Let’s face it. Dating can be one of the scariest aspects of our personal lives. No matter how accomplished we are personally and professionally, there’s something about dating that can give us feelings of anxiety, worry, and that ever-so-familiar pit in the stomach. But, why? What exactly is it that causes us to freeze up or even avoid dating altogether?
We all have different experiences with dating and relationships. However, one of the most common things people tell me is that they are inexperienced or had a bad experience with dating. The newly divorced tell me that they feel like they are back in high school having to navigate dating after ending a 20 or 30-year marriage. One of the common threads is the fear of the unknown.
When we have a fear of the unknown, it means that we have some concern about something out there that we haven’t met or experienced yet. Many times, our fears develop because of a not so great past experience. Other times, it is because we hear from friends, family, or coworkers about their experience and base our beliefs off of that. We may even think negatively about our dating abilities and ourselves. Either way, this fear traps us from moving forward. We may even feel overwhelmed.
So how exactly do we liberate ourselves from being fearful of dating? One of the first things I tell people is to take a step back from the big, daunting picture of dating. Look at who you are and what you value. Do you enjoy sports or theater or music? How about spending time with family and friends? Do you value the work that you do or the goals you set for yourself? What about your health or emotional well-being? Without judgment, write a list of the things that matter most.
Something else to consider is the approach you take to dating. I tell many people that are new to dating or getting back into it after ending a long term relationship is to think about online dating as an option to get your feet wet. Tell yourself you have nothing to lose by putting yourself out there and only experience to gain. Put together a profile that highlights the person you are (see the paragraph above for ideas) and be as honest as possible. Include a recent picture of you. It’s much more difficult to defend the statements you write about yourself and the photo you post than to just be yourself.
Then, set aside some time every day or every few days to gradually read through profiles and figure out the basics. Depending on your specific situation, you may need to consider different factors. Are you looking for someone who wants or doesn’t want children? Does smoking or drinking habits matter? Once you’ve figured out some of the basics, decide if you can honestly relate to any of what is written in the profile. Commonalities aren’t everything but they do matter when you’re trying to connect to someone new.
If and when you feel comfortable, consider setting up a time to meet. I always suggest talking to someone whom you’ve never met before on the phone first instead of going straight from an e-mail or text to a first date. Hearing someone’s voice humanizes the person and they become more than a photo and some words on a page. There’s some comfort in knowing the person is a living, breathing human being.
When going on a first date, remember to breathe and be yourself as best a possible. Focus on the conversation and ask questions. Try to take your attention off of how you look or feel in the moment. Pay attention to the other person and what they are saying. You might want to prepare 1-2 questions beforehand based on the information they wrote in their profile. That way, if there is a lull in the conversation, you’ll be armed with conversation starters. Listen as often as you talk and don’t be afraid to interject your thoughts if the person you are with talks a lot. Think about the conversation as a tennis match – take turns “hitting the ball” to each other.
One of the best things about dating is that you really have nothing to lose. You only have experience to gain and lessons to learn. The more we learn, the better armed we are to tackle our fear of dating. Even if the date doesn’t go well, you have the success of meeting someone new and practicing your communication skills.
If nothing else, remember that if you put your honest self forward, you can focus your energy on finding someone that values you for who you are and the wonderful things you have to offer.