Not a term I came up with myself, but one from an advice column which I do think sums up one of my major issues. I spend so much time trying to examine every angle of something that I end up not making a move at all. It applies to various things, but especially with women, it is the kiss of death. Despite advances in gender norms since the 1950’s or even the 1980’s, men are still expected to make the first move in any attempt to date. For those with natural confidence or charisma, or even with inflated egos or senses of entitlement, this is a no brainer. For those of us without these things, though, it’s a killer.
I can’t speak for everyone, only for myself and my own experiences. I have never excelled at being spontaneous, at least beyond making jokes or banter. When it comes to asking someone out or even trying to start a conversation with a woman I fancy, it becomes almost impossible to do. I have become so conditioned to knowing I have no chance with women that the urge to attempt to talk to one in some social setting that I don’t know usually dies very quickly. I glance at her, and maybe even look at her quickly, making sure that she doesn’t notice me or make eye contact with me at all. It’s almost an art unto itself, taking a quick look at someone and then making sure to look away before they can glance back. Since I am no longer in school and my job only allows me opportunities to meet new women very rarely, it is easy to go for days or weeks without any opportunities.
Another modern obstacle is technology. Nearly everyone has ear buds in their ears listening to music on their iPod or iPhone or MP3 player or so on. Many times when people are commuting they are playing a game or watching something on these devices. It’s rude to interrupt, and furthermore, they likely won’t hear you until you yell or they notice someone trying to talk to them. If first impressions are everything, then that’s a terrible way to start. Such a hurdle did not exist in the 90’s and even early 2000’s, at least to such a vast degree. Plenty of people still listened to their walkman when commuting. I could never manage it; I always like having my senses about me at all times, and cutting off sound makes me too paranoid when outside.
But when an opportunity does arise, what do I do? Nothing. I try to think of the best way to break the ice. Often that means trying to come up with an acceptable opening line. I am not talking about cheesy pick up lines (I have nowhere near the confidence or arrogance to try them), I am just talking about anything beyond a “Hello”. And even that is a huge thing for me. This is New York; strangers don’t just say “hello” to each other on the street or during a commute unless there is a reason. In fact, that’s usually how one knows whether a panhandler is about to ask for money or one is about to be mugged. So usually another line has to come as quickly as possible, at best a statement about the shared environment. Small talk, essentially. Attempting such things with women is difficult enough for someone such as me, but then trying to steer them anywhere is an equally impossible talk. Eventually the train ride ends, the bus stops, or some circumstance ends the encounter. Naturally, that would be the time to “ask for her digits”, which is something I’ve never done and feel anxious even thinking of. Then she’d know I like her, and despite being years removed from school I am very fearful of letting that be known, especially to those I desire. It doesn’t make sense – how can I attempt to meet someone I like and give them a chance to like me back while not letting them know I like them – but it is what it is.
Why is this a problem? One thing is the title for this post, “analysis paralysis”. I spend so long trying to think of the best opening line and attempting to gauge reactions ahead of time and come up with counterpoints, that the opportunity passes. Having never been good at being spontaneous, I try to approach it from the opposite track, planning and trying to compute the most logical and probable course of action. Unfortunately, this usually takes too long and I never come up with some line or approach I approve of. And that’s because the analyzing is just a symptom of my lack of confidence, experience, and courage (to be frank). And then it is easy for that to cycle back on me. I’m too much of a loser to come up with a line. I’m not smart enough to figure it out, even though everyone else does. I’m too much of a coward to put myself out there. Why would she ever go out with me? And so on, as a vicious circle.
Earlier this year (around March or April) I was coming home from work and some of my coworkers were in the station with me. We’d just moved to our new location now and I was still a but unused to the commute or traveling home with coworkers. Three of them (all men) were only a few yards from me. They’re young, in their late teens and early 20’s and full of confidence and cockiness. I watched one of them approach a young lady who was listening to her iPod also waiting for the train without any hesitation. The initial awkwardness of having to repeat himself to be heard over the buds so a conversation could begin didn’t phase him. He was smiling and in control as he asks her name, whether she goes to school nearby (as our workplace is not far from several colleges) and so on. Although I am not a great judge of body language and socializing I got the sense that the young lady wasn’t terribly interested, but was too nice to let that be known. And my coworker was very zealous and confident, either missing these cues or ignoring them as he tried unsuccessfully to get her phone number. Yet even that didn’t phase him; he went back to chatting with his buddies afterward as if it was no big deal. Despite being far less experienced than me at the job or probably most of life, in this area he may as well have been a Jedi master in comparison.
Such feats are common, but to me it feels like magic. How can it be so easy? How come he’s not phased? It feels like instinct to him, yet for me it’d be impossible. I’d never have the confidence to try that, especially given the reaction from the lady in question. In addition to my own anxieties, fears, and lack of charisma, I don’t deliberately like causing discomfort to others. It sounds cheesy and false, but I do genuinely try to imagine what it would be like for a woman talking to me at random as I stumbled through an attempt at conversation. I imagine them as annoyed, irritated, even angered at being bothered by some schmoe like me as they go about their routine. It doesn’t help that I am overly aware, probably too aware, of my own faults. I know in the end I am not handsome, or charming, or tall, or buff, or have any money to spare, or my own place to live in. I offer nothing to any potential partner. Why even waste the time to try? And so I don’t.
I am aware that not everyone is simply confident. Plenty of people are arrogant, and arrogance is a form of overcompensation for a flaw either deliberately or not. Many people are in denial of their issues as well. Lord knows I have met or seen plenty of dysfunctional men (i.e. alcoholics) who thought they were a gift to womankind. Yet I seem to lack even that. I once made a laundry list of all my faults in high school, and did so without overlapping any. I almost wish I could be ignorant about myself, or lie to myself to talk myself up into doing something. Pretend as if I am a ladies’ man, that I am awesome, that all I need is opportunity and a chance and I can make anything happen. But not even I buy that, and you can’t easily sell something to someone else if you yourself don’t buy it. There is a fear of rejection, of course, but honestly at this point it’s expected. While every failure with women resonates with me despite my pessimism, in the end it’s the outcome I expect, I am the most used to. It is ironic that I am so paralyzed by trying to chat a woman up, because I’d actually be the most speechless if things actually went well. “My number? Of course, I’d love to run into you again.” I’d honestly have no clue how to react. I’d assume I was being punk’d, or she needed someone’s kidney.
Another summer has come and gone, same as the ones before. Yet every year I strive to examine why I fail, why certain things are so tough besides things like depression or inexperience, hoping that one year I will find an answer and everything will click, like with an equation. Unfortunately, life seems to work better for those more daring and charming than I, or even those more lucky. I wonder if there is some formula I haven’t figured out yet, even if in the end it’s nothing so exotic.
Perhaps I would fit in best on a planet full of psychics. At least I’d hope my thoughts and feelings would come off as less awkward and anxious as most of my attempts at words. Oh, well.