Dear Thomas,

I am a 22-year-old college student, and I am single. I am a virgin and have not had a serious girlfriend since I was sixteen. Hard work over the past year and a half has made me stable and confident enough to expand my social circle and join the dating scene. But I am having a little bit of trouble getting started. I am busy. I am also shy with girls. My question is two-fold: 1) How can I let somebody into my life without interrupting my daily routines of the gym, volunteer work, class, studying, and my nightly sitting practice? 2) How do I make shyness work for me?

--Shyly Busy

Dear Busy,

First, congratulations on being a 22-year-old virgin! I’m curious to know your astrological sun sign. I’d bet there’s strong Virgo in there, with your virginity and the orderly way you’ve arranged your life. Having a rich and varied life is the best preparation for a good romantic relationship, but there is a downside. It takes a strong focus on yourself to organize your life so well, and, in fact, there is a tone of self-containment in your letter. Shyness can be a form of narcissism, so let's examine it. 

A relationship usually asks a lot of time and attention, and it can sting your narcissistic shell.  Being involved with someone demands that you focus as much on the other as on yourself. I don’t see how you can work a meaningful relationship into your busy life without some adjustment to your routine. 

It might help to remember that a relationship keeps your soul alive. Through its demands and struggles, you become more of a person. But this process isn’t neat and orderly. It will doubtless conflict with your smooth-running life and your careful plans.  There’s no doubt that it’s worth the risk and the changes to your life, but those changes won’t be easy for you.

Being shy with women can be a big problem, especially when the shyness is extreme. But as you allude in your letter, shyness  can also be a strength. There are many ways of being a strong and interesting person, and being shy rather than outgoing is one of them. We shy people—I include myself in this category—can be great companions. We can love and be attentive and enjoy life. In fact, shyness is often just a way of keeping the lid on a powerful love of life and deep desire for sex and companionship. As always, things are often the opposite of what they appear to be.

I’m not one of those who think a person should strive to overcome shyness. Trying to be a different kind of person usually just makes a mess of everything. But you can finesse the shyness. It doesn’t have to dominate your personality, and over time it can became something a little different, like sensitivity and thoughtfulness. In general, it’s better to cultivate many varied and even contradictory qualities than to be defined by a single characteristic. Shyness is often a good facet of a personality, but it shouldn’t be the only one—and I doubt it is in your case.

Many women like some shyness in a man. Maybe they understand that there’s a lot of passion hidden behind that veneer of reserve. But the shyness has to be real, not feigned, and it has to be changing all the time. It isn’t a good idea to hide behind shyness, or use it as an excuse not to live or love. It’s who you are at the moment. Accept it, but then go on and become an even more interesting and varied person. Once you accept your shyness deeply, it will probably morph into a degree of reflection and self-possession that will draw people to you and work for you rather than against you.

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