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Dr. Andrew Rynne

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How to overcome anxiety and insecurity in initiating conversations for courtship?

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Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe

Psychiatrist

Practicing since :2014

Answered : 2243 Questions

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Posted on Mon, 19 Oct 2015 in Mental Health
Question: Hi, I am a man who is attracted to men (hate the term 'gay') and I joined a gym about 4 months ago. I saw the most handsome, well-built man there that I have ever seen. I am also very attractive, but I though this guy was 'out of my league', and also probably straight. Nevertheless, I spoke to him one day, and this continued for about 3 months - just 'good morning, have a good one, how are you', etc. He always responded, but he never once initiated. I noticed he NEVER initiated a conversation with any of the few people in the gym who talked to him. He would always smile and answer politely, though. He would smile and answer me politely too, but sometimes he would be perfunctory, sometimes he would look up or away when I was near him - his body language said 'leave me alone'. Still, when I asked him questions he would respond. I was always nervous, so I myself was never satisfied with how this went. Then, perhaps after I bought some gym clothes that made my physique more evident, I noticed him looking at me- he would look away quickly if I saw him. This attention became more frequent and more prolonged. One Friday, I spoke to him and he said 'Morning', and it sounded between perfunctory and disdainful. I told myself I was through making an effort, but later I saw him in the locker room, decided to give it one last try, and we had the fluid conversation that I had always wanted. I took the opportunity to introduce myself, and we continued talking. He told me it was nice to meet me , and told me again as I was leaving.I had no doubt that he was glad to meet me. I thought we had broken the ice, and that things might be different- and they were- he seemed happy to see me, his voice was warmer, and he was smiling . I used his name when I spoke to him - but he never did not use mine, and he still did not initiate contact. For the next three days, I would see him looking at me from across the floor more frequently than ever- I began to think that he wanted me to act now, and seduce him, but my house was a mess, so I was not comfortable asking him home- or asking him anywhere, as I just hadn't gotten enough from this guy, and I wanted to get to know him before we took it any further. I was a little panicked about the next step, as I thought this staring behavior would get old, and it needed to move forward somehow. It occurred to me at this point that perhaps his interest was mostly sexual. Over the course of the next week, this attention seemed to wane. I decided to give him the chance to initiate contact. This morning, I looked at him when I was near him, and he looked away. I did not speak. Now this is a very awkward situation. I finally spoke to him in the locker room as I was so close to him while he was shaving, I thought it was worse not to speak. He was very perfunctory. I had decided that whatever this man's issues are with the not initiating, it didn't matter - making all the effort made me feel terrible, so I decided to stop making contact if he could not bring himself to speak to me first. I feel very sad- of course I know there never was a relationship, and I realize I set myself up for disappointment . I am so puzzled by this man's behavior- my best explanation is that he has always been pursued, so he doesn't make an effort. I think he was attracted to me, but I don't think he regularly has sex with men, so because of this and his passive nature, he expected me to seduce him when he revealed his interest by looking at me (I am certain what these looks meant). I think he lost interest, or became confused, or embarrassed when I did not follow though, or he wished he had not revealed his interest in men to me. Again, what do you make of these very mixed, mostly very passive signals? He works out like a fiend- does he sound like a very passive somatic narcissist? I have dated a cerebral narcissist before, and this reminds me of the way they change to keep you off balance. I feel so upset over the loss of my obsession (does that make me a narcissist?) and I just needed someone to talk to.
doctor
Answered by Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 1 hour later
Brief Answer:
Consultation

Detailed Answer:
Thank you for the very interesting story and question.

I'm struck by how passionate you're writing about this man, and by how emotional you clearly are about him. You very much wanted to explore some sort of relationship with him, whether sexual or more than that. But it never really worked out.

Why is that?

You really don't know anything about him. This is because of a lack of meaningful, really meaningful, conversation between you. You've never been on a date with him or really in any way asked him out. I think you're projecting a lot of your own emotions and insecurities on to him -- saying he's aloof, lacks initiative, and may be a narcissist -- to avoid the fact that you are the one with the clear interest, and yet didn't initiate anything with him I think the simplest solution to all your heartache and worry is to simply ask this man if he'd like to go on a date with you. His interest, or lack thereof, would be made very clear by his answer -- yes or no.

I think this man has become a kind of fantasy for you. You speak about him as an obsession. But what do you really know about him? His gym schedule, and that's about it. What does he do for a living? Is he married? Does he have kids? Where is he from? What makes him happy or sad? What are his interests outside the gym? The answer to any one of these might turn you off. I think the best way to evaluate if this man is really worthy of obsession is to get to know him -- and this requires asking him out.

I know this is easier said than done. You suspect he might not be a man who has sex with other men, at all or often, and this makes things very complicated for you. It is difficult and I absolutely empathize with your dilemma. I think for your own sanity, the solution here is to talk to him. Ask him out. The worst that can happen is he says no, you're embarrassed for a bit, but you know for sure he isn't interested. And if you do start dating, you'll get to know the real him, and decide then if he's worth so much of your attention.

I hope this was somewhat helpful to you.

