Social Anxiety and Dating

Update: Social Anxiety and Dating, part 2

I’m actually jealous of you. You’ve got stability, a great marriage, devoted kids. You know what I have? A Sims family that keeps getting murdered.

- Elizabeth M. Lemon, 30 Rock

How does Social Anxiety affect your dating life?
What are your issues/thoughts/beliefs around it?

Lucy and SchroederSocial Anxiety prevents me from dating – I’m at the point where, when thinking about dating or even new friendships, I’m not sure what’s a real and what’s anxiety.

This is something that needs a resolution, since it brings me tremendous anxiety.

However, I’m having trouble deciphering the thoughts spinning around my brain, as well as how to concisely summarize the thoughts.

The surface-level thoughts are:

  • I’m not a worthwhile person. No one would want to date me.
  • It takes me six months to become even moderately comfortable around another person.
  • I’m not attractive or interesting.
  • I can’t meet new people.

Because this topic gives me so such anxiety I posed the question on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit to see if I can decipher my thoughts from others’ comments. Their comments will be dispersed throughout.

For me, I’ve categorized the thoughts, though there is much overlap.

Communication

Calvin and Susie DerkinsI limit situations in which regular people normally interact with strangers: attending parties, going to bars, being outside without listening to headphones. My general disposition is unapproachable; I figuratively cannot count how many strangers have told me to smile.

My preferred method of communication is writing, not speaking, and speaking to people is a requirement of building a real relationship.

I just remember how guilty and ashamed my anxiety made me feel and if I needed help from someone it made it worse. I know we need support and, well, I just know what needing someone did to me. – via a fabulous Facebooker

Like this Facebooker, I isolate. Even when feeling good I require a tremendous amount of time alone, and when feeling anxious and/or depressed, that alone time (aka isolation/silent time) amplifies. How would it be fair to bring another person into that situation?

Failure

The thought being that close to another human being is so frustratingly unfamiliar and a bit scary. – via another excellent Redditor

Linus and SallyIf I don’t try, then I can’t fail.

I pretend that my mantra is “Fake it ’til you make it.” But it’s actually, “If I don’t try, then I can’t fail.”

Whether it’s building a friendship or romantic relationship, failure is part of the game. It’s impossible to be perfect all the time. The conversion rate of friends and/or partners divided by potential friends and/or partners is miserably low. Unacceptably low.

Sure, I understand that it’s impossible to have successful relationships with everyone, but when I also fear:

  • confrontation
  • rejection
  • looking stupid/acting stupid
  • unknown situations

then fear of failure really kicks into high gear.

Success

Fear that wow this is it. This is your life: marriage, kids, all planned out. – via my lovely friend Nan

Calvin and Susie DerkinsIn addition to Nan’s thoughts, there is the idea of all the new, unforeseen anxieties that may potentially arise from success. There is more to say about this, but those thoughts overlap into other categories.

The takeaway here: I have zero confidence of success on any level.

Self-Worth

My self-esteem, self-image, sense of self-worth is nearly non-existent. Why would anyone want to date me?

  • It takes me six months to be myself around people.
  • I’m uncomfortably quiet.
  • I’m neither interesting nor attractive.

Peppermint Patty and MarcieHere’s another “If you don’t try, you can’t fail”: I dress like a small boy, don’t wear makeup, barely brush my hair – basically, I use an unkempt physical appearance as a defensive mechanism. But I also fully believe that nothing would change if I were to “try.”

Vulnerability

too many issues, nothing worth while & I’m too much hassle – via a beautiful Facebooker

They have an unreal view of me and that I will eventually just be a disappointment. – via the most wonderful Nan

Basically, all the other categories actually live here – fear of vulnerability.

Calvin and Susie DerkinsBeing vulnerable is unacceptable. Vulnerability confirms that

  • I’m weak.
  • I can’t act like a regular person.
  • I shouldn’t interact in human society.
  • I’m selfish and self-absorbed.
  • I don’t deserve friendships or relationships.
  • I’m unlikable.
  • I’m unlovable.
  • I’m worthless.
  • I’m not real.

Truth

Charlie Brown and Snoopy hugThis whole situation makes me tremendously anxious: shaky, light-headed, and with spinning thoughts. It took me 6 hours to write this post.

Again, I’m not even sure how much of the above is true. I know there is more to the story but I can’t fathom thinking those thoughts or feeling the anxiety that comes with those thoughts.

