As a person who has been struggling with anxiety on and off for more than ten years, I am finding that dating situations can be tricky—and sometimes painful—to navigate. Especially those initial stages in establishing a romantic/sexual relationship when feelings are still vague and the people involved don’t quite trust each other enough to clearly express all their needs and worries.
So what part of dating, exactly, can trigger anxiety? Well, in one word—the uncertainty. Anxiety is all about feeling insecure and being afraid that you don’t have control over a certain situation, so uncertainty is hard to deal with for an anxious person.
The period after a first date with somebody that you really liked and before you hear from them again, for example, is especially daunting for me. With dating apps and websites offering such an abundance of potential partners these days, some people abruptly cut off contact after a first date where they weren’t attracted to the other person. This has happened to me a few times, so now when I text somebody after a date to say that I enjoyed spending time with them and don’t hear back for a few hours, I panic. It’s not really rejection that I fear most, however—rather, it’s the uncertainty. Did they go to bed already? Are they busy with something else? Do they just need some time on their own to unwind? Are they afraid to tell me that they don’t like me, so they’re waiting for me to stop texting them? All of these questions start racing through my mind, and I find myself paralyzed with anxiety.
I think texting, specifically, makes things very difficult. Follow-up phone calls are becoming outdated and can sometimes be associated with neediness—and nobody wants to look vulnerable during those first stages of dating; media teaches us that it’s not attractive to be needy or vulnerable. While more convenient and more casual, texting can be a real monster for a person with anxiety. The problem is that many people are becoming unable to express their true feelings in person. They act like they’re enjoying your company—and of course, sometimes they really are!—face to face, but then you each go your own way for the night (or day) and their behavior changes. It is much easier to express negative feelings over text since you don’t have to see the other person’s immediate disappointment, and you don’t even have to see them again if they get too upset—so a lot of people do that. As a person who has anxiety, it’s hard for me to deal with receiving negative feedback over text because I have almost no control when texting. In person, I might have been able to better express understanding of the negative feelings and perhaps proposed a solution. Over text, the other person can just stop replying whenever they decide to, and it feels like the situation is outside of my control.
Often, these worries may seem unjustified or as if betraying a lack of trust to a neurotypical person. Some people are just bad at texting or just too nice to talk about negative feelings in person, and that doesn’t always mean that they don’t like you, of course. But I think it is important to realize that, usually, these are not worries that an anxious person can choose to ignore.