I’m a high school junior from a homophobic part of Texas, 16 years old, temporarily in the closet, and crushing hard. To make things harder I can’t figure out if this girl I met in Physics is interested in me (or be positive she’s into girls!) and haven’t found the courage to give my number to her. I’ve only got a week left of school to talk before summer, and have little hope of jumping from stranger to friend in that time, but I don’t want to give up!
I’m not that good of a smooth conversation builder to keep her open and talking to me. Really It takes a little bit of getting to know people before I start being my dumb, funny, weird, but totally normal self, so I’m a little dependent on having others start talking first. Except I don’t know when the talking will take place when my heart is racing, and I get breathless. How is it that I’ve lost my senses for this girl? Honestly I think I wrote this because I need to be told how to go about pursuing an interest, because I’ve totally lost my head over this girl. Any advice worth giving? Or maybe suggestions for a night-course to boost conversation skills? — MC
Anna says: Get her number, silly! Be casual. The end of the year makes it a little easier because you have an excuse to keep in touch since you won’t be seeing her every day anymore. Say “Hey, you around this summer? Let’s hang out sometime. What’s your number, I’ll text you.” And then you can agonize over every text message she sends, their potential flirtatiousness, meanings, and subtexts.
I bet you are a good conversationalist. It’s just that nerves get in the way. That’s normal when talking to a crush, or to anyone we feel intimidated by. The antidote is, of course, to talk to her more since the more you do it, the easier it’ll get. But! You only have a week until school ends (unless you get her number or Facebook, which you should totally do!). If you can, try to establish at least one point of connection with her in person before school ends — a hobby you share, a class you both liked, something interesting you are doing this summer — and go from there.
Read this previous column for advice on how to start conversations: How to talk to pretty girls.
A few pointers other to keep conversations going:
Don’t stress too much about awkward pauses in the conversation, or rush to fill them with pointless jabbering. Awkward pauses are the perfect time to smile at her, and notice her body language — Is she open? Receptive? Smiling back? Or is she looking around, bored, etc. If so, change topics.
Don’t interview her by asking a litany of questions. Ask one and then talk a little yourself. In the same vein, have interesting answers ready for when she asks you questions back (this is a good sign because it shows she’s interested in you). For instance, if she asks, “What are you doing this summer?” Don’t say, “Oh, just hanging out.” Tell her about vacation plans you’re excited for, activities you like, passions you have, etc. Give her reasons to ask questions about you.
Avoid boring topics if you can. If she’s a near stranger, it’s fine to start off with the usual questions, like “What do you do for fun?” But try also to talk about things you actually might find interesting, that will get her talking, and establish a connection. A few examples that have worked for me in the past include: Have you ever been in love? Are your friends mostly guys or girls? If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? Do you remember what you used to eat for lunch in elementary school? (Almost everyone has a story about elementary school lunches — whether it’s the horrible cardboard pizza, or the weird popularity of Lunchables, or how your mom always packed the lettuce separately so your bread wouldn’t get soggy. Talking about school memories is fun and isn’t a conversation that gets brought up often, so it’ll be more memorable.
Focus on passions. Since you’re in high school, you might not have discovered your great passions yet, but you can try to find out hers anyway. Ask her what is something she can’t say no to, or what she thinks she’s going to do after high school, and see if that leads somewhere.
The most important element for great conversations is to keep practicing—keep talking to new people, keep showing interest in people, and trying to make them feel good about themselves. Stay curious, and be sure to give yourself props every time you do something scary or new. It’s not easy, but it does get easier over time.
Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your The Hook Up questions at email@example.com.