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I have anxiety but I want to date. How can I make it work?

Image by Twylamae
Words by Rachael Akhidenor

Modern love.

I’m of the belief there are two types of people in this world: those who love to date, and those who abhor it. When you’re living with anxiety, there is a strong chance you will naturally identify with the latter. Dating can be fear-inducing for even the most confident among us, let alone for those of us who can find the day-to-day tasks overwhelming. The thought of an extra person in the mix is a big change to the delicate equation.

I used to be like this. And by this, I mean the kind of person who equated dating with the kind of pain and terror that’s reserved only for exams or the dentist.

In fact, the concept of dating was perplexing to me. It was more like a job interview rather than an enjoyable or exciting activity. The idea of sitting at dinner across from someone I had never met – or met only a handful of times -petrified me.

What would we even talk about? What happens if the conversation runs dry? Will they think I’m a boring, or worse, anxious?

Thoughts of this mundane variety occur to everyone, but my anxiety intensified their speed and frequency.

But it’s funny how things change. Who would have thought, a few years later, I would be the person to fall in love with the world of dating? The transformation didn’t happen overnight, but I found that the antidote to my dating anxiety was a formula of questioning and examination.

Before I delve into some intricate self-analysis, it is important to note that everyone’s anxiety manifests differently. What worked for me may not work for others.

Self-reflection

For me, some introspection worked a treat. Anxiety likes to exacerbate situations; catastrophising daily tasks and making them appear overwhelming. By reframing my perspectives and breaking down my motives, I was able to really ask myself what I wanted from dating and my fear around the exercise lessened.

Rephrasing

I began by shifting my perspectives. I wanted to recontextualise ‘The Date’ away from being an intense, pressure-filled exchange to something more relaxed.

I thought long and hard about its purpose. I analysed the love stories in movies and books I loved. The common thread I observed was that dating – the phase occurring before the beginnings of a formal romantic relationship – was actually just a period where two people got to know each other. I liked this definition. It was simple and unthreatening and eradicated a lot of the pressure.

I decided that instead of going on ‘dates’, I would simply ‘get to know someone’.

Question your motives

I asked myself a lot of questions, but the most important one got right to the point: why did I want to date?

For starters, it presumes dating was even an activity I wanted to partake in. At this time, my anxiety was most acute. Engaging in daily life left me on the brink of a panic attack. So to assume that I even wanted to date was misguided. I realised I was forcing myself into caring about a love life in fear of falling behind or missing out, and I actually had no real interest in dating.

Once I came to that realisation, I stopped chastising myself for my anxiety and took a break from dating in general.

By gifting myself the time and space to focus on my mental wellbeing, my self-respect grew. I learnt about what it meant to have agency over my body, my time and my energy. It also meant that when I decided I was to ready enter the world of dating; I was doing so entirely for me.

Know your limits

When dating recommenced, I built in some buffers to keep the anxiety at bay. I organised to meet up in spaces I felt the most comfortable. I opted for daytime walks in the park instead of evening drinks. I allocated an hour for those initial dates, scheduling to meet up with a friend before and after to minimise any overthinking that would naturally arise. I had a series of questions ready and prepared.

But I quickly learnt that simply being honest and saying something along the lines of ‘I’m really nervous at the moment’ would do wonders in easing my mind and lifting the mood.

Of course, over time, as I dated and practised the art of getting to know someone, my anxiety lessened. I genuinely began enjoying the process. Daytime walks in the park moved to going to galleries, to meeting up for coffee, then drinks, then dinner. I acclimatised to the process faster than I expected.

To those of you living with dating anxiety, I implore you to gift yourself the space and time for self-reflection. Ask yourself if dating is genuinely something you want to do. If it isn’t, be gentle. There truly is no rush. And if a desire to date presents itself, honour it. Build boundaries around who you meet and when. And don’t forget that any anxiety you may feel is situational.

It can and will change.

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