Ask Jono: Working Through the Awkardness With a Shy Guy
I'm not even going to try to be original here. I have a guy problem.
I have recently read in your column about a girl receiving mixed messages from a guy who is flirty in real life and disinterested online and through texts. I have the opposite problem. I text several guys who are brilliant texters. We have amazing conversations that are alternately deep and hilarious. I feel real connections to them. However, when we actually interact it goes something like this:
Him: A GIRL! (hides behind trashcan).
Me: This went better in my head.
Help, Jono! I am not a good conversationalist in real life either and I am completely incapable of holding up a conversation with someone who either stares at me with a semi terrified, subtly hostile glare or begins firing off random inappropriate movie quotes in the desperate hope that I'll laugh. How do I set guys at ease and begin to match the conversations held by phone with words coming from my actual mouth.
Realistically, Sparkler, the guys you're talking to should be doing their part to make these conversations comfortable and normalsauce, but obviously they're not very good at that. It's not very fair to expect you to do all the work, but I can't very well drive up to these guys' houses and whisper advice through a megaphone, so I guess it will all be up to you.
I can't be too critical of guys like this, because I was a guy like this once too (had a strong long-distance friendship, met up in person, forgot how to say mouth words, etc.). In my defense, though, it was one of those conversations that went "How are you" and then "Oh I'm good" and then we both found different ways to say "..." for half an hour. I'm not blaming anybody else for the fact that I was once a social train wreck, but at the same time, the girl I was talking to didn't make any helpful segues or other attempts to keep the conversation going, which is crucial when you're dealing with a dude like this. For the record, this kind of awkwardness does fade with familiarity, but there's no telling how long it'll be until any given guy is comfortable around you, so until then, here are some ways to deal with these situations.
1.) Try not to let the first lull happen.
Okay, let's be honest: the first lull will probably happen anyway. Even very social people sometimes find themselves at that point in a conversation where they're like "So..." "Yeah..." "Uh..." and then both parties frantically sip their coffee. But don't just walk in to meet a super-awkward guy and say "Hello" and expect that he'll manage to strike up a non-terrible conversation. If you have a few things to talk about right away, you can at least keep the conversation moving, and the longer that happens, the better—conversational awkwardness is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a guy is nervous about how much he sucks at this, and within 30 seconds you're both staring at the floor in rigid silence, he's going to be like "Wow, I do suck," and will only clam up even more. You need to clam him down.
2.) Have a few segues in mind based on your texty conversations.
You apparently already have enough in common that you have deep conversations with these guys, so you should at least have some things to ask about if you get to a point where nobody remembers how to talk. Use these after a pause, though, instead of interrupting the flow of normal conversation with them (unless you want to redirect it from a particularly stupid direction, e.g. "here are a bunch of movie quotes for some reason"). Don't use them all at once, either. You don't want to be like "How is your brother? How is your cat?? Remember the time we talked about Doctor Who?! HOW IS YOUR DOG??"
3.) If he's suffering from Idiot Mouth, give him time to regroup.
I was more the type to sit there and say profound things like "Uh... ... ...um," rather than blurting out a bunch of dumb quotes, but if you hit a point where the dude is all "Here's a thing! Here's another thing! Ha ha I am insane!" then he's obviously so nervous that he's not being himself. Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or something, which will hopefully give him time to collect himself and think of something normal to say. Or to sit there going "Argh you MORON, you are so STUPID," and punch himself in the head until you return.
4.) If all else fails, just address the awkwardness directly.
And I do mean "if all else fails." This is a last resort, because for some people, directly mentioning the awkwardness only makes it worse. Personally, though, as the awkwardest high school boy to ever awkward up a date, I would have been super relieved if the girl had said something like "Sorry I'm being so quiet, I'm just a little bit nervous is all." And I know you're the normal one, and it's the guy who's sitting across from you and acting like he's part of a circus act. Apologizing for being nervous (or whatever conciliatory thing you say) isn't necessarily about telling the truth, it's about putting the guy at ease. You can't very well say "Sorry that you seem to have brain problems!" and hope that fixes him. He knows he's being a goofus, but giving him some glimmer of hope that the blame isn't 100% on him might help him recoup and start acting sane.
I don't think it'll take too much work to get past this stage of the... well, I don't know what you want from these guys, so let's call it a Friendlationship. You do have things you like talking about, and you connect well; just in a different venue. These guys just need to get more comfortable being themselves when they're actually with you in person. Talking to a shy dude requires some patience on your part; resist the urge to smack him on the nose with a newspaper and say "NO. BAD. BE MORE NORMAL." Just survive a few more conversations, and the awkwardness will start to dissipate.