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Four Rules for Riding the Romance Roller Coaster

Let’s be honest: For many people, the idea of dating produces an inability to breathe, sweaty palms, and a stomach full of butterflies. Not the pleasant kind you experienced with your first kiss; this is more like when you were a kid and you rode that towering, terrifying roller-coaster for the first time.

That’s an appropriate metaphor, since many singles describe the ups and downs, twists and turns of new romance. “Dating is an emotional roller-coaster,” you might hear someone say. “One second it’s thrilling and exhilarating; the next second your stomach is turning and panic sets in. One second you want to scream for the ride to stop; the next second you hope it’ll go on forever.”

Sound familiar? Dating, like thrill rides, requires you to hold on tight, pray hard, and hope for the best. Add in the common fear of romantic intimacy, and of dealing with past relationship “issues”—yours and your date’s—and it’s easy to conclude you’re better off skipping the ride altogether. Playing it safe has this much going for it: you’ll avoid danger and reduce risks. You’ll also be bored, second-guess your decision, and kick yourself for chickening out–which may be why you are reading this now.

But if you hoped this column would contain a magic formula for making your fears disappear—sorry. The truth is, you will probably always get the dating jitters. Why? Because it is indeed nerve-wracking. Unless you are a gifted extrovert or a charismatic charmer, putting yourself on the romantic market is always going to be outside your comfort zone. What you need is a way to avoid letting your fear stand between you and lasting love when it comes around. You need a few “Rules for Riding the Romance Roller Coaster” to help conquer your fears:

1. Get in line. You want the thrill of finding someone new, but you’ve scared yourself silly remembering past experiences, or watching others ride (and scream) from a distance. So you’re still outside the fence looking in. Put one foot in front of the other and take a step toward your goal. Sign up for dance lessons, join the singles group at church, or throw a dinner party and invite some new faces. You’re not riding/dating yet—just positioning yourself to do so.

2. Wait your turn. The dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant feeling of anxiety or apprehension caused by the presence or anticipation of danger.” The fact is, danger is rarely actually “present.” And fear is often at its worst when nothing much is happening—because you have a lot of time to anticipate all the hypothetically dangerous “what ifs.” Now that you’re in line, be patient—be brave.

3. Fasten your seat belt. Courage is not the same thing as recklessness. When your turn to ride arrives, hold nothing back—but protect yourself with common-sense measures to keep your worst fears from materializing. Being “up for an adventure” doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. You’ll enjoy the ride more knowing that, despite the risks, there are safety protocols in place.

4. Do it! Keep your eyes open. Throw up your hands—and ride for all you’re worth. Riding a roller coaster is a hog-wild, topsy-turvy, gravity-defying, spine-tingling thing to do. If it didn’t make your adrenaline soar and your stomach do cartwheels, it wouldn’t be any fun.

Sounds a lot like falling in love, doesn’t it?