Creative Writing by Bruce Whealton

Bruce Whealton

Chapter 4: Learning Social Skills and How to Deal with Shyness

Bruce whealton

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I mentioned in the previous chapter that I was able to find a way to ask a girl out and I had a date with a
girl finally by my senior year. Yes, it took that long. I had not dated in high school and I had not had a
date during the first four years of my college education. There might be an exception as I did go out with
the cousin of one of my best friends. It’s been many years and so I am not sure if that happened during my
senior or junior year. I’ll describe that below.
I want to describe what I was learning with the help of my counselor.
In the sessions with my counselor – my psychologist, I learned ways to speak to people and to listen. For
example, I learned about “free information” – the weather, something a person might be wearing, a shared
experience like something from class. Then to keep the conversation going, I learned about active
listening. That could mean summarizing what someone just said, rephrasing it in different words to
confirm that you understand… asking follow-up questions and the best questions are open-ended, that way
you don’t get a “yes or no” or short answer. An open-ended question invites the other person to speak at
In addition to being given reading material by my therapist and discussing things in therapy sessions, my
counselor facilitated a therapy group. It turns out that a number of people have similar problems and
needs. We used role-playing and other techniques to learn and practice different skills.
I was learning social and communication skills.
I also learned a technique for dealing with social anxiety. Suppose I want to meet someone or just be
more friendly. I was challenging my fears as opposed to not trying or telling myself something will go
wrong. I learned a three-column technique based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. This is
something I did all week actually. I had a pad of paper, a pen, or a pencil all the time.
I would imagine scenarios and ask myself “what is it that I fear if I acted instead of avoiding what I
feared.” It wasn’t actually those words that I asked but there were so many examples that no single
example can capture the essence of the fears. I mean if the fear is that I approach someone I don’t know
and say something foolish or incoherent, then avoiding the action avoids the negative emotions that might
show up in the form of a racing heart.
That is just one of the countless examples and probably not a good one. Anyway, in column one, I write
our automatic thought. He/she won’t like me. She won’t be interested in ME! Then in the middle column,
I write the name of the “cognitive distortions that I can recognize. Maybe, for example, I am “predicting
the future” which is a cognitive distortion, or I am “discounting the positive” – positive aspects of myself.
There are common cognitive distortions that people use. In the third column, I wrote challenging
statements. Depending on the situation, I might write about evidence of how I am liked by the friends that
I have.
This is something I did every week, frequently, for years. See what I mean when I say that picking any
one example might not convey the breadth of potential negative thoughts. To be clear, this happens to all
kinds of people not just shy people. I was trying so hard. A simple way to figure out what the automatic
thought was is to think about asking oneself, “what’s the worst thing that can happen?”
Despite all the improvements I made, I never met girls directly at the parties at the fraternity house. What
I mean is that I met girls that were friends with some of the guys that I knew. I did make friends with
females in my classes and in other settings but they were just friends.
My best friend Thomas could trust me completely to hang out with his girlfriend, fiancée, and later wife,
Jo-Lee but she was one of my best friends and we spent a great deal of time together when Jo-Lee was
here at Georgia Tech after Thomas graduated and moved up north. I had another male friend and I was
friends with his girlfriend as well. In fact, she came down to Florida with me on a break between class
quarters and we went with my sister to Disney World.
I have no idea how Thomas got engaged. I cannot imagine him asking out Jo-Lee. This is heartening
because, to me, it means that the entire burden doesn’t lie upon the guy to ask out a girl. I grew up on
shows like “Happy Days” where it was announced that it isn’t proper for a girl to be calling a guy and
asking the guy out, and etc. This spells certain serious problems for a shy guy.
Who made up that rule anyway? I know, dear reader, you have heard me rant about this in other parts of
this book and the topic will come up again. It has been a great source of incessant pain for me to notice
that no female has asked me out. No matter how much the “rule” might make sense to you, that is no
comfort to me. I still feel unattractive and undesirable when I think of this.
Oh, and all the things I was learning about social skills, dating skills, intimate connections… it seemed so
artificial. I like it better where you just start talking to someone as a friend and find that you have some
things in common and then you realize that you are also attracted to that person.
A Date With Jo-Lee’s cousin Marleesa
