, would you want to get drinks some time?” That’s………. not what #metoo is. That’s not what women are upset about. It’s bit unfair to women that what we are VERY REASONABLY UPSET ABOUT has been twisted into, “If you ask a woman out ever you’re a creep and women will get you arrested for this and you’ll lose your job.”
But I suspect you already know and follow those rules intuitively because you care about other people. I also suspect that you’re helped along by the fact that you view women as people, which is evinced by the fact that you have a group of platonic friends which includes women. That bodes very well for you.
Now, the sad fact is that your anxiety is not going to go away, probably ever. It may abate a bit, and you can and should work on how to cope with it (with a professional therapist if at all possible), but it’s unlikely that your entire brain chemistry is going to change, lifting the veil of social anxiety and turning you into someone with the personality of a game show host. So, much as you have done with making friends, you’re going to have to learn how to override your fears. A lot of it is just the frightful practice of barreling through your anxiety and doing something when your brain is telling you DON’T DO THIS YOU DINGUS THIS IS SUCH A STUPID IDEA ARE YOU KIDDING?!?!?! Will that suck? Yes. But if your big goal is to be dating a fellow sweetie pie, you’re going to have to do it.
And really, that is the only skill you need to date people. The courage to be vulnerable. That’s really it. There is not a separate skill set that you need for dating; it’s quite the same as making friends (obviously minus the whole sex part). It’s saying, “hey, I like you, I’d like to get to know you better.” That’s all asking someone out is. That’s all being their friend is. In fact, the people who are convinced that dating is somehow completely dissimilar to making friends are the people who are most often doing the creepy stuff you’re trying to avoid. You aren’t lacking a single skill. If you know how to ask people questions about themselves, you’re already better equipped to date than most cis straight guys.
All you have to do—super small, minor thing— is over come a huge mental hurdle that sucks to deal with!!!!! Thankfully, you’ve been practicing for that for years.