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Why dating is so hard when you experience social anxiety and how you can make it easier

Dating is not easy…

Dating is one of those things that we tend to think we ‘should’ be able to do because other people seem to find it so easy. But the truth is that dating isn’t easy -and this is true even for people who don’t experience social anxiety regularly. I promise, it’s not just you struggling with dates.

So many of us can get into a panic just thinking about a date… What if I make a fool out of myself? What if I can’t think of anything to say? Will I understand the menu? Will I be judged for the food I order? What if my date thinks I’m boring or doesn’t like me? What will the place be like? Who will be there? What if I bump into someone I know?

So. Many. Questions. It might seem better to avoid dating altogether. This was my favoured approach (as it was to all challenging situations in life). In fact, the mere mention of a date and I’d freak out and blurt out a ‘no’ before I even had time to consider what I actually wanted.

…but neither is avoiding connection

But whilst avoiding dating stops the panic, it creates an uncomfortable conflict within ourselves. We are wired for connection. We want to love and be loved. But if we are constantly avoiding connection for fear of rejection then it’s hard to imagine how we can possibly get to know someone well enough to start a fulfilling relationship. Our desire for connection doesn’t go away; it might just lead us into superficial, alcohol-fuelled relationships that aren’t healthy for us, or even ‘settling’ for someone who isn’t right for us.

So what do you do? Simply not avoiding dating seems way too scary. Because then you’re on the date with all the same worries whirling around your head. Silently panicking about what your date is thinking of you and whether the people around you are listening in and judging you and feeling sorry for your date. Yep, I’ve been there too and I know that while you’re stuck in your head like this and imagining the worst about what people think about you, you’re not really showing up in the present moment and making yourself available to connect. Aaaand, as I explain in the video below… this approach can still lead to running away!

In this video I share one of my own dating experiences and lessons I’ve learned since!

The problem with dating

The problem is that the way we tend to date means that we’re experiencing multiple situations we find challenging in one go. For example, people who feel socially anxious often find it very hard to meet and make conversation with someone they don’t know very well; they might panic about speaking where they can be overheard by others; hate being the centre of attention; fear eating in public; freeze at the thought of walking into a room where other people are already seated; feel uncomfortable making eye contact; and be afraid of speaking to a member of the opposite sex. But in dating, all these situations are often rolled into one, topped with a big dollop of insecurity and do-they-like-me-or-don’t-they on repeat in our head.

The go-to date in our culture seems to be a sit-down meal, or at least going out for a drink together, bringing into play all of these fears at once. What’s more is that we often we leave it to the person we’re dating to make all the arrangements, sometimes only finding out on date night where you’re going (imagine the panic you might feel wrapped up in the surprise of being taken to a fancy castle for a meal on a first date!). But is this how it has to be? No, there are no rules about how to dating should be done. So let’s rethink the date so it works for you…


What can you do to make dating more comfortable?

Remembering the purpose of a date

What happens if we put the focus back on what’s important here… getting to know someone. Dating is really just about two people meeting up and having a chat. To get to know someone, all you need to bring is a sense of curiosity and an interest in another person – and you already have that if this is someone you want to date, right? Adjusting your focus like this and re-connecting with the purpose of dating releases so much pressure to begin with.

Limiting distractions

With the purpose of getting to know someone in mind, what do you think the best way to achieve that would be? Is it to put yourself in a situation where you’re panicking and not present with your date? Or would it be better to limit those uncomfortable distractions?

Let go of the idea that a date should involve going for a meal or a drink for a moment and think about situations and the places that you feel most comfortable and relaxed in. These are the situations where you’re going to be better able to show up as yourself.

Going at your own pace

We are huge advocates of taking a gentle ‘comfort zone stretch’ here at Quiet Connections. This basically means that you allow yourself to get uncomfortable -because that’s where the growth happens- but don’t throw yourself straight into the panic zone and freak yourself out! The traditional sit-down-meal date might be well into your panic zone; so you’ll want to work out what a less scary first step is going to be. You can download the workbook here to help you with this.

Even simply meeting up with your date will likely push you outside of your comfort zone to begin with, but with time your date can become someone you feel comfortable with and then you can introduce other challenges. So try picking a place or a situation that you feel comfortable in already and invite your date to join you there.

Choosing walking dates

For many of us, we feel at home in nature. We get calmer, more curious and feel connected when we’re walking by the sea or in beautiful green spaces. Walking outside has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and the benefits go far beyond the way that nature positively influences our emotions.

Walking dates reduce the intensity of eye contact between people and puts it comfortably on your own terms. There’s still plenty of opportunity for making eye contact but without feeling like you’re in a goldfish bowl. Walking side-by-side instead of sitting face-to-face can really help you to open up and get into the flow of conversation too, creating space to think and offering conversation starters without the sense of pressure.

You’re also not surrounded by other people and this can take a huge weight off your mind because there’s no worries about being listened to and judged by the people around you. You can focus your attention on that one person instead.


Giving yourself permission to take equal responsibility

Okay, so you know what you need to do for you to have a more comfortable first date, how are you going to ask for what you need?

We often resist taking the reins when it comes to arranging a date because we don’t want our date to feel like we’re controlling, awkward or stepping on their toes. We’re often not well practised at using our voice to ask for what we need and particularly for women, there’s still often an outdated assumption that we should be submissive and people pleasing.

So if your temptation is to stay quiet and allow your date to make all the arrangements even if they’re planning something that’s going to put you into your panic zone (or keeping you in the dark), I want you to think of it as taking 50% responsibility for your relationship. Consider what it might mean to your date when you make a suggestion and show an interest in this way. Imagine how this small action can take the pressure off of them and offers them reassurance that they might also need from you (because dating can be hard and confusing for all of us and let’s face it, when we’re feeling socially anxious, we’re not always easy to read!).

Making small tweaks to the way that you start dating someone and asking for what you need so that you can show up as your best self actually benefits you both – and isn’t that the most healthy way to start any future relationship that may develop too?

If this is something you struggle with too, you might like to join the Quiet Community where you can connect with people who are working on overcoming their anxiety & feeling more confident to show up as themselves

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