Dating and Change: What Does it Mean to “Leave Your Comfort Zone”?1
Last time, I talked about change: why change is necessary in dating, the difference between changing who you are and changing ineffective behaviors or habits, and why people resist change. This is such an important topic that one could write volumes on it. After all, change is often the one thing standing between you and what you want.
One of the tough things about change is facing the unknown. What’s familiar, even if it sucks, can be comforting because you know what to expect from it. Change means facing the unfamiliar, the foreign, the unexpected. It means facing a period where you feel a bit… lost.
That’s what people — including self-help gurus — don’t often tell you when they’re busy pushing you to try something different, make a change in your life, or leave your comfort zone.
In my last article about dealing with change when you’re single, I borrowed a quote from a commenter who visited my site, who bemoaned the dating advice often given to introverted singles:
“… everything you read about introverts and dating revolves around “throwing yourselves out there” or the dreaded “you have to get out of your comfort zone”…both of these things are the equivalent of telling an extrovert to “spend all weekend alone in your home”..its the same thing..”
Clearly, this is someone who is strongly resisting change. He uses the word “dreaded” to describe leaving the comfort zone and uses the example of the extravert spending the weekend home alone. Yet, many people leave their comfort zones every day and I know plenty of extraverts who are perfectly capable of spending a weekend alone.
However, in once sense, this dude may have a point: telling someone to leave their comfort zone isn’t that helpful because it isn’t enough. They need to know HOW to leave it.
What it Means to Leave Your Comfort Zone
Many people assume leaving your Comfort Zone means doing something that scares the hell out of you or that’s well beyond your limits. For example, I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve known who’ve taken their beginner skier friends way up to the black diamond runs and forced them to face their fear of the fall line, just to have them scramble their way down on their butts. Or other people I’ve known who’ve want to take an acrophobic friend skydiving. It’s the old “dive straight into the deep end” advice.
To use a dating example, a lot of advice for shy or introverted people may push them to go outside and meet/talk to as many people as possible and to learn to approach total strangers, which can seem daunting to the introvert and downright terrifying to the shy. Sometimes, such measures are necessary. But more often, these measures lead to failure.
Instead, leaving your comfort zone should involve doing something you don’t necessarily want to do, or that you drag your feet on doing, or that scares you a little, but are capable of doing without it terrifying or exhausting you. You want to venture a bit outside the Zone, just enough to help you learn and become comfortable with something new. Then, afterward, you can retreat back into your Comfort Zone or your Introverted Bubble to reorient yourself and recover before your next adventure.
Venture out into the unknown, come back to safety, repeat.
Trying to push yourself (or let someone else push you) beyond this can backfire in one of two ways:
1) You’ll resist doing it and cling to old habits and ways.
2) You’ll do it, feel extremely uncomfortable, and then run back to the Comfort Zone and never leave it again.
To give you an example from my own life: when I was single, I spent many days per week at the gym during “prime time,” when a lot of single guys work out. I recall deciding that if I wanted to meet a man at the gym, I would have to speak up first since men know it’s generally a faux pas to hit on women in the gym setting. I kept trying to get the nerve to talk to a guy who’d shown signs of interest in me. I found every excuse I could for not doing it, some of which were absurd, such as “I don’t want to be one of those desperate women who hits on uninterested men.” Yet no matter how much I reasoned with myself, I could NOT pull the trigger.
Finally, I realized that, for whatever reason, my plan was simply too far outside my Comfort Zone. So, instead, I focused on things that were not so terrifying, such as online dating. Dating online was new to me and not entirely my cup of tea, but I managed it because contact was initiated over email, which worked for me. And my online dating experiences expanded my Comfort Zone and built confidence. Joining a running club again was also outside my Comfort Zone, but only somewhat, as I’d been running for years and knew a couple of people in the club. And that’s where I met my husband.
Yes, if you want your dating life to improve, you need to change. And change means leaving the Comfort Zone. But there are sane ways to do this that greatly increase your odds of success. Start with the mildly challenging, build your confidence, and then move up to more challenging tasks.