I dread my own fear and I fear my own dread. Help me stop.
June 3, 2010 9:35 AM   Subscribe

My anxiety prevents me from going on dates, even when a girl might be interested in me. How do I get over this?

A few weeks ago, two different women (on two seperate occasions) who I found very attractive have expressed interest in a fairly straightforward manner – just a casual “we should hang out some time,” to which I said “Yeah definitely!” While any normal guy would have gone ahead and just asked them on a fucking date* either on the spot or the next day, I pretty much just left it at that. I said “Yeah definitely!” and then never followed up. I feel like an asshole and an idiot who missed a great opportunity.

It’s not that I fear rejection when asking out these women – this last time, I was pretty damn confident they would say yes. But the prospect of the date itself just makes me so nervous – the last date that I went on, I felt nothing but dread and panic for the entire week and it got more and more severe as the day of the date came closer. What if we had nothing to talk about? What if my jokes fall flat and I look like an idiot? I just don't want to put myself through another week like that. The date ended up being sort-of-okay, but I wanted it to end the entire time, not because I wasn’t attracted to her, but because trying to make a shiny first impression for such a sustained period of time was completely draining me. I have a very stressful job and treasure my free time during the evenings and weekends – to know that I’ll be able to relax and be myself around my friends gets me through the week. If I knew I had a date coming up I’d be a wreck.

So when those women expressed interest in hanging out last month, I kept telling myself that I would get in touch with at least one of them, and then put it off completely – I just kept telling myself I’d do it tomorrow, okay maybe Wednesday, okay maybe next week, until before I knew it, it had been two weeks and I was pretty sure the deadline had passed.

What the hell! I’m 23, I should be dating all over the place. To be able to end my week by spending one-on-one time with a beautiful woman should be something to look forward to. Who cares if it goes badly, what if it goes great, you’ll never know unless you do it, blah blah blah. I wish I could tell myself these things and actually believe them, but I can’t. It’s not worth the dread that I’ll feel, the insomnia that I’ll have, the burning-stomach stress that will build up over the week. I’m nervous about being nervous. And it’s stopping me from actually living my life and taking risks.

I want to know some tips to help me change the way that I think about this, to give me some perspective, and to knock some freaking sense into me. Also – I do have anxiety and am currently on meds.

*I recognize that "Date” does not have to imply candle-lit dinner, when I say “date” I also mean “casual hang out session”. I also know how a date works and what to do on a date - this question is not about the mechanics of a proper date, it's about date-anxiety.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Why is it you feel you need to jump straight into "one-on-one time"? Organize an activity for a group of your friends and invite a girl to come hang out with you and everybody else. This will ease your anxiety and make her feel more comfortable too. You can advance to one-on-one dates later but there's no need to take the plunge as your first move.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:44 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a very stressful job

Fix that first.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:47 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

you might consider just calling with a "hey, i'm going to the pub, wanna stop by" at the spur of the moment, and avoid a week of anxiety about it... if they can't go, go to the pub anyway and try another time...

Also, are there any standing group activities that include women that you could get involved in... a but of desensitization might be helpful...
posted by HuronBob at 9:54 AM on June 3, 2010

The next time a girl who interests you says "We should hang out some time", say "Why not right now? Let's go get some coffee/have some drinks/see a movie, etc". And then do it. There's your first "date". Do you still like her after the coffee/drinks/movie? Ask her out again, and I promise there will be much less anxiety, since this time it's the second meet-up and not the first. And don't make that second date a week or two away...you'll have too much time to stress out and think about it.
posted by iconomy at 9:55 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

What if we had nothing to talk about? What if my jokes fall flat and I look like an idiot?

You're magnifying the severity of those consequences. What if you have nothing to talk about? Well, then you make polite small talk for 30-60 minutes and move on with your life. It ain't the end of the world. What if your jokes fall flat and you look like an idiot? Um, then she doesn't laugh. It's not like you're going to die. Everybody's had bad first dates.

Just imagine all the things you fear happening actually happening and really ask yourself if the consequences would be as horrible as you imagine. Don't turn away in fear, really imagine them happening. It's just not that big a deal.