My thoughts often alternate between thinking I would like a companion and thinking that role could be filled equally well by a dog.

Plus, on a terrible level: I can’t see a future. The last half of my life has been roughly the same and I can’t imagine much of the anxious loneliness changing.

When I think “by this time next year I’ll,” or “by this time in six months I’ll”…I go blank. I get nothing. Because if nothing is going to change, what’s the point?

My apologies for the rambling, ultimately inconclusive post. Thoughts and advice appreciated!


Resources that Resonated:

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27 thoughts on “Social Anxiety and Dating

  1. Well written. I go through many of the same anxiety symptoms as you. My marriage ended not too long ago and will be having to face these fears again. If I remember right, I wasn’t real thrilled with the whole companionship finding when I had to do it before I was married. Sometimes I feel like I’ve almost gotten off the ground from the last beatdown and some new part to this condition comes along to make sure I don’t stand too long.
    To quote a line from the movie “Out of Africa”, “God is great Sabu, he plays with us.”….MBC

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  3. When someone tells me to smile I feel like slicing their throat. I don’t do that…usually I give a pained smile and hate their guts.

  4. I identify with everything you said. I’m supposed to go on a date tonight and I’m breaking down over it. I know that I should just go and it’s not a “big deal” but telling myself that doesn’t help one bit. She seems like such a sweet person, but she’s independent and lives on her own and I still live with my parents and just lost my job and I just feel…insecure.

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  6. I was really surprised reading this. It is exactly what I go through all the time and I have been single 5 yrs because of it. I thought I was only one thank you for your post. It means i am not the only one thinking this way. Sadly though it still leaves me single and craving that sense of closeness. I;m sick of hearing you will get there! Where is there? I dont know where I want to be to even start to get there.

  7. Pingback: Social Anxiety and Dating, Part 2 | anxiety adventures

  8. Great post. I especially identify with taking a long time to write something. Sometimes it takes me months just to write an email to an old friend telling them how I’m doing. It’s really refreshing to read someone talking about anxiety without some pat answer about how things are going to be better if you can just be positive or keep trying or just be yourself. It gets really frustrating getting advice all the time. The thing is, I need some inspiration to even feel like it would be worth trying to deal with all this in the first place. And any attempt at inspiration coming from people who don’t suffer from anxiety just rings hollow to me. I’d rather hear from people who are in the trenches too, so I can at least know that I’m not alone in feeling alone. Maybe that’s a good place to start.

  9. Hey, I just read you post. I know its been there for a long while, but I can relate to how you feel about this very much. I often ask myself if it would be easier to date someone with similar issues – if you could somehow figure that out before meeting them… What do you think?

    • Hi. Thanks for the comment. To your question – yes and no. For me, I think I’d need to date someone who understands the anxiety but doesn’t have it (or have it to the extent that I do) because I need someone to be able to “take the lead” in social settings. Does that make sense?

  10. I think you’re brave for coming out and at least putting it out there, how you feel. I can’t even manage that. I’ve been through a fair amount of isolation my whole life and I have always been reluctant to let anyone in because when I do I get butchered and I fall apart. I had a relationship with a girl in high school whom was very much an extrovert and at first things went great I felt like nothing I did was wrong but we dated a long time and after a while I ended up dragging her down and quite honestly to this day I have no idea what was going through her head with me but I loved her and still do. And I’m stuck here in no mans land with this understanding of happiness and can’t find it anymore. I genuinely hope you find someone or something that gives you peace cause I kno it’s hard I have to drink a few every night just to go to bed. Good luck

  11. My social phobias and inability to interact with the people around me have left me single and without friends. Your post gave me shivers; you were able to put into words the thoughts that have been overrunning my mind lately. Like you, I feel like I can’t act like a normal person and shouldn’t participate in human society. My quiet nature causes people to call me “weird” or “stuck-up”. My prime ability to communicate is through writing (I could never say any of this in person), but you have to *meet* someone first before you can write to them. :) And the constant rejection only serves to enforce all of the negative feelings.

    One response in here said “Sadly though it still leaves me single and craving that sense of closeness”…which loudly echos my own current feelings. Even with dating sites, the rejection keeps coming (even though I’m rather proud of my ad!). It’s all so…overwhelming. But thank you for at least showing me that there are one or two other people sharing the same problem, even if we don’t yet have any answers.

