Dating can be really stressful — like, really, super, mega, uber, big-time anxiety-provoking. But why is dating so stressful? What is it about it, exactly, that converts someone who is normally pretty chill into a ball of nerves? And why is it that this happens to most of us — but not everyone?
I asked these questions of a group of dating and relationship experts, who all agreed on the fact that going on dates and meeting new people definitely is stressful, though they all had slightly different takes as to why that is. Though we could all take a gander at the reasons behind such strife — it’s hard to meet new people, it’s hard to put yourself out there, everyone has a little social anxiety from time to time — it was refreshing to hear the psychological causes behind those feelings of unease that many of us likely have before, during, and even after dates.
For starters, expectations can be a huge culprit, because feeling like you “should” get a certain result from dates pretty much always sets you up for failure (or at least disappointment) later on down the line. Here are 11 reasons why dating is so stressful — and things to keep in mind while you dive into the dating pool.
1. Expectations Suck
“Erroneous expectations create all the havoc in dating,” certified relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca tells Bustle. “When we approach dating with a bunch of ‘should’ rules, we set ourselves up for disappointment and stress.” Sedacca gives a host of “shoulds” that will all make you feel miserable in the long run. Never tell yourself, she says, that your date should “call me at least 3 times a week; text me daily; have a Master's Degree; make at least $100,000 a year; let me know [s/]he wants to be exclusive after X months; pay for all dates; remember my birthday without being told,” and “on and on” from there.
In other words, just show up and let the rest of it unfold. If you have rules, they’ll be broken, which will lead to unhappiness, she says. “We fail to understand these are our rules,” she says — which means that our dates have “no idea they exist, or they may not make sense. Calling these expectations “unrealistic,” she encourages letting go of expectations altogether to avoid stress and unnecessary hurt feelings.
2. You Can Forget To "Date Smart"
“If you aren’t dating smart and expect to find a great partner, re-adjust those expectation,” New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. “You’re only going to succeed if you date smart.” By “dating smart,” she means looking for someone who really will be a great match — not just jumping into something with someone who’s hot, but doesn’t share your interests, or someone who makes you laugh, but has zero free time for a relationship.
“Know yourself, then choose wisely, and date for the goals you have — whether they’re long- or short-term,” she says.
3. Vulnerability Is Hard
“Being vulnerable is one of the hardest things we have to do in life,” life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. “It's tough to put yourself out there on display for people to view, judge or pick apart.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you’re going out on dates regularly — except it’s even more extreme most of the time. “In order to really see if we like someone else, we have to be vulnerable," she says. "They need to be able to see our authentic selves, and not everyone will like it.”
So you feel a sense of stress. “The fear of rejection is typically lurking in the back of our minds, making dating even more sensitive,” she says. “It's normal to feel stressed out, but the key is to continue to leave into our vulnerability and remind ourselves that not everyone has to like us and we don't have to like everyone — it only takes one person to take us out of the game.” In the meantime, be vulnerable. It won’t kill you, and it’ll feel better to be genuine anyway.
4. It Can Throw You Off Center
“Dating leaves you in a state of disequilibrium,” psychologist Nicole Martinez, who is the author of eight books, including The Reality of Relationships , tells Bustle. “You are learning where you stand, you are getting to know the person, at times you are going to feel like you are not doing things right or reading the person right.” So you’re going home to second-guess yourself constantly, which feels good approximately never.
“This can create frequent and elevated levels of stress,” she says. And it can actually cause physical symptoms. “This can make the person anxious and panicky, it can raise blood pressure, and cause a multitude of health issues,” Martinez says. “People need to learn to trust themselves, or at least their ability to make things right if something goes wrong, and to be able to communicate their way through their issues or misunderstandings.” If you can do that, you’re golden — or, at very least, you have a better shot at being calm through it all.
5. Fear Of The Unknown Is Real
“You’re dealing with a lot of unknowns,” Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. “People who are dating often spend a lot of time worrying about what the date thinks of them.” Of course, it’s easy to say that you should just not worry about such things, but we all know it’s not possible to shut off anxious thoughts like that one.
“Also, you may be reliving past relationships, especially the hurtful parts, and fearing that you’ll get hurt again,” she says. If at all possible, remind yourself that you’re dating in order to have a new experience, and try to remember that the person across the table from you on a date is nervous too.
6. You’re Participating In An Ancient Survival Tactic
“Dating is stressful because it's survival-based,” zen psychotherapist and neuromarketing strategist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. Back in the day, “we had to choose a mate that was not only strong and savvy to help us stay alive, but also that we had chemistry with, to ensure that they didn't ditch us for another nut- and berry-gatherer,” she says. Well, when you put it like that! Though Paiva acknowledges that these concerns stem from the (very distant) past, “our reptilian brains still are a part of our development and make up,” she says.
