David Eddie's Damage Control

My shyness is ruining my life

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

The question

I recently moved into a house that is shared by five people. Four of the housemates have been friends for years and have lived together for three. I am the newcomer. I'm usually very shy, but I made an effort to come out of my shell and be involved in the goings on in the house. My efforts to be friendly weren't exactly rebuffed, but they weren't received all that warmly either. For the past few months, I've withdrawn more and more, and feel increasingly isolated from the people I live with, to the point that I find it uncomfortable to be in my own home. My shyness has been an obstacle my whole life, and I don't want to let it rule me any more. Any suggestions on how to reintegrate myself into the house?

Story continues below ad

The answer

Ah, your question brings me back to my youth - when I actually liked people and wanted to hang out with them.

Now that I'm in my 40s I've decided, with a few exceptions, I hate everyone. And I find most social gatherings to be little more than zinger- and faux-pas-filled festivals of irritation and annoyance.

And so I avoid them. These days, I mostly concentrate on my work and my family, and spend what little free time I have moodily staring into the fire in the living room of my gloomy mansion, sipping bourbon and muttering misanthropic aphorisms to myself, e.g. Jean-Paul Sartre's famous dictum, "Hell is other people."

(Next inevitable phase: me in tattered bathrobe and ratty slippers, standing on my front porch, bandy, fish-white legs gleaming in the sunshine, shaking my fist at some kids whose baseball landed in my begonias.)

But back in the day I was a social butterfly nonpareil. From the ages of 19 to 31 I went out practically every night. I turned down nothing but my collar. I would've gone to the opening of a greenhouse, a henhouse, an outhouse.

And I had several circles of friends, circles that interlocked with other circles, spreading out from this country to the United States and even Europe.

All I'm trying to say is you came to the right guy. I've always had "mad skills" when it comes to making friends and maintaining friendships.

Basically, making a friend is, I feel, especially as one gets older, not dissimilar to the process of romantic seduction. You see someone you like - and kind of put a full-court press upon that person.

I mean, don't be too high-pressured about it. But it definitely helps your cause to show eager and enthusiastic interest in the person you would like to befriend.

Vis-à-vis your shyness, well, the way to overcome shyness is to decide you care more about making friends than you do about what people think of you or how they're going to judge you.

Don't get me wrong. I totally understand shyness and have wrestled with it myself. But more and more I'm coming to the opinion that shyness, because it's so tied up in other people's opinion of you, is in a funny way really a form of vanity. At some point you just have to say to yourself: "You know what, I'm just gonna let it all hang out and be me, for better or worse. I don't care what people wind up thinking of me."

I'm betting once your house mates get to know you, they'll like you. You showed great courage and honesty writing in to me. And courage and honesty, are, along with loyalty, the most important qualities when it comes to making and maintaining friendships.

The fact you admit to being shy and lonely, and want to do something about it, are great signs.

Also, it never hurts to do stuff not only with but for the people you would like to befriend. In your case, maybe make a nice dinner for everyone in the house.

And don't forget the wine. Never underestimate alcohol as a social lubricant and tongue loosener. It'll help with your shyness, too - though obviously I'd be an irresponsible advice columnist if I didn't say don't overdo it, don't become too dependent on it as a shyness antidote.

(But I don't think I would have had as many friends as I did without a little fermented social lubricant. And there is a distinct possibility I'd still be a virgin.)

However you go about it, do go about it - both for your sake and theirs.

Come on out of your shell, Mr. Lonelydude, and mix it up with everyone else. Sure, you might wind up looking dumb, saying the wrong thing, making a hash of things, and find yourself with a face full of egg.

Don't worry about it. At least in that, and in general, you will not be alone.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, will be published in the spring of 2010.