Dating with Social Anxiety
Dating can be daunting in general, but if you struggle with social anxiety, it can seem impossible at times. For me, one who struggles with social anxiety, dating can be a difficult process. As a 23-year old female, I’ve dipped my feet into the dating realm via a dating app. I find that meeting a romantic prospect through friends or work has never worked for me and meeting men at bars or clubs never turns into anything. For a socially-anxious person, using a dating app may seem like the natural choice, as it starts with a virtual interaction – vs. a face-to-face interaction; however, it doesn’t make it any easier.
When I begin “virtually speaking” with a prospective date, I find that the conversations can be extremely stressful for me. 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.
"What I think is happening and what is actually happening end up being two completely different things."
It doesn’t matter if the conversation is by text, email, or via an app, I feel insecure regardless the mode of communication, and always end up believing that the other person is judging me. I find that communicating virtually lacks vulnerability and leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and what I think is happening and what is actually happening end up being two completely different things.
So, what is going on in my head during these virtual conversations? Well, here is an example: (I’ve used a fake name to protect the innocent)
Derek: Hey! How’s it going?
Me: Hey! Pretty good, just got back from volunteering, how about you?
My Bully-Filled Head: That’s not good enough, you don’t sound interesting.
Derek: That’s awesome, I just got off work.
My Bully-Free Head: All I can really ask about now is his work…
Me: Nice! Where do you work?
Derek: At an engineering firm, what about you?
My Bully-Filled Head: Oh no, now I have to tell him I’m unemployed, and he’s going to think I’m unemployed because I suck.
Me: I’m just looking for work right now! I just got out of school.
My Bully-Filled Head: He’s not interested, the conversation is boring, and it’s my fault.
Derek: Oh nice, where did you go to school?
"A completely normal conversation can be completely highjacked by the bully in my head."
You see, what is a completely normal conversation can be completely highjacked by the bully in my head. I find typical conversations extremely hard. But what happens when the conversations that I think went horribly wrong actually go well is worse – I have to go on an actual date and meet them in person – this is a whole new ballgame for anxiety.
When it’s a couple of days before the date, I feel quite optimistic, then when the actual day of the date hits, so does my social anxiety. The “what ifs” come in. The bully in my head puts pressure on me to act like the perfect human, carry on a flawless conversation, and act like I’m not extremely anxious. Thoughts of having to make eye contact with my date and being in a public place start to take over and fuel the bully as well. So, before a date, I not only stress about the date itself, but I panic about the anxiety itself. I do however manage to get myself out of the door and to the date, but my anxiety doesn’t end there, my anxiety can persist throughout the date, but fortuntatley its intensity can decrease after some time has passed.
"I now understand that feeling anxious when it comes to dating is also a shared human experience and that I am not alone."
With practice, dating has gotten a lot easier for me. At the beginning of my dating experimentation, my bully convinced me that I was “less than” for feeling nervous and having social anxiety. Now, through opening up to people, I've learned that we're all going through experiences in life and we all have things we are ashamed of. I now understand that feeling anxious when it comes to dating is also a shared human experience and that I am not alone. Now my approach to dating includes telling the other person when I am nervous because acting on the nerves decreases the negative thoughts I experience. When I choose to tell my date that I am nervous, it forms a connection of vulnerability between two people; then my date feels comfortable telling me that he’s nervous as well.
If you suffer from social anxiety, Anxiety Canada has a great section on social anxiety, including information on what social anxiety is, how to recognize social anxiety, and home management strategies that you can use to manage your social anxiety - https://www.anxietycanada.com/adults/social-anxiety-disorder.
Shabnam lives in Vancouver B.C, and is volunteering and working as a consultant for Anxiety Canada. She is passionate about mental health and is aspiring to do her Master's in Counselling in the future.