I discovered Neil Strauss’ blog today. Here is my first response, on approach anxiety.

Here is his entry from earlier this year, “Is Your Mind Your Worst Enemy?” It talks about approach anxiety and the little voice inside our heads that tells us “Don’t bother” when we want to approach others or try to form a relationship with them.

It’s a great rallying cry for social courage. But there’s just one teensy weensy problem with it… and it starts with a B.

It’s a very specific kind of insecurity that fuels the Don’t Voice. Insecurity about boundaries.

Because what good is conquering your approach anxiety if you still end up stepping on boundaries? Only when you succeed at both, when you can approach without violating boundaries, do you stand a chance of being attractive. Otherwise, all your outgoingness may matter for nothing, because you’re being a creeper.

But here is my problem with boundaries: everything I read about them seems to reinforce the Don’t Voice. There is such a theme of “one and done”– you come off as creepy once, and you’re forever cooked with that person. Is that not what “move on” means? “Move on” is something you see all the time in any discussion of boundaries.

But what I’ve found must frustrating about boundaries in that I feel they put me in a position that’s dependent on others’ approval. I know intellectually this is not true, but emotionally I can’t trust in any behavior of mine being attractive, unless I see other people saying yes to me as a result of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a positive behavior like smiling or conversing– if others don’t want it, it becomes negative. It doesn’t matter anymore what I feel about my self, my needs or my values… if the boundary keeps them out, they’re worthless in any sense that matters.

Basically, in order to be boundary-safe, it seems your default mode should be NOT to be look for love, or think you’re going to be attractive to anyone but yourself. Curb your expectations. This is where I really HATE all those studies saying humans are social creatures and we’re healthier when we’re in relationships and blah blah blah, because it makes us have all these expectations for our lives and our support systems. Because you can’t have a relationship– ANY relationship– without being said yes to. And you never have control over whether someone says yes to you.

I don’t think most people realize how many ducks have to be in a row for relationships to he successful. Because “we’re social creatures”, we think it should happen easily and magically. When really, if we’re going to fully implement a consent and boundaries model, we’re going to have to accept that a lot fewer relationships are going to happen. That our default mode is, in fact, “alone” unless someone else makes the free choice to let us into their boundaries.

Which means we have to stop shit like measuring our social skills based on others saying yes to us. Because it doesn’t matter if we have all the personal skill in the world, if someone else’s boundary stops that skill from reaching the outcome it was intended to reach.

Most of what I’ve read about boundaries takes this cautious approach. Better not to approach than be creepy. “Move on” is forever. When someone in your life sets a boundary with you, that’s forever too.

And it’s hard to convince me of the value of self-confidence, when impact matters exponentially more than intent. You really don’t even know how positive a personality trait, behavior, or choice is until you see its impact on others. Anything you think of as positive can be transformed into something negative this way.

So please, stop telling me how important relationships are. Because what you’re really saying is, “you’re a failure as a human being unless other people want you”. Which is about as beneficial for you as arsenic.

Being rejected means you have no proof you can socialize well.

We have some big hangups about free choice and consent in social relationships. (And sexual too, but that’s a story for later.) And the title of this post is a big reason why. If not the biggest reason.

We see reciprocation– someone saying yes to us in a social situation– as evidence that we are skilled socially. We see a person saying no to us as a sign we have failed. And that’s a big mistake.

Because always framing a rejection in terms of YOUR failure to charm someone, misses the important point that the other person always has free choice. And their “no” is a referendum on their preference, in that moment in that time– NOT on you. They don’t have to have a reason for saying no. You could be perfectly OK at socializing. You could even be very charming. It has to do with THEIR free choice.

The other reason seeing a Yes as a sign of our good people skills, and a No as a sign of our ineptitude is a big mistake? Because it then puts us in a position of trying to coerce yeses out of people… because only successful reciprocations are evidence that we are good at this socializing thing.

Damn other people’s free choice. The ability to socialize well is a highly sought-after quality in our society, and to employers; and even to doctors and the legal system. And the way we prove our likeability is by getting other people to choose us. Popular people, by definition, have a lot of people like them and choose to spend quality time with them.

And if they won’t choose us of their own free will? Why, we’ll make them choose us.

Because how else are we going to prove we’re not social failures?

I don’t understand people’s mystification about social anxiety or where it comes from. Because modern social life is designed to foment anxiety. Every social encounter, no matter how small, has high stakes. Every person you meet is a potential job, love affair, new experience. And being turned down for any of that, feels like losing a piece of your life.

Hell, not only that: with every rejection, you’re losing some proof that you can socialize well. Others around you might start to think you’ve socially inept, or even that you have Asperger’s… unless you can make other people say yes to you in enough numbers to counterbalance that.
Sometimes, if you’re especially dangerous, you may even sexually assault people. Naturally, to force them to give you proof you’re romantically charming.

Who has time to care about someone else’s free agency, when your own reputation as a socially healthy and likeable person is at stake? You have no time for rejections! You have no time to let a silly little bunch of Nos make you lose your competitive edge in the game of life.
Why… a few years later you might be up for that Wall Street job, and you’re going to lose that to that slick, oily, schmoozy classmate of yours who gets girls just a bit more effortlessly. Or that other classmate with the 10,000 Facebook friends. Or that other one who’s been “Most Well Liked” since high school and FSM knows when. They have proof they can socialize. They have evidence… a lot more than you.
And you’ve been slacking. Your career is at stake. Your life is at stake. The winner is the most popular one, the one with the most Yes and the least No in their column. Must… get… that… Yes… come what may!

Sound ridiculous enough yet? Good.

It’s time to stop seeing acceptances as proof we’re good with people, and rejections as proof we’re not. Because thinking we’re in 100% control of how people react to us leads us down some very bad paths.