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I hear from so many people who feel triggered and anxious when they contemplate trying online dating or going back to it. They often worry about getting hurt, scammed, wasting their time and yes, making the same dating mistakes they did before. But you don’t have to be so afraid of online dating if you get grounded. Here are twelve tips to help you manage your fear of online dating.

1. Go and try it out.

All sitting around worrying about online dating does is trigger anxiety. And the thing about overthinking is that it doesn’t truly prepare you for the reality of taking action. One of the pandemic side effects is that video dates have essentially become screeners for that initial ‘vibe’. In the past, people relied on texts and chats and read way too much into words. Remember, though, online dating apps and sites introduce you to people. You’re not literally ‘dating’. This helps you to keep things in perspective.

2. Be discerning and avoid going for similar types to the past.

While it might seem like online dating is a free-for-all, dating requires the discernment of what I call The Recruiter Mindset. You’re not for everyone, and everyone isn’t for you. Dating is a discovery phase. Notice your biases, especially if you tend to be drawn to and trusting of the same painful and disappointing ‘type’.

3. Assume nothing even if they’ve told you a whole load of stuff in chats or on their profile.

Getting to know someone takes time and experience. It’s not that everyone lies, but people describe themselves on dating sites/apps how they want to be perceived, not how they are. The context–chatting online, texting, socially-distanced walk, video chats, going on a date–alters behaviour. Consciously or not, romantic situations cause us to focus on coming across a certain way. This is our personality, not character. The real getting-to-know doesn’t start until you’re in the flesh and even then, it takes time to get a sense of someone’s character and intentions. People unfold. That said, you can quickly see the code red behaviour and issues if you pay attention in the early stages.

4. Don’t accept bullshit and shady behaviour. Flush fast.

There are five stages of relationships. At stage 0 and 1, where online dating takes place, being boundaried and yourself, including being honest and self-aware, is pivotal. This is where you set out your proverbial stall, and either show up for your intentions and values or go against yourself. If you don’t accept bullshit and shady behaviour while online dating, you weed out the people who aren’t going to respect your boundaries. Second-guessing, denying, rationalising, excusing and minimising during stages 0 and 1 is a code red alert.

Any problems experienced further along in a relationship have their basis in code amber and red behaviour and issues that first showed themselves at stages 0 and 1. Basically, if you’re self-doubting and feeling coerced or bulldozed in any way, flush.

5. Don’t try to make a relationship with everyone.

Again, be discerning. No ‘auditioning’. Compatibility requires shared core values and your emotional needs being met. If everyone has the potential to be The One and you fall in love with them all, you’re in love with being in love, with avoiding being alone, not the person.

6. Be clear (with yourself) about what you want so that you don’t get sidetracked by sex and flattery.

Begin with the end in mind. That means if you want to meet people with a view to eventually being in a relationship, decline anything and anyone that’s not a fit. Figure out what is and isn’t permissible for you and stick to it. If you don’t sext with people you’re not in a relationship with, then don’t do it with the person you met on Tinder thirty minutes ago.

7. Decide if you’re wearing your ‘sex hat’ or ‘relationship hat’.

If all you want is sex, that’s your sex hat–and that’s fine. But if you’re looking for a relationship, own it and put on your relationship hat. Intentions, including unconscious and conflicting ones, dictate your behaviour and the outcome. While sex is a part of relationships, prioritising it puts you in a very different mode. There are questions you won’t ask and things you quite simply won’t notice because you’re not looking for them. Also, if you can’t handle the emotional consequences of sex and you feel ‘ripped off’ if sex doesn’t turn into a relationship, park the sex hat and put on the relationship one.

8. No introducing them to your child until you have begun a relationship and started to get a real sense of them.

It’s easy to argue that you don’t want to get ‘too attached’ if they’re not into kids or your child doesn’t like them. Thing is, though, if you find dating confusing, how must a child feel about a new person coming into their life? Check out my tips for dating as a single parent.

9. There can be horror stories with online dating, but this is less likely to happen if you take.your.time.

If you move too fast, you miss code amber and red alerts. Slow your roll. Some people jump into relationships and then belatedly realise the commitment that’s involved. If you don’t allow anyone, including yourself, to fast-forward you through the crucial early stages of dating, you can date with healthy boundaries.

10. No intensity, and if it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is.

Look, I know we tend to be flattered when someone who’s barely known us a hot minute seems so enamoured and promises us the sun, moon, stars and a field full of ponies. Intensity isn’t the same as intimacy, though. I know it might feel and seem like romance, but it’s faux intimacy. That, and why are you letting yourself get sucked in by a rando you just met? Also, if you start texting/chatting up a storm even though you haven’t met or barely know each other, you will experience texting anxiety. The moment they miss an emoji or don’t text at the usual time or reply fast enough, you will freak out.

11. Use dating apps and sites that require more legwork.

If there’s a low barrier to entry to a dating app/site, you get a mix of everyone. While it’s not a guarantee, a dating site/app with more hoop-jumping due to the level of detail required, subscription fee, and any checks and balances to protect the safety of its users, tends to weed out the ones who want to ‘hit it and quit it’.

12. Possibly try going to a local dating event.

Some dating events offer a mix of intros online followed by an in-person event. See what’s on offer in your local area. Obviously, depending on where you are, this might not be possible given this bloody pandemic.

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