Also, only by going on dates will it get easier to go on dates, so even a spectacular failure (say you accidentally insulted her dying mother before spilling cranberry juice on her blouse right before an important interview) is a success in that you've gained some experience.
posted by callmejay at 10:02 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

What if we had nothing to talk about? What if my jokes fall flat and I look like an idiot? I just don't want to put myself through another week like that. The date ended up being sort-of-okay, but I wanted it to end the entire time, not because I wasn’t attracted to her, but because trying to make a shiny first impression for such a sustained period of time was completely draining me.

It seems like you're taking a lot of the conversational flow responsibilities on for yourself. She shouldn't be sitting there like a wet lump and if she is bail. The more you do this the more routine it gets. So if you see a first date as a stepping stone to making you better at dating generally, rather than being important to that one girl's perception of you (read: a practice, rather than a performance) it may seem less fraught.
posted by edbles at 10:03 AM on June 3, 2010

"I dread my own fear and I fear my own dread."

You're describing the classic fear cycle that's a part of social phobia. And your avoidance of situations is the classic negative coping mechanism exhibited by many people with social phobia. Even though IANAD, I can say with certainty that you're suffering from social anxiety. In some people, it manifests itself when they are in groups, or it may manifest in a public speaking scenario, or it may manifest when you're in a more intimate scenario - like a date. Social phobias are learned behaviors and, as such, can be overcome by re-learning how to cope with these stressful situations. You can find a ton of books that help you learn strategies for overcoming social phobias, but your best bet is to find a doctor that specializes in them. Do it soon. The fear response is self-reinforcing and will most likely get worse if you don't nip it in the bud.
posted by Jambi at 10:29 AM on June 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

If she's into you and you're into her, subjects for discussion will come up because you'll both be looking for an excuse to interact.

My suggestion is find your local brewpub. Find one with a bajillion craft beers on a chalk board with several of them crossed out because they've emptied the keg. Find one with real wood paneling and exposed brick and the like. That last part is important because they make for muted acoustics which are good for conversations.

Find one that serves tasty nibbles/small plates so that you have a little something to buffer to beer with without making it feel like a formal "dinner".

Avoid loud places with hard, flat surfaces that amplify the ambient noise of the crowd. Not good for get-to-know-each-other time.

You have anxiety. Fine. You're taking steps to deal with it. Good.

Next step is to realize the following: Courage is not the absence of fear, but presence of action despite fear.

And hey, it's just a beer. Life is not a Seinfeld episode, where cringe-worthy embarrassment and discomfiting social awkwardness go on and on and on. Anything much worse from her than "Thanks, but this isn't quite working out" is unlikely. As was mentioned upthread, you can learn from that for the next time.

And there's a non-zero possibility of "So what are you doing next Saturday" from her, including the all important jackpot of "Is your place nearby, because I wanna go make out like crazy*". That spells minor risk vs possibility of BIG rewards to this poker player.

Courage, my friend. Courage.
*If you do hit the jackpot remember the 90/10 rule: When kissing, close 90% of the distance, hold, and let her come in the last 10%. If she backs off, maintain position and let her return, don't chase. ;-)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:33 AM on June 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

You sound very, very much like me. When I posted a similar question, messica gave me a great answer that I think will help change your mindset at least a bit.

Other things that lessened my anxiety on date days: Wearing an outfit that I felt confident in- not something new, incidentally. Not thinking of the date as your only opportunity to be with someone. This is just a meeting; try not to attach any major significance to it. If it works out, cool. If not, there are other women to meet.

When you talk about being 'drained' by trying to make a good impression, that reminds me of when I'd go on dates and try to sit attractively, eat attractively, and generally appear cool and flirty. This actually was physically exhausting. Not that you shouldn't try to make a good impression, but you'll be just fine being your normal self instead of a forced, anxious dude trying too hard to impress a girl who probably has some nerves and anxiety about first dates of her own.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:33 AM on June 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

... trying to make a shiny first impression for such a sustained period of time was completely draining me.

