12 Reliable Dating Hacks For the Socially Anxious
Dating is rough enough as it is, but if you suffer from social anxiety, it can feel downright torturous. Whether your anxiety manifests physically (racing heartbeat, upset stomach, trembling, the sweats) or mentally (fearfulness, over-analysis, critical thoughts), managing your symptoms while trying to charm someone new is quite the challenge. Rather than surrender to a life of loneliness, it’s crucial to keep showing up and attempting to socialize, even if your efforts are awkward and imperfect. Like a lot of things, the more you date, the better you’ll get at it, and the more confident you’ll become. We’ve rounded up our best dating hacks to help you get back in the game and find the love (or just the fling) you’re looking for.
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Use an app.
People with social anxiety agree that dating apps take some of the pressure off. Getting to know someone through a screen is a lot less anxiety-provoking than talking up a stranger at the bar. Use the online interactions to find out about common interests so you can have some conversation topics at the ready when the date actually happens.
Go on a few practice dates.
There’s no harm in setting up a few low-expectation dates with people you’re not invested in just to practice getting-to-know-you small talk. Definitely don’t schedule a major date after a long hiatus without a buffer date with someone else beforehand to get the kinks out. (Not those kinks.)
Get a pep talk from a friend.
Let a buddy pump you up before your date to remind you how great you are and that you’ve got this. Plan to call this same friend after the date for a post-mortem, whether the date goes well or not.
Follow your treatment plan.
If you take medication, now is not the time to skip it. If you know Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques, use them before you set off for the date. If meditation, a walk, or some other activity calms you, do that up until you have to leave for your date.
Pick the venue.
Make sure it’s somewhere you’re comfortable. If a four-star restaurant is going to make you so self-conscious you can’t even choose a fork, don’t make a reservation there. If coffee’s all you can handle right now, schedule that. If your date jumps the gun and suggests somewhere you know will set you off (because of noise, crowds, bad memories), just say, “How about [your suggestion here] instead?” Most people are too polite to say no. Explanation not necessary.
Arrive early and have a drink.
Hey, it’s called “social lubrication” for a reason. By arriving early, you won’t be arriving breathless and sweaty, and by having a drink before your date arrives, you’ll preemptively calm your nerves.
It seems so simple but is actually a lot harder in practice. Make sure you take a few deep belly breaths before you date arrives. If you have to go to the bathroom to recenter with your eyes closed, so be it. Whatever gets you to a Zen place is what you need to do.
While your date might not have social anxiety, they’re likely nervous, too. Nothing breaks the ice like admitting your nervousness upfront. (If you really feel comfortable, you can also say you suffer from social anxiety, though some people prefer to wait a few dates before disclosing this.) The relief you feel from sharing your feelings (especially if those feelings are mirrored back) just might be a bonding tool.
Don’t believe everything you think.
Anxious brains love to catastrophize. The good news is that most of the awful things you’re imagining will happen on your date won’t happen at all -- not on this date, not on any date. And if the worst does come to pass? You’ll handle it, because that’s what humans do.
Remember that your anxiety is not as obvious as you think.
We are our harshest critics. Chances are, your date won’t have a clue you have social anxiety, either because they’re too busy obsessing about their own inner state or because they’re too busy having fun! (Yes, it can happen.) The symptoms that seem obvious to you (blushing, sweating, shaking) are likely indiscernible to your date, and even if they notice, most people won’t be turned off by it. (And if they are, good riddance!)
Have an exit strategy.
No matter how the date goes, you should have somewhere to be or someone to talk to afterwards. Schedule a therapy session, arrange a post-dinner dessert or a nightcap with a friend, stop by your parents’ place to do laundry, or just take yourself to a movie. An exit strategy will keep you from staying too long on a date that’s become uncomfortable or from ruminating on the details of the date afterward.
Keep your calendar full.
No matter how the date goes, keep putting yourself out there. If you have one bad date, brush it off and schedule another with someone else. If you make dating a regular part of routine (say, every Friday night is date night), it will become just another part of your week and not something to get too worked up about.