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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone! I am trying to figure out what to do to better connect with people and reduce my anxiety around them. I've got a particular case that I'd like to throw out there for you all to read over and offer suggestions.

First, I have to preface this with a caveat - I could probably be called a high-functioning Aspie. (I have two children on the autism spectrum, one of whom is high-functioning autistic. They got it from me, undoubtedly.) So some of my questions might seem completely clueless, but that's how I am with regard to a lot of social stuff. I just don't "get it" and have to learn what the proper responses are.

The other day I was alone buying a couple of lattes at Starbucks for my wife and me. As I approached the counter, I saw that the clerk was a young woman who was very animated - smiling often, attractive, pleasant tone of voice, etc. She was serving a woman in front of me. I watched their interactions and noted how the clerk was really engaged with the customer the whole time, in a very happy, outgoing, genuinely nice sort of way. This sort of behavior intimidates me. As the customer moved aside and I began my order, I found it difficult to maintain eye contact with the clerk, although I tried my best to respond by doing so, and by trying to smile and use a friendly tone of voice. All of this is very difficult for me - it doesn't come naturally unless I know someone really well and we are alone. I tried checking her face for the slightest signal that her enthusiasm was waning, and after several seconds, I did detect a toning down of her enthusiasm as she was engaging with me. She must've been picking up on my discomfort. The way I would typically interpret this sort of thing is that she's detected that I'm very reserved, and that she's uncomfortable and ratchets things down because of I'm in some way repelling her. When writing this, I just realized that she might also be sensing my discomfort and toning it down for my benefit, something like trying to put me at ease. The problem is, that I don't know how 1) to read the signals that she is giving and understand the reason why she is toning things down; and 2) become a person who doesn't give off those signals in the first place. I sometimes feel like I'm smiling "mentally", but it doesn't show on my face. If I try to physically smile, it feels artificial, and certainly must come off that way.

Is there any way to fix this? :get

Also, here is a related issue. I am particularly intimidated interacting with attractive women, especially if they are also friendly. Thankfully, when I met my wife 20 years ago, she made all the moves, or else nothing would have happened between us. My wife was and is, speaking quite objectively, a very beautiful and attractive woman. In fact, the only other woman to show me significant attention in my life was before I met my wife, and she also was much better looking than average. I was too petrified to make a move and left her crying in a parking lot (I know, pathetic!) Odd, because on a good day, I'd consider myself a bit below average in terms of looks, but I'm well-educated and successful at most things that I try. Anyway, I am completely in love with my wife and have never been tempted to cheat on her or anything like that - the idea is repellent to me - and I'm not interested in other women. But why do I react like this? If I find myself talking to an attractive woman (on rare occasions) I always (and often unexpectedly) mention my wife very early on in the conversation - I suppose just to crush any slight chance that the person might have any feeling of attraction to me whatsoever. I expect that my wife, who is very sociable, appreciates the attention from an attractive man and it would give her ego a boost, although she'd have no intention of cheating on me or anything like that (we are both very committed to each other and very religious). I know that other men have seriously hit on her in different situations over the years, even knowing that she is married. But why do I reject even the possibility that another woman might do nothing more than think, "He's cute (or smart, etc.)" about me? Why can't I be less intimidated by a friendly woman? In all fairness, though, friendly men intimidate me too, but not as much.

Any thoughts are appreciated. Maybe others here have been through something like this and can offer some help. Thanks! :D
 

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Are you possibly afraid of being judged by her. I mean that's a huge part of social anxiety. Feelings of inferiority and not wanting people to judge us, especially those that we find to be "better" than us in some aspect such as looks, intelligence, etc.
 

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Cynical Idealist
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Very interesting. Like a lot of us here you have issues with being comfortable around strangers, but unlike a lot of us your goal doesn't seem to be trying desperately to connect on a deeper level with people (as you have a person you are already comfortable doing so with), but just trying to understand the mechanisms behind your interactions.

