Dating anxiety is a real thing, and it’s difficult to navigate in the Tinder Age where you’re just one swipe away from someone who might be a better match. Whether you’ve been single for ten years, or getting back into the dating scene, we’ve all dealt with varying levels of anxiety around dating.
But what do you do when that anxiety starts getting in the way of actually enjoying the process?
As someone who is still on the mend from dealing with the throes of PTSD recovery, I struggle with anxiety around dating. While I’m definitely less anxious and paranoid than immediately after the traumatic event I experienced five years ago, I find managing anxiety around dating and new relationships difficult.
What is Dating Anxiety
Dating anxiety, for me, shows up in a few ways.
It shows up when I question what I want to say versus what I feel I should say.
I feel it when I over analyze and edit and re-edit my responses.
It’s there when I filter myself to not come across as needy when I mean to be open, or clingy when I mean to be clear and forthright about my intentions.
Sometimes it creeps in when I wonder if I don’t dress sexy enough, or do my hair right, or go out enough, or have interesting enough hobbies.
I notice it when I play detective, trying to understand what another person is feeling, thinking, doing, intending, planning.
I feel it when trying to seem chill enough to not be perceived as insecure.
It pesters me when I think everything I say could be the thing that ends it or pushes him away.
It’s overthinking about whether I’m being too open, or too closed off or if I’ve managed to land somewhere in between.
It’s Normal, to an Extent
These questions and wonderings are all normal to a certain extent. We can never know what another person is feeling, and that can cause anxiety. It’s normal to question and analyze to evaluate the relationship based on the evidence and context presented.
When I like someone new, I think it’s healthy to analyze certain situations, as such:
What You’re Hearing: “I really like you and want to spend time with you.”
Evidence Presented: He makes plans with you and keeps you in the loop on his plans and availability. You make plans, he keeps them, and vice versa.
Context: You’ve been on several dates and text daily. Open communication on what you both want and how you’re both feeling. You like each other and it’s pretty effortless.
Evaluation: What he says lines up with what he does.
Anxiety Levels: Low to none.
What You’re Hearing: “I really like you and want to spend time with you.”
Evidence Presented: Only makes plans last minute in the middle of the night. Does not communicate consistently.
Context: You’ve been talking for several weeks, and gone on a few dates but they’re few and far between. You kind of like him but barely know him because he’s unavailable.
Evaluation: Relatively clear to you that he is not interested in more than a hookup. Inconsistent with what he says and what he does.
Anxiety levels: Medium to low.
What You’re Hearing: “I really like you and want to spend time with you.”
Evidence Presented: Texts daily but does not make plans. Rarely the first to initiate conversation.
Context: Been on several dates and text daily. Communication consistent but could be interpreted as more platonic and less romantically-inclined as weeks go by. Fairly good excuses for not being able to meet up– high stress, job change, family matters, etc. You have a great time when hanging out, but there seems to be some emotional barriers.
Evaluation: Seems mismatched in what he says versus what he does. Not sure if continued consistent communication is a sign of interest or just being polite. Not sure if excuses for not being able to meet up are legit. Receiving mixed messages.
Anxiety levels: Medium to high.
Evaluating Your Dating Situation
Evaluating the whole picture is helpful, especially when figuring out if the anxiety I feel is self-inflicted or caused by inconsistencies. Because I am recovering from PTSD, determining this is important because it helps me narrow down what I can and can’t change.
I can change self-inflicted anxiety, and I can manage the anxiety caused by someone else’s inconsistencies.
I can’t change someone not being interested in me, which is why I labeled Scenario B as medium to low anxiety. The anxiety still exists, but there’s nothing I’m going to act on in Scenario B other than writing it off, and letting that person go.
Read the Genesis Story of my Dating Anxiety in Destructive Patterns to Avoid: Dating Anxiety.
Scenario A gives me low to no anxiety because it’s clear that this person is doing as they say and saying as they do. It’s consistent and easy to feel like I know what’s going on. If I DO get anxiety in this situation, I know likely that it is self-inflicted and something to manage.
Why “Scenario C” Gives Me the Most Anxiety
Scenario C is where I get hung up and have the hardest time managing my anxiety. I overthink, make excuses for why there might be inconsistencies, and have a hard time understanding what is and what is not within my control.
A lot of the time, I try to tell myself to chill and not care or go with the flow. But more often than not, I end up playing detective to try and piece together what I think the other person is thinking.
