• Dating and relationships can be difficult territory when it comes to managing anxieties and feelings of vulnerability

  • Dr Kathleen Smith offers three steps to better manage relationship anxiety and make dating work for you

  • If anxiety if making dating and relationships feel impossible, find a therapist here

Gail found that her dating Kryptonite was a common one— her phone. She got better at being honest on dates and trusting her own thinking. But when it came to communicating with guys, her anxiety remained stubbornly at the controls. After a good date, she’d spend the next twenty-four hours absolutely glued to her phone, waiting for a text or app message from a guy to secure the next date.

A person can have every intention of staying calm and collected when a new love interest enters the scene, but technology often keeps us from staying focused on ourselves. Our phones and social media allow us to take a laser-like focus on this new person.

Post-date purgatory looks like:

  • excessively Googling someone
  • excavating their past social media
  • checking to see if they’ve logged into an app
  • texting your friends to analyse the last date
  • checking to see if they’ve seen your text or post

This can be anxiety-producing and mildly infuriating. Someone has time to share a baby goat video on Twitter but not answer your text? All of a sudden it’s three a.m., and you’re on Facebook dissect­ing their last trip to Mexico with their ex, wondering if you’ll ever be able to make paddle boarding look that sexy (probably not). When you like someone, you can spend a lot of time imagining what a per­son is thinking, saying, or doing. And if you’re not careful, you will begin to treat these imaginings as if they are reality.

This is exactly what happened to Gail. She would go out with someone she really liked, and then she would quickly grow impatient when he didn’t text or call right away. If she saw that he had been active on a dating app, she grew furious. Clearly this was ridiculous, as she was also logging in and talking to other people. Unable to get comfortable in post-date purgatory, she found herself blowing up matches and deleting contacts to avoid being ghosted or dumped. She was embarrassed by how near- strangers had such control over her emotions.

Gail convinced herself that she had to slow down and learn to be okay with waiting. No relationship would cement itself in even a week, much less twenty- four hours. So when she started seeing someone she really liked, she limited herself to one nice text after­ward, expressing that she had fun and would like to go out again sometime. And then the wait began. She tried everything to distract herself. She went for a run. She called her mom. She read ahead on her assignments. None of it worked that well. She came into therapy begging me for a cure to her anxiety. How could she possibly calm down?

So often with anxiety, our focus is on getting rid of it. This is fine! It’s good to practice healthy behaviours that can help manage it. But I’m not certain that you can force yourself to be less reactive in anxiety-producing situations. Tolerance to unfamiliar terrain takes time, as you practice being mature and realising that you won’t die. When you do something risky, like be vulnerable with a stranger who might reject you, anxiety is part of the game. And this is when we are tempted to fall back on those old, automatic habits that get us into trouble.

When a guy didn’t immediately text her back, Gail’s quickest options for lowering her anxiety would be to:

  • send an angry text asking why she hadn’t heard from him
  • constantly ask friends for reassurance that she’d hear from him
  • stop dating all together

These actions were her autopilot, and shutting off her autopilot would certainly make her more anxious. But that anxiety would be a sign that she was following her principles: That the adult in her was in control and she was not letting the infant run the show.

Gail wasn’t forever destined to be incredibly anxious while she dated. This was simply a temporary increase in anxiety while she learned to navigate dating and waiting to hear back from someone. Living by your principles does get easier, but that takes time. The most she could do was take care of herself, try her best not to focus on the guy, and wait it out.

3 Steps to Banish Dating Anxiety

1) Observe

What does dating anxiously look like for me?

When have I become too other‑ focused after a date?

When have I been quick to obscure my true self from a love interest?

2) Evaluate

How would I define dating maturely for me?

What beliefs or values do I need to communicate more clearly with a love interest?

What wisdom would I like to remember when I’m tempted to obsess over a love interest?

3) Interrupt

How can I practice being more self- focused when I’m dating?

How can I shut off my anxious autopilot when I’m dating?

Are there tools or people who can help me be my best self when I’m dating?

Your practice

Whether we’re dating or not, we’re all more than willing to chip away at ourselves to get people to like us. Do you hold an uncommon political or religious belief in your peer group? Are you hesitant to admit you have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Real Housewives franchise? Take a few minutes to make a quick list of every belief, interest, value, or trait that you’ve hidden or lied about to attain the love or approval of another person. Take a look at the list, and con­sider how you can do a better job of defining yourself to a new love interest and to existing relationships.

Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety and Finally Calm Down by Dr Kathleen Smith is published by Souvenir Press:

Further reading

This is what it's like dating with anxiety

Therapy helped me find the right relationship

Why dating tips might not work for you

Therapy helped me break harmful relationship patterns

Staying safe while online dating