I went to Canada in 1981 at the invitation of my friend Carmel and her husband Wayne. They had invited me over because I had been to the US two years earlier and the experience hadn’t gone so well.

I was 27 then and Carmel, who had been a wonderful friend at a time when I had few, and had often gone out of her way to include me in her life, wanted me to savour Nova Scotia. In truth I missed Carmel being around, and at a time when email, Skype and Facebook didn’t exist I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

I had reached a point in my life where I wanted a change of direction, but didn’t know how. I had no faith in myself, could see nothing but loneliness ahead. I believed – even if it wasn’t true – that everyone was staring at me and judging me by the way I looked. Instead I was the one doing the judging but was so wrapped up in self pity, fear and self-imposed isolation from ordinary social life I couldn’t see it.

Nova Scotia was fantastic, a wonderful holiday that made me feel so good because everyone I met was very friendly and inclusive. I knew that company was what I craved. I didn’t want to hide myself away again, bury myself in self doubt, wasting more years crying away at the futility of my existence. I didn’t want to be afraid of the world and fear walking crowded streets, or avoid social contact. I wanted to be like you, meet people, talk, laugh and love. I wanted to be accepted as normal, not defined by my face.

While Carmel and Wayne went off to work I developed a daily habit of going to the local drug store, buying a milkshake and pastry while reading the Halifax Herald Chronicle and Boston Globe or Globe and Mail. While walking to the town centre this particular day I wasn’t feeling too bad about myself. But then I saw this girl approaching. There was no one else around.

Back then I was painfully shy with everyone but those who knew me. I was particularly introverted when it came to girls because I always felt myself not good enough to even talk to them. That sounds silly now, but it was also exactly how I was. Normally in this situation I would try and not look a girl in the eye and invariably kept my head down. I would feel lower than the lowest form of human and couldn’t wait to get past her.

I could see from about 20 yards away she was a beautiful looking brunette and I just couldn’t help giving her another glance as we were about to pass each other. And when I did look she flashed me the most amazing smile and said “Hi”.

I couldn’t believe she had even acknowledged my existence, but she had. And I felt so good about myself, so thrilled that here was a pretty girl who was so confident about herself and so compassionate that she had treated me like a fellow human being. And there was no trace of pity in that smile, no pretence either.

The memory of that girl and her warm smile lingered. Strangely, I began to think a little more positively about myself. Just enough to wonder were there more females who viewed the world the way she did. I didn’t suddenly change overnight, but it began a journey – a long and occasionally painful one – that culminated in me finally having the courage to ask someone out on a proper date.

All thanks to a brunette with a smile.