  12. Pingback: Social Anxiety and Dating, Part 3 | anxiety adventures

  13. This describes my 15 year old daughter. And I need some advice if anyone has any for a mom (feeling frustrated and helpless) that just wants her kid to be happy. So this boy at school (same age) had been admiring my daughter for several months. They eventually started “dating” 4 months ago, but I say that loosely since they only spend time at school, hold hands, hug and text. She she gives me nothing and I was worried about what was going on…I’ve spied a bit so am privy to the following. Her boyfriend knows she has anxiety but really wants to go out on a date just with her, and wants to kiss her. They went on one date (she had an anxiety attack before he got here to pick her up and she said she didn’t like it). He has been extremely patient with her anxiety, and I think would continue to be patient if she would just give him something to work with. But every time he asks about going out, she says “I don’t know” again and again and again. It will drive him away if she doesn’t communicate and use her words. She is a smart girl but her anxiety has made her lazy (and unable) to effectively communicate how she feels. Even when I ask her how she feels she says “I don’t know” so I can’t even begin to help her through this if she is also giving me nothing. It doesn’t matter how I approach the situation, I can’t get her to open up. And she refuses to see a therapist.
    They tell each other they love one another, and she tells him over and over she’s sorry for making him mad. Even though he says he’s not mad, he just wants her to be happy. I feel like she is giving him mixed signals, and I feel so much empathy for him because I understand his frustration in dealing with her (and he’s only 15 so kudos to him for getting this far with her). But I’m supposed to be on my daughter’s side, but I don’t know what to do to help her and him. I’m really tired of her hurting his feelings. Is there anything I can do as a mom without being annoying, or I just need to let this relationship run its course, and just watch them get hurt, and learn from the experience? Please help!

    • I hesitate to give any advice for fear that it will be taken and then go poorly — so please remember that I have absolutely zero training in any professional mental health capacity – I am simply a regular, human person. So here are my general thoughts:

      - When your daughter says “I don’t know.” She might be being completely honest. A lot of the time I recognize that I’m anxious or depressed but cannot put it into words. She might legitimately not know/understand/comprehend what’s going on.

      - She might just not be ready to date, which is totally ok. Maybe she just wants to be friends with this guy.

      - Seeing a therapist when you have anxiety, especially Social Anxiety, is a huge step that causes tremendous anxiety. I recognized that my anxiety was a problem around age 7 and didn’t see a therapist until I was 27. Apparently, this is not uncommon for those with Social Anxiety.

      - I don’t know your daughter, so she might be lazy…but be careful construing laziness with anxious paralysis. Dealing with anxiety is exhausting, terrifying, and constant – the amount of energy it takes me to get through each workweek means that I usually need to spend the entire weekend alone and in silence to recover.

      - At 15, I wasn’t talking to anyone, especially my parents. Any and all of my anxiety information came from reading online about others’ experiences.

      I’m sure this is incredibly frustrating for you, so here are the only pieces of specific advice I’ll offer:
      - Ask very broad but specific questions. For example, when I started therapy, the only way I could describe the anxiety was by saying “It feels like white noise all the time.” My thoughts were spinning so quickly that I couldn’t decipher what I was thinking or feeling; it was confusing and terrifying. So you could ask something like, “What does the anxiety feel like?” Ask questions that raise the idea that you genuinely (and not judgmentally) want to understand how she’s feeling, because, unless you’re also anxious, you probably can’t.

      Feel free to show her this post: http://anxietyadventures.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/my-brain-is-taffy-paired-with-brown-noise/. And say, “Does it feel like that?”

      - Yes/No questions are often a better place to start than open ended questions.

      - Look at this. She may or may not respond to it, but I found it super helpful as a way to define my anxiety: http://www.core-beliefs-balance.com/example_negative_core_beliefs.htm

      Hope this helps.

      Also, this comment was nicely timed because I’m working on a post now about how my mom doesn’t understand Social Anxiety and how frustrating it can be. Thank you.

      • Thank you so much for you input! I am personally seeing a therapist who specializes in anxiety to help me understand and help my daughter cope with her anxiety. But at this point I feel that talking with someone who actually experiences the same feelings is the best route for me now, so I appreciate all the real life suggestions you can give. I’ve been trying to help her with her anxiety all her life, and there is always a new struggle/situation to learn to cope with…as you know it doesn’t just go away.

