You Don’t Have to be an Extravert to Have a Girlfriend

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Reader’s Question

I’m 20 years old and am quite depressive and negative at times, so it’s really hard for me to make friends. I don’t think I enjoy socializing at all. The main reason that I really want to change is that I’ve never had a girlfriend and I’m very needy and desperate right now.

I wouldn’t say I’m shy, because I know I can be sociable at times. I just don’t enjoy it enough to keep it up. Unfortunately, to get the girl, you have to be sociable, which requires a higher level of confidence than I have. But I need to be more sociable in order to get that confidence. All this makes me sad.

Psychologist’s Reply

First, if you are experiencing depression, I urge you to seek treatment from a mental health professional. One symptom of depression is indeed social isolation, which often comes from low energy, lack of interest in things, and a negative outlook on how things will turn out. So, treatment for any underlying depression would be an important first step in the process of finding and creating romance.

However, although lack of social activity is a classic sign of depression, that’s only the case when it represents a change from the person’s typical behavior. In other words, many people are quite happy keeping to themselves. We even have a word for such people: introverts. Frequently, introversion is confused with shyness, although they may have little relationship to each other. Introverts may be quite comfortable interacting with others, but simply don’t feel much motivation to do so. Others may be more extroverted, and desire social activity, but are shy and anxious around others, preventing them from being as social as they’d like.

Because there seem to be more cultural rewards and esteem for being extraverted, introverts often feel like there must be something wrong with them, or that they’re missing out. Ultimately, though, we should embrace whatever makes us happy, and recognize that there is variability in how much social interaction people desire.

Introversion can make it more difficult in the dating world, but shyness probably wreaks more havoc. Fortunately, you described yourself as not shy, although you’d like to be more socially confident. Like most other activities, confidence comes with practice and experience. Still, we probably overestimate how confident other people are socially. We have access to our own self-doubts, but can’t read their minds, leaving us to assume that their social behavior is based on greater self-confidence than it is.

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As you venture out to meet women, a couple of words in your letter concerned me: “needy” and “desperate.” These are not attractive qualities in people generally, whether introverted or extraverted. That’s why, ironically, building the most satisfying life possible as a single person is the best strategy for finding a partner. Also, now that you know that introversion is just as common and legitimate as extraversion, you can own that aspect of your personality, rather than trying to change it, hide it, or apologize for it. And, an introverted woman is liable to be relieved that you can empathize and have a similar perspective on social activity. Finding each other might take a bit of intentional effort. Fortunately, in the age of online dating, it’s easier than ever to describe ourselves and find someone similar, even as both people do so from the comfort of their own homes.

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