Virtually everyone gets nervous before dates. Especially if you’re shy or tend to be anxious, those nerves can translate into full blown dating anxiety, which can be paralyzing. The days and hours leading up to a date can be worry-filled, and you may even avoid dating altogether if it’s too intense. But your worries about dating don’t have to keep you from meeting people and having good dates.
Based on cognitive-behavior therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy, I’ve listed some of the most common dating worries, and how to start approaching these worries in a new way:
“I will be embarrassed.” You worry that you might spill or drop something (I personally have a penchant for dropping forks when I’m nervous), have an awkward silence, or encounter an embarrassing situation (like running into an ex or tripping). The first thing to recognize is that these snafus can happen and it’s not going to make or break your date. You can also try using acceptance to deal with embarrassment. Acceptance is the idea that you can’t change what is already there; you acknowledge that you’ll have many experiences as you go through dating — some fun, others anxiety provoking, and yet others embarrassing. And you can’t control or prevent your emotions from happening. Instead, you can change your reaction to it when it occurs. Rather than push them away (or want to hide!), you can simply accept that it’s okay to have occurred. Embarrassment might happen, but it’s just one brief moment in time, and you’ll move past it.
“I can’t deal with all of the uncertainty.” A new date brings with it uncertainty. Will you like one another? Will you hug or kiss goodbye? Who will pay the bill? When will you know if the date is over? Should you tell her you want to see her again? For me, when I was single and dating, I had major anxiety about paying the bill. I knew most guys would offer to pay, but I didn’t want to offend them by not offering to split the check. My now-husband made it clear to me that our first date was his treat. This is an example of how you can eliminate some uncertainties to make your date go more smoothly. Another example is that if you like the person, don’t be afraid to say you had a good time. That being said, it is virtually impossible to remove all uncertainty. Here’s where learning to observe your thoughts and need for certainty—and not have to act on them—can be so helpful. You can learn to have more flexibility and embrace the unknown. Uncertainty doesn’t always have to be scary; the unknown can facilitate excitement, fun, and romance.
“My Anxiety Will Show.” If you’re prone to having physical symptoms when you get nervous, you might worry that your symptoms (like sweating, blushing, or shaking voice) will show. This worry can be distracting and take you away from engaging with your date. While your instinct might be to monitor yourself to see if the symptom is getting worse (Am I blushing? Does she notice I’m blushing?), the fact is that monitoring your symptoms closely tends to make them worse. Rather than focus on what you don’t want to happen, try to shift the focus to what you do want to bring to the date. Try to focus your attention outward rather than inward. This might include focusing on listening to your date, asking questions, sharing a story about yourself, or simply smiling and allowing yourself to have fun.
“I will be judged.” You might worry that your date won’t like how you look, or will be critical of what you say. First, recognize that if someone is judgmental, mean, or harsh towards you, it actually reflects the kind of person they are; it doesn’t reflect you or your qualities. Another way to bolster yourself from fear of judgment is self-compassion. Self-compassion is treating yourself kindly, with understanding, care, and forgiveness. Having self-compassion lets you care less about judgment from a date because it helps you to truly accept and like who you are. When you like yourself, you’re confident in what you have to offer. Judgments from others matter less.
“I will be rejected.” Another worry is that you’ll be rejected somehow; your date might not show up, he or she might not reciprocate your feelings, or they might not want to go out with you again. To help reduce the worry about rejection, remind yourself that not all dates will work out. Rejection is part of dating, and it happens to everyone. It can hurt, but usually the sting wears off fairly quickly. You can help reduce the sting of possible rejection by not building up the date too much; don’t build it up or make your whole week revolve around one date. Next, remember that dating is a 50/50 situation; both of you are responsible for contributing positively to the date (it’s not all on your shoulders to make it go well!). Similarly, part of dating is both of you deciding if you might be a good fit or want to see each other again. If the answer is no, it doesn’t mean it’s because either of you are judging one another to be grievously lacking; it might just not be a good match.
“I won’t be good enough.” You might worry that you’ll be boring or not have enough to say to contribute to the date. You might worry that you won’t be attractive enough or witty enough. People who worry that they’re not good enough often have a self-critical, harsh inner voice. To counter this, start by tracking your thoughts for a day. Label your thoughts as “judgment”, “critical” or “harsh” when you notice these kinds of thoughts. Then, make an effort to give yourself approval. It’s natural to seek validation from others, but the only way you can be truly free of needing approval from others is to be enough for yourself. Learn to embrace the unique qualities about yourself that your friends and family love; these are the things a future partner will love about you, too. And lastly, the next thing to do is practice dating; the more you expose yourself to dates, the more you get to practice your dating skills like flirting, listening, sharing, and having good conversations. It helps develop the confidence you need to be successful in dating.
For more on overcoming dating worries, read my dating guide: Single, Shy, and Looking for Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious.
Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD is a clinical psychologist and author. Her work has been featured in Redbook, Men’s Health Magazine, Shape.com, and Scientific American MIND, and she is a regular blogger for The Huffington Post. She is the author of Single, Shy, and Looking for Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious and When Depression Hurts Your Relationship. Follow her on Twitter @DrShannonK.