How to Date with Anxiety

Dating, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable around someone, isn’t easy. For people with anxiety, dating can be all the more complicated. 

In 2013, Health Canada estimated that 3 million Canadians (11.6%) aged 18 years or older reported having a mood and/or anxiety disorder and that more than a quarter (27%) reported that their disorder(s) affected their life "quite a bit" or "extremely" in the previous 12 months. For many, dealing with an anxiety disorder can make basic activities and the ability to work challenging.

So you might thing that for people with anxiety, turning to a dating app would be the logical choice. You swap out the face-to-face interaction for texting back and forth from the comfort of your living room. 

Jane Beatty once wrote for Anxiety Canada that, while it seemed natural to use dating apps, the conversation would make her apprehensive. 

“When I begin ‘virtually speaking’ with a prospective date, I find that the conversations can be extremely stressful for me,” she wrote. “I become consumed with what to say, how long to wait before replying, and trying to decipher what that other person ‘really’’ thinks about me. These elements stir up my anxiety and send my self-worth plummeting.”

The “what ifs” start pouring in and without body language or facial expressions to tell you how the person is feeling, it can feel like your conversations are going in a different direction than they actually are. 

It’s gotten to the point where apps like Wandure are skipping the texting portion of dating apps all together. 

But all is not lost.

Dating with anxiety isn’t easy but there are methods of coping that can make things a little easier. So what do the experts have to say? 

Practice Curiosity

Think of it as learning more about the other person. Look for clues in their profile and ask “curious” statements like, “How was the trip to [blank]?” or “He’s cute! What kind of dog is he?”

In 2006 Todd B. Kashdan and John E. Roberts wrote a paper on the tendency to feel anxiety and curiosity in social interactions. 

They explained that, "Unfamiliar [social] experiences evoke feelings of both anxiety (due to conflicts with existing knowledge and feelings of low personal control) and curiosity (due to a natural propensity for pursuing potential rewards and personal growth opportunities)." Basically what they’re saying is that social situations can be wonderful and fulfilling (but also scary and nerve wracking.) The thought of meeting someone new might spark some curiosity in us, but not knowing what to expect can feel intimidating. 

By practising curiosity you find new pieces, perspectives and experiences within each other.

Potential romantic partners, whether they be someone you already know or a complete stranger, have something interesting to teach you.

So be curious. Understand who they are and allow them to be curious back.

Don’t Let the Bully in your Head Take Over

You know that voice in your head that makes you question your decisions?

The one that tells you you’re going to fail your exam or that your latest job interview went horribly wrong. 

Think of how many decisions you make when you enter the realm of dating: how long do I wait before replying? Should I make the first move? What do they “really” think about me? Is my profile a true representation of who I am? What if they’re disappointed when we meet in person? 

It can become all consuming and make you want to delete the app entirely.

When your anxiety gets to be too much, it can be difficult to establish whether your worrying is legitimate. If you notice that you’re feeling worried in general you might convince yourself that things are going in a different direction than they truly are. Take a step back, suspend judgement and try not to read into things with a negative perspective. If you’re worried that they feel differently about you, you might need to work on adopting healthy habits to manage your anxiety such as communicating better about your concerns. 

Don’t let your own assumptions, beliefs or thoughts over the interaction take over and just enjoy the moment and what good it has to offer.

Telling the bully inside your head to remain silent isn’t easy but try your best to be optimistic and notice the way your date laughs, the good jokes, and their interesting opinions.

Make Yourself Comfortable

You know how people say you should step outside of your comfort zone? Well sometimes it’s okay to stay well within it.

Don’t get me wrong, taking risks and pushing yourself to do things you otherwise wouldn’t is great, but so is being comfortable in a stressful situation. 

Take your outfit for example. You want to dress nicely on a first date, right? Of course but if you’re constantly thinking about how your shoes are uncomfortable or the cut of your top makes you a little self-conscious, it will be more difficult to relax and enjoy the evening. This isn’t to say you should go in sweatpants, but you should value comfort in the same way you would value style. 

And this extends to more than just clothing. If you’re worried about not knowing the specific details of the date, it will likely lead to more anxiety. So don’t be afraid to say you want to help plan the date, or suggest a restaurant or location that you’re comfortable with. Even suggesting a “double date” with a friend and their significant other may put your mind at ease.

Feeling anxious over dating is a shared human experience and something as simple as revealing that you’re nervous shows a level of vulnerability that your date can connect with. It gives them an opportunity to smile and open up about their own inner nerves.

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