        -Regarding the “I don’t know’s”…what would you suggest is the best way to help her to know, understand or comprehend her feelings? I find that my daughter often reverts to avoidance when she is anxious about a pending social engagement, so am concerned that the “I don’t knows” are just another form of avoidance. So I guess the frustrating part of this equation is understanding what she truly doesn’t understand and what is an avoidance strategy to get out of something. Which brings me to the question…how do you feel about immersion/exposure therapy for anxiety?

        -She saw a therapist in 5th grade that she connected with, but she moved out of the country so finding someone who she is comfortable opening up to is a challenge. The thought of a therapist she doesn’t connect with is anxiety provoking. She took Zoloft for a few years which I think helped but then decided to wean off of it, but I’m wondering with all the new teenage worries and hormones if it might be wise to try it again.

        -I am understanding more and more how her anxiety can feel like white noise, but my frustration is that as I gain more understanding of her anxiety, I want to find more solutions or ways for her to cope, and I want her to want to help herself. But it isn’t that easy.

        -I was a very shy child and had an extremely difficult time with public speaking as a young adult. Anxiety yes, but definitely not as severe as my daughters. But to survive, get through school, get jobs, travel abroad, etc. I had to reach beyond what I believed I could do and painfully force myself to deal with uncomfortable situations. So I keep encouraging her to keep trying, because I don’t know what else to do. By trying she has overcome so many obstacles over the years that’s it’s amazing, but as I mentioned every day/week/month/year there are terrifying obstacles to overcome for her.

        -And others don’t understand her behavior, and I get so tired of explaining how her mind works, because people (and definitely most to all people) don’t really understand the severity of how she can literally “catastrophize” so many situations. And then I feel so bad for her that her friends don’t fully understand her, and like I said feel extreme empathy for those who do try to understand her, but feel like failures for her lack of responsiveness to their questions.

        So this mom understands her anxious kid, I just so wish I could do something more, because I too after 15 years am beginning to feel like a failure and that I’ve done something wrong.

        • Thanks again for the reply. You deserve so much credit for being so involved and caring. You know what’s a somewhat surprisingly good place to elicit well-rounded advice – the Anxiety sub-reddit:
          http://www.reddit.com/r/Anxiety/.

          It’s a pretty active sub-reddit and I’ve gotten some truly helpful, positive advice from the community there.

          • Thank you so much for you input and other recommendations. Right now I feel that the advice from others with SA is more helpful than the hours spent in therapy with what to try next.

  14. Please excuse my barging in on the conversation. I thought some additional input from another SA sufferer might not hurt.

    Regarding her “I don’t knows”…since every person is different and every SA sufferer experiences different degrees, that’s a hard one to address. I can only share my own personal experience with that…I used to do it a lot growing up when I felt like I couldn’t share without there being repercussions. Not that my dad would have reacted badly to my answer, but it would have lead to something that lasted well beyond that moment, something that would have come up repeatedly and colored our future interactions. I wanted to share, but I wanted it to end right there. I didn’t want him asking me things like “is this going to be okay for you?” about everything from that point on, or whatever caring questions he might think to ask. I wanted to say what I’m feeling, have him hear it and accept it, and then we both walk away from it. If I wanted more to come of it later, I would have gone to him again, knowing that I could say what I wanted to say without future consequences. Sadly, this was not the case, so everything was deflected with “I don’t know”. There’s a lot going on up in that head of hers. :)

    I don’t know the degree to which your daughter is experiencing this, but I — at 40 — have taken to self-imposed immersion therapy. I seek out social engagements (which is hard when you don’t have friends) and places where I will be exposed to new people (though only a few at a time, like ballroom classes) and I force myself to introduce myself and learn their name (which is hard when you have a horrible memory!). Beyond that, I lock up, so conversation gets hard, fast. But if I can pick up on one thing to talk about each time or every other time, eventually I have enough to have at least a short, high-level conversation.

    And, remember…she’s 15. While it is heart-breaking to see her go down this path at such a young age, and what it could turn into for her (potentially, NOT definitively), she’s not fully baked yet. The next few years could take her through a right turn into something better. But you’re concerned and aware and this is good. Just don’t be over-bearing about it. She will benefit from knowing that someone in her life is aware and is ready to listen at any time without judging her or expecting too much. At least this helped me. I had one friend and she was my soft place to land when things went crazy.

