Overcoming Social Anxiety Around Women

This post might come across as the introverted (possibly socially awkward) man’s credo to grab life by the balls and step into the life he knows he can have. The life without social anxiety and shyness that he knows is waiting for him. 

It is my story, but I suspect a lot of men out there will relate. 

There comes a point in time in every single man’s life where he decides with utmost conviction that the loneliness that he feels, and the shyness, and the social anxiety around people in general and women in particular must go. 

Whenever it comes, it comes with a vengeance and a stubbornness that refuses to die down. Until it is conquered. 

It must be conquered. And once conquered, it must be banished once and for all. 

At some point, a man has to let go of all past rejection, humiliation, awkwardness and self-consciousness to step into a life which has more intensity, better relationships and essentially, a lot more oomph. Luna advises the same.

I had reached that point a couple of years back. 

The duality of social anxiety

I used to suffer from social anxiety. Not severe, but bad enough to make me very uncomfortable.

I used to be the guy who would hesitate to ask the waiter to bring me something.

I used to be the guy who would hesitate to speak up in a room.

I used to be the guy who wouldn’t ask a doubt in class for fear of looking stupid in front of everyone.

I was the embodiment of duality, because while the above was true, I was also frequently the leader of sports teams, the leader of projects and also the one to start a business while at University.

If you only saw the guy who was hesitating to say something during class, you’d think I was a total loser.

However, if you met me when I was working on my business, or playing sport, you’d have a totally different image of me. 

Over the years, I have seen first hand that such duality is a part of every one of us. The beautiful girl who loves posting pics of herself on Instagram, but is scared to post a blog on a topic dear to her. The successful startup founder who can’t bring himself to say ‘hi’ to a woman he finds attractive. The successful athlete who quivers when faced with the prospect of giving a speech in front of a large audience.

That so many men suffer from social anxiety is a sign of the times we live in. We’re more connected than ever, and paradoxically less social than we have ever been. Of course, women aren’t exempt from social anxiety and feelings of isolation, but let me speak for my brethren here. The mind boggles because many men who feel this way don’t ever do the inner and outer work required to go beyond so they can embrace their manliness and work towards relationships they truly want. This usually manifests in feelings of isolation, loneliness and for those that just can’t cope, severe depression. Ultimately, when it comes to relationships with women, they either give up on women altogether, or ask mama to find them a wife, as that avoids the pain of putting yourself out there. 

A few years back, I went through some hard times financially and personally, so in order to get my head above water again, I knew that I would have to work bloody hard. This usually took the form of prioritising work and earning money over going out and meeting friends and dating women. Over a couple of years, I almost lost touch with all my friends, and felt like the only loser who didn’t have a girlfriend. I truly believed that putting all my effort into work would solve all my problems. It did solve my money problems, but I began to feel overwhelmingly lonely at times. That’s when I reached ‘the point’. 

The need for change

We go through such an extensive and expensive school and university education, but we’re ill prepared to deal with integral aspects of life like relationships. Growing up, I don’t ever remember a senior member of the family sitting me down and telling me that at some point, I will long to be with women, and that there is a process, a skillset almost, that I need to possess in order to take this longing to fruition. Like me, most men are just left to figure this stuff out on their own, and it usually involves a lot of trial and error. Some men are naturally good at it, but the others just trundle along cluelessly for years, decades even. 

Many men who have enjoyed fulfilling relationships started their journey from this fork in the road. There seems to be nowhere to run, and nothing that can make the ride smoother. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you will know that for the longest time I suffered from social anxiety and around women in particular. I wanted them to like me, but I didn’t want to risk getting rejected either. 

Deleting the dating apps was basically the result of me having reached this point of no return. I realised that just swiping on an image was helping me avoid the potential pain of getting rejected when trying to connect with people on an emotional level. But it was also the behaviour that would keep me from having a full life. Pain avoidance never gets you far

For some reason, my ‘game’ with women was confined to clubs and bars — somehow the intoxication of alcohol, the dimly lit rooms and the ear popping music makes for a safe haven for guys like me to come out and ‘play’. And play I did. But it wasn’t very fulfilling. 

You see, being uncomfortable around women, in any shape of form, is a symptom of something larger than the symptom itself. Symptoms are usually a sign post to something that exists far deeper. For me, I knew that my discomfort was a symptom of a bigger problem — that of being scared of rejection. A related problem, which also led to the fear of rejection was one of whether I am good enough. In essence, a problem of self worth. And if you don’t feel worthy enough, this usually comes to the surface when you interact with women, or anyone for that matter. 

