How to Cope with First-Date Anxiety Part I (expanding on my Interview with Georgia Straight with a clinical twist)

First dates can be scary. I know, because I’ve been there with you – in therapeutic spirit, of course! – on your first dates or at least soon after when you report to me every juicy detail of your encounter in either complete exhilaration or utter demoralization.

During the height of the pandemic, making a first impression on virtual or socially-distanced outdoor dates (for those of you who abided by health restrictions) can seem less intimidating with the aid of filters, lights, masks, and all that fancy jazz. Now that BC Restart Plan is underway and restrictions are gradually lifting, many potential daters out there are itching to get back into the game. Unfortunately, the panic and worries that come with meeting a new person and inspiring their romantic and/or sexual interest in you did not catch COVID-19 and die off but are coming back with a vengeance now that people’s appetite for social contact have become voraciously whetted by the prolonged isolation. For those of you who were among the anxiety-stricken before 2020 and who found solace behind structured health guidelines, closed doors, virtual distance, and/or protective facial coverings, the thought of putting on makeup or your best naked face forward without masks again can be daunting, especially since it seems with the lift of each restriction returns one more thing that will be out of your control.

Fear not, my fellow clients (or future potentials)! Echoing my interview last year with Georgia Straight, I will attempt to “help you re-enter the realm of dating with confidence” once again in 2021 by reviewing some of the tips I had previously provided albeit with a clinical twist:

#1: Take the initiative and plan out the date

While taking into consideration your date’s preferences, try to pick out aspects of the date that you can plan yourself to prevent that complete loss of control in a spontaneous date. Aside from suggesting the venue, for example, do a time-estimation and mentally prepare yourself to devote your attention and focus on your date for that period of time. Although it may sound rather off-putting to have to consider length of time in date planning as it is simply so sexy to know your hot date is planning to meet and court you in 2 hours on one predetermined Saturday evening, it is an important consideration for individuals such as those with state and/or trait anxiety, ADHD, ASD, or social inhibition, who may experience distress when situated in unstructured and unfamiliar environments or who may need to plan out their medication to include the timeframe of the date or outside of it. You will not come across as disrespectful to your date if you identify and prepare for elements that may potentially trigger you to end the date prematurely – in case that it does go well mutually. No, this detail is not exactly part of the thrilling first date you’d want to have that ends with you both mesmerized in gory details about each other’s political stance while completely oblivious to the rising sun, but it is an important element to consider if you do have different needs.

Remember that your mental-health professional would be able to help you learn self-soothing strategies in moments of panic when you step out of your window of tolerance, role-play/practice if you are working towards building social skills, or guide you to do CBT-based behavioral experiments to reduce your maladaptive thoughts.

#2: Remember Your Boundaries

I remember my attempts to network and befriend other professionals while I was still barely out of school. Being the stupid student that I was, I did not realize that I was being asked out by a family and youth counsellor from MCFD when I requested him to “network for purposes of having mutual referrals.” During what he thought was our first date, he shared ardently and in explicit details his grievances about his “emotionally-immature” ex and his amazing counsellor with a mullet who has helped him with his personal childhood trauma. He then interrogated me about my dating and personal mental-health history before bewailing his disappointment about how I must be some sort of emotionally-unavailable prude when I declined to share my romantic past or admit that I have psychological scars. His reasoning: “everyone has trauma and we grow by overcoming it.” Needless to say, I was horrified to hear that he took pride being able to get the kids he worked with to literally tell him everything as quickly as possible so that he could start “helping” immediately and even becoming friends with the older teenagers with whom he would text often. Although sharing and disclosure are an important part of first dates to promote openness and engagement, revealing personal and intimate details of this level are highly inappropriate and demonstrate a lack of proper boundaries. Even in therapy, we do not encourage clients to commit emotional seppuku and spill their entire guts out to us in the first session, especially if there is unresolved trauma involved, as it risks, for example, re-traumatizing the client and premature termination of therapy if they become too overwhelmed. In addition, not all personal disclosure promotes adjustment and closeness. I have plenty of client stories about how they become emotionally involved too quickly with people who share their past traumas, thinking that the “vulnerability” would bring them closer and connected; unfortunately, more often is the case that these types of relationships that are built on shared trauma do not move forward in a healthy way. A client of mine with whom I have been working on boundary-setting used to lament about how they seem to always “attract traumatized men” who would disclose their past abuse and trauma right on their first date. Feeling sympathetic or empathetic, they then try to help the men only to felt resentful later that they have become “the therapist” in the relationship. The lesson in this section about boundaries? Share enough to show that you are also a human with tender emotions and/or cute awkward moments to promote openness and relatability, such as your love of dogs for being your faithful companion that never judged you for your passion for Hannah Montana during your formative years; on the other hand, do avoid divulging the fact that you come with decades of psychological scars and need someone supportive of your constant anxiety and who will lull you back to sleep when you jolt yourself awake at night with guilty nightmares about your ex who killed herself. Please reserve this detail for our therapy date, and not for your actual date!

Stay tuned for Part II of my expansion on my 2020 interview on dating anxiety with Georgia Straight. For additional professional assistance to help you present your best self forward on romantic dates, free free to contact me. I look forward to supporting you in whatever stage you are in your life 🙂

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