Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Am Very Much an Introvert

When I was about 13 years old, I had a crush on a girl (my first big crush). She was pretty and popular; I was shy, chubby, and nerdy. Her family was fairly well off; mine lived in a trailer. I never planned to ask her out because of my certainty of rejection. I did, however, make a huge mistake in admitting my crush to a friend. He gossiped about it and eventually the news of my crush made it back to the girl.

I had anticipated rejection were I to ask her out - I never anticipated the cruelty she would show if she merely knew I thought she was cute. She openly and loudly mocked me on a long bus trip. She hugged me and sat on my lap. I had no chance to seek respite from the humiliation - I just sat in stunned silence. I thought she wasn't going to stop stomping until I was dead.

That moment stunted my romantic pursuits for the next decade of my life. I am very much an introvert and social interaction has carried a high cost for me for as long as I can remember. Asking someone on a date added not only carried the fear of rejection, but also a much greater fear of humiliation. I didn't date much. I wasn't very successful when I did, maintaining both physical and emotional distance. With every failure, I reinforced my previous fears and added new ones.

Enter strip clubs, providing a different kind of therapy where my visits to counselors had failed.

I first started going to strip clubs at the behest of my friends, with promises that you can't have a bad night at a strip club. They certainly were entertaining - that combination of drinking, smoking, and nude women was thrilling, in the way breaking social taboos can be.

I kept going once the initial thrill faded, though. Over the following two years after my first visit, I went as frequently as my grad school stipend would allow. I had read about sexual surrogates extensively online and slowly devised my own plan without the high up-front costs. The clear-cut social rules and monetary exchange of strip clubs created a safety zone for me to work through my issues and to work on some of my weaknesses. Things that would cause enormous emotional turmoil previously began to come more easily. I could let someone touch me and there was no mocking that followed; the expectation that it might be used against me faded. Telling someone that they're attractive ceased to carry an emotional cost for me. I worked on other social skills that had never come easily to me, too - making small talk, for instance. I'm still not good at it, but much better than I was before.

I stopped going to strip clubs a number of years ago. As my old fears were assuaged, I found myself capable of pursuing relationships without the self-imposed barriers that had plagued my earlier attempts.