So in order to correct this, it was pretty clear what I had to do. I had to get out into the real world, crank the engines to restart my social life, meet new people and then organically pursue the relationships that I wanted. For someone who used to enjoy going out with friends, it did not take me too long to get back into the groove. I just had to make more of an effort to get out of the house, since I had become too accustomed to staying home and hustling away at work. 

{how utterly ridiculous that in this day and age, I need to refer to the world outside of your phone as the ‘real’ world or the ‘physical’ world}

It takes work, but it is worth it

This process of getting out again, meeting new people and trying to connect with strangers was one that used to fill me with dread. I used to hate having to make ‘small’ talk with people I didn’t know. So I’d avoid company get togethers and networking events altogether.

This time around though, I knew that my malaise had was due to the fact that I had been avoiding the very situations that would help me connect with people. So I intentionally put myself in these uncomfortable situations, and the results initially were not pretty. It was like the first day in a new school, all over again. Weird looks, people who weren’t all that welcoming, and more dead ends than desirable. 

The more I went out, often times against the usual urge to just stay home and read or work, the more comfortable I got around people. I started to feel more like the person I used to be — the guy who hesitated to talk to strangers, but almost always came away having enjoyed the experience. 

Eventually, it all started to feel quite normal. The more I tried to connect, the better I got at giving off a good vibe. The less I felt that people didn’t like me. Or didn’t want to talk to me. And eventually this translated into the way I came across to women as well. Responses from women got better, and I became more at ease with putting myself on the line. 

I began to see that as humans, we are wired to connect within networks. A friend introduces you to his friend, and that’s how the network grows. It is organic, it feels safe, and most importantly, it feels very natural. Over time, instead of meeting women specifically with the goal of developing romantic relationships with them (as you do through a dating app), which I realised put a lot of pressure on me, I started to meet them very organically through social gatherings. And as my confidence grew, I started to take more chances with women, whenever they presented themselves. Some of these ‘chances’ would have seemed downright ridiculous to me a few years back. Now, they are my new normal. 

Getting better with women was not the end goal in itself, it was merely going to be the side effect of becoming a better person myself. Of becoming more the man that I knew I could be. If I could be honest with myself and work through my self imposed constraints, I would automatically get better responses from women. And it’s a win — win, they get a better man and I am happier too.

It has been a work in progress for a few years now. But it is probably the most important and fulfilling work I’ve done. Mostly because the positive effects have spilled over into other parts of my life.

That Harvard study really is right — our relationships are the most important aspect of our lives. Relationships and community bring more joy than money, professional success and material things.

The journey has been full of ups and downs, moments of ecstasy and moments of heartbreak, but I am almost unrecognisable compared to the person I was a few years ago. 

This didn’t happen overnight though.

It was basically a result of the only process known to (wo)man to create effective and long lasting change. That of exposing oneself to situations which make you uncomfortable, repeatedly and consistently, until you are able to do it with a reasonable degree of comfort

Don’t fear failure

As a single man, the process of overcoming social anxiety is essentially about becoming a better human. It is about shedding the snakeskin of doubt, worry and fear, and marching into the world with an air of confidence that says ‘I got this. I have value to give to the world. I’ve seen plenty, and I’ve risen from the depths of despair multiple times.’

It is a slow, invisible and often painful process. 

Painful because I get rejected more often than not. But rejection isn’t the heady monster that it used to be. It has become a part and parcel of putting myself in situations my brain and heart say I’d rather not be in, but doing it anyway. 

Deep down, all of us know what is really holding us back from living the lives we want. We have all had glimpses of living as unlimited beings — where we didn’t seem to have any limits, and where success, happiness and joy just seemed to fall into our lap. But it does take work to get to such a stage, in any sphere of life. 

Ladies, you can help too!

The next time a guy asks you out, and you’re not into him, tell him to get lost, but do it with kindness. As Plato (?) once said, ‘be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’ Often, when a guy makes a move, he is having to push against emotional and mental demons that would cripple most people. 

We are all drawn from the same consciousness; bag of bones, pimples and warts, fighting our inner demons, hoping to come out as winners, or at the very least, happy, when it is all done and dusted. 

Fighting social anxiety isn’t easy. But it is so worth it. When I feel like things aren’t going the way that I would like, the Imagine Dragons song comes to mind:

Whatever it takes
’Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do whatever it takes
’Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains
Whatever it takes
You take me to the top I’m ready for
Whatever it takes
’Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do what it takes

This is a struggle as worthy and magnificent as any that exists. 


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