    If she ever wanted to share with another person with SA, I’d be happy to exchange emails with you and her. Sometimes you just want to talk AT someone who gets it, and that’s really hard to find with SA.

    • Please feel free to barge in ;) I need all the help I can get.
      I can see that when she says ‘idk’ it’s usually when she’s asked to answer something that she’s uncomfortable talking about. For example, her ‘boyfriend’…if she can’t answer a question about weather or not she wants to go on a date, then what is he to do? He has been more than patient, even told me she was worth it. Although I’m sure that feeling is wearing thin, and I’m sure he is frustrated as hell with her (which frustrates me because I don’t want anyone to be annoyed with my kiddo ;) …and when I try to help her to understand her feelings (or lack of…not really sure) about him I get the same ‘idk’s’. I’m sure many of her feelings about him are sooo normal, and have nothing to do with the SA, but unless she lets me in to help I can’t help…and that’s okay, she is 15. But the two people who care the most about her in her life right now, she is shutting down and putting up walls.

      She also has issues with physical abuse on me. If she is really frustrated I get the brunt of the anger. I’m her punching bag. This has gone on since she was 2! Granted she has gotten much much better, but had an incident this morning when she got frustrated that the time we had to leave for school was going to be changed because my schedule changed. So she would have to wait at school for an hour before it started. This created tears, anger, door slamming, then kicking me in the stomach when I grabbed her foot on the couch to chill. Then after tears from both of us and understanding hugs, and agreement that we both escalate these incidents…In the end I caved, canceled my engagement and took her to school when she wanted.

      It’s a damn vicious cycle with us! ugh!!!!!!

  15. Almost everything written here is familiar. But I stuck where you mentioned you didn’t even brush your hair. It pulls you down. It just makes you feel even more insecure. Because, being untidy does not make you invisible. That’s what I know from experience :)

    I think it is about self respect as well. I do not mean dress like a movie star or make fancy hair. However, you may just start with being tidy and trying to have a normal, average, ordinary look (it helps you feel normal). Or even cute. If you can not smile to other people easily, (like me) although you love laughing; you might pick some cute outfits to make you look sweeter. (Just a little bit at least) Go through some fashion blogs.

    I felt sorry for you, because I am like you. I have troubles under social situations which make me think I am weird. But I was generally OK and living my life somehow till I got a crush! Ever since I noticed this guy I am getting worse. My anxiety is pushing the limits. My world turned upside down. It came with the feelings you mentioned like : he does not like me, why would he like me, why anybody would like me, i think even my friends don’t like me… It started with sweet glances. So, HE made me actually start questioning his crush on me in the first place.(Is he really looking at me? Is there something weird with me? My hair? My butt is too big? My face is too white? Did I say something stupid? Did I walk silly?) And see where I am now. If I didn’t have SAD we probably would be dating by now, or at least I should have found out whether he likes me or not. It’s been more than 6 months. But I am more insecure now. I feel ugly, stupid, clumsy, nervous… What I did? I pushed him away. Can’t look at him anymore. I can not even say hi to him or my colleagues anymore. I act more awkward. Something is shut down in my brain.

    These are terrible feelings. I am going to start seeing a therapist very soon. I hope it helps.

    And the confession you made about writing the post took 6 hrs… I’ve seen a lot worse!!!
    Something holds me back

    It’s been 8 years since I had a relationship and 6 years I actually dated someone. I know it sounds creepy but I have friends! :) And they are trying to make me meet guys. I am just so “unapproachable” as you named perfectly. Even I accept meeting the guy I can not have normal conversations with him since it feels weird and I am scared the hell out of me to say something stupid or embarrassing (I actually do that sometimes and think about it for like… months?). As I can criticize my dating history I was always anxious about meeting with my boyfriend. I sometimes just couldn’t gather my courage to meet him on time. He used to wait for me so long. Poor guy. And I was very insecure, I was questioning everything because I was feeling like i wasn’t pretty or smart or fun or talented or interesting enough and didn’t want to believe he could actually love me (he used to love me, he bared so many things for me; now I can see it 8 years apart. If only I had more confidence.)

    And my up-to-date crush. He most probably likes me or at least used to like me 6 months ago. But the moment I have to interact with him, see him, get close to him… I feel like shit and I act like an asshole. He probably thinks I am very rude or cocky or stupid or not that nice etc…

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