Ask Andrew W.K.: Why It's Perfectly OK to be Shy
[Editor's note: Every week New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Credit: Danny Pardoe
Dear Party God,
I'm shy. For example, I've never been able to ask out a girl on a date. I can't seem to find out why, but I push girls away. This isn't just a stupid teenager "forever alone" excuse; I really can't break this cycle of social anxiety. Please Andrew: help me break out of my shell and stop being shy!
- Awkward Teenage Blues
Dear Awkward Teenage Blues,
For some reason, shyness has gotten a really bad reputation. This is unfortunate. What is negatively defined as "shy" is actually just a different, and often more thoughtful personality. Someone who may be more quiet, or who prefers solitude over constant social stimulation isn't a lesser person. Society has put far too much pressure on those with so-called "social anxiety" and urged them to believe that something is wrong with their mind, and they should take medications and go to therapy so they can fit in and be comfortable and relaxed all the time. Well, guess what? Being alive is very intense, and for some people who are more sensitive, it's perfectly acceptable to not be comfortable all the time. The point of life isn't effortless comfort and a blurry sense of relaxation in all situations, social or otherwise. The anxiety of "social anxiety" comes from society telling us we shouldn't feel the intensity of life, and the stress we feel often comes from trying "fix" ourselves to fit in.
Even though human beings are social creatures, it's not necessary for all of us to constantly be surrounded by others, nor is it a sign of a well adjusted or successful person that constantly craves social interaction. In fact, I'm sure we can all think of people who are too outgoing, too social, too not-shy.
Picture the kind of person who goes around slapping everybody on the back a little too hard, pushing themselves into every conversation with a little too much enthusiasm, making the rounds at every gathering with interjections of forced laughter about not necessarily funny topics; the person who always has an opinion about everything and makes sure everyone is aware that they're in the room, that they're "well-adjusted," and that they're "very comfortable and confident." Some people could use a good strong dose of shyness. In fact, a lot of the people that seem to be the least shy are probably even more shy than you -- and they're forcing themselves to "break out of their shell" with a little too much force.
If a turtle breaks out of its shell, it will die quite quickly. Sometimes we have a shell for a reason -- and not just to protect us from the outside world or our fears, but to actually incubate us and allow us to grow and strengthen. Be patient with yourself. If a chicken breaks out of its shell too early, it will not have developed enough and will die. If a baby breaks out of its mother's womb too soon, it can be too fragile to survive the harsh outside world.
If we break our arm and don't wear the cast long enough, the bone will not heal and can break again. Our culture has put forward the idea -- especially for men -- that to be successful and likable, you must be an aggressively out-going social butterfly. This is absolutely not the case. There are different flavors of personality, and some people do best keeping to themselves and choosing to spend their time with their own thoughts.
Being able to keep yourself company is a great skill that many more "out-going" people never learn. There are people who experience extreme anxiety if they have to be alone for any period of time. They need constant interaction, and oftentimes the interaction is specifically there to distract them from interacting with the contents of their own mind -- the person they least want to spend time with is themselves. This is not a helpful trait. So don't be too hard on yourself for being shy. Besides, asking out a girl is usually pretty intense for everyone anyway -- even the guy who seems the most brave. And always remember that some of the best girls like shy guys specifically. And I should know -- I'm shy too.