By: Royce Patrick
It’s a beautiful spring day: flowers emit a gentle perfume, birds chirp sweetly from above, and insects have acrobatic sex as they fly to rest on your shoulder. Yes, it’s the perfect day.
And then you see her, waiting by the bus stop, a beautiful young woman wearing those tiny little shorts, the ones that seem to defy gravity. She glances at you as you approach. She smirks and moves the hair away from her eyes before pretending not to notice you. Your heart thumps. It should be easy, just say hi. How hard is that?
Turns out it’s very hard.
The anxiety in your chest says run and that’s what you do. Your body walks casually past her but the little you inside your brain sprints to the mountains where you’ll live out your life as a hermit eating salted lichen and convincing yourself eternal celibacy was your choice.
Okay, there is some obvious exaggeration there. But you get it right? Unless you’re one of those rare men with unwavering natural self-confidence – Michael Jordan, Batman, Donald Trump – then you know the self-shame of failing to approach. You know the fear of disaster that steers you away from what could be a fruitful and exhilarating experience.
So why, when the possible benefits could range from a date to sex to a life-long relationship, are we not able to take that small step and approach the girl?
Before we explore the specific fears associated with approach, it is important to discuss a fundamental building block of the fear response: negativity bias.
Humans give more weight to negative memories, events, and potentialities than positive ones. Just look how catastrophes in the news are only rarely interrupted by videos of local bake sales and adorable puppies. It’s not that bad things happen more often than good things, it’s that our brain pays more attention to the bad things. This was a useful adaptation in our tribal past where the risk of being mauled by an angry mammoth was very real. It paid to be vigilant with the bad because that was what would kill you.
But things have changed. In a modern, first-world, secular society, we generally have very little to fear in terms of imminent danger. An irrational fear like the fear of approach – which doesn’t cause real harm – is negativity bias run amok in a world that rarely needs it. It’s a mistake caused by a tribal brain living in a non-tribal world.
Fear of rejection stops us doing so many things, applying for the job we really want, getting the girl we desire, running for Earth President. It’s something we have all experienced in one form or another. There is much anxiety attached to this fear despite it being no risk to physical health whatsoever. What then is our body so afraid of?
Most of us have insecurities, I’m not smart, I’m boring, my arms are so short it makes me look like a pink skinned T-rex with a toupee – okay the last example is just me. Rejection, at its most basic level can convince us that our worst fears are true. When a girl says no, we see it as an indictment of what we hate most about ourselves. It confirms, at least in our neurotic minds, that we were right all along about how shitty we are.
This is of course silly at best. There are a plethora of reasons why we might be rejected: she has a boyfriend, she just wants to hang with her friends, she isn’t attracted to men or to skinny men or to humans. It’s possible you get rejected because your nerves make you act weird or meek. Even if she has rejected you simply because she isn’t sexually attracted to you as a person, so what? You’ll live. There are worse things that could befall you. After all, there are always more fish.
What’s harder, approaching a girl alone at a bus stop or approaching her when she’s with a bunch of people? Obviously, unless you’re an exhibitionist or a street magician, it’s when she’s alone. This seems obvious: embarrassment in front of a group is inherently worse than regular one-on-one embarrassment.
Once again it’s important to look at this from an evolutionary perspective. Unlike today, tribal society was comprised of small communities, maybe measuring hundreds at most. Being ostracized meant separation from the social interaction humans need to stay healthy. It meant losing the protection of the group from predators or other tribes. It meant that your social status could be so tarnished as to ruin your chances of reproducing.
We still use ostracism as punishment today. Solitary confinement is akin to social ostracism and a particularly cruel punishment. In High School social ostracism is a prime tactic used by teenagers to harm a perceived enemy. Hell, my friends ostracize me every time I fart, though admittedly that might be more an issue of self-preservation.
Now, we all know that getting rejected in public does not amount to ostracism. But we don’t necessarily feel that way. Our brains are operating on the same tribal software we were using ten millennia ago. We avoid the mere possibility of being ostracized from the group, however insignificant the chance, because the ramifications are so severe if it does happen. This is negativity bias at work once again.
I know I said earlier that approaching a woman bears no risk to personal safety whatsoever. And that is certainly true most of the time. But it’s not entirely true, for two reasons:
The first reason is that, even today, in a largely non-violent society, guys do sometimes get there asses kicked over a girl. The girl you approach at the bar might have a rugby playing boyfriend with a penchant for administering knuckle sandwiches. She might construe your come-ons as sleazy and call for assistance: and in a bar, there is no shortage of men that will run to her aid with a fistful of knuckles sandwiches. However, if you’re doing it right, flirting should not appear sleazy. And if you aren’t hitting on every single Susan and Betty you should be able to find the ones who don’t have a present boyfriend. And if they do, diffusing the situation is usually possible if you have a sharp tongue or a twenty dollar bill.
But there is another kind of threat that lies deeper in our tribal brains. In pre-agricultural times tribes were small, there was no such thing as anonymity. What would happen back then if you hit on the wrong girl? You hit on the daughter of the opposing chief. You hit on the lover of a more powerful tribesman. That’s right, you’re actually dead. Back then men ran a very real risk of death by approaching a woman. No wonder the anxiety can feel so life threatening. No wonder so many of us run.
Think of a day at a rollercoaster park. The first rollercoaster, when you’re up at the top, is terrifying as grim death itself. Five rides later and you’re doing the no hand/no feet technique in order to feel that you’re actually flying.
In our tribal past, novel stimuli could be threatening, challenging, even deadly, so our nervous system arouses itself to prepare for actin – this produces anxiety. Our brain already knows what to expect from the familiar, so it reduces arousal to conserve energy – this produces boredom. It’s why your monotonous job sucks – well that and your boss is a dick.
Therefore, the worst way to deal with fear of approach is to avoid it. This only keeps your brain from habituating, from making it familiar. You must accept the anxiety is there and approach despite it. The anxiety will soften more and more over time, just trust that.
Once you alleviate approach anxiety you will act more like yourself, more natural, and more confident. Taking this step will gain you greater success on your approaches but adding other steps doesn’t hurt. You can take improv classes to improve your conversational skills. You can improve your sense of style and dress. You can become a billionaire and approach her in a brand new Ferrari or space shuttle. But that’s for another article
The long and the short of it is: if you’re scared of something and you don’t want to be, you have to do that thing over and over and over again. That way, approaching a girl can feel more like riding a bike than riding a shark.
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