Think of it this way - you've already made a first impression, it was a good one, that's why they kind of asked you out.
posted by Think_Long at 10:35 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A date is not about finding out if she likes you. A date is about finding out if you like her. Also, a date is not a contract to immediately be in a binding, long term relationship. It's simply two people hanging out. You need to seriously reduce your definition of what a date is. Also, you need medication. I say this from experience. Deep, deep, painful, shitty, long, experience.
posted by spicynuts at 10:37 AM on June 3, 2010

Also one of the tricks I’ve found in breaking emotional spirals (anger for me not fear might be different) is not to fight feeling it, but just to be like “Okay, brain I hear you. Now we’re going to get back to work/play/whatever.” Don’t fight the fear or anger just be like I hear you focus on your breathing for 10 seconds. Then move on. That emotional spiral has a tug and energy all its own. It wants to be there and will feed itself by getting you to fight it if it can’t get you to feel the fear/anger.
posted by edbles at 10:51 AM on June 3, 2010

knock some freaking sense into me

OK. You say you're 23?

You've got seven years, maybe…if you're lucky and charming and good-looking. If you don't get your shit together, hoist your balls over your shoulder and take advantage of these situations, you will miss out on the best decade of your life. It will be gone, and you will spend the rest of your life being righteously pissed-off at yourself.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:54 AM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you reduce the time from asking to the date time? Also, have you tried emailing the girls with just casual conversation in the week before the date? Maybe getting some early confirmation that they are into you will bolster your confidence. Don't badger them with email, but just sending one friendly, "how is your week going?" type email midweek should be fine. If you also get anxious about email responses as well, then this obviously won't work.

As others here have noted, besides just medication, talking to a therapist can reduce anxiety as well.
posted by bluefly at 11:04 AM on June 3, 2010

I agree with HuronBob. Call one of them and say you are going to the pub/movies/game tomorrow night and would they like to join you. You could say you were real busy at work the last few weeks, apologize for the short notice but wanted to spend time with them.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:05 AM on June 3, 2010

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.

So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

-Teddy Roosevelt
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:07 AM on June 3, 2010

You gotta relax, dude. Human interaction, which includes dates, is the least rational place to be a perfectionist. If you really can't stop thinking about how to be the most awesome guy to someone you barely know, shorten the time between the ask and the date. "Tomorrow night," stuff like that.
posted by rhizome at 11:14 AM on June 3, 2010

Be honest. Not as honest as you were here (not on a first date), but by all means say, "You know, it might sound silly but I'm a little nervous. I want to make a good impression, please forgive me if I say something foolish."

I would find it charming. Not to mention flattering.
posted by micawber at 11:15 AM on June 3, 2010

Change your mindset to where you are just having fun with someone you might enjoy being with rather than "a date". Also choose an activity where you are in your element and most comfortable. For me, a sit down dinner date with someone I don't really know would be a nightmare. I usually take someone I'm interested in on a hike or some other outdoor activity. Hiking is a good activity where silence isn't awkward or uncomfortable and you don't feel like you have to constantly keep the other person entertained. Or go to a sporting event so you don't have to focus your attention on each other for the duration of your time spent together. Sporting events provide a good diversion from the pressure of sustaining conversation. Anyway, dating shouldn't be stressful. If things go well, great, if not, so what, you'll have another opportunity.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 11:29 AM on June 3, 2010

A date is not about finding out if she likes you. A date is about finding out if you like her.

This. You're not going on an audition or a job interview. You're already happy with yourself and confident that you're worthy (if not, address this first). A date is an opportunity for you to see if you click with her, not an opportunity for you to convince her of your worth.

It took me a bunch of dates with a bunch of different people to really understand this, so I recommend you just do it. It might feel difficult at first, but it'll get easier.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:36 AM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just kept telling myself I’d do it tomorrow, okay maybe Wednesday, okay maybe next week, until before I knew it, it had been two weeks and I was pretty sure the deadline had passed.

Getting yourself to stop doing this is a big part of it. Realize that you aren't going to feel any less nervous about it tomorrow, and tell yourself "It's now or never." It's like pulling off a bandaid, you have to just do it even though you know it won't be pleasant, because it's not like it's going to get any easier.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:39 AM on June 3, 2010

You've got seven years, maybe…if you're lucky and charming and good-looking.

