Dating is basically like a job interview. Except it can last several years. And either of you can just get up and leave at any time without explanation. And there’s sex involved. And unresolved childhood issues. Now that I think of it, dating is actually way more anxiety-provoking than a job interview.
Here are a few tips to make it a little easier.
1. Understand that dating isn’t supposed to make you happy. I know it flies in the face of every Taylor Swift song — and believe me when I tell you I don’t contradict Taylor lightly — but dating isn’t about finding someone to make you happy. Actually, it’s very dangerous to tie your happiness to another person.
Let’s say you do feel happier with a new person in your life. In that case, you’re likely to experience significant anxiety at the thought of losing them. Maybe you’ll compulsively check your phone and, if you haven’t heard from them for a while, launch into catastrophic inner monologues about how no one will ever love you. This kind of anxiety can be a real downer for you — and a great way to drive away your new flame. Plus, eventually even the shiniest and most exciting new lover fails to make us happy, so on a long enough timeline these anxious expectations tend to lead to resentment.
All that may seem depressing, but the happy implication is that your ability to be confident and happy has nothing to do with your relationship status! Regardless of whether someone stays or goes, you can still get everything you want out of life. Awesome, right?
2. Start seeing dating as about compatibility, not competition. Rather than finding someone to make you happy, the point of dating is to find someone who inspires and supports you to be your most authentic self. That means you don’t need to impress anyone. Instead of trying hard to be super cool, or sexy, or macho, you can dedicate your energy to having fun and figuring out if this person is a good match for you. Nobody is compatible with everyone, so if things don’t work out, it’s nobody’s fault. Making this shift in your thinking will do wonders for your dating confidence.
3. Expect dating to bring out your issues. You may be thinking to yourself, “That all makes sense, but thinking like that is easier said than done!” That’s true, because dating brings out people’s unresolved issues. If you find that, even though you “know better,” you’re still looking to others to make you happy, or you still think that dating is about proving your worth to other people, then you’re bumping up against some unresolved stuff. How do I know that? Because — and I’m talking psychologically here, not judgmentally — it is characteristically child-like thinking to believe your well-being is dependent on an attachment figure. Or that other people’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviour are somehow a reflection of your inherent worth. Beliefs like this are pretty common, but it still might be time to find yourself a good therapist.
As long as we’re human, dating will never be completely without anxiety. Like with anything, though, if you work at it, it can become a heck of a lot more manageable.
John is a therapist and coach with two Master's degrees in counselling and five years of clinical experience. He is the owner of Transformation Counselling in Waterloo and specializes in working with adolescents and adults on issues ranging from trauma and addiction to dating and spirituality.