Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney, Alma
Dating can be both fun and nerve-wracking at the same time. Especially when you like someone a lot, that first date can be painful to get through, and we've all been there. We've all felt the butterflies fluttering in our stomachs, whether we're the one doing the door-knocking, or opening the door for them. But when those butterflies turn into giant moths and that frisson of tension turns into full-blown dread, dating anxiety becomes crippling and takes all of the enjoyment out of what should be a positive experience.
Is Dating Anxiety a Disorder?
The answer is that dating anxiety can be a disorder, but this is not always the case. Almost everyone feels at least a little anxious about going on a first date with someone. You want to make a good first impression, you wonder if the other person will like you, and you fear making a fool of yourself. These are completely normal thoughts to have. It becomes pathological when you are so anxious about going on a date that it causes you moderate to severe distress and affects your functioning and progress in life. For instance, it's a disorder if you become so anxious at even the prospect of dating someone that you avoid it altogether. When dating anxiety becomes a disorder, it falls under the umbrella of social anxiety disorder, which is characterized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition ( DSM-V) as "a marked, or intense fear or anxiety of social situations in which the individual may be scrutinized by others." Since dating anxiety centers on the fear or judgment, and ultimately rejection by your dating partner, it fits nicely into this definition.
Dating Anxiety Symptoms
The following are symptoms of social anxiety; however, it's important to recognize that feeling any of these symptoms occasionally is perfectly normal. To be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder requires the presence of these symptoms on a regular basis for six months or longer. Furthermore, these symptoms must impact your ability to live your life and cause you a lot of trouble.
- Hand tremors/shaky hands
- Sweating/sweaty palms
- Inability to share information about oneself
- Avoidance of dating situations
Symptoms such as sweating, having sweaty palms, blushing, or hand tremors may further exacerbate feelings of anxiousness and heighten the fear of judgment. People who experience these symptoms are more likely to avoid the situation (dating) that makes them feel that way.
Men vs Women
Men are more likely than women to experience dating anxiety and to use alcohol as a means of coping. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to suffer social anxiety more broadly, according to the DSM V. Some reasons for why this is the case include the expectations society puts on men to initiate contact with women and the social mores about men needing to maintain the outward appearance of strength, among others. Societal norms surrounding gender and dating are changing, however, so the gender differences in the prevalence of dating anxiety may disappear over time.
Teens and Dating Anxiety
The teenage years are filled many firsts: the awakening of sexual attraction, the first crush, the first date, and the first relationship. Since teens have a strong desire to fit into their peer group, fears over acceptance and belonging combine with newly awakened emotions to magnify anxieties about dating. In fact, in the teen who has Social Anxiety Disorder, or who is predisposed to it, any rejection by their peers can act as validation for their irrational fears and cause them to withdraw from making social connections. Girls may feel unattractive and undesirable, while boys may feel inadequate and ineffectual. In both cases, teens with social anxiety about dating may miss out on very crucial lessons in developing interpersonal relationships. If you are a teen who is experiencing severe dating anxiety, here are some ways that you can cope:
- 1Learn self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is one of the most important skills that you will ever learn. Recognizing that you have intrinsic value regardless of what others think of you is the key to developing a healthy sense of self, which will allow you to be independent and resilient.Advertisement
- 2Try to let negative comments roll over you. Do you really care what some idiot that you could care less about thinks of you? All your life you will have to deal with people who don't matter to you having an opinion about you and what you should or should not do. It's best that you learn now that your self-worth is not dependent on the opinions of others, particularly coming from people who you don't even like!Advertisement
- 3Realize that rejection is not the end of the world. Nobody likes to be rejected, particularly when it's related to dating and romance. As awful as you feel right now, those feelings won't last forever, and being rejected doesn't mean that you are unworthy or unattractive. All it means is that that particular person on a particular day didn't want to go out with you, and their reasons may have nothing to do with attraction or the lack of it. Even if they rejected you because they're not attracted to you that way, it doesn't mean that nobody else will find you attractive or want to date you.