This is my favorite part, next to the story about Donna liking me in 3rd grade. This is an instance where a
girl was definitely interested in me and it was obvious.
My friends Thomas and Jo-Lee got married when I was either a junior or senior. Thomas had moved to
Massachusetts for a job but they had the wedding down in the metro-Atlanta area near Georgia Tech.
I was the best man at their wedding. It was interesting. I have one more story to tell here.
I mentioned earlier in this book the date with the girl I met at the post office. That was hard. I mentioned
the subtle things that attracted me to that girl… but all I knew was that she didn’t have a boyfriend and she
seemed nice. I had no idea if she was into me, though. Yet, asking for something that you want is an
important goal for someone like me seeking to overcome shyness, social phobia, and/or social anxiety.
Around the time of their wedding, Jo-Lee asked her friend whose name I cannot remember, to show me
how to dance for the required “dance” the best man would be forced to do. I felt sorry for Thomas who
also had to engage in this ritual of a similar “dance” that he would hate as much as I did, I imagine. The
only thing that stands out is the dresses that the brides’ maids and maid-of-honor wore. The maid-of-honor
held my attention though in the very revealing low-cut dress that made it hard to not notice her breasts.
So, here I am talking about Jo-Lee’s maid of honor.
She seemed friendly and kind as she tried to guide me, and she was acting considerate of my discomfort.
Right now, I cannot even form an image of me trying to dance with the maid of honor. I suppose, now
that I think of it, I had been making a parallel between the way I thought of her and that character Tommy
from the movie “Carrie.” Tommy asks out Carrie who is the shy scapegoat in high school. This isn’t a
perfect parallel since, at this time, I wasn’t a scapegoat and I had done so much to come out of my shell by
this point.
Anyway, after the wedding, there was some event with many people over at the home of part of Jo-Lee’s
extended family. Jo-Lee was from the area. I was thinking about asking Jo-Lee about her bridesmaid,
trying to find the courage to do this. I don’t remember the details about how I came to find her attractive
and I hate that the only thing that sticks in my mind is that she had nice breasts.
Anyway, then Jo-Lee pointed out how much her cousin Marleesa was interested in me. I noticed she was
pretty too but don’t ask me to describe her for this story. I just remember noticing that and I am
considering what followed. At first, I was in denial, still doubting that any girl would be interested in me.
I was a junior and this was before I asked the girl out from the post office, which I described in an earlier
Eventually, I started noticing everything that Marleesa was doing to be nice and show her concern. I
remembered they had a dog at that house that was annoying. Marleesa noticed my annoyance and got the
dog away from me. I then looked up at Thomas and Jo-Lee who had a look like “see, I told you she is
interested in you.”
Okay, so I started talking to Marleesa and she invited me to an Easter play in which she was acting
through her church. Marleesa was definitely someone who was very forward. Who asked who out? I can’t
remember how it occurred. I am sure that I started making conversation with her and indicating that I was
infested in her.
She seemed sweet and pretty.
For some reason, I am now thinking of the words “flirting” and “hitting on” someone. I wonder to this day
if this is one of those ways that two people figure out in a less threatening way whether someone is
interested in them so as to gather information before asking the person out.
If I was flirting or she was flirting, I wasn’t sure of that. I suppose I can concede that what I had observed
indicated that she was infested in me. However, I needed the help of Thomas and Jo-Lee to make it
known to me. I imagine that Jo-Lee explained what was happening in a private conversation with Thomas
because I imagine he was similarly lacking in “dating,” “flirting” and other skills. Again, I cannot imagine
him asking Jo-Lee out.
Anyway, getting back to Marleesa… It was interesting to be meeting the family for this first date after the
performance. She seemed so interested that I thought I should kiss her.
She turned her head away and I was silent, and my face was red with shame. I had not done anything
wrong other than read a signal wrong. The one time I had not invested hours doing my Cognitive
Behavior Therapy homework with the three-column technique and I got it wrong. I felt like the air had
been sucked out of me. I was frozen and silent.
For a while, I would reflect on this with shame as if I had done something wrong or broken a rule that I
should have known. I had not been forceful at all and as soon as she turned away, I had shrunk within
myself. I was just so confused.
She had been far more “aggressive” at the party with others around and here we were outside after dark
where privacy might allow such things.
That was the last time I saw her. I wasn’t mad – just confused. I don’t want to give the impression that she
owed it to me or that she was playing games. A girl can change her mind at any time. I just felt shame for
MY mistake, like I needed to learn more about making a connection or how to deal with rejection.
The next section and chapters will describe my first experience of feeling “love.”