Online dating can be a terrifying endeavor for even the bravest souls, and it has extra challenges for socially anxious women and men. Social anxiety disorder is a condition that causes extreme fear in social situations. If you’re more comfortable chatting from behind a screen than in person, you can use the advice from this article. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder or you’re simply a little shy, these tips can help you navigate online dating.

Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it. - Khalil Gibran

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”

~ Khalil Gibran

Screen Before Meeting

Screening is a way to filter out people before you meet them. There are many criteria that you should look for before you invest your time and energy in meeting someone, and you may not know what they are if you’re new to online dating. Is the person looking for the same things as you? If you’re seeking a relationship and they’d prefer casual sex, you can safely take a pass. Do they share your goals and values? If you’re vegan, you may want to cross off men with fishing pictures. Some of these things will be apparent on their profile, while others will only be found out through conversation. Take your time and get to know the person a little before rushing to meet them. You can learn a lot by asking the right questions. Screening also involves your personal compatibility. If your jokes fall flat, they may not share your sense of humor. If you quickly run out of things to talk about, you may not be a match. You don’t have to just screen over text, either. Ask them for a phone call or video call. Within half an hour, you’ll have a far better idea of who they are. This will also decrease your stress and anxiety when it comes time for you to meet. When you feel like you’re meeting a friend rather than a stranger, you’ll feel more relaxed and make a better impression.

Do an Activity

Man and woman playing a stress-free game ofmini golf
Playing mini-golf is a fun and stress-free activity for a first date

So, your potential date has met your criteria and you’ve decided to meet in person. The stereotypical first date activity is dinner, but this isn’t always recommended, especially for those with social anxiety. Dinner is a time commitment, so you’ll be unable to leave if you see immediate red flags or if you find yourself too anxious to stay. If things go wrong, you’ll be staring at your food during long, awkward silences. Doing some kind of activity will give you something to focus on outside of your nerves, and will also provide conversation topics. You’ll also see how your date interacts with different situations and other people. The activity should be simple and low-key for a first date. It could be anything from a walk to mini-golf or a festival. Just make sure that it’s something you enjoy and that allows for you to talk to your date.

Prepare for Conversation

People with social anxiety often struggle with conversation, and stilted discussions can be incredibly anxiety-inducing. You may want to create a list of questions and discussion topics based on what you’ve talked about online. Even if you don’t go to this extent, you can review your texts before the date and refresh yourself on everything you talked about. This will remind you of the things you have in common, which you can now discuss more in person. You’ll feel much more at ease because you’re not struggling to keep the conversation going.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are the lines we draw that mark off our autonomy and that of other people, that protect our privacy and that of others. Boundaries allow for intimate connection without dissolving or losing one's sense of self. - Amy Bloom

Boundaries are vital while dating. With social anxiety, you may not enjoy casual sex. In this day and age, getting physical on a first date is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary. If you’re not interested in going there yet or want to take things more slowly, be polite but firm. This is especially important if you’re dating men. While not all men are pushy or aggressive, some will sense your uncertainty and prey on it. Another important boundary is around alcohol. You may be tempted to have a drink or two to relax, but be careful with this and don’t hesitate to say no if your date pushes you to drink. Alcohol will bring your guard down and make you less capable of evaluating your date, as well as making you more likely to accept intimacy. Of course, if you’re really enjoying your date and feel like you no longer need to maintain your original boundaries, then go with it and have fun. Just be sure you’re doing this because you want to and not because your date pressed you into it.

Be Upfront

The majority of non-anxious people don’t really understand social anxiety. If they sense that you’re quiet and awkward, they may even take it as you not liking them. Depending on how your anxiety manifests, you may want to warn them in advance. You don’t have to use the words “anxiety disorder.” You can even spin it in a flattering way. For example, “I’m so excited to meet you. I’m going to be nervous in person! If I’m quiet/look down a lot/babble too much, it just means I really like you.” Add a smiley face for full effect!

Practice Self Care

Dating is tough. Rejection is always a risk, and it can be incredibly painful. Think of your worst-case scenario. Let’s say that your date sneaks away mid-date, leaving you with the bill, or they tell you they’re not interested because you’re too awkward and quiet. Worse yet, you could date someone for a month and get attached to them, and then they stop answering your texts as if they’ve fallen off the face of the planet. What will you do? Where will you go for support? Hopefully, you have a friend you can call who will understand and comfort you. A therapist is another great source of support. If you don’t have one yet, it’s a great idea to find one before you start online dating. They can help you navigate the emotional highs and lows, as well as the practical ones. Your self-care plan can also include meditation, journaling, long baths, and whatever else makes you feel good when you’re upset.

Online dating can seem overwhelming, and the truth is that it is difficult. However, it’s also a wonderful way to meet people you would never have come across in real life. Online dating allows you to meet more people you’re compatible with than ever before, and many couples do get married and have children from dating apps and websites. There is hope, and with enough time and effort, you’re sure to find the person you seek.

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