A challenge that often presents itself while dating is the struggle to stay hopeful and grounded while pursuing our need or desire for a relationship. After, for instance, taking time out from dating due to a breakup or to work on ourselves, we often endeavour to stay calm. But as the online interactions and/or dates rack up, or we struggle to meet people full stop, anxiety creeps in. Throw in that we might feel pressure to meet someone soon, or secretly (or possibly openly) fear that we’re not ‘good enough’ or that we’re not going to meet somebody, and it all becomes too much. In this week’s episode of The Baggage Reclaim Sessions, I delve into the key sources of dating anxiety. And I explain why, ultimately, if we want to feel less anxious, we have to stop trying to control the outcome with our efforts.

Also, I mention in the episode that I will be in New York on March 16th. Drop in and say hi, meet other readers/listeners and hang out with me over a cuppa. Location: Le Pain Quotidien, 931 Broadway, New York, NY 10010 from 10-11.15am

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Some nuggets from the episode:

  • We must remember that we’re only human, and we’re not alone. It’s okay for us to want what we want. Problems arise, however, with the way we go about needing or wanting something.
  • We need interpersonal relationships to help us fulfil our needs, hence the importance of trust. Trust is a gamble. 
  • Consciously or not, we turn our pursuit of a relationship into a goal. And we attribute a time frame and set of efforts that we believe will lead to the desired outcome. Beneath our pursuit of a goal is a belief, also, that attaining our desire will satisfy certain needs. And yes, this might involve filling voids that romantic relationships aren’t intended for. Cue trying to control obtaining what we need/want with people pleasing, perfectionism and overthinking. Hence why we feel increasingly pressured, anxious and not ‘good enough’.

Knowing why we do what we do is vital because intentions impact outcomes. What we’re pursuing a relationship for impacts on how anxious and destabilised we feel as a result of dating or getting into a relationship. If we regard a potential partner as someone to make us whole, they’re our ‘oxygen supply’.

  • There’s also nothing to say that even if we do reach a goal, that we’ll do so happily. Achieving the outcome might not satisfy the need that we thought it would or there might be unintended consequences. Things might not look how we expected. This is very common with romantic relationships as well as work, education and even what we thought parenthood would be like.
  • We have two potential time frames that cause dating anxiety. There’s the age that we had in mind for being settled down by. Or there’s how long we think it should take for us to get into a relationship once we begin dating again. And it’s typically under a year for many people, as evidenced by how long it takes them to unravel into anxiety and become panicked about how long it’s going to take.
  • Workaholism, overexercise, etc., feels more manageable and ‘rewarding’… than having to deal with the uncertainties that pursuing a relationship presents. 
  • Someone could spend a year dating people they’ve met online, and not meet anyone that they could have a relationship with. Somebody else could walk into their new job, attend a party, or get chatting in line at the coffee shop tomorrow… and meet their life partner. How much ‘effort’ we put into dating has little bearing on outcome. Scary, but true. 
  • Good Girls/Guys who follow the rules and try to please and perfect all the time, don’t know what to do when efforts don’t change outcomes. It makes us feel out of control because we have to be vulnerable. We have to commit to our desire for a relationship without knowing every itty-bit step in between where we are now and the right relationship.

History, sacrifice, titles, service, how pleasing we’ve been, whether we were there first or last, how much fixing/healing/helping and changing we did — none of them build up the credits to make things go ‘our way’. And most people’s dating and relationship habits are based on the premise that efforts determines outcomes. 

  • We might put our efforts into the wrong people and situations, and it’s the right outcome when it doesn’t work out. 
  • Dating isn’t a ‘choose me’ kinda thing. That’s why so many people focus on efforts and time frame. The anxiety is an expression of the fear that this person they barely know, or who they do and they’re not the right person, won’t ‘pick’ them and help them hit the goal. There’s anxiety that their efforts to prove something about themselves or to make things go their way won’t be ‘enough’. Which isn’t what finding a loving partner is about. 
  • We’re too busy trying to find someone who will show that they appreciate our efforts by sticking around, playing their part, and ’paying us back’. 

Expecting so much of ourselves and our efforts is also what triggers so much anxiety. 

  • For many of us, it takes putting in that effort and either getting into the wrong relationship(s) or losing ourselves in the process to learn that the effort isn’t needed. 
  • It’s not a waste! A year, for example, dating and then tweaking and refining as we go so that we’re more discerning about compatibility and our needs is undoubtedly more productive than a year privately obsessing about how to date but not actually dating!
  • We have a tendency to be very all-or-nothing. If we don’t hit the goal in the way we pictured it, it’s regarded as a failure. We fail to recognise that we achieved and grew more than we would have done without having had that goal in the first place.
  • Get clear on what you need the relationship for. Sameness is a major clue that you keep trying to ‘get’ (or possibly avoid) the same thing. 
  • Identify the source of anxiety. Are you worried about the past or trying to predict the future? Does your approach to dating exacerbate or even create anxiety? Are you, for example, ignoring your intuition and needs?
  • Have an honest conversation with yourself about your dating and relationship efforts. Believe you’re not being given a chance despite how well you think a date went? Often feel unwanted or replaced? Feel panicked that you’re never going to meet anyone, or are you secretly resigned to it? These are all clues that you associate dating efforts with outcomes. 
  • So, what is it that you think that you need to be and do in order to meet someone? What do you feel that you have already done so far that is contributing to your current anxieties? Where do you feel unappreciated?

Links mentioned

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