There are many things I learned in college, but the most important learning came in the form of social
skills and how to overcome shyness.
I had a psychologist/counselor for the entire time period I spent at the Georgia Institute of Technology,
aka Georgia Tech. All five years. From the beginning of classes in August 1984 through graduation in
1989. This was at the Counseling and Career Planning Center and the services were free to all students at
It would take me most of the entire five years of counseling to ask out a girl for the first time.
I started going for counseling so that I could learn how to make connections, which required building
social skills and confronting anxiety.
The details about how I did this will be discussed in a later chapter. I just wanted to illustrate how shy I
was and how social anxiety held me back. The point of this chapter is that I did finally go on a date during
my senior year and that this was a major accomplishment.
I was learning how to start conversations, how to engage in active listening and so many other
I didn’t realize it for some time, but these skills later would be very valuable both in my career as a
psychotherapist and in acting with empathy toward others in my life. It turns out that these skills can be
So, while I was at Georgia Tech, I discovered that learning social skills and overcoming shyness requires
practice and homework just as it was with my classes. It turns out that there were other students at
Georgia Tech who also were lacking social skills and needed help. My counselor facilitated a therapy
group where we could practice our skills.
Of course, shyness isn’t just about learning skills. I had a tremendous amount of anxiety. Social anxiety.
I was given an education on how to deal with these issues. So, I don’t repeat myself, let me repeat that I
will describe this in greater detail later.
It didn’t take me long to start making new friends but meeting a girl was different.
If you are asking me if I was afraid and if so, what was that like, I would say that I avoided situations that
might provoke anxiety. So, I wasn’t blushing. I didn’t have situations around girls where my heart was
racing due to fear/anxiety. I was avoiding a situation where I might want to get to know a girl. If I didn’t
know for sure that someone was interested, I wasn’t going to take a chance on rejection.
So, I was avoiding the actions that might trigger anxiety and thus I was avoiding anxiety but doing that
meant being all alone.
By my senior year, I had come so far, and I was a totally different person. I cannot overstate how amazing
this transformation was and how great therapy can be. I saw changes that I never thought were possible.
Take the times when I was working at the post office. I made friends fast. I felt comfortable with my
fellow students talking and joking as we sorted mail or waited on customers at the window.
The goal of asking a girl out was something that was particularly challenging. The fear of failure or
rejection was immense. It’s important to note that as much as I had changed this had been a long journey.
It took years.
I did see a girl that I wanted to get to know when I was working at the post office during my senior year at
college. She was attractive to me. She was a medium complexion black girl.
She always wore these John Lennon/airline pilot glasses. I am not sure why I associate these glasses with
aviation or airline pilots. They were small and round with an almost black color to them.
There was something mysterious about her. She seemed intriguing. She also seemed “quiet” – like me.
She seemed friendly.
I had made friends with girls through that job and could feel comfortable with them. Sharing stories,
laughing, being very open about myself and my feelings. If I knew I just wanted to be friends with a girl
that made it easy for me to talk to her, to laugh with her, to smile with her.
I had the tools to conquer my fear of rejection. For example, I would ask myself “what’s the worst thing
that could happen if she says no?”
This was a goal and so I had to try. The goal was that if I was going to find a girlfriend, which I wanted – I
knew that much – I knew I had to ask a girl to do something with me. To go on a date. Otherwise, I would
remain the extra friend of other friends who were paired up. I had friends who were male and female who
I met through friends that I already had.
I wanted something different. I knew at some level that I wanted a relationship that would be exclusive.
That is the key aspect of why this goal was important to me and it demonstrates that still my self-esteem
and my sense of self-worth were low. Still.
Being friends with someone who has a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse means that there is someone more
important in their lives than me. The ridiculous fear I had was that no one would choose to consider me
the most important person in their lives.
Getting back to the girl at the post office that interested me… I would notice that she never seemed to
have any boyfriend showing up with her for work or after work. I would stand outside the building where
the post office was housed and attempt to build up the courage to ask her out.
This was a popular place on campus for people to congregate. The post office was in the same building as
the student union. There also was a cafeteria there for grabbing a meal if you don’t have time to go
elsewhere. When I say elsewhere, I am thinking of the restaurants that were just off the campus or across
the street from the campus. Most of our classes were in buildings that were very close to the student
If you had a little more time for lunch, there were places right off-campus. I usually found a way to eat at
one of those places every day between classes. There was a pizza place near campus. The “Varsity” was a
popular hamburger and hotdog joint, but it was a bit greasy and a bit more of a walk. There was another
place that was like a diner. The waiter/waitress would take an order and shout it to the cooks using a
vocabulary that all the staff there had to know.
I don’t remember this girl’s name. She was medium complexion – neither light complexion nor dark
complexion as skin color goes for black girls – for guys also but I wasn’t checking out the guys,
She was thin. I had said a few things to her but she had not been saying much in response. I felt I could
recognize her reactions as a sign of shyness and not a sign that she was blowing me off – demonstrating
disinterest. This was a significant memory and event and that’s why I am filling in these details.
One day I found the chance when we both ended our shift together.
“Do you want to go for lunch?” I asked her.
“Okay.” She agreed. I noticed she was struggling like me to make eye contact.
I said “or we can go …”
“Pizza’s fine, she said.”
So, we started walking together.
While it is true that I felt shy about speaking in classes where people were gathered in groups of 20 or
more people, I had walked this busy path between the student union and the next large building with
classrooms many times with my head held up high or looking around for friends with whom to stop and
This time I felt like if anyone saw me, they would see me with a new girl. I felt confident. I suppose that
there is something that I have noticed that is common about the way any guy and girl walk together
whether they are shy or not.
We made some small talk about incidental matters… when we were graduating… what we might do next. I
noticed that we were both a bit nervous, but we occasionally held each other’s gaze longer and longer.
Had I been walking with a girl that I knew as just a friend, I might not have been scanning the crowd
looking for other friends, but I also would not have been nervous.
I was turning over in my mind “is this a ‘date?'” and all the evidence that it technically was a “date.” This
experience was both about the girl and about the goal of making a “date.”
It was funny what happened though. I could not believe it. I had not brought enough money.
I was fumbling frantically with my pockets trying to find some money. “I have to have some money on
me, somewhere,” I said. In my mind, I thought “Oh, my God, this is pathetic!” I didn’t say that to beat
myself up out loud.
She said, “It’s okay, I have some money.”
In retrospect, the concerns I had were exaggerated in my mind. I am not saying she didn’t deserve to have
some guy make her feel special. I should have just said that.
She didn’t even sound angry or anything but that wasn’t enough to soothe my nerves. My heart raced. My
face turned red.
Let’s just say the theme of this chapter is “boy meets girl” and leave it at that. It was a “date” but I had felt
such shame for forgetting to bring enough money and I had asked her to lunch. I guess I felt like I had
broken a dating “rule.” I wasn’t thinking independently enough yet. I let the inner critical parent voice
recordings play out in my mind over and over – actual words I had heard from my parents… and because
of that I never asked her out again. That’s probably worse than having forgotten to bring enough money.
In case you are wondering, the photo below is not of her. I found a free photo online to use. The girl in the
photo has a smile that reminds me of the smile that I got from that girl that I asked for a lunch date. What
I see in the photograph is a sense of comfort. For a few brief moments, I saw that same comfortable smile
on a shy girl that joined me for lunch. I truly believe that was because I also found enough of a connection
to share a similarly comfortable smile with her.
There are so many other important aspects of my education at Georgia Tech which I left out. So, in the
next chapter, we will go back and fill in those details..