Can’t Get Started? How to Ease Into Online Dating

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starting to online date

A woman I’ll call Amanda had an inbox full of matches who were interested in getting to know her. Every few weeks, an email would bait her with this message: “eHarmony Icebreaker received: Jeff can’t stop smiling.”

But Amanda was perfectly content to let him keep on smiling. She wouldn’t even log on to her account to discover who “Jeff” was. She told herself that she had too much going on in her life. Once she finished moving or felt settled in her new job, she swore she would take dating more seriously.

That was two months ago. She’s all moved in, and her job is going great. Yet she still can’t bring herself to make the effort to date. If you ask her why, she’ll shake her head and say, “I don’t know. I just don’t feel ready.”

Amanda is suffering from a common problem known as dating paralysis. She wants to be in a relationship, but she can’t bring herself to move forward to start communicating with people. What’s even more frustrating is that she can’t articulate why. It just all feels too serious.

Are you hesitant to take the next step? Here are some tips on how to dip your toe into the dating waters without falling in:

1) Start small

You don’t have to go into full-blown “date mode” in which you treat your search for love like a second job. Dating isn’t a new identity. It’s just an activity: All you have to do is answer or initiate a couple of emails. In the offline world, you have to push yourself to attend a few social events and be a little extra friendly. Maybe you could bring up the idea of grabbing coffee sometime.

When I used to live in New York City, I would force myself to attend alumni events on my own by setting small goals, such as “You have to talk to three people.” I feared standing awkwardly in the corner or spending the whole time “checking my email” on my iPhone, so I made a deal that I could leave within a half hour if I was miserable. Of course, by the time I got talking to a couple people, I would be pulled into other conversations and end up having fun. Over time, like a muscle, I developed better social skills and can now feel comfortable at most gatherings.

2) Realize you’re just chatting

You’re not hashing out your “deal breakers” or deciding whether you’d be perfect partners in the long run. You’re just engaging in innocuous chitchat about weekend plans and springtime flowers (or allergies)! The idea is that you chat for a while, move to texting or chatting on the phone and then decide if you want to meet. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting someone or think things are moving too quickly, you can politely decline or slow it down. You’re always in control of the pace.

3) Accept you’ll never be “ready”

There are some people who are clearly not ready to start dating. If you lost your job last week or just announced to you spouse that you don’t want to be married anymore, you might be so consumed with those heartaches that it’s hard to be truly “emotionally available” to another person. Ditto if you’re in the middle of an illness, dealing with serious family issues or still not over your ex.

But if you’re nervous about getting back into dating, it’s easy to latch on to the idea of “not ready,” which really means “not comfortable.” Yet very few people are completely comfortable with dating. They’re scared of getting their hearts broken. They wonder if it’s the right time to start dating after a breakup or losing a significant other. They’re anxious of looking like dorks. They fear that no one will ever want to kiss them.

Try it anyway. If you’re really “not ready,” you’ll learn that quickly. But more often then not, you just need to get over your nerves.

4) Don’t wait until you’re “self-improved”

A lot of people want to lose 10 pounds, get toned abs or learn how to master a “money mindset.” If we waited until we accomplished all those goals, we’d miss out on connecting with a lot of cool people in the meantime. No one is perfect. Don’t let pursuing your future prevent you from living your present.

Ease into dating by committing to emailing with a couple people this week. Maybe you’ll intend to go on one or two dates a month. So summon your best self and show up.

First, though, it helps to open your email.

What strategies have you used to break through dating paralysis?

About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.


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