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The 3 Stages of Modern Dating When You Have Anxiety

Gabby Abbott
photo of young man and woman on date sitting at table facing each other

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

“You can’t love someone else until you love yourself.”

All the clichés that come with dating. Generally, your teens are OK. They’re full of love and lust and heartbreak. They’re a whirlwind of discovering sex, relationships and understanding your boundaries and your sexual self. You move into your 20s and eventually, your late 20s (which is where I am now) and everything you thought, all the plans you made for yourself are (more often than not) non-existent. You’ve picked yourself up from more serious heartbreak, you’ve built the barriers that maybe didn’t previously exist, and your thoughts become more intense and seemingly more important.

Things have changed… where you find “love” has changed and the way in which we do so it is more anxiety-inducing than ever.

This leads me to the world of modern dating when you have anxiety and depression. I get asked how my love life is probably twice a week.

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This question has little to no effect on me directly — people are interested and want you to be happy — but placing happiness and contentment on whether you are in a relationship or not is anxiety-inducing for me.

And the process of dating… well, let me go through each stage with you and explain why it might not be as easy for us anxious lot.

1. Swipe right, swipe left, judge me on my appearance…

You feel OK, more confident than usual, and download whatever site seems to be on top at the moment. I go through phases of deleting dating apps, installing, deleting again, installing for a day… it’s never-ending. And that, for me, is where the fun ends. All of a sudden, I am very aware that although I am doing exactly the same, someone is sat on the other end of their phone swiping for me based on my pictures.

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My mind consistently tells me I am “ugly,” that I don’t have any qualities anyone would find attractive and that people are going to look at my profile and only enforce those negative thoughts. When no one is judging me on the way I look, they can have little contribution to reinforcing your negative thoughts because they don’t exist. If no one’s looking at you, then no one can make a judgment. This era of online dating builds self-esteem (omg I have 400 “matches”) and knocks it right back down again with one message, one bad date, no new matches. There is nothing slow and steady about it — no relief for anxiety and slow confidence building. And it’s really scary, especially if your 20s have been a roller coaster of gaslighting, dating faux pars, some average to good dates, regret and past relationships.

2. The dates.

So, you get a date. My dating experiences have been varied, yet the feelings remain pretty consistent. A date is booked in. I get so nervous and overthink the whole thing that I write it off in my head before it’s even happened; this negative mindset will not set your date up well. My friends get me there — they big me up, they show me my worth and they understand. So, I go. I feel like I have to. What if this is the love of my life and my life just rockets because of this man I meet who exceeds all my expectations and adores me? You’ve got to kiss a few “frogs,” right?

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In my experience, dates are the most awkward social meeting you will ever have. Do I act cool? Do I exaggerate my nice traits? Are they being themselves? Should I pay?

Until now, I’ve tried my hardest not to show too much of myself. I won’t be going in with “oh, by the way, I have anxiety and sometimes I get really depressed and I might overthink everything you say and be paranoid and worried you’re dead when you don’t reply and then panic when you don’t constantly reassure me.”

Luckily, I have learned so much from dating and reflecting that it’s not me anymore, but I do get it. I promise it doesn’t have to be like that.

I tend to overthink, to play out situations in my head before they have happened and create scenarios in my mind where I always come off worst; in the dating world, this isn’t exactly ideal.

My tips for the dates:

  • Were you OK before you met someone? Yes. And you will continue to be OK, I promise.
  • If they let you down or it doesn’t work out, it’s not personal. It is no reflection on you or your personality. It’s a mismatch. Have you liked everyone you have ever met? I doubt it.
  • Don’t expect anything. Expect average. Anything better is a bonus and you can build on it.
  • Don’t do anything you don’t want to. If you feel so anxious you can’t go, don’t go.
  • Anyone who judges you isn’t worth your time anyway.
  • You need someone to build you up, not kick you down.
  • Life is so much more than dating.
  • Make your apologies and leave if you have to — don’t waste money and time.
  • No one is their “true self” on a first date, and they will be as nervous as you; that’s not a mental health thing, it’s a general date consensus thing. You are not weird and you’re not alone.

3. The aftermath.

The best and the worst bit of dating. The aftermath can be exciting, butterflies in the stomach, “what’s going to happen next?” But, it can also be the worst: “Why haven’t they text me? They must not like me.”

You have to realistically ask yourself what the date was like; if your anxiety is exacerbated then you have to judge whether this person is right for you. A natural, mutual “like” will lead somewhere. They will be as into it as you. I have had many a guy go on a date with me, message me loads after, maybe go on a second and third date and then nothing. When questioned if they wanted to see me again they said yeah, then nothing. Do I need this in my life? Do I even need this from people I’m not dating when I know my brain is sensitive? No.

Something didn’t work out recently and I haven’t been bothered, my head hasn’t even given it a second thought, and do you know why? Because the person was honest. Everyone always says “honesty is the best policy,” don’t they? I didn’t know that was true until very recently. I always thought, if I hadn’t been honest then maybe I would still be in any of my past, unhappy relationships. But maybe if I hadn’t expressed my unhappiness so much, they wouldn’t have ended how they did and had such a big impact on my self-esteem. If they hadn’t been honest then I wouldn’t know they had cheated on me, didn’t like me that much in the first place and I could have kept reinforcing love to myself that wasn’t there.

Now, I know; honesty is so unbelievably important for a few reasons.

Be honest with yourself; is this person building you up or kicking you when you’re down? They can be the hardest to get over; the manipulators, the liars, the ones who let you live a lie where you thought their love for you was as strong as yours. They don’t deserve you. They feed on your anxiety and trust me, you feed on that enough without someone else doing it too.

Have they been honest with you? If not, why? To cover up their guilt? To make you feel insecure? To lead you to a six-year relationship or a second date? What’s the difference? Their dishonesty is telling, and your mental health deserves more.

I have been on some dates that have been hilariously anecdotal and given me amazing stories to tell. I have been on some dates that have left me sobbing in bed, wondering what on earth is wrong me. I have been in long, serious relationships that have done exactly the same. But I see no difference in my strength to get back up and keep trying.

Know your worth, and know it is always worth more than someone else. Someone should enhance your personality, make you laugh harder, make you proud to be who you are and not dismissive of your anxieties. Whether you’re on a first date or a second, third, fourth or fifth, you should be building your self-esteem and confidence every time. No one should make you second-guess yourself or dismiss your gut feeling. I have taken a break from dating for a little while now to work on myself — to try and be what I know I can be, to be the best version of myself, for myself, so I can be the worst version of myself around someone else and they will not put me down for it. I have cut people off who make me feel insecure, self-conscious and make me feel like I have to act differently. Even if they want a second date and they made you feel like this, are they who you really need?

Dating should be fun. And if it’s not, maybe you need a little more time to work on yourself. And that is so totally OK. Being with someone is bottom of my list of things that matter. I am shown love every day and when someone fits into my life, they are more than welcome. Until then, my anxiety is so much more important.

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