Dating can be stressful no matter who you are.
Dating requires you to be vulnerable, to offer yourself up to someone knowing that there’s a chance they might reject you. It’s hard and it’s scary for almost everyone. But as someone with anxiety, even the idea of dating isn’t just scary, it’s unbearable.
Being diagnosed with social anxiety can come with a lot of unexpected side effects. It can prevent you from doing your job, having friends, even going to the grocery store by yourself. When it comes to romantic relationships, it can be hard as someone with social anxiety to willingly put yourself in such a high stress situation, knowing that you could fall flat on your face.
For years, I completely avoided dating all together. I didn’t have a tinder, I didn’t go to bars, I didn’t even talk to other people in class. I still don’t. Dating for me is uncharted territory, and the only long lasting relationships I’ve been in have been with people who pursued me. Even then, the relationships tend to end because of my anxiety. I find it hard to trust people. It’s torture. So for a long time, I pushed it to the back of my mind. I didn’t flirt. I didn’t try to meet new people. I would watch movies or shows with romantic plot lines and I could physically feel my heart tug with envy. I wanted what the people on television had. I wanted to love someone and have them love me back, but I was too afraid.
Finally, a few months ago, I told my therapist how I was feeling and she told me that it was completely normal. She said that even people who don’t have a diagnosed social disorder often become paralyzed at the idea of a romantic relationship because falling in love is a scary thing. However, she told me that although loving someone is not easy, that having anxiety does not make me incapable of giving or receiving that love. I started to think about my past relationships and I realized that my fear of failure is ultimately what caused the downfall of each one. I knew that some things were out of my control, but a lot of things weren’t. I couldn’t control whether someone liked me or not, but I could control how I reacted to it.
After talking with my therapist, I began to move towards dating by working on my own self care. Although I don’t believe in the saying “You have to love yourself before someone else can love you,” I do believe that taking care of yourself is the first step to becoming a healthy person who can be in a healthy relationship. So, I started taking care of myself in small ways — I started journaling my feelings, taking my medication on time and worked more with my therapist.
I eventually came to the realization that I was never going to be a “normal dater.” I was never going to be that someone at the bar that people bought drinks for or the person who goes on a different date every week. I’m not like the people on television with their love triangles and their rose petal proposals. I still can’t force myself to date online. I still think Tinder is a nightmare. But I am no longer living in fear of the day I start to have feelings for someone. I’m not afraid of romance and love. I look at happy couples now and I no longer feel envy, I feel hope.
Dating doesn’t look the same to everyone. If you have anxiety, it’s important to talk to someone about ways that you can make dating work for you. Don’t try to force yourself into an uncomfortable situation just because you think it’s what you’re “supposed” to be doing. Try not to pressure yourself, and remember that you don’t need to have a romantic relationship to be loved or to give it. All you have to do is be yourself, anxiety and all.
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