Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am 27 years old and have had a very good life so far. I have a loving, accepting family, many friends, and no issues or problems to speak of. I have been on the dating scene for a little while now, and have been going out with a really great guy for the past few months. I find him genuine, sensitive, smart, attractive, and with life goals very similar to mine.
My problem is that I'm scared! I worry that every date will be the last, even though I can tell he is interested in me. When I hear the details of how a friend of mine was proposed to, I get nervous when I imagine it happening to me. When my friends tell me about how well their dating lives are going, I am thrilled for them and want to hear details of what’s going on, etc. But when it's me as the main character, I get very nervous and can't deal with it!
This is holding me back from becoming emotionally involved with this man and I want to get over this. Why do I believe that these romantic stories can happen to anybody else, but not to me?
It’s easy for us to see why you’re feeling anxious about the relationship you’re building with this young man. The idea of deciding that a particular person will be the one you will marry and spend your entire life with, is indeed scary. In fact, when it comes to such momentous steps in life, most “normal” people feel some anxiety!
They’ll wonder if their looks will appeal to the person they’re meeting for the first time, and if someone they’ve been dating a while will like what they’re wearing. They’ll wonder whether if and when they’ll start to feel a connection with the person they’re dating, and once they do, they’ll worry whether he feels the same way. As the dating gets more serious, they may worry that things are going too well, or what their first argument means, or how the other person will react to a deeply personal revelation.
Your friends may only seem to be floating through courtships.
Most daters have concerns like these, and it is very likely that your friends, who seem to be floating through their courtships, are experiencing many of the same worries that you’ve expressed in your letter. Some of them may be just as anxious as you are, but are doing a good job of hiding their feelings because they don’t want other people to know what they are going through.
It seems that you spend more time dwelling your anxious thoughts than many of your friends do because by nature, you’re more of a worrier than they are. It’s important for you to understand that someone who tends to be more anxious than others about many aspects of life is likely to be more anxious about dating, too. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – some people are simply more sensitive in this area than others. But it does mean that you will need to learn techniques to calm yourself and lessen the intensity of your worrying.
Tips & Techniques
Here are a few suggestions to help you in this area:
First, make sure you have someone you can talk to regularly about your dating. It should be someone who’s been married for at least a few years, who has a good attitude about marriage and a lot of common sense, and whom you feel comfortable confiding in. Experience has shown that most daters benefit from having a mentor to answer their questions and share a married person’s perspective. An anxious dater can particularly benefit from someone who can help them understand whether they’re experiencing free-floating anxiety, or if there is a genuine concern that needs to be addressed.
Write down what specifically makes you feel anxious.
That “free-floating” anxiety seems to be what you’re grappling with right now, meaning that it isn’t based on anything concrete, but on general worries about what might happen in the unknown future. It will be helpful for you to spend some time figuring out exactly what you worry about. Set some time aside, grab a notebook or pad and a couple of pens. Think about each of your dates, and write down exactly what occurred on the date that caused you to feel anxious. If you are feeling anxious about future dates, write down what specific thoughts make you feel anxious. When you’re finished, review you list and see if there is a common theme of anxiety triggers.
Your next step will be to find ways to deal with this anxiety. One way is to talk about the specific triggers and themes with your mentor, discussing what’s so scary about them, and how you might be able to use a “reality check” to respond to each fear. Many people find that this technique helps to lessen their anxious feelings.
Another way to keep yourself from dwelling on anxious thoughts is to introduce distractions. You can try something that occupies your hands as well as your mind – crafts, needlework, poetry or baking. Exercise is also a great way of calming anxiety, so consider taking a walk, riding your bicycle, or swimming laps. Reading, listening to music, or playing a video game may also work for you.
Another very effective technique is to try to “be” in the present. Take one day at a time, appreciating the moment, and try very hard not to project what the future will hold. This technique can be very helpful when you’re on a date. If you start to think about what the man you’re dating will do next, or if he might be the right person for you, push the thought away and make yourself focus on what the two of you are doing, talking about, hearing, seeing, tasting, and experiencing.
By implementing these suggestions, you may not become 100% worry-free, but you should see a big improvement. If you decide you’ll do better with a professional’s help, look for a therapist who uses cognitive behavioral therapy to help reduce anxiety.
Until now, we’ve given you suggestions about handling the kind of generalized worry that many people experience when dating. We realize that, in the course of doing the writing exercise we suggested, you may discover that something you’re worried about has a concrete basis. It could be a disagreement you had, something he did to upset you, or an issue you believe needs to be discussed. Here’s where your mentor can also be a big help. She can help you look at the issue from different perspectives, and help you decide how to deal with it on your own or together with this young man.
The important thing to remember is that dating can be a scary time, and many people are just as anxious as you are. We hope that you’ll use our suggestions, and will move forward through the dating maze with confidence, and (relatively) worry-free.
Rosie & Sherry