“Well this is weird” – ahhh… the magical words that 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. I got to the train station at least ten minutes early, sweating buckets and debating whether or not I should do a runner before I made a fool of myself.
Social anxiety can make dating tricky…. Or if I’m totally honest, it makes it a f**king nightmare. As someone who hates interviews, my performance on a date was never going to be great. After all, a first date is just an incredibly personal interview, except with booze (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 (either in a romantic or friendship way) I tend to be aloof and avoid eye contact. It comes across as though I’m bored, but I’m actually shitting myself.I also have a habit of avoiding said person, particularly if I see them in a place that I wasn’t expecting. I remember one occasion when I was sixteen and I saw my school crush in B&Q. I physically darted into another aisle of the store, in a sort of James Bond dive roll style. Apparently social anxiety turns me into a secret agent! Funnily enough the same thing happened with my best friend a few weeks later… although she just followed me into the next aisle and asked what the f**k I was playing at. It’s instinct ok!
The fear of saying the ‘wrong thing’ or coming across like a loser was all consuming for me.
Sat in a bar opposite Dan, I was boiling hot. But I couldn’t take my jumper off because of the sweat situation! Also my hands were shaking, so I couldn’t reach for my glass of wine in case he noticed.
Picture this scene:
Dan: Tell me more about what you do.
Me: *Stop looking at me you bastard, I need to have a swig of my wine* Oh I just work in publishing. What do you do?
Dan: Yeah but, what do you do in publishing?
Me: *Mother fucker* 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 of my nerves. (Not the best solution, but what can you do).
Fortunately he turned out to like me for exactly who I was… and after admitting that I had social anxiety (whilst locked in a hotel bathroom on holiday)… long story. The rest is history.
Some emergency tips and tricks that I’ve picked up:
- Be honest. I don’t mean admit that you have social anxiety as soon as you meet, more about the date venue. 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 this if that’s ok.”
- Practice! 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 wracking, then why not build up your confidence by going on a few practice dates? Just member to stay away from Tinder, or the other notorious ‘hook up’ sites.
- Text a friend beforehand for encouragement. I usually say something like “I’m freaking out… please tell me how amazing I am!”
- Arrive a little early (no more than ten minutes) so that you can acclimatise to the venue and get comfy.
- Do a CBT ‘Thought Chart’ in advance to challenge any negative thoughts. Read more about this here and here.
- Do some belly breathing to keep the butterflies under control. Watch this video for instructions.
- For the love of God, a first date is NOT the time to try out a new hairstyle or make up look. We all know that it’ll go wrong and only increase your stress levels. Just keep it simple. Choose something that make you feel comfortable but confident.
- If all else fails have a cheeky drink to take the edge of the nerves. (One not three, we don’t want you falling downstairs or crashing into a plant).