I am painfully quiet and find dating worrying and challenging.

Dating is a totally unnatural phenomenon. Two strangers (typically) are putting themselves into an incredibly vulnerable position, without any guarantee of what their interaction will lead to. There is really no other life experience or situation that requires this in the same way. If a person goes for therapy, they may be asked to open up in the same way, but this is supposed to be a professional relationship based on strict confidentiality and a code of ethics. When dating, most commonly both parties are young and often highly inexperienced in navigating the process.

For many, this is their first real interaction with someone from the opposite gender, and there is a great deal of uncertainty about what to expect and what is required. These and other factors create the conditions for individuals starting to date to feel nervous, anxious, and worried. If one or more of your previous dating experiences were unpleasant, for whatever reason, this may further intensify your apprehension towards resuming dating.

Opening up

The problem is obvious. The purpose of dating is to open up; that is how the bonding process occurs. Being uptight and anxious shuts down the emotions that need to develop between the couple. Being mentally preoccupied with worries means there is much less mind space available to focus on the dating itself. Then there is the direct issue that the person on the other side of the table is seeing a ball of nerves, and this may make him or her ill at ease.

When dating, we want to be liked by the person we are with. But this is made more difficult if we are exhibiting the kind of mannerisms typical of someone who is fearful. Defensive body language, stilted speech, and emotional distance are not qualities that contribute positively towards an engaging dating experience; yet, they are the common attributes of people who are nervous. Here are a few ideas that will hopefully help.

Things will get a lot easier quite quickly. Once we have had two dates, it is amazing how even an anxious person will relax. We begin to feel more comfortable around the other person and start to trust them more. Often, we find that the anxiety is around the concept of dating, and that once actual dating begins things quickly calm down. If you are feeling nervous about beginning to date someone, please remind yourself that the thought may actually be scarier than the reality. The chances are that if you get along well, you will be back to yourself in no time. The first date or two can be a touch stressful, but everything becomes far more relaxed after that.

Sometimes the self-consciousness about being introverted feeds into the anxiety. There is no reason that should happen. Please understand that your being quiet is no deficiency in life or in dating. There is a myth out there that more outgoing people will be more successful at dating. I am still trying to figure out where this legend came from, but there is absolutely no basis for it. If anything, the reverse is true; more extroverted people – especially women – can find things more difficult.

Mostly, it makes no difference whether you are loud or quiet, introverted or extroverted. People with all types of personalities date and get married. People who look forward to dating or who find it intimidating all equally find a way to their wedding day. Each person has their personality, and it will appeal to different people. It is not a matter of whether one personality is more attractive, but rather a question of attractive to whom.

Be prepared and be open

Some people struggle to hold a conversation. It is not primarily due to shyness, although it may seem so. It is more that some people find it easier to give factual responses, and they are poor at elaborating. For almost all such people, it ceases to be an issue at later stages of dating, as the couple develop their own communication style. But it can be a problem at the outset of dating, as you struggle to establish a flow of conversation. If you are a person who is a seriously weak conversationalist, I would recommend you get practice before you start dating. It will significantly help with the first few dates, which is really what is necessary. If you get through the first two to three dates, this issue will rarely pose a problem.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is avoiding the topic. It just adds to the anxiety. Far better would be to figure out how you will bring up your anxiety. It will put the other person at ease and allow for you to be better understood. You could say something like, “I don’t know why, but I find the first couple of dates a little nerve-wracking. If I seem uncomfortable, it has nothing to do with you. I will become relaxed soon enough.” In saying this, you have addressed the “elephant in the room” and cleared the air, and you have reduced the possibility of being misjudged. You have also ensured the other person does not start to feel anxious – which will only feed your own anxiety.

Having said all this, there are people whose anxiety can reach paralyzing levels. They are capable of experiencing extreme nerves, or even going into a mild panic attack. If you are prone to extreme nerves or panic, it is important that you consult your doctor or another health specialist. There are all manner of products designed to help you through this. There are also practices that may help you, such as meditation and body-movement techniques. If this is a wider condition that is affecting you in other areas of your life, you should consult a psychologist. It is possible you have a mild anxiety disorder that can easily be treated. This will relieve you of a whole load of stress and allow you to better get on with your life.

Many people have challenges in dating or marriage. Some people are avoidant and have difficulty making a commitment. Other people are indecisive and are paralyzingly unsure of what they are looking for. The list is long. It may be that your challenge is that you are painfully shy or introverted. You are in no worse a position than the very large number of people who will face their difficulties on the path to lifelong happiness. Really, you will be just fine. Prepare yourself for the first few dates, and after that – if you are lucky enough to be dating someone compatible – any of your earlier concerns will seem like a distant memory.

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