Clay, 22, is a shy guy caught in a social vacuum.
On a freezing Saturday night in January, Clay is looking for women in the primate house of Lincoln Park Zoo. Allow him to explain. “The postcollege years from 22–25 are awkward for dating, and it’s not really clear what there is to do about it,” Clay wrote in an e-mail. “You can either be the lame grad who still hangs around campus going to college parties or the guy who’s at least five years younger than everyone else in the twentysomething dating scene.” The man has a point. Still, the zoo?
Let’s just say he’s trying. After graduating from the University of Chicago seven months ago, Clay found himself in a social vacuum: Many of the friends he graduated with were unable to find jobs in Chicago and moved back home, shrinking his social circle. Because Clay works from home (he’s a software developer), and because he wasn’t finding what he was looking for at bars or college parties, he just wasn’t meeting people—let alone available women. That’s part of the reason he got involved with One Brick, a volunteer organization that provides manpower for various nonprofits and sponsors get-togethers for the volunteers (many of whom are young, recent graduates). The other reason Clay got involved in One Brick is—are you listening, ladies?—he is one of the most decent, kind, generous 22-year-old men out there. As he helps little kids create foam reindeer headbands at ZooLights, the other volunteers—many of whom, it turns out, are women who appear to be around Clay’s age—take notice. But Clay seems much more focused on ensuring that no kid leaves the zoo without an expertly decorated set of antlers than striking up conversations with the other volunteers. As the night winds down, one volunteer mentions to Clay that she isn’t sure what she’s going to do after the event. “I’ll probably just go home and watch True Blood,” she says. Clay smiles, nods and says nothing.
So while it’s true it’s harder than one would think for recent college grads to meet people, and while it’s true Clay is in fact trying, it’s also evident that Clay is quite shy, and this shyness is impeding him from meeting women.
Steinmetz affirms Clay’s sense that he’s in a tough bracket: “You’re actually a bit of a unicorn out there,” she says. But she quickly moves into strategies that will help Clay start conversations—and find ways to continue them. At the top of the list: talking about his job as a software developer in a way that makes it sound interesting. Then, finding ways to mention his hobbies—kayaking, dining out, cooking—in conversation so people know there’s more to him than just IT. Finally, when it comes to “ending a conversation without really ending it,” Steinmetz suggests Clay invest in some business cards. “I can definitely get myself out there more,” Clay says, but he seems hesitant about some of Steinmetz’s more aggressive strategies, such as attending U. of C. alumni events, speed dating or handing notes to strangers at bars.
LET’S TRY THIS AGAIN
Considering that Clay’s first idea for meeting women was ZooLights, it’s not surprising that our second outing centers on a rock-paper-scissors competition. This event, also organized by One Brick, is a happy hour for volunteers in a private room at Corcoran’s, an Irish pub in Old Town. Again, this get-together draws a shocking number of attractive, friendly young women—some of whom attend alone with the explicit purpose of meeting new people. One such woman is awkwardly walking around the room looking for a conversation to join, and Clay tells me he recognizes her from a previous One Brick event. It’s tough for me not to intervene as she makes four passes near us, and each time Clay almost calls out to her but balks at the last moment. Finally, she gets close enough that he can get her attention: “Hey, you were at ZooLights, right?” he asks. Turns out she wasn’t, which makes Clay look a little more ballsy than he probably intended. In either case, they get to talking while I pound Irish car bombs as I progress in the rock-paper-scissors tournament. As she reaches for her coat, Clay tells her which volunteer event he’ll be attending next and encourages her to come. Then he takes out his wallet. “In case you ever need any legal software,” he says with a joking smile, handing over his business card. She seems amused and quickly reciprocates.
Want to date Clay? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAMILY & FRIENDS
“I think his last ‘girlfriend’ was in the fifth grade, and she broke up with him on Valentine’s Day.” —Tyler, twin brother
“He’s able to work from home, so he doesn’t get out much. He definitely has other things that get him out of his apartment, like his foodie adventures and volunteering, but I think his interactions with women are probably limited.” —Tyler, twin brother
“I wouldn’t say Clay is uncomfortable with women—most of his closest friends are female. But I do think he has trouble approaching women, and people in general, in a social context.” —Allison, friend
“Describe what you do for a living in a way that shows you’re passionate about it,” Steinmetz says, even if your passion is information technology.
“If you’re at a party, bar or coffee shop, and you don’t feel there’s enough time to start a conversation, write something short and innocuous on a piece of paper and hand it to the person,” Steinmetz says. Her for-instance: “This is a difficult place to talk, but I’d like to talk to you sometime. E-mail me at…”
Use an object to build a conversation: Try talking about a book someone is reading rather than just introducing yourself.
If you have trouble making eye contact, focus on the forehead or temples of the person you’re talking to: It appears as though you’re looking the person in the eye, but it doesn’t produce as much anxiety.