It’s totally okay to be shy. To say that “confidence is sexy” isn’t much more profound than saying that cuteness is sexy. There are many ways to be confident; all of us are in different ways. It’s not always a good thing. Confidence means “with faith,” or without doubt. Doubt can be a good thing. That’s why it exists.
Ironically, I used to think or fear that I had to be some idealized, masculine kind of self-confident in order to find a healthy long-term sexual relationship. I had love interests who told me that shyness was bad, or that “confidence” was their type. I thought I must change, I must mold myself to that type. The reality is that we just weren’t that compatible.
By trying so hard to be confident in ways that I wasn’t, I kept attracting people into my life who wanted or expected me to be confident in ways that I wasn’t. Now, instead, I am interacting with a lot more people who appreciate my kind of self-confidence and don’t expect more than that.
Recently, I met someone I was interested in and before either of us made a (major) move, I was already talking about how I am shy and don’t like to direct a relationship. “I tend to gravitate toward shy people,” she responded. I was a little surprised because she seemed a tad shy herself, and because no one I’ve been interested in has ever told me this. Other than gender normative straight men, I’m not sure I’d even heard anyone say such a thing before. Too good to be true, part of me was thinking… did she really just say that? I can’t remember if I did anything but stare at her after she said that.
Not much later, I confidently asked her if she’d like to cuddle with me. Then I asked if I could stroke her head. Then I told her I had just attended a workshop on erogenous zones and that I needed to find someone to explore them with. She immediately asked me if I’d like to do that with her later. Which, by the way, we did, and it was phenomenal. We confidently touched each other — oh, yes, I am confident with sensuality. I am very intuitive, in the best possible way, when it comes to pleasing others physically. But more than that, it was as if we spoke the same body language – we both enjoyed the same kind of touch and had that same kind of intuition and way of touching each other. The thing is, when you find the right match, you will automatically be more confident. We were very confident with each other, on the whole, because so many key things aligned. We were more confident in ourselves as well as in each other—a positive feedback loop.
“No one’s ever touched me like that before,” I told her in the middle of our playtime.
“How did it feel?” she asked.
“Very,” I breathed, “very erotic.”
Later, she told me, “I haven’t been that turned on in a long time.”
She told me that she is normally pretty confident, but can be shy in a few situations. This isn’t a turn-off for me. What’s important for me is that she is confident in taking the lead in the relationship as a whole. She is.
What’s a turn-off is finding out that I’m very incompatible with someone because I don’t meet their ideal for a monogamous lover. What’s a turn-off is someone telling me that they’re not interested in me because I need to change in a way that is really not their business, i.e. to be more “confident.” What’s a turn-off is when someone lacks the confidence to say that maybe we just aren’t compatible, so instead they try to blame it on something they don’t like about me. And let’s be honest here – I’ve been on both sides of that story. It’s not pretty.
I am also in a long-term polyamorous relationship with someone who is very, very confident on the whole. With him, I never felt that I was being judged for what I lacked in the confidence area. Sometimes people have told me I needed to be more confident, with the implication that they had an issue with me over it. But he would tell me so with the implication that he had confidence in me and very much believed and felt that I was worth it. He had faith in me. When people say “confidence is sexy,” what they often mean is they want a lover who is confident in them and their relationship with them. Yeah, I’ll say that’s sexy, as long as it includes consent. A lover who is doubting my worth as a lover = not sexy.
It’s possible to be confidently shy. I’m exploring this. What I’ve realized in my quest to become more self-confident is that I might always identify as a shy person overall. To a certain extent, this is genetic. It’s biological, chemical. Extreme social anxiety and paranoia run in my immediate family, in different forms. I know I’ve inherited some form of this. I also know that I can work through it, build self-confidence, reduce anxiety. But we all have limitations, and they vary from person to person.
For one thing, the medication I’m on makes me more confident in some ways, especially with talking. This has made it abundantly clear to me how chemical it is. Some people are just naturally more prone to anxiety than others. Medications can help, but they don’t completely change our personalities. We all have room for growth, but there’s no one way to be when it comes to anxiety and self-confidence. It’s not nature vs. nurture; it’s nature and nurture.
Maybe one day I won’t identify as a shy person anymore. But that day is probably far away, and I’m not counting on it. What I can do is acknowledge and accept where I am now. And we know that acceptance is often the first step in self-confidence. It is the first and last stage of Buddhist meditation. Acceptance and faith go hand-in-hand. We have to accept reality to have faith in it.
Only in the last year have I really accepted that I am shy and may remain so forever. Shy is not who I am—ultimately it is just a label. I can be both confident and shy. Or as my philosophy professor loved to say, “Not either/or. Both/and.”
Acceptance is what I mean when I say that it’s okay to be shy. I’ve already felt my confidence grow from accepting this reality. Telling people that I am shy can actually result in them perceiving me as more confident. It’s more authentic, and it is something I can say with confidence. It’s helps them figure out more quickly whether we’re compatible, and to know what to expect from me. Accepting it has also made it easier for me to figure out who is compatible with me, and to stop trying to be confident in ways I not only am not, but don’t really want to be. Now I am more likely to just go with what feels natural rather than trying too hard. I used to always feel like I was trying too hard, and that was quite stressful and sometimes corrosive to my self-confidence.
Now I can facilitate a workshop with 50 attendees, be all nervous while doing so, and walk away without worrying nearly as much about it as I used to. Because I know that I am not Ellen Degeneres or anyone else who is an outstandingly good public speaker, and I don’t have to be. If only those people get up and facilitate workshops, what voices will be missed? I don’t have to be good at public speaking to have something very interesting and engaging to say, and I am quite confident in this fact.
Confidence is also relative. Relative to my former self, I think that “confidently shy” describes my experience facilitating my first workshop very well. Can this term become a thing? Please? If shyness or lack of confidence were so bad, I don’t think it would be so common. So next time someone tells you “shy is minus” (as happened to me), tell them, “Saying that there’s something wrong with shy people is minus.”
The thing about shyness is that people are inherently less likely to stand up for this part of themselves, just by the nature of it. Add on top of that what society teaches us and we have a real need to confidently embrace it. Just as we have personal growth gurus telling us to embrace fear, Buddhist priests telling us to let go of fear. It’s the same concept. Fear is not the enemy, nor is shyness.
I went to a great workshop on flirting where the facilitator talked a lot about confidence and said that she is attracted to socially awkward people. She advised us to approach sexual interests by being “confidently awkward,” if we felt that we couldn’t approach in a simply confident way. To say, for example, “I’m feeling silly/nervous/shy saying this, but I find you very attractive.”
Somehow I, a shy and unassertive person (generally), didn’t need this approach at that entire sex conference. I managed to approach people / make a move quite confidently several times that weekend. I find that when I feel very nervous with someone, it’s usually a sign that they just don’t inspire confidence in me because we’re not compatible, or my interactions with them are not ready to blossom. Or I don’t know what I want. Which is also important for confidence, and comes with experience.
But I still think this is a great approach. Even just putting myself out there has improved my self-confidence greatly and helped me get a better idea of what works for me and what doesn’t. I wouldn’t be able to articulate what that nervousness means for me if I hadn’t stepped into it and taken risks.
Shyness and confidence don’t have to be contradictory. So don’t be afraid to live into, explore, and embrace both. And do feel more than welcome to share your stories related to shyness and self-confidence below!