As a person who suffers from social anxiety, I know dating can be difficult. During a recent promising first date, I didn’t only feel the typical first-date jitters: I also felt a source of dread knowing that I’d have to eventually bring up the “elephant in the room.” Having hit it off with someone made telling them about my anxiety even more scary because I feared a bad reaction would result in us never talking again.
But dating with an anxiety disorder doesn’t have to be this stressful. Through my experiences, I’ve identified five concrete things you can do to make dating as worry-free and fun as possible.
1. Tell your partner early about your anxiety disorder
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a first date conversation topic, but it’s important to let someone know early on what you are dealing with. You may be worried about their reaction, but remember: If they can’t accept you for who you are, they’re not worth your time.
One question that often comes up in the first few dates is: “What do you like to do in your free time?” For my answer, I like to tell someone about my work with mental health advocacy and then segue into explaining that I live with an anxiety disorder. Then I can explain why the work I do is meaningful to me, because I have a personal connection to it.
2. Don’t shy away from getting vulnerable
Talking about anxiety can be uncomfortable, especially because of societal stigma telling us that such topics are taboo. The first step to overcoming anxiety’s bad rep is having an honest and open conversation.
By speaking openly about your anxiety, you can build a foundation of trust with your partner that will only grow stronger over time. By opening up to your partner, you are also inviting them to be honest with you, too. Honest conversation is also a great way to avoid conflict that may result from bottling up your stressors and worries.
In a past relationship, I learned this the hard way. After weeks of holding in my worries, I finally caved and told my partner because my anxiety became too overwhelming. This resulted in an hours-long, emotionally draining conversation. From then on, we agreed to be honest with each other about anything that worried us from the get-go. Now I know that immediately telling my future partner when my anxiety surfaces can prevent further frustration that would occur if I were to bring it up later.
3. Share specifics about how anxiety affects you
Anxiety can affect people in a myriad of different ways, so your partner should know which things cause you to worry. People may experience intense worry about different things such as work, their health, or family life. For me, my anxiety often manifests itself in worrying about minute details of my social interactions with others. Oftentimes, I overanalyze people’s word choices and actions, contemplating whether or not they mean something. For example, my partner forgetting or taking a while to text me back can spiral into me thinking that they don’t care about me anymore.
Telling previous partners about my worries has helped them be more mindful about how to effectively communicate with me, as well as understand why I think regular contact is important. It also helped to avoid any misconceptions and generalizations they had about anxiety.
4. Identify your support system
Sometimes, dating doesn’t work out the way you want it to. Maybe you’re ghosted, stood up, or someone tells you that the feelings aren’t quite mutual. Tough stuff! That can make your anxiety spike. Identifying a support system can make coping much easier. My support system consists of my immediate family and friends. Surrounding yourself with positive and caring people will make you a more confident dater — and help you lead a happier and less stressful life.
5. Separate yourself from your anxiety
I have struggled with blame throughout my journey with anxiety. I’ve spent many hours blaming myself for worrying too much about inconsequential things. When these thoughts happen, I remind myself that my thoughts are a product of my anxiety, not my own volition.
Dating is a chance for you to express yourself to someone else — all your quirks, preferences, and personality traits. In the past, I’ve let my anxiety control me and become a central part of my identity. By shifting my self-perception, I switched the view of myself as an “anxious person” to “a person with anxiety.” I always try to remember: I am not my anxiety disorder. My anxiety does not define me. I am beautiful, strong, and unique, and it’s time to embrace it!