That means I re-read texts to try to infer something that may or may not be there. I recruit friends to help me decipher what something really means and if I’m wasting my time. I think over and over again about the same shit, as if I’m hoping some kind of clarification will jump out at me after the one-hundred-millionth time I’ve thought about it.
Often I end up thinking about it so much that I eventually say “fuck it” to the whole thing in order to not have to deal with the overthinking anxiety that comes with dating.
Why I Want to Address It
This is no way to date. It’s a way to drive myself totally and completely crazy, but it’s really no way to date.
While I think a certain level of doubt, questioning and analyzing is absolutely good when evaluating a new relationship, there’s a point where these thoughts become self-fulfilling prophecies.
When my ability to understand my own interpretation of someone’s completely innocuous actions blurs with actual malicious manipulation or just general lack of interest– that’s when I know I’ve thought myself into a corner.
Not being able to separate and compartmentalize what my own projections and past experiences are and what evidence I have is a sticky mess. I get stuck in the cycle of questioning and wondering and saying “FUCK IT”.
But I want to be able to take a step back and objectively look at at a situation without letting my past traumas, experiences and anxieties get in the way.
It’s not all that easy, but I’m learning.
I can continue to keep dating this way, and let my dating anxiety run its course like it always does…
But it’s not very fun.
And it really hasn’t worked for me.
The thing is, I can’t know what someone else is thinking.
I will never be able to know what someone wants from me if I don’t ask.
It’s impossible to detective my way into knowing someone’s intentions, needs, desires, feels.
All I can control is myself. Which means I have to be okay with not knowing sometimes.
That’s really hard for me. Especially in the dating world after dealing with the trauma of my ex in China. Relinquishing control is hard for me, even when I know the control I hold is made of ice.
I can try to hold onto ice, but whether I like it or not, it’s going to melt.
Which is why I want to address it.
I want to manage my dating anxiety for the same reasons I manage my normal anxiety.
Because I don’t want to make decisions out of fear or anxiousness, and because I don’t want to spend time worrying about things that I can’t control.
So, as per usual, I’m going to handle my shit so I don’t get it all over someone else.
6 Foolproof Ways to Overcome Dating Anxiety
1. Identify where the anxiety comes from.
For me, it’s important I understand where my anxiety comes from before I can address managing it.
Sometimes, I can figure it out just by thinking about it logically and understanding the connections. Other times, it’s like a scavenger hunt, tracing my thoughts and connecting the dots back to an insecurity that’s hiding where I would have least expected it.
The majority of my dating anxiety comes from a buried belief that I am not lovable and there’s something wrong about me.
Anxiety Producing Belief: I’m not lovable.
Now, this is one of the false truths that I have uncovered for myself. It’s one of those hidden wounds that, for the most part, I’ve healed from. Years of growth, therapy and learning how to love and trust myself, have almost completely debunked this myth that clings with an aching grip to a younger version of myself.
We all have younger versions of ourselves who live within us no matter how old we get. I have a younger self, let’s call her Clo, who lives within me. She clings to the myth that I am not lovable no matter how much the adult version of myself, we’ll call her Bare, knows I am.
There are layers upon layers upon layers of logic and knowing and healing that protect Clo. She feels safe most of the time.
Until I start to date.
Dating someone, especially someone I have strong feelings for, loosens the layers, and allows old insecurities to peek through again. That makes Clo very anxious.
Vulnerability does that. It opens us up, even the terrified parts of us.
When I start to date someone that I have feelings for, Clo reminds me of all the times that I liked someone else and it went poorly. She reminds me that the reason she’s so sure is because past experiences have shown her over and over again that her belief was true.
She’ll warn me when something feels even slightly off, or tell me that something is wrong even if it’s alright. She’ll try to convince me that I’m not good enough and so there must be something wrong if this person is pursuing me. And she’ll be the first to list off all the reasons I am safer not trying.
If you don’t try, you won’t get hurt.
Stop seeing him now, and he won’t end it before you do.
Give up, and you’ll never have to worry about losing him.
End it now, you’ll never have to find out about the bad things.
She reminds me of the mentally ill one who believed he was God; the liar who convinced me I was crazy; the abuser who knew he could control me. Clo reminds me of all the pain and time and energy it took to rebuild from that. She reminds me of everything I had to do to become the woman I am now.
Why risk doing it all over, again? She asks.
