Dating anxiety can affect the best of us - how to acknowledge and overcome your fears

Don't worry - you're not alone.

woman on bed with dating anxiety
(Image credit: Getty Images/Westend61)

Ever had that nauseating butterflies-in-stomach feeling pre a first date, started sweating and nervously Googling what to talk about on a first date? Yep, that's dating anxiety for you.

Even if you've been on several dates in your lifetime - and know that the worst that could happen is that you have nothing to talk about so make your excuses and leave - the build-up to the first time meeting someone IRL can be excruciatingly painful and downright anxiety-inducing. 

Just like making your dating profile stand out, knowing how to overcome dating anxiety is a fine art. But one that could drastically improve your love life, or so says relationship expert, psychotherapist and author of The Relationship Paradigm series, Neil Wilkie. Keep reading for your whistle-stop tour of curbing it - for good.

Oh, and don't miss our guides to dating advice for women, expert-led first date tips and advice on what to text after a first date, while you're here.

Dating anxiety: your complete guide 

What is dating anxiety?

Anxiety is defined as the persistent fear of being exposed to possible scrutiny, or fear that you may do something that will be humiliating or embarrassing, explains Wilkie. "Anxiety affects about 18% of the adult population, whereas dating anxiety, on the other hand, is specifically focused on one scenario," he shares.

"Because it is an important and unusual occasion, anxiety is likely to be much higher. It does have a peak - just before the first meeting - then should dissipate," he goes on.

"Dating is an important and possibly life changing event, so know this: some level of anxiety is normal," reassures the psychotherapist.

"There is the belief that you need to present as being perfect, look beautiful and saying all the right things, otherwise you will be rejected," he explains. "Understand that you will feel nervous and that this is OK."

It's actually super common - if you feel no anxiety, it might imply that you don't care or aren't ready to date. Got that?

Why do we experience dating anxiety?

A whole number of reasons that'll vary from person to person. 

"Anxiety is often rooted in previous bad relationships and attachment patterns in childhood," explains Wilkie. "Remember we cannot change the past, but we can change how we allow it to affect us in the future."

Dating anxiety symptoms: how to know you're experiencing it

The physiological feelings will be a racing heart, sweating and negative thoughts, explains the psychotherapist, but further than that, you'll also likely notice repetitive thought patterns.

Below are nine patterns you may experience, plus how to handle them:

couple dating anxiety

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. I’m not good enough

"This is wonderful self-sabotage," explains Wilkie.

Try this: Try instead telling yourself that you deserve a good relationship and allow yourself to have one. "There is someone in the world who will be what you want," he reassures.

2. They won’t like me

Considering pretending to be someone you're not to get on with a person? A word of warning - it's not the best idea.

Try this: It really is important to present yourself as the best version of you rather than pretending you are someone different. "If they don’t like you then that shows they are the wrong person for you. So much better to discover that on the first date than have to waste your time with the wrong person," he explains.

3. They won’t be anything like I thought

If this is the first time you have met face-to-face, that is very possible, he explains. "You may have spent time corresponding online and built up this image of your ideal, plus they may also have been less than honest with their profile."

Try this: If the gorgeous 35-year-old hunk turns out to be a 50-year-old man, then you have been missold and you need to give them some honest feedback. "If the pictures were flattering but the rest is as advertised, then explore a bit deeper to find if there is a possible connection," he explains.

4. There will be no chemistry

Did you know? We make intuitive judgements about a new acquaintance within less than a tenth of a second, shares Wilkie. "Those judgements can be wrong, and it may be helpful to park that judgement while exploring other aspects of the person," he recommends.

Try this: If it feels like you are on totally different planets, check what your head, your heart and your gut are telling you about them, the psychotherapist advises. "If they are all in agreement, then end the date gently and move on," he shares.

5. We won’t have anything in common

Know this: that is entirely possible and if you don’t, at least you will have found out the reality.

Try this: To find out if you do, ask open questions to understand their past and the future, Wilkie advises. Such as? "What are the experiences that formed you?" and "What are your dreams for the future?"

Bottom line - spend time listening to them and also ensure that you say enough about yourself to help them understand what is important to you.

6. It will be embarrassing

It could be embarrassing if you reveal too much about yourself to the wrong person or too little to the right one.

Try this: Ensure the first date is somewhere safe with other people around, and somewhere you can end it early if it isn't right.

For example, Wilkie explains that a 30 minute meeting over coffee allows you to walk away quickly if they are not right for you. "Or a long, expensive dinner with someone unsuitable could lead to one of you going to the toilet and escaping through the window...," he emphasises.

7. They will cross my boundaries

Worrying about if they want to hug or kiss you and you don't feel comfortable doing so?

Try this: "Take the lead and do what you feel comfortable with while giving them the opportunity to say no," he advises. "If you are unsure ask them; for example, ‘Is it ok to give you a hug or would you rather shake hands?’"

Our guide to the etiquette for kissing on a first date might come in handy. 

dating anxiety

(Image credit: Getty Images)

8. We won’t have anything to talk about

Trust that you will, shares the expert.

Try this: "Start with easy and innocuous conversation, such as "What have you been doing today?,"" he recommends. "Allow the conversation to flow gently as it will if you are both in tune."

9. I don’t deserve to meet anyone nice

Again, know this: you do. "Try and switch off the gremlin inside your head and question where those thoughts came from," suggests Wilkie.

Try this: Look for someone who will appreciate the wonderful person that you really are. "See it as a door opening," he shares. "And remember: Carpe Diem. Seize the day!"

5 tips for avoiding dating anxiety

1. Start with a positive affirmation

Just before the date, Neil advises looking at yourself in the mirror and giving yourself some positive affirmations.

Any work, but if you're stuck, try the following: "I am amazing and I deserve to be loved."

Read our guides to finding joy and self care ideas, while you're here.

2. Breathe

Simple but effective. "If you're nervous, practice deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation to calm yourself," he advises.

Breathwork training at the ready..

3. Write

The night before, do some free writing. Ever heard of it? "It simply means writing non-stop for 15 minutes," Neil explains.

"At the end of this time, take a ten-minute break and then read through what you have written. See what themes have emerged and then burn the papers. This is a way of getting rid of the clutter in your subconscious mind." he continues. 

Read what happened when one MC UK staffer tried journaling for anxiety, here. 

4. Set your intentions

Again, this won't take long, but it could change the course of your date.

"Set your intentions - for example, your main intention could be to have an interesting conversation. That can help to minimise any disappointment - you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince," Neil recommends.

5. Focus on the outcome

And finally, try and focus on the outcome that you want, not what could go wrong.

"Have real clarity on the life that you want in the future and how you will be feeling," he shares. "It might be helpful to get a large sheet of paper and some coloured pens. Draw two pictures, the first representing your life right now and the second being your ideal future. See what is different and what you need to do to get from the present to that future."

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.

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