Adapted from a recent online discussion.
HI, CAROLYN: I think online dating is a great idea in theory. But I have anxiety and the thought of spending a couple of hours with someone I don’t know is enough to give me the sweats. What if he’s weird? What if he thinks I’m weird? What if my anxiety makes me shaky and sweaty? What if I can’t talk at all? What if there’s no chemistry? What if he’s a serial killer? The logical part of my brain knows none of these things matter (unless he really is a serial killer) and if it doesn’t work out we’ll both just move on with our lives.
But my anxiety will not be mollified. I’ve been single for an embarrassing length of time. I’ve been chatting with someone online who I look forward to meeting but the anxiety persists. I’m in therapy but the meeting will most likely happen before my next appointment (and her answer to everything is to meditate). Do you have any advice or words of comfort?
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DEAR ONLINE DATER: I have advice of comfort.
▪ “[T]he thought of spending a couple of hours with someone … give[s] me the sweats”: Hours?! No. Hour, or less. Coffee or a drink to start, and have something you must attend afterward. Make it clear you’ll meet at X o’clock, but just a quick date because you have to be at Y by Z o’clock.
▪ “What if he’s weird?” Everybody’s weird. They’re just better or worse at managing it.
▪ “What if he thinks I’m weird?” See above.
▪ “What if [I’m] shaky and sweaty?” Then shake and sweat. What can you do? The alternative is not to date, and you apparently don’t want that, so, there it is. You’ll shake and sweat less on each successive date. It’s just a learning curve like any other.
▪ “What if there’s no chemistry?” Then you have a bad time. For 30 minutes. (See No. 1.) You’ll manage.
▪ “What if he’s a serial killer?” Take reasonable precautions: Meet in public, tell friends where you’ll be, use your own transportation, read or reread “The Gift of Fear.” And, trust that “stranger danger” is overhyped.
▪ “[I]f it doesn’t work out we’ll both just move on with our lives.” Yes. The near anonymity of online dating makes this more likely.
None of this is intended as persuasion. If you don’t like online dating, then don’t do it. As an alternative, push yourself to meet people in group-oriented contexts. Proximity helps us make friends more than anything else. So, think of the things you enjoy, are good at, feel passionate about — and then look for groups that meet frequently based on those interests. Shared activities ease self-consciousness. Your chances of hitting it off with people (even just new friends) are much higher when you’re comfortable, so let your comfort be your guide.
RE: ONLINE DATING: I have high levels of anxiety, and met several fantastic guys online, including my husband. Prepare for the awkward phase by reading The Post, watching Sports Center or “30 for 30,” and skimming People magazine for relatively safe topics of conversation.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Preparation is calming, thanks.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.