There are so many singles I see in my practice who struggle with dating. It’s one of the most talked about issues among my clients. Some feel anxious and confused about the whole dating scene. So, let’s start with some of the basics.
First, here’s some information about anxiety in general. About 18% of American adults have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder; that’s approximately 40 million people. Of that 40 million, social anxiety, in particular, affects about 15 million men and women in the U.S.
Let’s take a step back a little and define just what anxiety is: anxiety, according to Merriam-Webster, is fear or nervousness about what might happen. When we get scared about a situation, we can start to hyperventilate – breathe too fast. This can lead to an overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by other physiological signs such as sweating, tension, feeling light-headed, chest pain, rapid thoughts, and increased heart rate.
There are two types of anxiety that we are going to look at in this blog: social anxiety and a subset of social anxiety that we call dating anxiety. I think it’s important to understand what all of this means so that you can better cope with any anxiety that you might feel.
Social anxiety is just that. It is the anxiety or fear that you might feel in various social situations where people meet individually or in groups. Most of us have felt that from time to time. It’s not a real problem if your social anxiety generally is low to moderate. If that’s the case, you will likely function fairly well in these situations. If you tend towards being more shy, it will take more effort to become comfortable in one-to-one or group settings.
Why We Feel Social Anxiety
The reason we feel anxiety is because we get scared. Here’s why: we want to be accepted. It’s natural for us to want to be received well and liked. When that becomes our obsession and keeps us from dating, then it becomes a problem.
Sometimes because of our fear, we may also feel that we need to control every situation we are in. Of course, we can’t…but we may still try. This obsession to control every aspect of our social relationships typically leads to even more anxiety. Because deep down inside we know we can’t control everything, we get more anxious about this.
Now let’s take a look at how anxiety can impact our dating life.
When social anxiety is experienced in dating situations we call it dating anxiety.
Over the years, many of my clients, friends, and family members have told me that they sometimes feel anxious about dating. Most singles experience a certain degree of dating anxiety and that is understandably human. It’s quite common.
Although it’s been several years, I remember my own dating anxiety. Sometimes it was a bit scary asking someone out. In those days it was expected that the guy would always ask the woman out, so men experienced more anxiety about initial rejection. Society has moved a long way towards more equality. Women are beginning to feel freer to ask for a date.
A Frequent Scenario
You’re at a social event. You know about half the people in the room, a few you recognize as acquaintances and the rest are strangers. You work the room and network and leave there with a few new contacts and plans to join a new group of women for Wine Wednesday. No problem. The next day, one of the men you met asks you out on a date.
You smile at the text he sends because it’s flattering, but that moment doesn’t last long. Suddenly, you freeze. You run through several scenarios in your head of what you might say or do and what his reaction might be.
How do I respond to him asking me out? What will I wear? Is it trendy enough? Do I really care about that? Is my personal style exciting enough for him?
Where will we meet? He wants me to pick the coffee shop?! What will you talk about? What if there is a lull in conversation?
And before you know it, you’re going to be too busy rearranging your closet to find an hour this week to meet for that cup of coffee. And what’s worse? You might like him, but your anxiety has become so strong that you find yourself making so many excuses to your friends to justify turning him down — he texted me, he should have called or he’s still in school and I’ve graduated, we are in different life stages.
How to Ease Your Pre-Date Anxiety
When you arrive at this stage, it’s time to stop and take a deep breath. Shrug your shoulders, slow down your breathing, and try to relax. There are a number of things you can do to lower your anxiety. Here are some of those tips that my single clients have found very helpful when dating.
Take the Focus Off of You
First, when on a date or talking on the phone prior to a date, a great way to reduce your anxiety about dating is to take the focus off of yourself.
Asking questions and finding out what your date is interested in is the best way to do this. Take note of the hobbies they listed in their profile and ask about it.
Let them do most of the talking but be sure to be actively listening. If they have a hobby you know nothing about, don’t panic, just ask them to explain.
People love to talk about themselves and their hobbies or other interests. They could be sports, recreation, traveling, dining out, social causes, you name it. Plus, taking an interest in what’s important to them will likely be appealing to them. Focusing on who they are can help quell some of your own anxiety. And an added bonus, you will probably learn something new!
Share What You’re Comfortable Sharing
The first few dates are for getting to know each other. If there’s not an intense connection right away, that’s very normal. Oversharing in the beginning, on either end, can be too much. You and your date should not be sharing your deep dark secrets on the first date. In fact, when people over-share and become instantly attached, it often fizzles out just as quickly as it started, leading to some serious heartbreak.
Remember to keep it light! Your first few dates should have a positive happy conversation. Avoid asking about traumatic, dramatic or any other negative events.
So, start slow and reveal only what you’re comfortable with in the beginning. Slowly, you can share more and more and get to know each other more intimately, once you’ve established some trust and built a foundation.
Knowing that you control what you share and don’t share can help ease some dating anxiety.
Be Nice to Yourself
Often dating anxiety (and social anxiety in general) is linked to low self-esteem.