Because I can’t not.
As I’ve said before, I refuse to make decisions from a place of fear anymore.
2. Visualize the Part of You that is Hurting and Host a Meeting
Alright. We did a deep dive. We know why we are feeling anxious and maybe we’ve even found who within us is hurting, like the kid version of myself in step one.
Next step? We gotta host a meeting.
This is the most important tool for me, but it’s probably the hardest to do. Visualization and meditation isn’t for everyone, but I have found it to be the most effective form of anxiety management and this particular visualization has helped me immensely in navigating my dating anxiety.
Here’s how it’s done:
Close your eyes and focus on the part of you that is hurting. Most likely, that part of you will take some kind of form. Go with it, even if it’s an orb of blue light and even if it’s your awkward seven year-old self. Just focus on it and notice whatever comes up. Maybe nothing comes up. Or everything. Maybe it’s multiple figures. Just notice.
Invite your wise-self into the room. This is Bare for me. The wise-self or the wise-mind as others call it, is the part within you that knows.
It’s your fully integrated self, the self within you that pushes all the other bullshit aside to remind you of who the fuck you are. Sometimes it’s the calm when chaos is all around you, or the voice that comes in strong when you least expect it.
Your wise mind’s been there with you from the beginning and it’s been protecting you even when you stopped listening. It doesn’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks, and knows on every level what is right for you.
Sometimes you listen to your wise-self, but life gets in the way and sometimes we forget that the wise-mind exists at all.
Bring your wise-self to this visualization.
Let them/him/her/it into the room and let them sit with the part of you that is hurting.
This is the tough part. Allow your selves to sit there. Allow the different parts of yourself to interact. Observe and see what comes up. If nothing happens, have your wise-self ask your hurting self what’s going on.
For me, I let my wise-self, Bare, into the room with the kid version of myself, Clo. When Bare enters the room, Clo almost immediately the climbs into her lap. She’s silent for a minute, waiting for Bare to ask her what’s wrong and when the flood gates open, Clo can’t stop telling Bare all she’s feeling.
Wise Bare and Kid Clo
Wise Bare: What’s going on?
Kid Clo: I’m just so tired.
Clo: I don’t want to do this anymore. Starting over all the time and having to go out and do it all again. I just want to be loved. I want to be loved as I am for who I am and I want it to be good and healthy and I don’t want to get hurt again. It’s tiring. I’m tired of getting hurt. And I’m so friggin’ tired.
Bare: I know. But look at all you’ve done. Look how far you’ve come.
Clo: But are we always going to be alone?
Bare: You’re not alone. You have me. You will always, always, have me.
Clo: I’m just so tired.
Bare: I know, and it’s okay. I’m here.
How This Calms Anxiety
To some of you, this probably sounds crazy and you’re starting to wonder if I have multiple personalities. I don’t, but I think we all have multiple versions of ourselves within our one self.
This visualization may seem basic, and simple, and kind of silly. But it calms me down in a way that nothing else does, and you know what else is super powerful?
It’s me calming myself down.
Finding peace within myself.
Healing, comforting, and affirming myself.
How cool is that?
When I talked to my therapist about this visualization practice, I asked her if it was normal to do the meditation and then feel anxious five minutes later. Was I supposed to then do the meditation all over again? Was that weird?
She told me to keep doing it as often as I need to because it’s part of rewiring the brain. It’s teaching yourself to respond differently to things that would normally cause anxiety, stress, or other uncomfortable feelings. Eventually, your brain starts doing it on its own and you don’t have to do all the steps to get there.
3. Imagine What Would Happen if you Succeeded
This tip is helpful for when I need a smack back into reality.
I imagine what would happen if I succeeded in “making” this person like me. Let’s suspend disbelief over the idea of whether or not you can make someone like you, and pretend for a moment that that is actually possible.
Here’s what these “wishes” look like:
Maybe if I just act a little chiller, he’ll be more interested.
Perhaps if I stop responding as consistently, he’ll text me more.
If I never make plans with him, he’ll suddenly want to make all the plans with me, right?
Or maybe, if I buy sexier clothes, he’ll realize I’m a total catch.
I could start rock climbing, and then he’ll think I’m interesting and a total badass.
Maybe if I just take a chill pill, I’ll be okay with not hearing from him.
I wish I could just calm the fuck down, and be okay with not knowing if we are still on for this weekend.