“We still dress to impress, we still nest in our homes for comfort, we still like to get relationship help and we still want the most chemistry-laden, smart, savvy and strong partner.” That’s all well and good, but in the meantime — before you find said partner — the waiting and wondering is super stressful.
7. Dating Is Like A Series Of Job Interviews
“[Dating feels] like judgment, like we always have to be ‘on,’ the chronic fear of rejection always looming — it's like going on a very personal job interview every day,” Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist , tells Bustle. “The stakes are also very high — if it doesn't work, a person can feel like she is going to be alone forever,” she says. And you can feel as though your every move is being dissected, or like you’re “under the microscope,” she says.
“Anytime we feel we cannot be our real selves, it is stressful, and, sadly, while dating, lots of people will often put on a more aspirational persona.” Try doing as Rogers suggested and being as genuine and authentic as possible. You’ll be happier — and decidedly less stressed.
8. Dating Can Feel Like A Test
Anytime you take a test, you might fail, so that causes stress right there. “People put too much pressure on themselves when it comes to dating,” relationship coach and psychic medium Cindi Sansone-Braff, author of Why Good People Can't Leave Bad Relationships , tells Bustle. “They endlessly obsess about it beforehand, worrying about what to wear, where to go, what to say or not say.” If you’re doing this, you’re only human — but it doesn’t feel good.
“You can drive yourself mad with the endless list of what ifs: What if he doesn't like me? What if she turns out to not be my type? What if something goes wrong? What if I say something stupid?” If at all possible, try to stop what-if-ing yourself.
“If people would just lighten up and go out in the dating world with a positive attitude and a sense of adventure, the whole thing could seem a lot more fun and a lot less daunting,” she says. “Cut yourself and your date a little slack, and vow to make the most of the evening.”
9. Meeting New People Is Stressful
“Whenever we meet someone new, your body responds with a higher vibration of excitement and even joy,” relationship coach and psychic medium Melinda Carver tells Bustle. “You twist yourself into a pretzel to make yourself shine, to put your best foot forward to ensure that someone will like you. It is the hopefulness of the possibilities with each new date that make you anxious. This anxiety lowers your energy vibrations and it also causes stress to build.”
Whatever causes the stress, it manifests in ways that are hard to control. “You want this date to like you, to be attracted to you and to enjoy their time with you so you can be asked out for the next date.” That’s a lot to manage all at once.
Carver suggests that you keep your cool by staying as calm as possible through simple steps, like remembering to breathe and say your favorite affirmation to yourself before you meet your date. "When you worry the entire time on whether or not your date likes you, that energy turns into a desperate “Please like me!” instead of “I’m a great gal, so enjoy this evening with me!” Obviously the second one will work out better than the first.
10. Texting And Dating Apps Can Cause Undue Stress
“Dating is becoming more and more stressful because singles aren’t sure about anything right now,” Salama Marine, psychologist and online dating expert for dating website EliteSingles, tells Bustle. “Because of texting, because of smartphones, because of all the dating apps — it’s more difficult to digest it all.” No one picks up the phone anymore, so there’s no real protocol to follow, which means you just have to hope for the best.
“There are no rules anymore,” she says. “Just because you set up a date, it doesn’t mean that it will happen — you can cancel it with a simple text. And just because you met someone and had an amazing time, it doesn’t mean that the dating story will continue.”
Too true. “Nowadays, every single knows how easily they can be replaced or disposed of: With just a swipe, your crush can meet someone else from one day to another,” Marine says. “And the singles themselves are probably doing exactly the same, so they know too well that it could happen to them. These are the perfect conditions to make you feel less self-confident and to turn dating into a very stressful situation.” If you can, try not to take it too seriously — and wait to attach feelings to someone until you’re further into a relationship.
11. Nothing Is Certain
“A new romantic relationship is exciting, fun and scary,” Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. “We always hope that someone is the person we think they are, but sometimes you learn so much about someone in the first few months that you realize that they aren't for you long-term.” In the interim, that feeling of being unsure is anxiety-provoking.
“Having the highs and lows of meeting someone new can make you feel so happy at one moment and very disappointed the next,” she says. “Since nowadays we date so many more people, it can be hard to deal with the constant ups and downs that dating requires.” Try to just show up and see what happens. As many experts said, expectations are the enemy — and open-mindedness is your friend.
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