But I Don’t Know How to Talk to People

My buddy Rock was facing a common young man’s dilemma: what do I say to a girl? Our school lunch group, all of us 15 or 16-years-old, had little experience in that department. Fewer than half had been on a date. I will let Rock and our friend Harmon provide an example that applies even to adult variety women and men with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Keep this in mind if you share the same worry: you might be better at talking to people than you think.

Rock’s problem was set up by asking out a comely classmate. She said yes, not the outcome he prepared for. A little bit like the dog who chases the speeding fire truck and somehow overtakes the juggernaut. Now what?

The date was scheduled for Saturday night, so Rich (his real name) had time to create a plan. Harmon, playing the role of our comparative dating veteran, was consulted. He listened as Rock asked for help with the talking business:

First, you need to think of girls as – like – real people. Like one of the guys. You talk to friends with no problem. Talk about the same stuff with your date: school, teachers, movies, tv, music. Try this: make a list of topics to bring up. Then, if the conversation gets slow, consult the list. You’ll do fine.

Note the confidence and authority. Those of us who overheard the lecture were impressed. This was better stuff than we were getting from our teachers.

Encouraged by Harmon’s advice and pep talk, Rich proceeded to work on his agenda. “I can do this,” he said to himself. By the weekend, a formidable and fairly lengthy itemization of topics existed. He even memorized it.

Saturday evening arrived.

Rock took the Lincoln Avenue bus to the stop closest to the girl’s home. From there he walked two blocks to the address. Deep breath. Front door. Several repetitions of the agenda had been carefully rehearsed. The document was as clear in his mind as the chiseled version of the Ten Commandments was to Moses. Rules to follow to the letter.

The door bell was duly rung. A brief conversation with the mom ensued, then off with his date for the short walk back to the bus. Movieland and the wonders of time spent with a pretty girl beckoned. Houston, we have lift off!

Meanwhile, in various homes in West Rogers Park, Chicago, friends of Rich were all wondering some version of the same thought: what might be happening now? We hoped, after all, to get tips from our chum come Monday’s lunch. Perhaps enlightenment awaited us. A strange new world beckoned. As they say on Star Trek, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Rich arrived at our noontime meal looking like the person we’d last seen on Friday. No remarkable transformation. No bigger muscles, no greater height, no glow. He sounded the same, too. Finally, the question:

What happened?

(Pregnant pause, no pun intended. A sober look came over Rock’s face).

Well, by the time I’d walked the two blocks from her house back to the bus stop, I’d gone through the entire list.

Imagine now the collective sigh of a group of 10 young men: the air making a half hearted escape from a large balloon. Rock continued:

Yeah, I’d keep asking her questions and then … nothing. Silence. And I’d made especially sure that I didn’t smell bad. She did say she liked the movie. Oh, wait, she asked me one question:

Do you like Sugar Shack?

What’s Sugar Shack, I answered?

She tells me its a new song. That was it.

Some men are called to greatness, others have it dumped on them. Or not.

What is the point here? Rock did everything right. He made fine conversation, showed interest in his companion, and still … nothing worked. Moreover, before long he realized the date disaster wasn’t the fault of poor social skills.

Take the lesson to heart, my friends. If you’d like to learn more concerning the ease of drawing the wrong conclusions about your social skills; and about the treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), read this:

I’m Not Very Good at Making Conversation/

Remember: sometimes it’s your fault, but not always. Maybe even less often than you think.

The top photo below is called Young Love at the Malt Shop by Kevin Simpson, sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Next comes a Cover Illustration created by Livia De Simone for Dream Hunters, published by Astro Edizioni. It was sourced courtesy of Bubysan and Wikimedia Commons.

