I'm channeling Yoda here. If you will think back to The Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker glumly tells Yoda that he will try to do something or other. And Yoda says, "Try? There is no try. There is do or do not."
Well, obviously Yoda is not up there with the Church Fathers, but it occurs to me that this might be the attitude that made George Lucas such an amazing success.
Unless there is some underlying psychological problem, shyness is merely a manifestation of something else. It could be something good, like modesty, or it could be something bad, like cowardice.
Oh, la, la. Them's fighting words. I'll start with the good stuff, modesty.
If you find yourself about to join a group of strangers, it is perfectly natural to fear that you might be intruding in some way. However, feelings are not facts, so look at the facts. Were you invited? If so, you're not intruding. Have you been to church and this is the after-church coffee hour? If so, you're not intruding. Does the group have open body language, or are they in a tight, closed circle? If open, you're not intruding.
In a gentler age, everyone invited to a party, and every stranger who drifted into after-church coffee hour, would be greeted by the hostess or priest or lady behind the coffee pot and introduced around. But this is no longer universal, so it falls upon the new person to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Pick someone doing something serviceable--like pouring the tea or handing around the canapes. Say something like, "Hello, I'm Marta. How do you know our hostess?/How long have you been coming to St. X?" Don't ask something that can be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No."
Besides "not wanting to intrude" modesty, which is laudable, there is sexual modesty, which is also laudable. If you find yourself around strangers who are behaving or talking in a way that you find shameful, leave them. Unless local culture directs otherwise, don't make a big song and dance about it. Don't frown or cry or preach a sermon. Just go. Invite any equally embarrassed people to go with you.
If you belong to a smile-no-matter-what culture (like Canada and the UK), smile and say "This has grown too hot for me" and escape, even as the strangers hoot, holler and say "Stay, stay!" Strangers, heck. I do this at my own dinner parties when my own husband remembers a limerick he thinks the chaps should hear.
There is sexual modesty in dress and behaviour, which is weighing on my mind because I've bought this amazing dress for a party tonight. It is kind of low cut and not my usual thing and B.A. says it is fine but you know how it is. I will check with a girlfriend. Anyway, if you feel "shy" appearing in public in a bikini, that's a good thing. If you feel "shy" playing spin-the-bottle, that's also a good thing. If you feel that you need to get really really drunk and thereby lose your inhibitions, that's a bad thing. Inhibitions are usually our friends, and we should keep them.
One of the saddest things I ever read was some blossom of a first year student at Harvard or Yale or wherever "Sex Week" was being committed confessing that she was having a hard time overcoming her inhibitions so that she could perform whatever sex acts she thought she was supposed to be performing. I wanted to fly there, smack the stuffing out of whoever organized "Sex Week" and tell that girl that what she was calling "inhibitions" was her God-given conscience and her dignity as a creature made in the image and likeness of God.
And that's what I have to say about modesty. Onto cowardice. If your "shyness" is not modesty, and it does not stem from a reasonable decision that the people around you are better best avoided, then maybe it stems from timidity, which is not laudable, but cowardice. Get over it.
I realize as I type that this is easier typed than done for many people including the myself as a child, but with the cold hindsight of adulthood, I think I really was a bit of a coward. I was also unobservant, self-absorbed, unreflective and unhappy. It never occurred to me to watch how "the popular people" I wished would accept me made friends and influenced people.
My saving grace, as a child, was summer girls' camp. For some reason, whenever I went to summer girls' camp, I deliberately took on the persona of fun, outgoing, kinda crazy girl. I'd have two weeks of popularity and then I'd go back to my ten year sentence at elementary school. (It never occurred to me that I could somehow transform the social patterns burned into my class, and maybe I couldn't. The day I started high school was the happiest of my young life.)
So you can make an effort, talk to people, and joke around if you really want to. Yes, it is hard to break out of patterns. But every new group, every new party, is a new opportunity not to be Mr or Ms Shy-and-Awkward but Mr or Ms In-Love-With-Life.
If there are men still reading this blog, I would like to repeat my mother's dictum that "Faint heart never won fair lady." Men still think it a terrible insult to be called a coward, but many no longer seem to make the effort not to be thought a coward.
The good news is that sometimes men can be goaded into action by a loving female friend coughing "Coward" into her hand.* This, however, is a bit dangerous because there is a kind of cowardly man who, even if he would never dare hit a fellow man under any provocation, will hit a woman. Choose your male friends wisely.
Amusingly enough, I did once manage to propel a nice young man into extra flights of social effort by turning on him, giving him a piece of my auntie mind, and pointing out how the other guy in the room--unlike him--was utterly charming to a certain young lady.
After gasping and spluttering with horror at the insult, the nice young man rushed out to be just as charming to the young lady as the other guy and I, although already under its influence, had another glass of potato juice. I am, after all, over forty and married and therefore can get away with such shenanigans--to a certain extent.
But maybe I should get some double-sided tape. Where can I get some double-sided tape?
Update: OH, POPPETS! Such wardrobe malfunctions, thanks to reliance on double-sided tape! :-( Minor, and nothing gruesome, but annoying all the same.
However, I don't want to say "If you have to use double-sided tape, maybe you shouldn't wear it" after just one attempt. It's a fabulous dress. (Anecdote removed on second thought.)
That dress is going nowhere. I think I'll just sew it onto me next time.
*It occurs to me that this might also be a way to clear up Free Therapy syndrome. You know how when you like some guy and all he does is talk to you about the girl he really likes? If he says he'd love to ask her out, ask him why he doesn't. If he comes up with some excuse, tell him that you guess he doesn't really want to ask her out then. If he says he does but he just can't, ask him if he thinks he might be being a bit of a coward. If he gets mad, say this therapy session is over, and that will be $100, please.