I disagree. I'm 30, I've completed my education, I'm in a great career, I have money, I've traveled around the world, and I'm confident with who I am. I have a bigger waistline and a receding hairline, but I'm having more success attracting women now than when I was 20. I'm thinking the 30s will be my best decade.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 11:42 AM on June 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Would a group setting w/ friends or a group setting activity (organized activity) help maybe at least until you both feel comfortable?

I understand the date anxiety. Everyone does get it to some degree.

And note, I think it's cute.
posted by stormpooper at 12:11 PM on June 3, 2010

I really like rachaelfaith's comment. A+. I have anxiety, too, and I've put myself through the physically exhausting ritual she's talking about.

If these women are in your social circle somehow, just have your friends randomly invite one of them out, and plan on getting a private table if you two want to get a bit more "comfy". This might eliminate the pressure a ton.
posted by Lizsterr at 1:30 PM on June 3, 2010

Don't try to force yourself to be a particular way to impress her. Just be yourself. I think most people are NOT themselves if they do the whole dinner-date thing with someone they hardly know.

Someone above suggested hiking. My suggestion is going to a market, if there is one in the area. I mean, one of those hap-hazzard, crafty, mixed market things. This kind of activity is more likely to make you both be yourselves, and relax. It will give you something to talk about other than the stressful "So, tell me about you" type stuff. You can look at belt buckles, or USB hard drives, or motorcycle parts, while she can look at scarves, or boots, or soaps, or whatever. This is a way to learn a bit about each other, without blatantly saying "I am interested in motorcycle parts. What are you interested in?". And there'll be other stuff you see that can start interesting conversations: "Hey, check out that crazy lava-lamp! That reminds me of the one my aunt has. She is such a hippy...." etc, etc

After an hour or so of doing that, you should know whether you want to say "OK, it's been fun. Seeya!", or "So, you wanna go get a drink or something to eat?".
posted by Diag at 3:17 PM on June 3, 2010

I'm thinking the 30s will be my best decade.


Except that does nothing to encourage the OP.

Perhaps if the question had been, "How do I make Beardsley Klamm feel better about themselves," I would have said something different. But seeing as how this thread isn't about you, perhaps you could restrain yourself next time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:40 AM on June 4, 2010

"What the hell! I’m 23, I should be dating all over the place."

When one goes to college, they have 3 options of which they can pick only 2.
The 3 options are friends, grades, and sleep.

If you want to get ahead in the work world and don't have daddy supporting your ass, then people often pick the last 2. That leads to a lot of hard work and good grades and a little amount of friends. It's not necessary that everyone who goes to college gets it all the time.

Similar to your age regardless of college, you are "shouldding" in your self. The whole idea of a date is to make it fun for "you".


You know how women tend to take a disinterest in men who are hard on themselves? Well, it's because you haven't made friends with yourself as yet so you still don't know what it's like to be good to yourself which means you are going to be harder to put up with.


Don't set standards about yourself and your age, look at yourself first and then decide. Take stock of what you want and do want in life and most importantly focus on yourself, the people then come.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 1:45 PM on June 4, 2010

It's really easy for people to say "just relax" when that's all you want is to relax, but just don't know how. If this is something you REALLY want, then just do it. My freshman dorm roommate told me something that always stuck with me. When he got that feeling; that fearful, anxious feeling just before asking a girl out or jumping off the cliff with a bungee cord attached, he would ignore it. Just simply ignore it. He called it "growing a spine". That's what you have to do. You have to let your intellect trump your feelings in this one, because you know your intellect is right and your feelings are wrong. So next time something like this happens, make yourself do it. The date may be awkward, clumsy, full of silence. So what? If it doesn't work, at least you took the initiative and just DID IT. When you come out on the other side of an awkward date that doesn't work out and you look down, you'll realize that all your limbs are intact, there are no bulletholes (unless the date goes REALLY bad) and you are free to continue living your life. Then, do it again. Only this time, there is a good possibility your feelings will lessen. And then do it again. Before long, you'll notice that your feelings match your intellect. Because your feelings are a fear of the unknown. So in order to get over those feelings, you have to find out what happens on the other side. Then, it won't be unkown anymore.
posted by BigBenInLondon at 11:23 AM on August 5, 2010

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