28 thoughts on “But I Don’t Know How to Talk to People

  1. “Remember: sometimes it’s your fault, but not always. Maybe even less often than you think.” Easy to say (or read) then to absorb and believe. A slightly modified version that I have read is. Even if the person was thinking what you feared (the worst), about a micro second after they have left your presence they have totally moved on to other thoughts and things .This version is more palatable because IMHO its perfectly logical. (still hard to believe at the time lol). Anyway I was one of the lucky ones who was so painfully awkward with dealing with the young ladies I never had a real date until age 21. The lucky part? We have been married 38 yrs in August. And btw the theory about being much better talking about regular things as if the the girl in front is a buddy applies. The first 3/4 of the date I was trying so hard it was pretty much a disaster. (even my well rehearsed make me sound cool line of “have you ever listened to a sunset” fell totally flat. It was only on the way home and then parked in front of her house with me now assuming I was a complete fraud that my guard was lowered. She said something then I did and the next thing we knew 2 hours had gone by. The next date I was only anxious for a few minutes and then we picked up where we left off. We were engaged 3 months later!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Keith, that is one of the best stories I’ve heard yet on how people met before they got married! Congrats!


    • Lovely story, Keith. The ancients (a wise man named Solon) said that one didn’t know whether one was fortunate until the last possible moment. Sounds like you got the news early. Congratulations!


  2. It is strange…I always thought I had social anxiety, but I am friendly and engaging and do initiate small talk with strangers. I worry about being inarticulate both verbally and in writing which is why I may not always comment on your articles. I am in a Catch 22…I would like to respond (and I mostly do) so you know I have read your article, but feel intimidated by the brilliance of your other respondents. I try my best…..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nancy, you seem to write/respond really well. I can understand intimidation though; I often feel intimidated by people in general – not just people in power, but people. Maybe that’s social anxiety, but I’ve never been officially diagnosed because I can carry on conversations at times and then get completely tongue-tied or really awkward at others. I gave up trying too hard recently, so it seems to be working. Nancy, you are very articulate to me! I wish I could be more succinct. I’m trying now to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Your comments are always worthy, Nancy. No need to hesitate posting them.


  3. Thanks, Dr. S, for this really cute story. I really am speechless because I don’t know what I am in regard to this. It changes up for me when I’m socially awkward at times and confident or comfortable at others, articulate at times and completely a tongue-twisted basket case at others. I’m also very verbose, which I’m really trying to work on. But the post was really informative and cute. I’ll still blame myself though, but yeah, sometimes it may not always be my fault.


  4. Dr. Stein, you sure know how to draw a reader in with your storytelling 🙂 Poor Rich! He tried too hard. Instead of focusing on his companion, he was too overcome with his own anxieties.

    I have discovered over the years that conversation, whether with strangers or friends, flows well when we can connect with the other person through active listening and sincere responses.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My younger brother was quite nervous asking women out as teenager, even though he was good looking with a great sense of humor. He’d rehearse his words for 15 minutes before picking up the phone. He’d get tongue-tied and worry about every little thing. That’s where big sis stepped in. I could give him the girl’s point-of-view and offer tips—kind of like a dating coach. A few years later, when we were both in college, my brother asked me to be his practice date for a summer evening at the outdoor concert grounds, Tanglewood. This way, he could figure out all the logistics ahead of time and be more relaxed for the real deal. I had a wonderful time and so did the other girl. This story, by the way, has been passed down to our children who find it hilarious. I still have the photos! Postscript: Eventually, my brother gained confidence and grew out of his anxiety. Practice helps.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You were a worthy big sister, for sure, Evelyn. One of these days the dating scene will find beautiful and handsome robots, which will make for enormous complications, especially for the humans who have to compete. On the other hand, those who are shy will have an easier time. The human experience will be transformed. Who knows what else the future will bring.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Joseph Patrick Lori

    I would like to take the opportunity, for just this once to see if I, myself, can actually do something to prevent future generations from making the same mistakes as previous ones.
    Dating and marriage are not for everybody, and there have always been too many people who would be better of single, and the rest of the world would be a better place for it.
    What is the best way, however, to illustrate and defend what is bound to be a controversial notion that tends to fly in the face of what everybody else is used to? I can’t find the words myself to express what others are determined to ignore, anyway.
    In the meantime, there is a song that has been going through my mind a lot lately, and I believe that it just might express what I mean to say.

