How to manage first date anxiety
June 26, 2020 3:11 PM   Subscribe

In the 24 or so hours leading up to a first date, I get evil butterflies -- I feel nauseous, jumpy, terrified, and unable to focus on anything. I feel panicked and like I would rather do anything in the world than go on this date. I've broken down in tears in front of friends before because of this feeling. It's really, intensely unpleasant and I need to find ways of managing it better because it's hurting my dating life and also the rest of my life. (To be clear, I'm experiencing social anxiety, not anxiety about being physically threatened by my date.)

I do actually want to date, and things usually go fine once the date actually starts! I have pretty major social anxiety and had some very awkward dating experiences when I was younger before I learned to act more "normal," and I think those memories are contributing to these current anxious feelings. It's a combination of the anxiety of spending time one-on-one with someone I don't know well (which I hate under any circumstances), plus the added pressure of romantic/sexual expectations on top of that. I know it's not logical, I know I'm making it a way bigger deal in my mind than it actually is, but I can't seem to shake this really deep gut feeling of dread. And it's also a real sexual buzzkill.

I've gone to therapy in the past for anxiety and will start going again soon, but I'm also looking for additional strategies outside of therapy.

How can I train my brain away from "Oh my god this is going to kill me" and towards "This is exciting and fun!"?
posted by mekily to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I realized I was putting a lot of pressure on myself (and the date) to be perfect. “This was it!” I would think. “Time to meet my soulmate!”

I would feel similarly ill and want to cancel and sometimes actually cancel. My therapist encouraged me to reframe it as practicing. I get another chance to practice dating. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect or I mess up a bit or say something silly. It’s just practice.
posted by nathaole at 3:14 PM on June 26 [9 favorites]

This might sound jerky, but my way around it is to pump my self-esteem way the heck up beforehand. I am an amazing, smart, witty, wonderfully imperfect and authentic person. I bring myself to the date, I don't need to pretend to be anyone else, and if they don't dig it, it's ok.

Journalling might help to interrupt the anxiety spiral once it starts happening, and getting your feelings on paper can be very cathartic.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 3:34 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]

“ In the 24 or so hours leading up to a first date”

Then plan your dates less than24 hours in advance. No seriously. You’re anxious because you’re building them up into a Big Thing, and you’re only doing that because you have time to. Planning dates ahead of time also puts pressure on to *do* something. You don’t have to do anything; just show up and chat for a bit. On a Friday afternoon, just message someone and say “hey, wanna get coffee?” That’s all you have to do. Then when you plan the big to-do date, you’ll already know the person and know they’re at least interested enough to go on a second date.

I spent my twenties going on ever-more-elaborate first dates, culminating in one where we were playing frisbee at 6:00 the next morning in the parking lot of a supermarket during a rainstorm with a homeless man who’d broken his hand. (OK, *that* part wasn’t planned, but it was still a fourteen-hour date.) That girl turned out to be a little crazy (go figure). But the last first date I ever went on, we just met up for coffee in between the time she got off work and I met some friends for dinner. Two days after that, we got a nice dinner and went ice skating, and nine years later, we’re married with two kids. It’s a foolproof plan! ;)
posted by kevinbelt at 3:38 PM on June 26 [4 favorites]

This used to happen to me before performances and spoken roles. Then one time I was very caught up in parenting until right before I went on stage and I just―had no time to freak out. So is there anything really engrossing you can do, like strenuous exercise, math problems, or dancing― whatever it would be for you― right up until you're supposed to step out?
posted by cocoagirl at 3:40 PM on June 26

I also get nervous before first dates but generally have them go fine. When I’m really stressed out I tell myself that literally all I have to do is show up, stay for half an hour or whatever, be a decent listener and ask the other person a few questions about themself, and I can totally do those things. (I’m not saying that’s any amazing seduction strategy but as long as I’ve done that I feel like I’ve been an OK date on my end.)

Also I have basically decided as a policy that first dates are (only) for taking in information, not for deciding if I’m into the person (I give things some time to settle after the date before I feel like I can really know) or kissing them. Obviously I can break this policy if I want but that’s my default and I find it takes the pressure off me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:10 PM on June 26

Seconding needs more cowbell. If you can frame the situation so you are comfortable, and gather information, in a context that makes you comfortable.

I ask a person I am interested in to meet for breakfast at a cafe I really like. That way, it's daylight, there's no alcohol, it's a conversation friendly environment, I have my own transport.

If the person is willing to meet me in that context, they converse well, I get a good sense of how I want to proceed. Don't be shy about telling them you're not interested in carrying things further if that's the vibe.
posted by effluvia at 6:54 PM on June 26 [3 favorites]

I also get first date jitters (not quite as intense as you describe, but enough for me to question if I really want to go on the date most times.) A lot of it has to do with the expectations I've set up for myself and for my date. So I developed a mantra I repeat when I get nervous: "Your only job is to be present."

My job is not to impress my date or be impressed by him. My job is not to be attractive or attracted. My job is not to have fun or to be fun. My job is to show up as I am that day, to be in the moment with this person, and to listen to him and to myself in reaction to him. When I say show up, I mean both physically and emotionally as my most authentic self. It was a small revelation to me that I didn't have to arrive calm, cool, and collected to a date - if I'm nervous, I arrive nervous. If I'm tired, I arrive tired. My only job is to be present.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 10:10 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]

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