Dating is a bit intimidating for most people. But if you are an anxious person, dating is more than intimidating—it can be downright painful and terrifying. Most people with anxiety have difficulty dealing with uncertainty. And dating, for all its glory, is rife with uncertainty. After all, you are getting to know one another, and it’s uncertain if you will have a connection or not.
In order to deal with the anxiety, your instinct might be to avoid dating altogether. You put off making definite plans. You find yourself shutting down, finding faults with your potential date, or losing interest in the idea of going out with him or her. Your anxiety may cause you to criticize yourself and doubt in your ability to face your fears. Fear tends to erase our memory—we forget all of the times we’ve succeeded in challenging our anxiety. Think back to instances when you’ve faced your anxiety and it’s turned out well. Remind yourself that you have what it takes.
The next way to help deal with the uncertainty of those first few dates is to reframe your anxiety. Often anxiety takes center stage, and it feels overwhelming, so it’s hard to pay attention to the rest of your feelings. If you could focus on other emotions besides the anxiety, what would you find? Perhaps you’d notice a small degree of excitement? Maybe a sense of hopefulness about the possibility of dating this person? Remember, anxiety is persistent and loud. Don’t let it fool you into thinking it’s the only real emotion you have about dating!
Anxiety-prone people often face the idea of too much pressure on dates. There is (often self-imposed) pressure to be witty, to be talkative (but not too talkative), to ask questions, to make fun plans, to look good, to show your best self. All of that worry can weigh you down and prevent you from really being yourself on dates. I will tell you a secret, though: Your date wants to impress you, too. Conversation is a two-way street, and it's a 50/50 deal. Imagine taking all of the pressure you feel and giving half of it to your date. Rather than focus on having such high expectations of yourself, pay attention to getting to know him or her, learning how he or she respond to your interests and questions, and seeing if he or she is someone you are interested in getting to know more.
Another area that concerns anxious daters is worry about the outcome of the date, or what could go wrong. First, consider the worst-case possibilities that could happen on your date. What comes to mind? Perhaps you worry they will reject you or judge you harshly. Perhaps they will not have a good time or will not be attracted to you. Ask yourself this: If my worse-case scenario came true, would it be the end of the world? How long would it bother me? Have I been able to deal with this in the past? If for some reason the worst-case scenario came true, would you really want to date that person? Usually, when a date doesn’t click, on some level it isn’t working for both people.
Now, here's the fun part! Imagine the best-case scenario. What are some of the benefits that could come from the date? Maybe you have an amazing time, learning things about yourself you never knew, or find you share similar passions with your date. Perhaps you build confidence in yourself. Maybe, just maybe, you discover love with this person that will last a lifetime.
Realistically, there's no way to know when love is waiting just around the corner. But one of the benefits of pushing yourself to date, despite your anxiety, is that practice makes it better. The more you expose yourself to the anxiety of dating, the less powerful the anxiety will become. And the more chances you give yourself to find lasting love.
By Shannon Kolakowski, psyD, for eHarmony.com