Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m in my last year of college and I’ve never been in a relationship. Recently, a guy from one of my classes started doing group studies and I assisted. I don’t how it happened, but I found myself liking him so much. I added him on Facebook and I spoke to him once about school—I did catch him looking at me when I wasn’t looking. Here’s my problem: I’m afraid to fall in love with someone who is not interested in me at all. He is so friendly to other girls and I even know a few who like him—I actually get jealous every time I see him joking and laughing with another girl. We’ll be seeing each other a lot more, but I’m such a coward and I don’t think I will be able to make him notice me. What should I do?
Dear Too Shy:
I’m on a plane right now, flying from Los Angeles to Indianapolis. A few days ago I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a red Fiat with my friend, Mary. Mary and I are both married and we both have small children, neither of which had come with us to California, which is to say: We were in a really good mood.
We were talking about dating before we met our husbands and how awkward it was. We both admitted that we would be incredibly intimidated by Tinder, but then we were laughing about how, if we were now, at the age of 36, suddenly single women in a bar and interested in meeting men, how we would actually be unstoppable. Because we’re 36 years old and, while both of us think that we were more physically attractive when we were in college, we both also know that those glowy-skinned college girls didn’t have 20% of the self-confidence that we have now.
I have the power to walk up to a stranger, open my mouth, start to say things, and know absolutely, deep down in the farthest part of my soul, that no matter how the interaction goes I will be fine. If the guy wants to talk to me—super. If he doesn’t—cool, let’s go find someone else. If he does want to talk to me but turns out to use the word “bro” casually in conversation—I can excuse myself gracefully. If he immediately falls in love with me and wants to get me pregnant—I know how to write down a fake phone number.
We are 36-year-old moms and, while we are married and in no way looking for random dudes to bang, we know that, if we were, we would be much better equipped to find, engage, and land those bang dudes today than we were back when our boobs sat a few millimeters higher.
When I was in my last year of college I also had never been in a relationship. I had engaged in a few let’s-makeout-on-a-regular-basis-too-afraid-to-ask-if-you’re-my-boyfriend-oh-look-you’re-making-out-with-another-girl-I’ll-leave-the-party-now-and-cry-alone relationships. I never had a real boyfriend, not really, until I was 23 years old. I used to repeat this statistic with shame in my voice, because I knew that admitting that fact meant that everyone could tell that I was a late-bloomer and lame and not cool.
A few months ago, I was telling a story for the RISK! show and talking about the story I was going to tell with director and host, Kevin Allison. I told him I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 23 years old, out of college, and made small apology noises. Kevin said, “That’s not weird. That’s normal. I think most people don’t really have real relationships until they’re 23. Why do you think that’s weird?” And a story I had told myself for my whole life shattered on the floor around me. I wasn’t a weirdo freak wallflower who dudes didn’t like. I was a normal lady.
You are a normal lady. Being 21 and not having had a serious relationship yet is, per Kevin Allsion and, now, me, super duper normal. Take off that shame cloak and throw it in the back of the closet. Save it for a time when you accidentally steal someone else’s parking space or get caught talking shit about an acquaintance. Not having a boyfriend yet when you’re in your last year of college is not shame-worthy.
You like this boy. You want him to notice you, which means that you want him to look at you and immediately know that 1) you like him, 2) you’re open to going out with him, 3) and kissing would also be appreciated. But when he looks at you all he sees is a young woman who is polite to him because she’s helping him out with his homework. If you want him to notice you, you must make yourself noticeable. And it has nothing to do with your jeans or hair or lip gloss, poppin’ though it may be. It has to do with you, yourself, actually letting him know that you’re interested in him. Is that called “making the first move?” Sure.
Level 5 “making the first move” would be asking him out for coffee or beers, and I know you’re not ready for that. So let’s start with Level 1: When he walks into a room, look directly at him, and produce your largest, most genuine smile. When you’re near him, say “Hi,” and produce your largest, most genuine smile. Talk to him when you can, about anything. Isn’t this floor tile ugly, when did they get new desks in here, our Professor is so really stepping up her wardrobe game, what’s your major, where are you living now, how was your weekend. Anything. Say literally anything that would be plausibly spoken by one human to another.
Don’t overthink it because what you’re saying doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you show this guy that you are nice, you are smiling, you are engaging with him, you want to know more about him. And if you keep saying things that are about your shared environment, eventually he will respond to you and say, “You know what, her shirts have gotten a lot better.” And then you’re off. You’re talking, in conversation.
But, you’re worried that if you talk to him you’re going to fall hopelessly in love with him. There are so many levels between “talking to a dude” and “falling hopelessly in love with a dude.” At least 12:
- Talking to a dude
- Staring that dude directly in his eyes to convey that you are attracted to him
- Touching that dude on the arm to convey that you are attracted to him
- Holding hands with that dude
- Kissing that dude
- Kissing that dude with tongues
- Kissing that dude with tongues in the backseat of your car
- Orgasm time
- Talking to that dude after orgasm time
- Talking to that dude the next day
- Hanging out with that dude another time
- Repeating steps 1-10 until you’re either both in love or realized that you’re not going to fall in love and move on
The truth is that not talking to him holds a higher probability of heart break than talking to him. When you don’t talk to him he’s your perfect obsession, on a pedestal, guaranteed to never like you back. If you talk to him you’ll find that he’s a real human with annoying traits and spinach in his teeth.
You may be avoiding talking to him because you don’t actually want to engage in a relationship yet. And I am 100% fine if you’re not actually ready to be in a relationship yet. But even if you do make a whole-hearted effort to date this guy and he wants nothing to do with you, you will be fine. That’s why my friend Mary and I would be so unstoppable if we were to engage in courtship in our mid-30s: because we know that, even if a guy is a dick to us, we will be fine. Our lives will not be shredded by one rude due.
It’s so much fun to have a crush and it’s so painful to be crushed. I want you to talk to this boy, ask him questions, find out everything you can about him until you realize that he is, in fact, just a boy. Not your perfect man, not your first real love, not your salvation, not your curse. He is a boy you like.
Just talk to him.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.