If it’s been an entire year since the last time you slipped into a nice outfit, exited your apartment, and conversed with other human beings, then it only stands to reason why you feel anxious about dating again in person.
“Socialization is a learned skill and we all have had a year break,” Drew Rabidoux, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, tells Bustle. 2020 was the year of the Zoom call, as well as the year for hunkering down and watching Netflix for hours (and hours) on end. So if you feel rusty when it comes to holding a conversation, making jokes — or even making eye contact — allow yourself time to adjust. As the world begins to open back up, Rabidoux says, we’ll all have to re-learn these skills.
Of course, it’s also natural to feel anxious about your health, seeing as the pandemic isn’t over. While restrictions are being lifted in many areas, it isn’t always 100% clear which activities push the limits of safety. This uncertainty can add a whole extra layer of anxiety, and rightfully so. There are, however, ways to take precautions as you ease back into the dating scene. Here, a few tips that may help if you’re nervous about dating in person.
Meet Up With Friends First
If you have a hot date on the horizon, but haven’t talked to a person face-to-face in months, see if a friend would be down to hang out with you first. “This will break the ice and get you used to being social,” Rabidoux says.
Even if it’s something simple, like getting together for dinner or a movie, it’ll help shake the dust off your conversation skills. Once you start socializing again, Rabidoux says, the idea of chatting on a date won’t seem as scary.
Video Call With Your Date
Take your newfound Zoom skills and call your date before meeting up. “This is a great way to hear someone's voice, see them, and get a feel for whether or not it may be a good fit,” Valentina Setteducate, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle.
If the call goes well, your anxiety might even blow over, especially if you find out they’re just as nervous. That can be a great opportunity to be fully honest about how you’re feeling — and maybe even bond (or fall in love?) over mutual awkwardness.
Lay Down Some Ground Rules
Another way to ease anxiety is to get clear on the “rules” for your date — such as whether you’ll stay outside or go inside, hug or kiss, take off your masks when it’s just the two of you, etc. — well before you meet up.
That way, Rabidoux says, you can go into the date without having to worry about broaching a tough or potentially uncomfortable subject. Instead, you can fully focus on getting to know each other, without wondering how or when to interrupt the conversation to announce boundaries.
Get Your Health Questions Answered
If your head is awash with health-related questions, in particular, go ahead and ask your date if they’ve been vaccinated — or whatever else is on your mind. “Talking about Covid-19 and vaccinations is just like any other health subject,” Sasha Jackson, MSW, LCSW, a licensed therapist who specializes in anxiety, tells Bustle. It definitely should be talked about, she says, but at the right time and place, such as that initial Zoom call.
Give Yourself A Pep Talk
“When we have constant interaction with others we build confidence from the social feedback we receive,” Jackson says. “When we are not socially active we can tend to overthink and analyze if we are fitting in, if people like us, or if we are being judged — which makes dating difficult.”
So if you’ve asked all your questions, laid the ground rules, and still feel on edge about holding a conversation with a real human person, give yourself a pep talk. “Make a list of reasons why they want to go on the date with you and what you have to offer,” she says. “This can help you block out negative thoughts that make you feel anxious.”
Don’t Rush Back Into Dating
All of that said, if the idea of grabbing a coffee with one of your Tinder matches still sounds overwhelming, don’t push yourself. “Remember that you don't have to date if it doesn't feel right,” Rabidoux says. After spending a year in quarantine, it may take a while longer to work up the nerve to go on a date. And that’s OK.
Drew Rabidoux, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker
Sasha Jackson, MSW, LCSW, licensed therapist
Valentina (Tina) Setteducate, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist