It has been estimated that over 18% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, and the rate is increasing. I know from first-hand experience how difficult living with anxiety can be and how it affects every aspect of your life, including romantic relationships.
I will share five dating mistakes that I’ve made because of my anxiety so you can avoid doing the same.
Choosing the wrong partners
Anxiety can often lead us to feel insecure about ourselves and have issues with self-esteem. When we feel uncertain of whether we are likable, attractive, or interesting enough for people to be interested in dating us, we can be prone to lowering our standards.
When I was in my late teens and fairly new to dating, I went on countless dates with girls I wasn’t attracted to either emotionally or physically. I felt so insecure about myself that I thought I should be grateful for attention from anybody. I also thought that being alone was worse than being with the wrong person—I learned later how wrong I was! At best, my early attempts at relationships were unfulfilling, and at worst my partners were abusive. Anxiety or no anxiety, you should only date people who respect you.
Drinking too much on dates
Social anxiety has always been a big problem for me. For many people, social anxiety goes beyond simply being shy or introverted—it can be an overwhelming and all-encompassing feeling that nobody likes you that affects every social interaction you have.
When I was in college I did as most college students do, and drank quite a lot and quite often. Losing my inhibitions enough to make friends was made much easier with some liquid confidence, and this also extended to dating. I used alcohol to help me get through many dates. I always intended to just have one or two drinks to loosen me up a little without getting properly drunk, but I usually failed and ended up drinking a lot. Many times I woke up the morning after feeling embarrassed about what I had said or done, and once I even woke up in bed with a date who I really wasn’t into! Drinking alcohol may seem like a simple solution for nerves, but it can cause more problems than it solves if you aren’t careful.
Seeking constant validation
It is common for anxiety to make you unsure if your partner likes you or not. As well as affecting my self-esteem, anxiety also made me constantly worried that my partner had lost interest in me. Several times a day I would think “what if she realizes how bad my problems are and can’t deal with me any more?”, or “what if she meets a new guy at work who is prettier than me?”
To reassure myself that she still liked me, I would text her constantly and sometimes even ask her if she still liked me. However many times she told me that she did, I still found it hard to believe and the anxiety did not go away. Eventually, I became so needy and dependent on constant attention and validation that she really did stop being able to deal with me, and we broke up. We all need to feel validated by our partners sometimes, but doing this too often and with too much intensity can often end up pushing them away.
Being too distant
After a couple of experiences where I pushed women away with my emotional neediness, I realized that it was a problem. I decided that I didn’t need anyone’s validation and I could live my own life on my own terms like a boss. However, in rejecting any need for validation, I went a little too far in the opposite direction.
During this period of my life in my mid-twenties, I went on plenty of dates. I had just come out of a long-term relationship and decided to play the field, even having dates with several different women in one week. Playing hard-to-get worked at first, and it felt good to have women making an effort to pursue me! This was an important learning experience and it made me realize my own worth, but it caused problems when relationships started to get more serious. Although I was getting plenty of dates, I would rarely get beyond a third or fourth date with any woman. I was slow to answer texts, and hard to get hold of. This kind of mystery is attractive for a date or two, but after a few dates most people want to feel like you are growing close to each other or they are likely to lose interest.
Not speaking my mind
In every relationship I have had (even the healthy ones), there have been things that I wasn’t happy about. Sometimes these things were minor, like how she would leave her coffee cup on the kitchen countertop, and sometimes they were more serious, like when I felt emotionally unfulfilled and unloved. Because of anxiety around conflict or rejection, I often kept these things as a secret for as long as I could.
This approach may have avoided conflict in the short-term, but it was ultimately destructive. Keeping my unhappiness bottled up only made it worse, and at some point the bottle would always break in an explosive way, leading to arguments and resentment that could have been avoided had I spoken up sooner and in a more measured way. You should always feel comfortable speaking your mind in a relationship. If you feel like you can’t share feelings with your partner, perhaps this person is not right for you.
These mistakes are not just made by people with anxiety disorders—they are actually incredibly common. Anxiety does not imply that your feelings are invalid, and although it affects dating, it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have healthy and fulfilling relationships! I am now in a long term relationship and I feel happy with my partner. I still suffer from anxiety, but I have learned techniques to manage it, and my girlfriend is understanding and supportive. The most important thing to remember when you are dating as an anxious person is to treat yourself with kindness and acceptance.