How to get better at talking to strangers – and crushes.

arjai101 asks: Dear Shirelle, I feel like I’m delusional. I constantly seem to be coming up with arbitrary and false reasonings for claims I hope to be true. Particularly, this is true if I like someone. Or, If I hope they like me. Most of the time, I would never date the person. But, no one has ever liked me before or expressed any feelings for me outside of the delusions in my head. I feel like I make up things that have never happened or turn small things into things that are bigger. When in reality, it is impossible. I don’t know how to stop. Or, maybe I can’t stop because it’s easier to accept a bunch of self-constructed lies. It’s a little hard when everyone around you seems to have experienced some kind of romantic occurrence except you. Before, It kind of fit in with the whole awkward adolescent vibe. At this point, it is actually embarrassing. In addition to this, one of my delusions might be true or just another way of rationalizing it all. I feel like maybe I’m intimidating. Maybe, people are scared of me or I have RBF(Resting B—- Face). It’s not like I’m some broody loner in the corner. I’m extroverted. I love being around people. But if I like someone or if I’m hallucinating that they like me, I have this way of ignoring people. Not blatantly, I may have never uttered a word to them before. It’s kind of an instinct, to pretend like there not there. (Not look at them, acknowledge them etc.) I would talk to them. Sometimes, I do. It depends on the situation. For example, there is one person, who I never really talked to just because I guess I found them intimidating. And now, I would love to talk to them but it would seem so weird if I did because social dynamics are so set in stone at this point. I’ve had opportunities for small talk but I can hardly make a good impression as I lose words. It’s particularly those times I do the whole instinctual ignoring thing. Maybe they’re just as intimidated by me as I am by them? I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Or, how to stop doing the things that are screwing everything up? Or, am I just crazy? Anyway it goes, I need advice.

Hi arjai101 –

As a dog, I don’t think or talk much about the subconscious.  Sure, I like to dream, and Handsome tells me I’m just ridiculously cute when I dream I’m chasing a lion or fighting a polar bear, and my feet run and my mouth twitches, sometimes even barking myself awake.

But there’s the other kind of subconscious.  The part that, with full reasoning, controls our actions without our knowing about it.  One of the main ways it works is with fear.  I’ll see a dog who reminds me of one that beat me up as a puppy, and I’ll be submissive on my back in under a second – I’m not consciously thinking it’s that dog, but my subconscious takes over and makes this happen.

I think that’s what’s going on with you.  Let’s be honest – other people can be scary.  And even more so when you’re attracted to them.  They aren’t aware of it, but they hold such enormous power over you at that time.

And if, as you say, you’ve never known someone to have strong feelings for you (ARE THEY CRAZY?!  YOU’RE AMAZING!), then you have no reason not to expect a new person to feel just the same.  Which, if they expressed it, would make you feel hurt.  Of course.

So, as a human, you don’t fall on the ground with your tummy exposed, the way I do.  Instead, you withdraw.  Shut down.  Almost like a deer or rabbit, the way they go still when they see me around.  And not only do you physically shut down, but your brain goes numb too, and you can’t think of anything to say.

This is totally normal.  Though, as you say, it sure doesn’t help get relationships going.


So in terms of what to do about it, I’m going to recommend something completely ridiculous.  I want you to side with your subconscious.  If it’s telling you not to talk to someone you’re attracted to, then don’t.  Just avoid them for now.

And instead, I want you to work hard to improve your social skills with everyone else.  Make small talk with people you don’t even particularly like.  Ask someone you just find a bit interesting to have lunch with you, and talk a lot.  Go to parties and talk to strangers – not the cutest one in the room, but the one who’s standing in the corner looking lonely and confused.

And if you catch yourself starting to tell yourself lies about certain people again, just remind your brain that that’s not who you’re after right now, and go back to talking to those other people.


What all this is going to do is to build your social abilities more and more.  To teach your brain that you are absolutely fine talking with anyone.

And then, when you get better at that, then try talking with someone you find attractive.  Maybe not your full-on-crush, but someone you might tell yourself is “out of my league.”   And I’ll bet you find that you’re really good at it.  (If you can be half as interesting in those conversations as you are here talking to me, you’ll be a star!)

And then, when those get easy, you’ll start to find it just as easy to talk with a crush.  Now I’m talking about just being friendly, not flirtatious or romantic.

But NOW, once you get good with those people, you can start flirting.


Now, all this is fine as long as no one else treats you like they’re really interested in you.  But what happens if they do?

Well you’ll probably stutter, and withdraw, and say things you wish you hadn’t and… everything that the most socially adept people do, in the face of that energy.  And it’ll be fine, and adorable, and attractive.

But we’re not there yet.  For now, I just want you to obey those fears, and give yourself a break.  But at the same time, to start a project, to get so comfortable with anyone and everyone, that you can talk with That Person too!


Hmmm… an old song is going through my head.  Here’s my great wish for where this is all heading…

 I practice every day

To find some clever lines to say

To make the meaning come through

But then I think I’ll wait

Until the evening gets late

And I’m alone with you

The time is right, your perfume fills my head

The stars get red and, oh, the night’s so blue

And then I go and spoil it all

By saying something stupid

Like “I love you”


Here’s hoping for you to hear a lot of those “something stupid”s, once people know they can talk with you!


All my best


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