There is Anxiety and then there is Dating Anxiety
When you are someone who is living with anxiety, sometimes the simplest tasks can seem like an insurmountable challenge. You might fixate on something you said in a conversation that the other person probably didn’t think twice about, or you may immediately go to the worst-case scenario when you hit a bump in the road— and in your mind, all of these illogical thoughts make complete sense to you and are even destined to happen. It’s not until someone offers a different perception that you realize how irrational you were being in the first place. So if you encounter anxiety in everyday events, something such as dating can make anxiety skyrocket.
One of the biggest pieces of advice we get when dating is to “be yourself.” It’s simple enough— don’t try to fabricate a persona that will eventually crumble three dates down the line just to impress someone. But with anxiety, you begin to even wonder how to be yourself! Your mind is flooded with questions like “how do I know if I’m being genuine?” and “what does it even mean to be myself? Who am I?!” It seems so irrational, but it’s easy to overthink even the simplest things in a dating situation.
What makes dating such a nervewracking experience, especially for people with anxiety, is the fact that you are putting yourself wholly out there for someone else’s approval. What happens if you’re being 100% yourself and the person you’re dating rejects you? While many people would understand that there are probably outside circumstances to lead to such rejection, people with anxiety automatically jump into a self-critical mindset, assuming that is was something they did to turn the other person away. And even worse, there are elements of self-shaming, and believing that there’s something wrong with you and that’s the reason you got rejected. Of course, in reality this is rarely the case.
But when it comes to the actual process of dating with anxiety, there are a few ways to manage the ever-racing anxious mind. Especially if you’re just starting to date someone that you met online or only briefly in person, there are so many things to take into account when going on a date. What should you wear? What should you get to eat? Should you drink? It’s hard to know what wavelength your date is on when it comes to these aspects of a date, and can often lead to overthinking and stressing out about the date.
Tips for Coping
The best thing to do when it comes to a first date with someone brand new is to just feel it out, and have a laid-back and casual chat with your date about the date. Ask what looks good to them on the menu. Ask them if they like drinking, and what sorts of drinks they like. When it comes to what to wear, you’re going to want to put in some effort, but don’t feel the need to dress up to the nines for a single date. If it looks like you care about the date, and care about the person you’re on a date with, chances are everything will go smoothly.
Though anxiety will usually lead you to conclusions that never pan out, don’t let it take total control over your date. I have seen disasters of first dates from a third party standpoint, and it’s usually completely unmanaged anxiety that brought them to that level. Some people drink copious amounts to calm their nerves, and end up making a drunken fool of themselves in front of not only their date, but everyone else in the establishment. Before you go on a date, make sure you’re taking self-care steps in reducing your anxiety so you don’t let it manifest negatively during your date. If you need to, take a bath, or mediate, or listen to your favorite record. Anything that you typically do to take your anxious brain down a level, do before your date. If you get caught up in the anxiety, and let it fester to an uncontrollable level, it will absolutely have a poor effect on your date.
The most important thing to keep in mind about dating anxiety is that the stakes are much lower than you’re probably thinking. There’s no use in trying to change yourself for one person, let alone one date. If you’re going on a dinner date, wear what you would wear going out to dinner with your family or friends. If you love chicken parmesan, go ahead and order it even if your date is only getting a salad. It’s easy to blow these small things up out of proportion with anxiety, but the real important thing to keep in mind is how you vibe with your date, the content of your conversation, and the overall chemistry you feel with this person. All you have to do is take a deep breath and enjoy the exciting process of getting to know someone new.
People are attracted to others who are unapologetically themselves. Fake it if you must at first but take the time to find your true self. Your dating life will thank you! – Jennifer B. Rhodes
Isabel Lamont if the content manager for both Rapport Relationships and Visual Arts Reimagined. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2018.