    Lyrics by , Jack Yellen, Bob Bigelow and Charles Bates
    Music by Milton Ager

    Down in Savannah, I said Savannah, the weather there is nice and warm.
    The climate’s of the southern brand. There’s just one thing I don’t understand.
    They got a gal there, a pretty gal there, who’s colder than an Arctic storm.
    She’s got a heart just like a stone. Even icemen leave her alone.
    They call her Hard Hearted Hannah, the vamp of Savannah, meanest gal in town.
    Talk about your cold, refrigeratin’ mamas! She’s the polar bear’s pajamas.
    To tease ’em and thrill ’em, torture and kill ’em, is her delight, they say.
    Why I saw Hannah at the seashore with a great big pan. She was pourin’ water on a drownin’ man.
    They call her Hard Hearted Hannah, the vamp of Savannah, GA!
    Now an evenin’ spent with Hannah sittin’ on your knees, is like goin’ through Alaska in your – BVD’s.
    They call her Hard Hearted Hannah, I said she’s Hard Hearted Hannah, they call her Hard Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah GA!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joseph, you’re right about that. There are some people who identify as asexual and are happy, some people who are aesthetically challenged and have difficulty finding a mate, some people who have been traumatized by a medical condition after rape that really prevents intimate sexual relationships from being safe or fun anymore for fear of giving another person the disease for which you got from your abuser/rapist, and some people whose mental illness makes it more challenging to benefit from a romantic relationship. Then there’s the age factor and gender issue – older generations of women who were submissive to their ex-husband’s needs and couldn’t do what they wanted to do until they were finally free and less stigmatized to divorce, pursue their careers and passions, and not feel tied down to a relationship – similar to someone in their early 20s who got the chance to get the education and career they wanted before choosing a relationship, only, once the career is set, the age factor will make it more challenging to find a mate. You can’t make people like you; they either do or they don’t, and there are some who really wanted a relationship but never found one. There are people who also want to be a “Golden Girl” with lifelong friends who support you in old age, as opposed to romantic relationships. People come from all walks of life. Sexual healing is something I had learned in a trauma treatment facility, and spiritual healing as well. I’m one of those who, as a rape survivor with recurring human papiloma and genital herpes (all from the rapist), on top of PTSD and being in my early 40s, I decided to focus on the work I love to do, my friends, and living an asexual life. It took a lot of grief work I did on my own, since I never got to trust a therapist enough to share this, but I feel content and have been since 2004. I’ve tried relationships that were open to constant protection and safe sex, but it never went anywhere; my partner had always known. Thankfully, I didn’t get any other diseases, but having those two are bad enough. I’m happiest when I can simply spend time alone or with friends exploring the world. I can’t tell you the countless times I’ve been misdiagnosed because I didn’t feel safe enough to share my whole story, and I’m always opened to a romantic relationship if the feelings are mutual and the longevity is there, but I’m also real about knowing that other people wouldn’t want these hangups, and it would be stressful to maintain that kind of high maintenance relationship. Anyway, I can understand on a few levels what you said. But there is also room to understand heartbreak and heartache, the different sexual orientations, and how some disabled people or aesthetically challenged people can find lasting romantic relationships that are healthy. It just takes a lot of work, but is rewarding.


      • You are on my list of electronic people to whom I’d like to give a hug, PP. And a hero (heroine), too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aw, thank you, Dr. S. Online, here’s a somewhat hug (((Thank you, Dr. S))). I typically use two or more parentheses encapsulated in a phrase with a person’s name to send an e-hug.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dr. S, I had to look up the word heroine because I didn’t know what it meant. LOL. That’s really kind of you. Though, I’m not always brave, I mess up a lot, and I haven’t done much to be a hero except toward myself lately. But maybe I am in other ways I haven’t thought of. Thank you for the encouragement.


      • Heroine also refers to a woman of noble character, something the ancient philosophers particularly valued.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Dr. S. 🙂


    • I’m happy to say I did not meet HHH. I’m guessing you might be old enough, Joseph, to recall Hubert Horatio Humphrey, a very different HHH than the one in the song. Thanks for your comment.


  7. Gerry. A fun memory but remind me, who was the “comely classmate”? Hope all is well. Ron

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve sent you the name privately, Ron. No point to inviting law suits!


  9. its really a good article .thanks for posting

    Liked by 1 person

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