Let’s say, this all came true.
I act chiller, and he becomes more interested. For a while I stop responding on purpose just to make him feel like he’s playing the game and I’m making him do that whole chase bullshit. I buy sexier clothes, and he thinks I’m sexy; start rock climbing and he thinks I’m cool. Take a chill pill and calm the fuck down and roll with the ambiguity of my schedule.
And you know what happens?
- a) I become an entirely different person and everything magically works out ,
- b) I become an entirely different person and miss the person I used to be, or
- c) I try to be an entirely different person, fail, and start resenting the person I’m dating because what I REALLY wanted was to be loved for who I am, not who I think this person would like.
It’s funny how the mind plays tricks on us. None of these scenarios actually work for me.
Me denying who I am gives me more anxiety than I can hold.
It’s a weight that sits on my shoulders and presses on me until I eventually crumble. And then the real me emerges and is surprised when my partner doesn’t recognize me.
When I imagine what would happen if everything my anxiety is telling me to do worked out, I know that’s not what I want. I don’t want to bend and shrink myself into a mold that fits someone else.
The other day, my friend summarized this point perfectly:
“I feel like I tricked my partner into dating me, and after two years of unconsciously trying to be someone I’m not, I’m finally starting to show the real me. We are just now getting to know each other after all this time, and I don’t know who we will be as a couple on the other side of this.”
It is hard to be vulnerable. But it is also hard to be someone you aren’t.
You are lovable as you are. I am lovable as I am. You do not need to change in order to be worthy of love, and if you have to change who you are in order to receive someone’s love? You don’t want it, sweets.
4. Remember that the cracks are part of you.
In the same vein, remember that you are lovable as you are, as a whole. That includes the cracks in your paint and the holes in your armor. Remember that you are human, and your vulnerabilities are what makes you, you.
I have a hard time with this one. I’m still learning how to not be a perfectionist, and my ego tries to cover up all my flaws. Because of this, I get anxious when my flaws slip through the cracks.
That is absolutely fucking normal. We want to seem perfect to someone new in our life.
But the thing is, if I end up dating someone long term, they are going to know that I have anxiety.
They are going to know that I deal with depression. They are going to know that I recovered from PTSD and they are going to know that I battled eating disorders for multiple years. Those things are part of me even though they don’t define me. I can’t spend my entire dating career pretending those things don’t exist.
Those cracks are a part of me, and if the person I’m dating wants to opt out the second one of those cracks reveals itself– the door is that way.
We would have never survived if the smallest hint of vulnerabilities scared him, because there’s more behind it. There’s more in the complicated web of the person that I am, and trying to hide that would be unproductive to all the growth that I have seen.
No matter how well I manage my anxiety or depression, there will always be times when they show up. I don’t want a partner who will run anytime they do.
5. Recognize if you’re trying to seem chiller than you are, at the cost of your own sanity.
Coming across as “chill” is something I hear a LOT of women talking about (get ready for a rant).
We don’t want to seem to pushy when we ask what the plan for the weekend is, even though we actually need to know because we have other shit to do and other people to see.
It’s too clingy to ask on a Monday when the person you’re dating is free so that we can figure out when the hell we’re going to fit it in, so we don’t ask.
We don’t want to be annoying by asking up front what time they’re actually coming over, because they’re late and we’re hungry as fuck and ready to go.
Doing those things is NOT not chill.
It’s respecting my own damn time. If someone else can not respect my time the way I respect their’s, it will never work. Period.
I am a planner because I have to be. How else can I work a full time job, maintain a full social calendar, attend networking events, work meetings, run a blog, AND see this person? Not to mention, I have gym classes to go to, books to read, laundry to do, groceries to shop for and meals to prep.
I don’t have time to be “chill” simply for the sake of appearing “chill”.
RANT: To whoever interprets my planning tendencies as neurotic and/or anal and/or NOT CHILL– first, go fuck yourself. Second, you clearly have too much time on your hands. Thirdly, it’s called prioritizing.
Clearly I have a hang up on this, and that’s because I’m insecure about the fact that I am a planner. Truth be told, I am insecure that other people won’t like that I am not chill. At all. But I kind of like that about myself.
I like that I’m reliable and I GET SHIT DONE. I think it’s bad-fucking-ass all the shit I get done in a week, so I’m tired of bending my schedule or time or sanity simply because someone doesn’t respect my time.