For a more comprehensive evaluation and answer, ask me on HealthCareMagic at the private link below: tinyurl.com/DrSheppeAnswers


Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Raju A.T
doctor
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Follow up: Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 5 hours later
Hi,

Thank you for your reply.

For a little background, I have been looking after my mom for the past few years. She recently passed away, and suddenly I had my life back.I decided, at the age of 62, to get back in the game and try to find a meaningful, lasting relationship.I think all the loves of my life have really only been infatuations, and I want to experience real love, and I think I am ready for it. I started back to the gym a few months ago, and I got lots of attention from a lot of men- even though I am 62, I am freakishly young in appearance. I started realizing how much I enjoyed the attention, and of course, I think -narcissistic supply- am I a somatic narcissist? I know I am high on the narcissistic continuum, but I hope I do not have NPD. I try to be aware of how I interact with others - I am always trying to 'catch myself' to see if I am, and change it if I can.

I do want a man who is handsome and muscular and masculine, but not hyper masculine, perfect/ intimidating. Physical appearance is important, but only a part of attraction. I want someone who is intelligent, with a great sense of humor. More importantly, we must be comfortable with each other. We should inspire each other to be better people.

So why then did I set my sights on the guy that I wrote about? My first thought about him was that he was 'out of my league'. He is so physically perfect that i Make myself feel bad about my body when I see him shirtless. And the first time I spoke to him, I thought he was so hyper masculine that a) he was probably straight, and b) we had nothing in common.

I disagree with your assessment that I filed to initiate anything with him - if I had not, there would never have been any contact or conversation. Because of our schedules, there is not much of an opportunity to talk to him but one day a week, although I see him and speak every day. It was always my plan to talk to him more, and get to know him better, and , if we hit it off, to ask him out. I talked to him about college football in the locker room- which I don't really care about. And that was another part of the problem- I felt like I had to be someone other than myself then I talked to him. His behavior also feels inconsistent toward me, which just adds to the problem. The last conversation we had (he can't even stop to talk to me, he continued to lift weights while we talked), I walked away saying 'This guy is so wrong for me'. and I felt like I finally had to see what would happen if I did not speak first. Would you want to build a relationship with someone who turned his head away from you when you approached? Most people will not pursue even a friendship with other people who do not initiate contact at least part of the time. It is exhausting, and it makes you miserable.

I remember several other men years ago that I obsessed about for months who were unavailable. I even started seeing a shrink about one of them. They were always men I worked with, so I saw them every day. I have always thought that my sexual orientation is a result of not having male bonding during crucial periods of my childhood- that I crave intimacy from men to try and fill this void. Winning one of these unavailable men would fill that void and make everything right, in my mind, I suppose, although I am never aware of that while I'm in the midst of an obsession.

I feel so bad that we will soon not speak anymore, but I am just facing reality. This is the right thing to do. I don't want to chase people and create fantasies anymore. I did not realize how miserable this can make you. I want to realize that I have to find happiness within myself, and be open to all the chances to experience happiness that arrive every day. Yesterday I went to the bank to see a teller who worlds there- he seemed attentive to me when I saw him a while back, and he's already nicer and easier to talk to than the gym guy. But I must be careful not to do the same thing again.

I have also decided to accept my aging body with all its flaws, and look outside the gym for someone less than physically perfect (I've always known I need to do this). Muscle are fine, but they are not an end in themselves. I don't want to become just another manorexic gym rat.

Your thoughts?
doctor
Answered by Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 11 hours later
Brief Answer:
Follow-up

Detailed Answer:
I think your thoughts are wise and full of insight. Some particularly important quotes of yours I'll highlight below.

"I felt like I had to be someone other than myself when I talked to him."

"Would you want to build a relationship with someone who turned his head away from you when you approached?"

"I crave intimacy from men to try and fill this void. Winning one of these unavailable men would fill that void and make everything right, in my mind, I suppose, although I am never aware of that while I'm in the midst of an obsession."

"I don't want to chase people and create fantasies anymore. I did not realize how miserable this can make you."

"He seemed attentive to me when I saw him a while back, and he's already nicer and easier to talk to than the gym guy. But I must be careful not to do the same thing again."

"I want to realize that I have to find happiness within myself, and be open to all the chances to experience happiness that arrive every day."

This pattern of rapid attachment, fantasy/obsession, and disappointment all probably results from difficulty with self-esteem regulation. It seems like you attach to men you don't know well -- a guy at the gym, a bank teller -- because this is safe. They are at a distance. You don't know them or get to know them especially well because this would make you vulnerable when they ask the same personal questions of you. It's easier to set them up as a fantasy -- but this falls apart when the fantasy crumbles and you realize your vision of them is not really accurate or all that intimate. I think you said it yourself -- you need to accept yourself and find happiness within yourself before you will feel comfortable doing this with other men. You seem like a very nice, intelligent, and insightful person -- once you realize these good qualities about yourself, it will be easier to take things beyond the fantastical with others and make them more substantive.

