Dating can be an absolute nightmare for shy people. You want to meet the right person, but you're too scared to do anything about it.

Introductions -- sticking out one's hand and looking another person in the eye -- can be terrifying. The brain locks up as you scramble to think of something relevant to say. You fall apart as soon as you're asked what you do for a living. You stammer.

The heat rises in your face and under your arms. You're suddenly incapable of forming a grammatical sentence. You think to yourself, "Why would anyone care about me? I'm really not that interesting!"

Fear not. Many shy people have succeeded in meeting new people and forming lasting, happy relationships. With a little practice, you can too. Here are some tips for taming your social terror.

  1. Prepare a pitch. The question, "So, Sally, what do you do for a living?" is bound to come up, so have a ready answer. No need to brag about capturing the company Tidy Break room Award; just state clearly what you do for a living and don't apologize for it!
  2. Ask questions. People love to talk about themselves (okay, except for people like you), so ask questions. Come up with a list before you leave the house, i.e., How did you get into that line of work? Where did you go to school? Have you seen the new Brad Pitt movie? And so on.
  3. When you fumble, turn the subject to the other person. Whenever you find yourself longing to throw a blanket over your head and crawl off, try saying something like, "And what about you?"
  4. Listen to what the other person is saying! This is important. Instead of fretting about what you'll say next, still your mind and listen. If a man tells you about his weekend on the golf course, and you know absolutely nothing about golf, just ask him what he likes about it, how he got into it, etc.
  5. Smile. People respond well to people who smile. No need to grin like an idiot, but a disarming smile will get 'em every time. Smiling conveys friendliness and approachability. Show teeth whenever possible. Avoid looking like a figure at a wax museum by practicing in a mirror before you leave the house.
  6. Breathe. Whenever you feel your heart racing, breathe deeply and slowly. If you really start to feel uncomfortable (your face has become so hot you could use it for a wok), excuse yourself and go to the restroom.
  7. Compliment the other person. Sincerity is key, so find something you like and mention it. You may be freaked out by the idea of complimenting a man on his soulful eyes, so mention his watch, suit, tie, or even his shoes. No need to go overboard: "Nice shoes," will do it.
  8. Stay on top of current events. You don't necessarily want to bring up your stand on Bush v. Kerry during a first meeting, but be able to discuss less controversial issues intelligently.
  9. Remember the weather! Some people have the "gift of gab," the ability to make strangers feel like they've known them forever. They are fearless about talking about the weather, gas prices, whatever. Shy people worry that talking about mundane things will make them appear stupid. But seemingly dull subjects like the weather affect everybody. People relate to them.
  10. Hold your head up. It's the simplest, most effective way to look confident. Good posture, coupled with that fabulous smile of yours, gives you a "winner's vibe." You're guaranteed to be a hit!

Be warned: These tips will not help you if you don't leave the house. It's just too easy to watch a Friends rerun for the umpteenth time instead of meeting people, but I promise you that Prince Charming is never going to climb through your bedroom window.

Talking to strangers can be uncomfortable, but with practice it will surely get easier. If you have a bad night, congratulate yourself for making the effort. When you have a good night, understand that you earned it. Know that countless wonderful nights are on their way to you.

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