“Well, this is awkward.”
Those were the magical words I uttered to my now-husband Dan when we first met. It didn’t help that he initially went in for a hug, whereas I’m firmly a handshake person. But I definitely shocked him with my opening statement.
Social anxiety can make dating tricky … or, if I’m totally honest, it makes it a nightmare. As someone who hates interviews, my performance on a date was never going to be great. After all, a first date is essentially just an extremely personal work interview — except with cocktails (if you’re lucky).
For example, some of my closest friends thought I was an ice queen when we first met. If I really like a person — in a romantic way or not — I tend to be aloof and avoid eye contact. I come across as being bored or uninterested, but I’m actually just having an anxious episode. The fear of saying the “wrong thing” or coming across like a loser is all-consuming.
But back to my first date with my husband: I arrived at the train station at least 10 minutes early, sweating buckets, and debated whether or not I should get out of there before I made a fool of myself.
But soon enough, I was sat in a bar with him, my temperature running high. I couldn’t take my sweater off because I was sweating so much — no one wants to see sweat stains! My hands were shaking so I couldn’t reach for my glass of wine, in case he’d notice.
Dan: “Tell me more about what you do.”
Me (internally): “Stop looking at me, I need to have a sip of my wine.”
Me (externally): “Oh, I just work in publishing. What do you do?”
Dan: “Yeah, but, what do you do in publishing?”
Me (internally): “[Bleep]”
Me (externally): "Nothing much, hahaha!”
At this point, he bent down to tie his shoelace, during which time I literally downed half my glass. This took the edge off my nerves. Not the best solution, but what can you do. Fortunately, he turned out to like me for exactly who I was. I eventually told him about having social anxiety (while locked in a hotel bathroom on vacation … long story). The rest is history.
My experiences have given me a lot of insight into which strategies help — and which strategies definitely don’t help — when it comes to finding a meeting point between an active dating life and living with social anxiety. I hope the following tips can be of help!
1. Be honest
I don’t mean admit that you have social anxiety as soon as you meet. I mean be honest about the venue you’d be most comfortable in. For example, if they suggest bowling, dining in a restaurant, or something else that makes you nervous, then say so. Having social anxiety is hard enough without feeling uncomfortable in your surroundings. You don’t have to go into too much detail. Just say something like, “Actually, I’m not a fan of that” or “I’d rather do [X], if that’s okay.”
One of the great things about dating apps is that they give you the option to meet lots of new people. If you find the dating scene nerve-racking, then why not build up your confidence by going on a few practice dates?
3. Message a friend beforehand for encouragement
I usually say something like, “I’m freaking out … please tell me how amazing I am!”
4. Arrive a little early
Being at the venue before your date can give you time to acclimatize and get comfy. But don’t arrive more than 10 minutes early!
5. Remember your CBT
Do a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) “Thought Record” in advance to challenge any negative thoughts.
6. Play it safe
A first date is definitely not the time to try out a new hairstyle or makeup look. The mere possibility that it will all go wrong will do enough to your stress levels. Just keep it simple. Choose something that makes you feel comfortable but confident.
Going on a date when you have social anxiety can feel daunting, but your anxiety doesn’t have to stop you from living life. Taking a few healthy steps can make a world of difference!