Ready to date? Wanting connection? Feeling lonely from the isolation of the pandemic? Whether you’re ready to begin dating virtually or in person, dating can bring up a bit of anxiety. On the other hand, dating—when done with a positive mindset and healthy dating skills—can improve your mood and even improve your overall mental health!
Dating Can Boost Your Mood
Dating, when approached with a healthy mindset that includes intentional goals, can certainly boost mental health. For example, those who are lonely and feeling depressed often feel much better when they reach out to date virtually or in person. In fact, if a friends-first approach is adopted, dating can be a wonderful way to build new relationships that can—if all works out well—lead to long-term romantic relationships.
Face Your Dating Anxiety
Many people feel very anxious about the complex world of dating. Especially with the pandemic, it’s normal to feel a bit stressed and anxious about the prospect of dating. Yet, now is the perfect time to slow down and learn to date intentionally; it’s important to date in ways—and at a pace—that feels right to you.
Dating can feel less stressful when you move slowly and tune into what you really want in a relationship.
Pre-pandemic, many people felt pressured by the fast, overwhelming nature of the dating world and the pressure to move quickly. Now’s the time to give yourself permission to date in a more relaxed, intentional way! Your anxiety will tend to be much lower if you are patient with yourself. Ask a friend or loved one to support you as you stick your toes in the often-scary waters of the digital dating world; having nonjudgmental support can ease anxiety and boost self-confidence.
Given the pandemic, keeping dating virtual during the initial getting-to-know-you process is ideal. To protect oneself and others, staying virtual is the wisest (and safest) route. However, once a solid relationship has started—especially if both people know that they are COVID-free and safely within a contained “bubble”—moving to safe, in-person dates can be both comforting and healthy. That said, even post-pandemic, give yourself permission to date virtually if that feels right! A virtual date will be made special by “setting the stage” as you would for an in-person date. From putting on attractive clothing, lighting a candle, and (virtually) sharing a meal, cup of tea, or snack, an online date can be almost as romantic as an in-person date.
If you’re worried that you’ll be pressured into meeting in person before you’re ready, practice saying “no” in the mirror! When a person you are talking with does not respect your boundaries virtually, chances are they’ll be disrespectful in the long run. One of the benefits of online dating is the ability to discuss such issues with a pressure-oriented person before meeting in person. If a person isn’t willing to honor a request to move more slowly and respectfully, this is a serious “red flag” issue that should be given careful consideration.
And, if you decide you’re ready to meet in person, remember to put your health and safety first! Deciding to meet in person for a date can be done safely if both people have had very recent negative COVID tests and are practicing safe social distancing. Wearing masks, meeting outdoors, and avoiding physical contact is the safest route for an in-person date. Although these practices can sometimes feel awkward, they do set the stage for showing mutual consideration and thoughtful boundaries.
Try a Socially Distant First Date
It’s entirely possible—and often quite interesting—to have a socially distant first date in person. When people take the time to have a straightforward discussion in advance about social distancing needs and expectations, an in-person first date can be very smooth. When mindful advance discussions take place, worries and anxiety can be substantially reduced. Worries tend to crop up when safety issues and protocols are not discussed—and agreed to—prior to meeting in person.
Breaking the Ice and Connecting Authentically
It’s important to be your genuine self when dating online or virtually. And, if you’re feeling anxious or scared, it’s absolutely appropriate to share that information with your date. Honesty and thoughtful, appropriate self-disclosure are terrific icebreakers. Asking thoughtful questions about another person’s dreams—being truly curious—is also a wonderful way to get to know someone. Dreams can include travel plans, career ideals, and hobby goals.
Thinking of a Second Date
After your first date, you might be wondering if it’s worth moving forward. If you’re not sure, pause to consider the positive (and not-so-positive) elements of the first date. Positive signs during a first date include a natural spark of chemistry, healthy communication (including good listening), displays of kindness, and respectful behavior. Of course, discovering that there is a natural sense of ease and authenticity is a terrific sign. Sometimes, however, you might feel uneasy about the outcome and wonder if you should move in another direction. In general, it’s important to be aware of “red flags,” such as judgmental attitudes, disrespectful behavior, communication issues (such as constant interruptions), a self-focused attitude, and any signs of dishonesty!
You are a valuable, wonderful human being who deserves to enjoy a healthy, fulfilling relationship! If you’d like to dive a bit deeper into tips and tools for creating healthy love relationships, you’ll enjoy my new book Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly. It’s the best-friend-in-a-book that every dater really needs.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a practicing clinical psychologist, author, and speaker, uses a mindfulness-based approach that is rooted in neurobiology. Dr. Manly’s passion is helping others discover joy, balance, and optimal wellness from the inside out.