This can cause you to “get in your own head” and overthink every detail, often putting a negative spin on it. Do your best to stay positive, optimistic and in the moment. Thinking about what might happen or could happen is exactly what your anxiety stems from.
You could start off your date by choosing an outfit in which you feel great about yourself, your favorite top or pair of jeans. Do your hair and makeup however you like it. Don’t overthink this part. Pretend you’re going out with a friend. You don’t need to buy something new, just be yourself. Instead of stressing out about what you’re going to wear, see if you can shift your mood. Focus on having a fun and relaxed time.
Texting and Dating
Texting is a part of modern life and it’s particularly important when dating. It’s not uncommon these days for some budding relationships to spend hours on the phone having full-blown conversations via text.
However, when a relationship is starting to flower things can get lost in text translation. So, there may be some texting etiquette to keep in mind before the romance can fully bloom and/or not die on the vine. Hopefully, like so many dating singles and couples I have worked with, these tips can help guide you while dating and texting.
The First Date
Typically, the first date tends to elicit more anxiety than subsequent dates. This makes sense because there’s so much more you don’t know before the first date. Simply accept that the first date will feel more awkward. You’re simply a normal person, having understandable reactions to the unknown.
You may also find that it helps to work a bit with your breathing, especially if you focus on exhaling. Try the following exercise to see if you notice even a small drop in your anxiety.
Relax Your Mind, Relax Your Body
Your thoughts and your breathing may both be happening at a rapid rate. Some of your thoughts may be making your anxiety worsen. One tip that many find useful is to take a couple of deep cleansing breaths as follows:
- Slowly inhale through your nose. Drop your job jaw, and exhale through your open mouth (not through almost closed lips). This allows for a deeper exhale. This, in turn, releases some of your tension.
- Repeat this, one or two more times, but not more as it could make you dizzy.
By the way: This very simple breathing technique is a good life skill to have in any situation where you are experiencing fear, anxiety, and stress.
Sometimes It’s Simply Not Going to Go As You Hoped
Your date may not be quite who you thought they were going to be when you met in person. This happens to just about everybody. Perhaps you got stood up when she/he never showed. Unless they have an incredibly good reason for not showing they have actually done you a favor. Of course, you’ll feel sad, disappointed, and frustrated. In reality, you don’t need them. But, they actually did you a favor by showing their lack of consideration early on. It’s now much easier to check them off the list of frogs or frog-ettes you don’t need to spend any more time with.
When things don’t work out, many of my clients and friends have found the following to be helpful. Think of your life as if it were a play. You are the writer, director, and the leading woman or leading man. There will be people in various roles in the play of your life.
One of them is going to be your leading man or woman, your partner. When dating, you are simply conducting one or a series of auditions to find a partner for your life’s play.
Unless you’re incredibly lucky on your first date ever, you are likely going to conduct many auditions in the single chapter of your life. With some, you might want to have several auditions. Some won’t make it to a second or third reading. And some you might try an extended audition with for many months…even years. Just keep auditioning until you find the right lead for you. People who have used this technique report significantly reduced anxiety around dating.
The very nature of dating can feel a little superficial and judgmental. This is especially true with the rise in online dating. In your parents’ generation, they married their high school sweetheart or maybe college sweethearts and that was that. We can all probably agree that meeting people was easier when we were in school.
Whether still in school or already graduated, you’re studying or working. You might or might not want to date a fellow student or a co-worker and perhaps you pretty much know all your friends and their friends. So, if, for now, you’ve exhausted these possibilities, how do you meet new people?
OkCupid. Tinder. Bumble. Coffee Meets Bagel. The number of dating apps and websites is only increasing day by day. While this type of dating can seem extremely superficial, it may also increase or even decrease your dating anxiety.
With some apps, you get to know a little about the person before you actually meet them in person. That can lessen your anxiety. Having looked at their online profile, you might also feel like you might want to go on a date but you’re not really sure. None of your friends know this guy or gal, and the lack of an endorsement from someone you trust could increase your anxiety.
You create your profile with photos you like and add details about yourself, so you know that if you get a match the initial judgment of whether the person will find you attractive is over with AND vice versa if you don’t find that person attractive, you can decline without it having to be too awkward.
The next step of starting the conversation can be kept casual through text messages until you’re ready to talk on the phone or meet in person.
Safety Tips on Your First Date
One source of anxiety for many singles, and women, in particular, is the issue of personal safety. This is particularly true in the Age of Tinder. We’ve all heard some pretty scary stories about hooking up with strangers. Here are a couple of tips:
- Let a friend know you are going out with someone for the first time. Give that person your date’s phone number.
- Ask your friend to leave their phone on and shoot them a text at a pre-determined time to let them know that you’re ok.
- If you’re on a date and beginning to experience some discomfort or outright fear, here’s a great safety tip that just started in England. Click Ask for Angela. There is a growing international movement to adopt this easy way to ask for help in a discreet way. Knowing that you have taken these precautionary steps can help reduce anxiety around your personal safety.
These are just a few ways to cope with dating anxiety. If you sense that anxiety is potentially getting in the way of finding love in your life, feel free to reach out to me. We can discuss some additional ways you can overcome this so that you can have the life you really want.