Expert Advice on Dating When You Have Anxiety
By Niki Davis-Fainbloom
Even with the most well-vetted Bumble match, going on a date can involve many unknown factors: Will the conversation flow smoothly, or will there be awkward silences? Will you keep it cool and collected, or will you spill your drink? Will they want to end the night with a hug, or will they have different expectations?
For some folks, fear of these unknowns can significantly contribute to anxiety before a date, says psychologist Dr. Nazanin Moali. As a result, if you’re someone who has pre-existing anxiety, making new connections can sometimes feel particularly arduous. There’s no surefire way to prepare for the infinite possibilities that may present themselves when dating, but there are some techniques you can use to feel some sense of predictability and control. Here’s what experts say you can do to date with less anxiety.
Have a vetting process
If you have anxiety, you may want to spend a little longer getting to know a potential date before meeting. For example, you may want to start with a video chat to see what their demeanor is like and how your conversation goes. This can alleviate some first-date uncertainty, as it may no longer feel like you are meeting a stranger.
It may also be beneficial to tell your match about your anxiety pre-date. In many cases, you may find they’re experiencing a lot of the same fears as you are, and you can talk together about creating as much comfort as possible. Even if not, you’ll likely feel more comfortable because you were honest, and put how you were feeling out there. Indeed, Dr. Moali shares that “people get drawn to individuals who are comfortable talking about their vulnerabilities, and [sharing] also helps you not focus on hiding it.” If you choose to discuss your anxiety and their response is anything other than one of kindness and compassion, you’re likely not a match and may want to reconsider meeting in person.
Choose a comfortable environment for the date
Dating anxiety can manifest in many ways. Based on your concerns, consider what environment would make you most relaxed. For example, dating coach Eddie Hernandez recommends that if you get overwhelmed with noise, make sure not to choose a small, crowded restaurant. If you’re worried about the date going on too long, you can meet at a cafe an hour before closing time. If you’re worried about the conversation coming to a lull or the first date jitters, try an active date, like a pottery class. You can always bring the conversation back to the activity if you run out of topics to discuss.
Another way to feel more in control is to pick a date with less of a time commitment to start, but with the flexibility to extend it if you’re having a good time. Don’t worry if the idea you propose is short and sweet, like a stroll around a local farmers’ market, followed by a stop at a juice place if you’re feeling it. “Most great date ideas can be as short as 30-45 minutes,” says Hernandez. Having control over the date’s timeframe can help you feel more comfortable knowing that even if the date goes horribly, you won’t have to be with the person for very long.
Have some anxiety-relieving techniques ready
Anxiety can sometimes be more generalized; even if everything is going smoothly, it can still flare up. When this happens, it can be helpful to have easy, anxiety-relieving exercises in your back pocket. Something you can try is adjusting your body language. When you exude confidence physically (and smile!), even if you’re not feeling confident, it will help you internalize that feeling, says therapist Stephani Bradford.
You can also excuse yourself to do a quick breathing exercise in the restroom if you need a moment to center yourself. A technique shared by Bradford is: “As you inhale, picture yourself breathing in self-confidence. As you exhale, release self-doubt.” Keep breathing until you feel calmer and more collected.
Embrace negative outcomes
It is common for people with anxiety to consider the possible negative outcomes, which is also known as catastrophizing. When it comes to dating, it can be helpful to indulge in these thoughts before meeting someone. That way, you’ll hopefully realize that even if the date doesn’t go your way, you can handle it. You’re committing a chunk of time to someone you’ve never met before, so even if you burp loudly, say the wrong thing, spend too long in the bathroom, or have some awkward silences, you can handle it. And it’s okay if one date doesn’t work out—that happens all of the time!
“When things don’t go well, think of it as bad candidates showing themselves out,” says Brandford. “You don’t want things to go well with the wrong person and find out you’re incompatible six months down the road.” Plus, no matter how the date goes, it’s great practice. It’ll help you to feel more prepared and less anxious when you meet the right person!
Dating with anxiety can be difficult, but implementing some of these techniques will give you the tools to feel more prepared for the world of dating. Instead of focusing on the negative, try taking some time to consider the potential positive outcomes. Maybe your match will be even cuter than in the pictures, the conversation will flow smoothly, and it could be the beginning of something special.