Forcing myself to be chill when there are things that I need in order to maintain my sanity– that’s putting someone else’s needs in front of my own, and I’m just not interested in that shit right now.
Whatever that may be for you, recognize when you’ve stopped fulfilling that need for yourself. I need to manage my time, and that includes dates and chill time. It makes me anxious when I don’t and putting someone else first early on in a relationship makes me anxious too. It’s easy to do when I like someone, but I’m learning how to recognize it and adjust.
6. Set those Scary Boundaries
Now after understanding where my anxiety is coming from, and what part of myself is hurting and in need of healing. And after understanding why I may be feeling this way, it’s time to do something about it.
It’s time to set some mother fucking boundaries, my loves.
When you understand why you need a boundary in the first place, it’s much easier to set a boundary. But setting boundaries is scary business for the anxious mind.
How about an example, yeah?
Dating Anxiety/Boundary Victory Story Time
Let’s say I’ve been dating a person for a few weeks. Things are going well, and communication is pretty steady. At the beginning of the week this person tells me that he wants to see me this week, but work is unpredictable so he’s not sure what day. Either way, he tells me he might be free on Wednesday or Saturday. I tell him that’s fine and to just let me know when he can.
Wednesday rolls around and I haven’t heard anything. I’m doing my best not to get anxious, but I don’t like not knowing what my plans are for the evening. Do I text him and risk coming across as needy or do I just assume that it’s not happening?
Just assume it’s not happening. I’m not needy.
But that doesn’t make me less anxious. And I keep thinking about it.
So eventually, I ask like an adult and he confirms that indeed, he cannot hang out.
No big deal. Moving along.
Thursday rolls around, and I’m starting to wonder about Saturday. I’m starting to remember all the times that I’ve waited around for a guy only to be disappointed. I start thinking about how “Fuck that shit– I don’t wait around for guys!” and then I start thinking– “damnit Chloé, just be CHILL for god’s sake.” Round and round the thought process goes until it’s all I can think about.
I talk to one of my friends about it and she asks me pointedly– “The beginning of a relationship sets the precedent for the rest of the relationship. Are you planning on always putting his needs first?”
And like a hurling rock to a windshield, the glass is shattered.
I’m doing it again.
Here I am, putting my own needs second for a person I barely know, and allowing myself to get anxious because I’m not setting up any boundaries or expectations.
This would never fly in a long term relationship. I don’t want to constantly act as if my time is not as important as his. I respect his time, and I expect him to respect mine.
So, while holding my breath, I send him a text and let him know that it’s cool if he can’t hang on Saturday, but if he could let me know by Friday so that I could make other plans, that’d be great.
It’s scary. The anxious kid in me thinks– what if he doesn’t like you anymore after this? What if this shows him that you’re clingy or needy or pushy or that you like him more than he likes you?
So, fucking what?
My wise-mind steps in and reminds me that if me respecting my time and me expecting him to respect it too was an issue for him– it was better to end things now. It reminds me of “what if changing myself works out?” and how that wouldn’t work either. I’m reminded that I am lovable as I am now. I remember that this is all of me, the need-to-plan things planner included.
It was fucking terrifying. But I did it.
And he didn’t stop talking to me and tell me that I was a horrible person. He respected my boundaries, and made Saturday plans with me.
Sometimes scary is good. And next time boundary setting won’t be all that scary.
As always, I am still figuring it out. It was comforting to hear from my therapist that it’s normal to have to do visualization exercises over and over again for anxiety, even when it feels silly or like it’s not working. Rewiring the brain takes mother-fucking-time. Who knew, right? Who knew that 27 years of wiring would take time to untangle and reformat.
What I do know is I’m doing better at this all the time. I feel lucky to have a powerful network of friends and support in my life who never seem to tire from hearing me brain dump and sort out my thoughts. My wise-mind, the Bare, she’s getting strong all the damn time, and I can feel that even though this anxiety still feels very real and is definitely more prominent than I’d like– I can feel how much better it’s gotten. Dating is hard and confusing. Dating after trauma is hard too, and I need to be gentle with myself as I navigate my way through my brain.
I’m really fucking proud of how far I’ve gotten. And I have confidence that I’m going to. keep managing this, and it’s going to be just fine.
What anxieties do you have when dating someone new? Have you found anything that works really well for you? What advice would you give or what boundaries did you have to set in order to respect your own brain? Share your thoughts in the comments below!