We are starting off a series about social anxiety with a discussion about dating, just in time for Valentine's Day. If you suffer from social anxiety the prospect of dating can seem terrifying. You may focus on what can go wrong such as being rejected, feeling embarrassed or even humiliated. You may worry about what to say, how to act, or even how to eat. It has been some decades now since I have been on the dating scene but I do remember how anxious I would become. I think so much of the anxiety can be due to the fact that there are so many choices and ambiguities with regard to dating. Although there have been many books written about the topic, there really aren't any written in stone rules about going on a date. Yet there are certain unsaid expectations which can make even the most confident among us feel nervous.
I am going to give you some suggestions to hopefully get your through a date with as little anxiety as possible. But please know that you will inevitably feel some stress. And that's okay as long as it doesn't overwhelm you and stop you from having a good time.
Let's first take a look at why people date in the first place. I believe there are two main reasons. One reason to go on a date is simply to have fun and enjoy yourself. The second reason for dating which is probably the most important reason is that dating gives you a chance to get to know someone to see if you want to spend more time with them. As much as you are feeling that you may be scrutinized or possibly rejected during a date, the other person is most likely feeling some of that too. You are not alone in this. I think remembering these goals can take some of the pressure off that this is not like some test where you win or fail. This is a "getting to know you" time with another person to explore whether or not there is some spark for romance.
Here are some other things to remember for those who are socially anxious and daunted by the prospect of dating:
Choose someone to go out with that has something in common with you. They say that opposites attract but I think this is more of a myth than a reality. You need some common ground, in order to have something to talk about and something to do together. If you are shy, introverted, and not a party animal, if might be a good idea to date someone who is more like you in temperament. Some of my early mismatches were due to dating someone who did not understand my social anxiety and need for alone time.
The Internet makes some things possible in the dating world that just wasn't possible before. It is possible to get to know someone better before you go on an official date. If you feel anxious about meeting people for the first time, sometimes talking through email or chat can make you feel more at ease as you have a bit more control. However, it is a pretty well known fact that some people may embellish or exaggerate about anything from their appearance to personality traits. So do be careful if you are "meeting" someone you first met on the Internet. Choose a public place to meet for the first time in person.
If you feel overwhelmed by the thought that a traditional date lasts for an undetermined duration of time, you can put parameters on the time spent on your date. That way, you have a clear ending instead of wondering if you should stay or go. You can make a lunch date or tell the person that you are free from such and such a time and would they like to get together during that time. I would have a specific activity which would fit within that time frame.
If you get nervous about a lot of unstructured time during the date and having to make conversation, plan a date which focuses on activity. But make sure it is an activity you both like and one which will not increase your anxiety. Some ideas for date activities can be going bowling, playing miniature golf, or visiting a museum.
If you feel anxious about going on a solo date, sometimes you might feel more comfortable meeting people in a group. There is a site called Meet Up http://www.meetup.com/ which is not a dating site, but rather a site to meet up with other people who enjoy the same interests and hobbies. You simply plug in your zip code and they will tell you what meetings and groups are being held in your local area. There are groups for everything from hiking, to book clubs, to support groups. This is where I found a group for people who suffer from social anxiety. I think that meeting others who share a common interest makes it so much easier to form a connection.
- Remember that if a date doesn't work out, it is not the end of the world. You have to say to yourself that this person was not the right fit for you and you try again. You do not need to feel badly about yourself. Instead of internalizing as in, "I am no good" or "I am not likeable" you have to say this was good practice for future dates. Treat these times as learning experiences about what things make you feel comfortable or anxious. And then you can work on those things the next time that make you feel ill at ease.
I hope these tips and suggestions were helpful. If you are a person who suffers from social anxiety and you are in the dating scene, we would love to hear from you. What things about dating make you feel the greatest anxiety? What strategies have worked best for you to ease that anxiety and stress? Your experience matters to us. Please share if you can.