Dear Dr. Frankie,

I’ve been single for about three years, and I’m not sure how to date or even talk to girls. I’m 20 and I’ve been out for a while, but I stumbled into my first two relationships, which were both with friends. I’ve never been on an actual date, and I’m not really sure how to approach girls. Girls never really approach me because I look “straight”.  I’m too afraid to talk to girls on my college campus because I live in a very conservative southern town.  I’ve tried my college’s Gay-Straight Alliance and online dating websites to meet people; but I either don’t find anyone I find attractive/interesting enough to pursue, or they live several states away. And in the realm of online dating I never really get messages from people, and the people I do message often never reply. I’ve been signed up on 10 or 15 different sites for a few years, and am not having luck on any them. I’m not quite sure what I’m doing wrong. I’m moderately pretty, and I’ve had friends read over my profile to make sure I’m not writing something completely off-putting.  I’ve really tried to just enjoy being single, but I’ve been alone for a long time. Even when I was in relationships, my girlfriends were always very distant and constantly pushing me away. My friends have told me that I’m too shy, and some have even tried pushing me into talking to girls, but I’m afraid. Online its simple enough, but in real life it’s terrifying. One ex that I’m still friends with even told me she kept her distance because I was so ‘skittish’ around her, even when we were “dating.” What should I do?

Dear Skittish,

The type and amount of energy that you put out into the universe is generally what you will also receive.  It sounds as if there are a few things happening here.  I think many people can relate to feeling awkward socially, especially when trying to meet new people, but you describe an altogether “terrifying” experience. It might be helpful to try and identify the root of your fear which is not only preventing you from meeting new people, but also from becoming close once you are actually dating. I suggest doing some “surveillance”.  Observe someone who is outgoing and appears to easily strike up conversations and move freely between groups of people.  This can be a friend of yours or someone you just happen to see at a party or other social gathering.  Watch their body language and listen to what they say. Watch and see how others respond to them.  Listen to how they initiate and carry a conversation and then notice what they say to end the conversation.  Socializing, as easy as it is for some people, is definitely a skill set that many people struggle with.  It takes practice.

The good news is that as you practice your skills your confidence will grow.  As your confidence grows so will your self-esteem, and socializing will become considerably easier.  Take the pressure off by practicing these skills with people you have no interest in dating. Start in a casual, platonic social setting.  Once you get the hang of striking up platonic conversations then challenge yourself to meet other LGBT folks including someone you find romantically interesting. In terms of your online experience I would caution you against spending too much time and energy in this area.  A lot of people, including a majority of my coaching clients are losing interest in this once-popular tool. Online dating seems to be a time drain.  More often than not a thoughtfully crafted email will go unresponded to, and people often don’t represent themselves accurately.  If you do keep your profile active, make sure that you post flattering photos.  There are professional photographers who specialize in taking online dating photos with the specific goal of not looking professional or staged, just very flattering.  Make sure also that your screen name, headline and profile are warm, witty and playful. Regardless of your online endeavors make sure that you really put forth energy into improving your social skills. Even with the most stunning online profile and photos you will eventually be meeting these people face to face.  You’ll want to have the skills to keep their interest and learn more about them as well.  People are instinctively drawn to others who exude confidence, charisma, and positive energy.

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