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Girl can conquer shyness by reaching out

Dear Abby: I'm a 14-year-old girl who just started high school. I started to notice boys when I was in middle school, and I'd like to start dating soon.

The problem is I've never had a close friend who was a boy, and the idea isn't natural to me. How can I ask a boy out if I don't even grasp the concept of being friends with one? I'm frustrated over this, especially because I really like one particular guy.

The only advice I have been given is, "Get over your fear and just TALK to him." This isn't very helpful to me. I want to know how to get over my fear! Abby, your thoughts would be appreciated. – Can't Find the Nerve in Ohio

Dear Can't Find the Nerve: I'll gladly share some thoughts. The first is I hope you realize how many girls and guys your age feel EXACTLY the same way you do. Social skills don't come naturally to everyone – but they can be learned. And like any learned skill, they take practice.

The surest cure for shyness – which is the "fear" you are experiencing – is to forget about yourself and concentrate on the other person. Smile and introduce yourself if the guy doesn't know you. If you share a class with him or know an activity he's involved in, ask a question about it. He's not good at sports? Not musical? Ask him about a class assignment.

You don't have to be brilliant or witty. Try leading off with a friendly remark or a compliment. ("Nice shirt, cellphone," etc.) I know very few people who don't appreciate a compliment. Overcoming shyness takes practice, so don't go after the boy you "really like" at first. Make a point of smiling and saying hello to everyone. It's friendly, it's welcoming.

Keep in mind that the majority of people have the same insecurities you do. Many of them will respond positively because they appreciate being noticed. That's how you make friends of both genders. I have a booklet that offers even more suggestions. The title is "How to Be Popular," and it contains hints for polishing social skills for people of all ages. It can be ordered by sending your name and address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price. Remember, you don't have to be the prettiest or smartest girl in school. But you CAN be one of the nicest.

Show an interest in others. Be honest but always tactful. Cultivate your own interests so you will have something to talk about with others. If there are clubs at your school, join the ones that interest you. It's another way of making friends of both sexes.

Most young people go out in groups these days. So, if you and some friends plan to do something (and after you have been friendly and let the young man you like notice you), smile and ask if he'd like to come along. If he's shy, it's a way of making HIM feel less self-conscious, too. Good luck!

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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