As for the coffee clerk: I think she ratchets down her demeanor to comfort you rather than because she's repelled by you. The one thing I took from the Myers-Briggs personality test is that introverted people can learn to interact with extroversion, and vice versa. Perhaps she's an extroverted person who employs extroverted or introverted conversation skills on a customer-by-customer basis. You seem to be extremely conscious of nuances of communication, and this might be an example of you just reading too far into her facial cues. So for 1), I'd just lend you occam's razor. For 2), I think it would just take a lot of practice. You seem to be able to think on your feet even when your body is making you react with anxiety, so I think you could handle practicing things like maintaining eye contact and a smile while doing your usual analysis of your social partner.

As for attractive women: You say men intimidate you, just not as much. I'd say the SA is your baseline for being intimidated by people in general. Attractive women might intimidate you more simply because you're attracted to women. Your primal human instincts are your first reaction, "I am attracted to women." Maybe after that is when your mind processes the initial reaction, and your process might go something like 'Sure I'm attracted to her'->'She's not my wife'->'I love my wife'->'I won't cheat on my wife', but the base human reaction has already made you treat the woman differently than you would a man. As for them being friendly, you can probably just plug that into the process, assuming you're more attracted to a friendly person than an unfriendly one :)

And please take this analysis with a grain of salt, I'm certainly no professional, just an overthinker.
 

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Awesome Guy
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Are you possibly afraid of being judged by her. I mean that's a huge part of social anxiety. Feelings of inferiority and not wanting people to judge us, especially those that we find to be "better" than us in some aspect such as looks, intelligence, etc.
This x 10.
 

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I'd say the toning down of your Starbucks clerk is a combination of a few things:

1. She can read people relatively well and she can see you're a little uncomfortable or that you're just not in the mood for friendly banter with a stranger. She doesn't want to make this an unpleasant experience for you.
2. She's used to having to moderate her behaviour with different customers because she deals with hundreds of people every day.
3. Starbucks like their staff to be bubbly and talkative, and to encourage return business. Her demeanour is actually part of her job. She doesn't want to push that with you if you're not into it, because it's not really her anyway and also her job is to make sure that you have a good experience buying your coffee, so that you'll come back again.

Just my two cents.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Are you possibly afraid of being judged by her. I mean that's a huge part of social anxiety. Feelings of inferiority and not wanting people to judge us, especially those that we find to be "better" than us in some aspect such as looks, intelligence, etc.
Most definitely, yes! Most of my interactions with people involve some feelings about being judged. In fact, yesterday I was talking to someone I didn't know, and thought of asking him something 3 times, but didn't do so because I was afraid that he would think it was too personal of a question. (It involved whether or not he was related to someone else that I know with the same, rather uncommon last name). When my wife got home she asked me if he was related to so-and-so, and I said I thought but didn't ask the question. She said that it would have been the first thing out of her mouth, that it's a question to break the ice, and possibly also something to carry into a conversation with the other, third person that he might be related to. Her line of reasoning, which is very natural to her, is completely foreign to the way I think. We also had a discussion about teasing/flirting with strangers/acquaintances and this is something that I never do, and others don't do with me, even in situations where these things commonly occur. It's as if the world is in color, but I only see things in black and white. When I learn that other people do these things, I feel like I'm missing out of a rich world that I'm incapable of experiencing.

It's encouraging to think that I might be able to change some of this stuff, although I have to admit that I don't really think "socially" so I'm afraid I'll only be able to get so far. I've got an appointment in a few days with a therapist specializing in these sorts of disorders and can't wait to try and leave this part of my life behind me. I've been one way for 45 years, I want the rest of my life to be better!

One other aside, I tried SSRIs in years past, and they actually made me feel more sociable and caring about other people. I could sit there and really LISTEN to them in a caring way. The side effects - no sleep, and difficult sex - were deal-breakers. In order to regain them, I had to stop the meds and become my shy self again.
 
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