For a more comprehensive evaluation and answer, ask me on HealthCareMagic at the private link below: tinyurl.com/DrSheppeAnswers


Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Raju A.T
doctor
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Follow up: Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 5 hours later
Hi, thanks again for your response.

I have been on a roller-coaster of emotions all last night and this morning. Even though I decided to stop pursuing this guy, I now am obsessed with the idea that. I ruined my chance with him in the few days that followed the (only real) conversation I had with him. I started to worry if I had ruined it by backing off - he was barely perfunctory yesterday. I started thinking that, as you suggested, that I should just ask him out.

I think about why this guy has become so important to me. You are right- my self esteem fluctuates. When I put someone on a pedestal, it disappears. That is why, instead of having a spontaneous conversation, I plan things to ask him. Sometime it goes OK, mostly not. I think once my self esteem is lowered, I experience paralysis, and part of my desire to 'conquer' this guy us also a battle to get my esteem back, to be the comfortable in my own skin guy that I normally am- to be my smart, funny, fast self that I am without regard to how it is received.

I am in retail sales, so I am at work now. I have been with people all day today, so I was to the extent that thought is this guy left my head. As I heard myself laughing and joking with my customers, I felt like my normal self again. I believe that risk taking is a healthy part of life, but asking this man out is not a risk I need to take now. Why? Because I already have my answer. I have seen nothing to make me believe that this guy would ever understand my sense of humor or appreciate my intelligence, and I have received next to no encouragement from him. I already have my answer.

However, I think it's important not to set absolutes. If I take him down off the pedestal, and I feel comfortable talking to him, and I still want to ask him out, fine. If not, I'll leave him alone.

Regarding the bank teller, I plan to visit the bank a couple of times, and if I think I want to get to know him, give him my phone number and ask him out, try to get to know him instead of crawling into another miserable fantasy.

The reason I am attaching to strangers is that I just don't know anyone here- I've been looking after my parents since I moved back here from Manhattan.




doctor
Answered by Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 2 hours later
Brief Answer:
Follow-up

Detailed Answer:
I think your decided approach is the best one. I agree that you should not set absolutes. But rather than torture yourself, if you decide you want to pursue either of these men, simply ask them out. You'll be happier in the long term.

If you want to keep discussing this or anything else, you can speak with me on HealthCareMagic at my private link: tinyurl.com/DrSheppeAnswers
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Raju A.T
doctor
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Follow up: Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 5 hours later
Hi Again,

I am considering asking this guy out, even if the window has closed, just for the sake of doing it.

I agree this is a question of losing my self esteem around people to whom I'm attracted. I have remembered other guys that I did go out with, but the dates were horrible, for the same reason. I want to end this self-defeating behavior, but sometimes confronting this reduces my self-esteem even more- low self esteem becomes just another weapon for my critical inner voice.

How do you get past this?
doctor
Answered by Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 9 hours later
Brief Answer:
Follow-up

Detailed Answer:
Really the best way to address this problem is weekly psychotherapy. Psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral approaches would over time help you build insight and raise your self-esteem. I recommend you seek out a therapist to explore these issues with you.

For a more personalized comprehensive evaluation and answer, ask me on HealthCareMagic at the private link below: tinyurl.com/DrSheppeAnswers
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Vaishalee Punj
doctor
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Follow up: Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 8 hours later
Hi Dr. Sheppe,

As I said, I've been thinking about asking this guy out, even if just for the exercise. I've been reading about risk and rejection, I know no growth comes without them. One of the most interesting things I read was about using curiosity:

'Instead of passively waiting to see if you are rejected, you are actively observing the outcome of a situation. The risk is still emotional but you have added an intellectual component. You have also given yourself a little distance that reduces the fear of rejection. You have become both a participant and an observer.'

So, I'm trying to steel my nerves and think of an approach. I've decided not to ask him about football again, because it's not authentically me:

'Fear of rejection often prompts us to ignore who we really are in favor of who we think others want us to be. In some ways this exacerbates the possibility of rejection because the possibility of finding people who really “ get us” is left out of the equation.'

I keep coming back to saying this. A friend of mine advised me to keep it light, that I should not say something that sounds like I've been thinking too much about him, but I keep coming back to this, because it feels real:

"I enjoyed meeting you, but- maybe it's all in my head- but I feel like I stepped off on the wrong foot, and that's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to get to know you better. Would you like to meet me for a drink one night?"

Maybe the friend is right. Maybe I should just say:

"I really enjoyed meeting you, and I'd like to get to know you better. Would you like to meet me for a drink?"and if he says yes, "Are you busy Thursday night?"

It was slightly over 2 weeks ago when I introduced myself, but this feels real, and it feels like me. When I'm not intimidated, I am known by my friends and co-workers for my directness.

What do you think?

doctor
Answered by Dr. Alexander H. Sheppe 1 minute later
Brief Answer:
Follow-up

Detailed Answer:
I think that approach is genuine, honest, straightforward, and I think you should go for it! Good luck.

For ongoing therapy or a more personalized comprehensive evaluation and answer, ask me on HealthCareMagic at this private link: tinyurl.com/DrSheppeAnswers
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Raju A.T
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