For my Myers-Briggsian friends, I am an INTJ to be exact, and a pretty heavily skewed one at that. I have been in recovery since college. I am only half joking when I speak of ‘recovery.’ I recognized that my introversion and social queue tone deafness was hurting me and decided to do something about it. I was never going to ‘cure’ my natural tendencies, but I could at least learn to mitigate the harmful behaviors.
So what did this introversion look like in a social setting? I was the guy at the dance or party who didn’t want to go in the first place. The thought of being in a group of people and being ‘on’ to interact with them is draining. Once at the gathering, I would tend to either only hang out with folks I knew or be a wallflower. Engaging new folks was (still is, actually) terrifying. Small talk seems pointless; the chance that my attempt to engage would be rebuffed and I would feel humiliated was (is) paralyzing. Not necessarily picking up on all the social queues but getting the sense that things may not be going as I had hoped was demoralizing. I know a bunch of you are sitting there right now having flashbacks and nodding your heads. We are not alone.
Going to college presented a significant new challenge. There was none of the old gang to hang out with. Everything from dorms to classes to parties was a new social situation with a new group. I needed to engage to survive as a social human or wither into a hermit. So began my recovery.
What does this have to do with swinging, you might ask? Well aren’t swinging and swing parties really dating all over again? Aren’t the challenges of walking into a room, engaging new people and forming new relationships similar to those we had back on the high school gym floor (or fraternity/sorority social room or dorm block party, or …)? Sure we are older, more experienced and hopefully wiser, but that inner wallflower still exists, the old ‘failures’ still remain. Swinging and swing parties gave me the opportunity for a ‘do over,’ this time with the world’s greatest wing-woman, Mrs. Duncan (a poster child for ENFP).
Prior to starting in the lifestyle, my recovery had proceeded to a point that most folks would be surprised to know about the past socially stunted Duncan. However, a swing party is not a cocktail party in one very important aspect. Once one gets past the ‘great weather we are having, how was the vacation, glad to hear your dog is better’ conversations, one needs to get to the part where we start expressing interest, engaging others, judging their interest and escalating to playtime- the actual dating and swinging part of the program. This is when I realized that there was not much difference between the past and the present me. Until we started going to swing parties, I never had to go beyond cocktail party type small talk. The insecure wallflower was alive and well and living inside of me just waiting for the opportunity to rear his ugly head. Cue the flashbacks, insecurity and second guessing.
What to do? We were having a lot of nice conversations and were forming new friendly relationships, but rarely ever going beyond that. Anything that did happen was due either to Mrs. Duncan working her magic or someone from the other couple taking the initiative. I found myself getting very jealous, not of any of the fun being had, but of my apparent inability to initiate any fun and to help drive fun forward. Something others seemed to do with ease. I was also getting very frustrated with myself for thinking about moving forward, but never pulling the trigger. I was starting to feel a bit like Henry Fonda’s character in Fail Safe, with the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Time for recover phase 2. This is an ongoing process, but there are a few things that I have found work for me (many of these ideas are not necessarily original, just ones I found from various resources and work for me in practice):
- Act as if you have faith and faith will be given (fake it ‘till you make it)
Simply being open to escalating, and projecting that, goes a long way. My being confident (or at least appearing confident) seems a huge aphrodisiac not only for others but also for myself. Acting as if I are ready for the next step will often lead us there. And now for our third movie reference- ‘Luck, often enough, will save a man if his courage holds.’
- If my inner voice is telling you to do something, do it
That is, if that inner voice is suggesting I approach and flirt with someone, reach out and touch them (in a non-threating non-creepy way), and/or suggest playtime. If that inner voice is suggesting I reach out and grab a complete stranger’s ass, I may want to pass. This is also where a good wing-woman comes in. I asked Mrs. Duncan many times if she thought, for example, I should have put my hand on Ms. X’s knee/arm/waist. More often than not, she said she was sitting there wondering why I hadn’t already. Back to our movie reference already in progress- ‘(for) all we ought to have done, and have not done; I pray thee God for forgiveness.’
- Pay attention for signs
OK, this is also were my intuitive thinking (as opposed to sensing feeling in Myers-Briggs speak) has a hard time. I often ask Mrs. Duncan how did someone know she OK with them becoming more physical with her? How did she know they were open to her playing with them? She would say they read the signs. I do not see the signs. I could run straight into the sign, wreck it and not realize it existed until I got the bill a month later. I really have to pay attention to these and work on seeing them every day. If someone puts their leg up on the bar stool I am on, they are probably OK with my touching said leg (as in ‘look what I have- like it?’). If someone leans into me or stands close, it’s probably OK to put my arm around them. This brings up…
- Reach out and touch someone
If there is no reason not to touch someone, and I would like to, do it (see point #2). Putting a hand around a waist or on a shoulder or touching an arm or hand, etc. gives me a pretty quick indication of where I am at. If they reciprocate, I am in business, or at least in negotiation. If they pull back, I also know where I stand and I can just resume normal conversation. If they just sit there and neither reciprocate nor pull back, well that is where my stomach starts knotting up, my head starts spinning and I still do not know how to proceed. At this point, I continue with what I am doing for a bit, pull back, wait to see what they do and make a judgment call. This last bit is still really a work in progress in sign reading.
- Nothing ventured, nothing gained
If I am concerned about pulling the trigger (#2) about touching someone or escalating in some other fashion (#4) I need to remember:
– If I do nothing, nothing is likely to happen
– If I do something, good things might happen
– If I do something and good things don’t happen, I know where I stand and I can move on to another situation where good things might happen
So the only way to guarantee failure is to do nothing. The only way to guarantee success is to do something. No matter what my gut and lack of social self-confidence may tell me, I need to remember that. I remind the thinking part of my brain that all the time and tell it to ‘own’ those nagging insecurities screaming from the back of my head.
- It really isn’t all about me
I must have been English in a prior life. I really am terrified of looking silly. I need to keep reminding myself that, the focus of the entire room is not on me no matter how much I may feel it is. If I try something and it does not work, it really will not be the most memorable thing for anyone for that night (hopefully, not even me). In fact, 99% of the people there will not even know or care anything about what is going on with me. In the words of the immortal Ms. Frizzle ‘Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!’ should be my mantra (I’m working on it). Learn by doing.
- At some point, I need to pop the question
If everything seems to be going well, eventually I am going to have to ask if they want to play (or just proceed until we are in fact there). We need to have the safety conversation as well as the conversation on what is on the menu, off the menu and what they like. Even with past play partners, I need to see where they are on any given night (see #1 through #5) and then suggest play time. You may even need to have the conversation on what they are up for that night, although you should all be familiar with your safety practices.
Recover phase 2 is in full gear and I have found it to be a wonderful journey. I am exercising social and emotion muscles I had not used in many many years. I mean after all, when would a married monogamous guy get to use new person seduction and dating muscles? And I get to do this with a wing-woman who actually knows what she is talking about and cares about me (as opposed to my adolescent buddies who were just as clueless as I was). For those of us who were not exactly social supermen/women in our past lives, this lifestyle gives us a tremendously therapeutic social outlet. I, for one, am making the best of it and exorcising old forgotten demons to boot. Oh, and by the way, I get to make great new connections and have great play time too!
‘Hi, my name is Duncan, and I am a partially recovered recovering introvert.’