As I mentioned in a previous blog post about shyness and introversion, I was an extremely shy child and teenager. Not surprisingly, I was behind most of my peers when it came to dating and relationships. I didn’t date much in high school or college. I was too shy to initiate conversation with anyone I actually liked. And I wasn’t alone in this experience. Many people are affected by the impact of shyness and relationships.
Facts About Shyness
Shyness is defined by the APA as “the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people.” According to Dr. Steve Bressert, about 10 to 15 percent of people are born “inhibited” or shy. Although we aren’t all born with a personality preference for shyness, 60 percent of adults report being a shy person. Dr. Bressert also suggests that adolescent girls experience the highest levels of shyness. However, boys are more likely to have socioemotional difficulties linked to shyness. This is largely due to social expectations for boys and men to appear confident and dominant.
Is Shyness Attractive?
Is shyness attractive? According to a recent Twitter poll, 62 percent of respondents say yes. Of those who answered yes, 32 percent are mostly attracted to men and 68 percent are mostly attracted to women. Of the 38 percent who said shyness is not attractive, 76 are attracted to men and 24 percent are attracted to women.
Multiple studies have reported that shy people experience poorer quality relationships. Shyness is positively associated with insecure attachment styles such as anxiety and avoidance. It’s also negatively associated with sexual satisfaction and intimacy in relationships.
So why then, do some people still see shyness as an attractive quality in a partner? I posed this questions to friends on Twitter and Facebook. One person mentioned that he views shyness as a challenge when getting to know a new person. He enjoys figuring out how to “crack the shell” to see who is underneath. Another commented that since shy people spend more time alone they have a stronger sense of identity. However, this can also be said of non-shy introverts.
Some people find shyness attractive because it shows that the person is humble, innocent, or a bit mysterious. It also suggests that they are not narcissistic or aggressive. However, most of the individuals I spoke to also mentioned that low self-esteem is a negative characteristic in a romantic partner.
Based on trends, I came to the conclusion that many people are attracted to a healthy amount of shyness in a person. They’re less attracted to inhibiting shyness as a result of low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
What Is Love-Shyness?
According to this scholarly article by Alyson Randall, “the term ‘love-shyness’ was coined by Gilmartin in his 1987 book Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment to describe the relatively small percentage of American heterosexual men who are ‘single, never married’, not by choice, but because their shyness prevents them from fulfilling their strong desire for a romantic sexual relationship and marriage.”
One study mentioned in the article reported that 20 percent of young men experience painful shyness around the opposite sex. The 1987 book focuses primarily on love-shyness in men. The author believes women aren’t negatively affected. According to Gilmartin, passivity and quietness in women are attractive to men. Therefore, even if they’re love-shy they’ll have an easier time finding a partner.
However, even if a love-shy woman does experience interests from men because of her quiet deposition, she risks attracting the type of partner with a dominant, aggressive, or even narcissistic personality. According to Wellesley College professor Jonathan Cheek, who teaches the Psychology of Shyness: “[Shy] Men just wouldn’t have dates or relationships. Women would have dates or relationships but would have problems with the quality of those relationships.”
Neither shyness nor love-shyness should enable unhealthy behavior or victimize. Shyness is not a recognized mental disorder, however limiting beliefs related to shyness have been attributed to unhealthy thoughts and behavior. Take the case of George Sodini, a middle-aged man whose love-shyness was believed to be the reason he shot up a women’s aerobics class. It should be clear that if you have the urge to harm yourself or others, that is not a direct result of your shyness. You should seek mental health support immediately.
Shyness and Relationships
In theory, shy women should have it easier in dating and relationships than shy men. However, in reality, both men and women struggle in relationships due to being painfully shy. One female friend explained her experience with shyness and relationships as a teenager:
“I couldn’t even talk to some guys I liked in high school due to shyness/social anxiety. They probably thought I didn’t like them. It was a shame because some of them did seem to like me back. One sophomore guy would flirt with me in 9th grade. He’d give me a hug in the hall between my 2nd and 3rd class periods because our routes between classes intersected. I liked him too, but I started taking a different route because I would get so nervous before seeing him. He wound up dating one of my friends instead.”
Shyness can contribute to low self-esteem when people see opportunities pass them by as the result of their shyness. Low self-esteem then contributes to shyness when people convince themselves they’re not good enough for the things they want in life. This cycle of negativity is extremely destructive unless shy people take the appropriate steps to overcome it.
Dating Tips For Shy People
If you were born with a preference for shyness, you may believe that there is little you can do to overcome it. However, in many cases, shyness can be overcome with practice and experience. In the next article in this series, I’m going to share some tips for anyone who feels like shyness is holding them back in dating and relationships.