- 4Be kind. When someone who you aren't attracted to asks you for a date, let them down gently. It takes courage to walk up to someone who you don't know well and ask them out. Recall how you felt when someone you really liked rejected you, and treat the other person the way you would like to be treated in such a circumstance.
- 5Take a deep breath: you'll get through it. Every adult on this planet was once a teenager. Everyone has experienced those awkward moments and survived to live another day; you will, too.
Dating Anxiety After Divorce
If dating made you anxious before you got married, it is likely to re-emerge after your divorce because you are in the situation of having to date again. You might even feel more anxiety because you may blame yourself for the failure of your marriage and feel hopelessly out of date when it comes to the dating scene.
- 1Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself to a massage or splurge on something you've always wanted to get for yourself. Do something nice for you without feeling guilty about it. Even the most amicable splits are stressful, so it's okay to pamper yourself a little bit.
- 2Be mindful of negative self-talk. When you catch yourself thinking negatively about yourself, stop and think about it for a moment. Ask yourself if such thoughts are reasonable, i.e., if there is any evidence to support them. For instance, if you start thinking that no one could possibly like you because you don't have an important job, think about how successful you've been in the past in dating; you found your ex that way, after all. So, is it really reasonable to think that no one will EVER like you because of what you do for a living? It turns out that no, it isn't.
- 3Allow yourself time to grieve for the loss of your relationship with your spouse. Too often, people start dating too soon after their divorce is final, which increases the chance of dating the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Instead of jumping right into the dating scene, spend some time working on yourself. Spend time with friends and family, hit the gym, and clean up your diet. Take that class in creative writing you've always wanted to take, but never had the time before. Enjoy being single and not having to worry about pleasing anyone else but yourself for a while.
- 4Join a dating service. When you're ready to date again, find a dating service or two that interest you and join up. The stigma associated with online dating has dropped over the past fifteen years, and there's an online dating service for just about everyone. Finding someone to date through a service allows you to select only those people that have the qualities that you desire.
- 5Change your look. If it's been a while since you last dated, consider changing your hairstyle or buying some new "dating" clothes. It doesn't have to be anything extravagant, but some new duds and a new haircut will help you feel better about yourself, which in turn helps with your self-confidence.
Ways to Cope with Dating Anxiety
Unfortunately, there is no cure for social anxiety or any other anxiety disorder. Treatment is aimed at teaching the anxious person ways to cope with their anxiety and helping them to feel better about themselves so that they can take part in life with less fear.
- 1Be curious. A 2006 study discovered that people who were more curious about the other person and about the experience of meeting someone new thought about their dates more positively and had a better time than those who were more anxious. Get out of your own head and connect with the other person. Ask them questions and invite them to do the same to you. Above all, keep an open mind and try not to read too much into the other person's words. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and ask for clarification if you need to.
- 2Try to stay in the moment. It's so hard to do, but when you're successful at it, it's very freeing, and you'll find yourself relaxing. When you start overanalyzing your date's last sentence, stop yourself. Turn your focus back outward and compliment the other person or ask them something about themselves.
- 3Try not to be embarrassed by bodily reactions such as blushing. The odds are that the other person won't even notice. Even if they do notice, they won't care. If they notice and they don't call you for a second date or stay something mean to you about it, then are they really worth your time?
- 4Keep a thought journal. Journaling your thoughts helps you to organize them and, when looking back on your entries, helps you to spot problematic patterns in your thinking, such as unrealistic expectations and false assumptions. Even if you think that you're anxious for no reason, think about the situation you were in when you began to feel anxious and write down the thoughts that were running through your head at the time. The more often you journal your thoughts, the better at it you will become.
- 5Get professional help. Social anxiety, like all other anxiety disorders, is quite treatable using drugs, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, (SSRIs) which help manage the flow or serotonin in the brain and with psychotherapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which teaches you to change how you think.
Categories : Dating
Recent edits by: Maria Quinney, Kathy McGraw