Getting To Know A Shy Guy

A little mystery can be far more attractive than always being the center of attention. Dr. Laurie Helgoe offers insight on discovering a shy guy’s charms.

By Jane Ganahl

t a dinner party a few years ago, I realized I’d been set up. The attractive stranger to my left smiled frequently as I did most of the talking for my end of the table, but rarely spoke up or tried to engage me in conversation. When he did talk, it was to say something intelligent and on point, but he seemed so…I don’t know, subdued?

When we were clearing dishes, my friend asked me eagerly what I thought of him. Only then was it
Introversion in a man was not something I understood, let alone appreciated.
clear that she’d been hoping we might click on a romantic level. He seems nice enough, I told her, but clearly is not into me because he never really flirted.

“Oh no,” she insisted, “I was watching, and I can tell he likes you! He’s just… you know… shy!”

The word shy is not really in my vocabulary. Shy, like little boys cowering behind their mothers’ skirts? Shy, like breaking into a sweat when paying a compliment? All my life, the men I’d been attracted to were extroverts who told jokes and held court like royalty — and they flirted and seduced quite skillfully. Introversion in a man was not something I understood, let alone appreciated.

Still, when I got the email from him asking if I’d like to have dinner, I was intrigued enough to go. When it was just the two of us, his words were still limited, but flowed more smoothly. He talked about his job (he worked for a Silicon Valley startup), loved independent films and had three sisters. But he was reserved in divulging strong opinions, as well as the intimate details of his life. (Refreshing! And nice to not immediately have to hear about family dysfunction, an awful divorce or a rotten boss.)

My shy guy did not kiss me later as we parted company, but I wasn’t expecting it. The fact that he fumbled his words adorably when saying he’d like to see me again was almost more pleasing than someone handing me a bouquet of roses. Nor did he kiss me on the second date, even though he laughed more easily and shared more information about his life. By the time we finally kissed on date three, I was smitten — and really, really ready for that kiss! As was he, apparently: any shyness disappeared when the lights were out and he no longer had to use words to communicate.

Most men’s publications are full of advice on how guys can overcome shyness. Women, they insist, do not like shy men. If you want to be a player, you need to get game! Be bold! Nonsense, I say, now that I’m a fan of shy guys. Shy men should be appreciated for their own special gifts.

“The social stigma associated with shyness can often cause those who have an inward orientation to look at it as a disability instead of an opportunity,” says Dr. Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength (Sourcebooks, July 2008). “Introversion is only a flaw if it’s perceived to be. Shy people in this society could use a dose of self-acceptance and self-awareness,” says Dr. Helgoe.

What does Dr. Helgoe think are shy people’s best attributes? “Introverts have some wonderful strengths: we’re very
I’m tired of men who always have to be the center of attention.
thoughtful; the sharing of ideas is more important than who’s doing what,” says Dr. Helgoe. “Gossip tends to bore us. We think before we speak, which makes us good in meetings. We have very active inner lives — poets and philosophers are certainly introverts. There’s also a mysterious quality about introverts that makes them very attractive and alluring.”

You can say that again. Since my lovely months-long affair with the shy guy ended amicably, I’ve heard from several friends who say they love shy men. “I’m tired of men who always have to be the center of attention,” says Jennifer, a veteran dater in her 40s. “Shy men tend to be better listeners and more stable. Plus, it’s always fun to see if there’s a sexy caveman lurking beneath that quiet exterior.” And because shy men are not players, they are much more likely to treat a woman well — with respect and even adoration. Nothing wrong with that!

Bear in mind that there’s a difference between someone being shy and being passive. Passivity or indecisiveness in either gender can get annoying quickly. If your shy guy always leaves date planning up to you and you want him to take charge once in a while, let him know! “Why don’t I leave Friday night up to you? Surprise me,” you can say, nudging him to take charge. Then give him props for trying — even if your surprise is Chinese delivery at his place and a Battlestar Galactica DVD.

We all know that trying to change someone you’re dating is a losing proposition. Instead, be patient with your shy guy and work with his predispositions in finding solutions to challenges that may arise because of his shyness:
  • Start slowly with self-revelation. Sharing too much information right away can make an introverted person uncomfortable.
  • Bring up topics and share your thoughts, but don’t expect him to chime in until he feels comfortable with you. Start with light topics — your favorite music and movies, the food you like — and work your way up to more touchy subjects, like politics and religion.
  • When he does share his feelings with you, the worst thing you can do is tell others. An introvert would be horrified to think you are violating his privacy.
  • Avoid taking him to parties until you have established trust between you. Don’t expect him to be the life of the party when you do take him, and be respectful of his need to leave after a short time.
  • If you want to keep your shy guy, be smart about introducing him to friends and family. Your brother’s penchant for telling dirty jokes might not help win your gentleman’s heart.
More than anything, appreciate your shy guy for who he is, and ignore the naysayers who believe only alpha males get the girl.

“What a boring world this would be if everyone were the life of the party!” says Dr. Helgoe. “I would instead urge women to consider the quiet man by himself at the bar. He is probably much more interesting — and interested in you.”

Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age, journalist of two decades, and codirector of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival.
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