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How to Deal with Extreme Nervousness

You know how some children are really afraid of dogs? Dogs can be the most loving animals in nature—but if a little child is scared or acts weird, dogs can sense it, and they might bark instead of wagging their tails. And the more they bark, the more scared the child might become, so the chance of their becoming friends dwindles to nothing. Does this sound a bit like your dating life?

Does your nervousness about dating make you act a little weird and scare off guys or girls who are interested in you? As adults, most of us have learned how dogs behave, so we’re comfortable around them, even if they’re strangers to us—and they reward us by getting over their guard-dog mentality and being our friends. Similarly, if you are extremely nervous around members of the opposite sex, some simple tips to put you more at ease can get you out of the doghouse and turn you into the one wagging your tail.

Choose a Comfortable Environment

If you’ve ever gone to a new place alone, even if it’s just a restaurant, you might have been a little unsure where to sit or stand. It’s awkward, but only because you don’t know the ropes yet, as you do with your old haunts. When trying to meet people to date, avoid that awkwardness by remembering the Cheers rule: you want to go where everybody knows your name!

If you’re approaching an attractive guy or girl in a club where you’re surrounded by friends and the bartenders know you, you’ve got a home team advantage that can minimize your chances of being nervous. Sure, you still don’t know how the person will respond to your personality. But you probably know what appetizers are on the menu and what time the DJ starts. You probably know that the two of you like Irish pubs or merengue clubs. In fact, you probably both know Jimmy and Tess over at table 6. Your confidence in your surroundings, buoyed by friendly faces nearby, will help minimize any awkwardness you feel with your new encounter.

Be Prepared

Do you know why Boy Scouts have so much fun camping? It’s because they inspect all their gear before the camping trip, so they don’t get rained on or bitten by mosquitoes.

Similarly, if you’re going out on a date, be prepared in advance so that there’s no chance for a last-minute emergency. It’s hard enough to get your nerve up without suddenly realizing that your outfit isn’t back yet from the cleaners, or that tickets to tonight’s performance of Wicked are already sold out. Avoid mishaps by lining things up days in advance—and make sure you’ve got backup plans, breath mints, and a few extra dollars for an unforeseen coffee or a cab ride. Take every precaution necessary to make sure you won’t be nervous about what to do if the night goes in a different direction than you expected. It’s also okay to prepare some topics of interest. A lot of people get nervous on dates because they don’t know what to say. So, memorize some interesting or funny stories! Look up current events in a magazine or read an entertainment blog. Remember to keep things light, though, which leads us to perhaps the most important nerve tonic for the self-doubting dater…

Think Small

One of the things that’s so nerve-racking about dating is that so much seems to be at stake. You might be thinking, “This is the perfect person for me, so what if I ruin it by talking too much, or too little?” “If these shoes don’t match this shirt, will I embarrass a potential soul mate?” “Will my potential grandchildren never be born if I put too much pepper on my mashed potatoes (and would yams have been classier)?”

If you’re treating an outing with the opposite sex as sudden-death overtime for your entire future, you’re putting way too much pressure on yourself and on your date. And just as if you were begging for your life or your job, you might find yourself reciting your whole life story, or bragging too much about your successes, or otherwise coming off as desperate.

In reality, one date is not a big deal. We know that’s easier to say than to apply in practice, but it’s an important principle to remember—a date is just a date! So don’t talk about big-deal items like life, death, and taxes (unless your date is an undertaker or a CPA!).

Instead, talk about things that interest you and might interest your date, such as current events, television shows, trips you’ve taken, or movies she might have seen. Try to enjoy yourself as if you were conversing with a friend of a friend and wanted to get acquainted. And don’t worry—no single word or phrase will doom the date. If you catch yourself talking about something dark or self-centered, you can always pass the ball back to your date by shifting to a question, such as, “But enough about my family—have you ever gone cow-tipping?”

By choosing comfortable surroundings, enjoying the art of small talk, and being a good Boy Scout or Girl Scout, you might not eliminate nervousness entirely. But you’ll definitely shrink it down to a fraction of what it could be, a mere symptom rather than a full-blown syndrome. Know and understand that there’s a lot less riding on an individual date than your tummy might be telling you. Remember the small child meeting the puppy dog for the first time, and greet your dating life with laughter—in the end, you’ll fetch a lot more happiness.