DEAR ABBY: I'm really bad when it comes to speaking. It's hard for me to squeak out the few words I can. I am shy and not very sociable, so when I'm with people, even my two friends, I feel like I come across as rude. I never have the right things to say. When I'm with my family, I don't usually have this problem.
In public, it seems like everyone else is so much more interesting than I am. Making conversation is a lot of trouble. I know this sounds silly, but do you know if there is anything that can be done about it? I heard you had a booklet about being more social. Is it still published? If so, how can I get one? -- VICTORIA IN SOUTH CAROLINA
DEAR VICTORIA: Making conversation may seem like "a lot of trouble" to you because making conversation is a skill that you haven't yet mastered. A surefire way to contribute in social situations is to become informed about what is going on in the world by reading books, magazines, the Dear Abby column (of course) and going on the Internet. The more informed you are about the world, the better you will be.
You don't have to be an "authority" on everything. A good conversationalist is interested in what other people have to say instead of feeling pressured to fill the air with the sound of his or her own voice. My booklet "How to Be Popular" is filled with suggestions about how to polish one's social skills. It isn't meant to be read just once and then put aside. Read it often because it covers a variety of social situations. 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. There are tips not only for what to say, but also what not to say, which is one of the keys for becoming the kind of person other people find interesting, attractive and want to know better. If parents, teachers and clergy know people who need help in this regard, it might make an inexpensive gift that could help change the course of their lives.
Most people can concentrate on only one thing at a time. One of the best cures for shyness is to forget about yourself and concentrate on the other person by asking about what he or she is interested in. Try it, and you'll find it works.
DEAR ABBY: I have this little boy I tutor. He is 7 and says he loves me. I'm 18. I try to tell him I'm way too old and he isn't my type, but all he says is, "Age ain't nothing but a number." Help! I need to know what to do. -- ALEX IN NEW JERSEY
DEAR ALEX: Start by telling him that the word "ain't" isn't appropriate -- that what he should be saying is, "Age isn't anything but a number." Then tell him that while you are complimented, he is there to study -- so you'll revisit the subject when he is 18.
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.