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Every Friday our group does a karaoke tour around Metro Vancouver. We are a punctual lot, by and large, but we understand well what it’s like to be the last, lone straggler, so a recent rainy evening found us waiting in the vestibule of the Hollywood Club on Seymour Street, squeezed in tight, steam clouding up glasses. When we finally made it inside, the hostess told us that our sizable group wasn’t welcome. Too many of us, though the place was empty. Our leader that evening, Kevin, a software technician in his early 30s, explained that we need to be a big group because of who we are. The hostess looked back skeptically.
We feel more comfortable when there are lots of us together, Kevin said. We’re the shy group. Her expression soured. The Extremely Shy Vancouver group, it turns out, has a reputation. The all-you-can-eat establishments like us because we rarely ask for more sushi or ribs, but the pubs and karaoke places hate it when we show up. Shy people have a reputation for frugality. We’re downers.
We decided to try Fantacity instead. It’s only eight blocks away, but our numbers still winnowed on the walk, as happens whenever things take an unexpected turn at our social events. This time, we only lost two: one guy said he had to feed the meter; a woman just took off, turning left when we went straight. Was it something we said? It’s part of our code that we never try to bring anyone back. We are careful around each other. If it’s possible for three people to walk beneath one umbrella without touching, we have figured out how to do it.
At Fantacity, we paid for a private room. “I just hope there’s a good selection of Bon Jovi,” confided Eric, an accountant originally from Hong Kong. We’d seen each other at events, but we still introduced ourselves politely. “A lot of places don’t play that much Bon Jovi.” Why? I asked, which irritated him. This was the most detailed conversation we’d ever had. “Who knows? The music selection at karaoke places is made by people who know what they’re doing, I guess. What I like doesn’t matter to them. You ask a lot of questions.” When “Living on a Prayer” came on, I tried to patch things up by being his loudest fan. Later, the group chose Adele’s “Someone Like You” as our theme song. We all joined in: “Why are you so shy?” then high-fived each other. “Yeah, we’re shy!” we chanted.
When I joined Extremely Shy in the spring of 2012, it had 800 members. In the last year, that’s grown to nearly 3,000. We go on hikes, bowl, play video games at each other’s homes, visit museums and galleries, and have minglers on the beach and at Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year where we receive tip sheets on how to have a good conversation.
Ian, our founder, was around when there were only eight members. He didn’t start the group (that person, a woman from Victoria, freaked out when numbers got up to about 50, Ian said), but he’s outlasted some of the other originals, who splintered off into their own group. “They wanted only to talk about their social anxiety and their shyness. The rest of us wanted to just do stuff together where we didn’t have to share.” Keep reading…
Susan Cain, whose boldly titled bestseller QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, pushes (a little aggressively, in my opinion) the notion that society would be better off if quieter people could do what they want. She estimates that a third to a half of us identify as introverts and that quietness and shyness are seen as traits of weakness and shamefulness in a world dominated by extroverts. Shyness, Cain believes, is the fear of social judgment.
I’ve chatted with Ian for hours, but he’s never asked anything about me. I once asked him what his last name was, but he turned red and walked away. At check-ins at events, people leave their first name or a nickname. We have our shyness in common, and that is enough.
Edward Yuen, another founder, is the only friend I have in the group whose surname I know. We should find out how to market ourselves better, he said to me recently. Maybe we should talk to the others about changing our motto-it’s currently “Shy People Unite.” “It’s not enough,” he said. “We should unite and…something more. It should be about us learning something from each other and contributing.”
Yuen, who is always the first to get up to speak at minglers, wants us to be more involved in volunteering and fundraising for nonprofits. “If more shy people get together, we can really make a difference in our community. We could have maybe 5,000 members by next year.” The larger our group, he said, the more people wouldn’t feel bad about being shy. We are already the most active Meetup in Vancouver, and increasingly, new members reveal they’re not really shy. I was handed business cards from six realtors at one recent event. After karaoke, another new member leaned in closer than I wanted and said, “I’m not shy, but I find shy girls hot.”
After that encounter, I went in search of another shy group. At the Vancouver Shyness and Social Anxiety support group at the Burnaby public library, it was quieter than Fantacity but just as dark as 16 of us gathered. Claudia, a parking enforcement officer, said after six career changes, she’d realized her latest job is also not for her: coworkers have told her she should be more outgoing, and she’s constantly being confronted by the people she tickets.
She should try the federal government, said William, an electrical engineer graduate jealous that she can speak French. He thought engineering would allow him more hands-on work than it does. Too many computers and office stuff, he complained. He wants it to be just him and machines. Phil, a business-school graduate, would like a cat but worried the two of them in his studio apartment would be too stressful. He was one of the original members of the Extremely Shy group and left to start this one instead. “They always have waiting lists for their events,” he said. “We don’t.” Then he told me I didn’t seem very shy. I felt comfortable enough that I told the group I’m a reporter. One day, I confided, I would like to write about how hard it is to be shy in my profession. I felt a sense of relief at having found these people. My people.
Two days later, Phil wrote to tell me I’d been removed from the group. I was deceptive and only wanted to get material for a story, he said. People, even shy ones, have a right to privacy. I’d asked too many questions.
They’re not aloof. They don’t lack for opinion or accomplishment. But introverts do go against the grain in a world that celebrates those who celebrate themselves. – Mario Canseco*
It gets better: those under 34 are more likely to call themselves shy than those in middle life or over 55 Under 34: 40% | Mid-Life: 21% | Over 55: 19%
A full 69% say they were shy as children. The number who think loud people are too bossy and obnoxious? Men: 75% | Women: 66%
2/3 believe people who speak their mind find more success. 37% of shy people regret not speaking up. Of those who do not consider themselves shy, 11% regret dominating conversations. Only 25% think the meek shall inherit the earth.
*On May 20 and 21, an online survey polled 803 randomly selected British Columbia adults. The margin of error-which measures sampling variability-is +/- 4.8%. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender, and region census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of British Columbia