A little nervousness in the dating process is normal but what about anxiety? In making sense of what makes a Creep, guys with anxiety that affects their dating life fare pretty close to the worst. Just like Socially Awkward Guys who think they get called creepy just for being socially awkward, in the minds of many Anxious Guys, the Creep label is basically women’s punishment for daring to like them while having anxiety.
We’re going to get uncomfortably real for a second here. Often times anxiety can really hurt your dating success in a number of different ways. Many people are turned off by it because it can raise the stakes of a date to uncomfortable levels. (More on that later.) But on the flipside, what everybody else needs to understand is that anxiety is also not fun. It sucks and a person who is anxious is probably not willfully insisting on being so. Anxiety is not your fault…..but can it make you creepy or otherwise be the final nail in the coffin of a date’s success?
The answer is “yes”. That is, if you handle it the wrong way. Here are some wrong ways:
1. Not getting treatment when you need it.
Many people, men especially, tend to see anxiety as a personal weakness to be overcome with willpower rather than a health issue that needs treatment by a professional. It’s just mind over matter and the answer is to just go out there and get over it and stop being a big ol’ whiny baby. On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who believe that until you see a mental health professional and are 100% free and cured of any anxiety whatsoever, you shouldn’t even bother with burdening and freaking out others by attempting to date. While I’m not in the “Stay in the Therapy Bell Tower Where No One Else Has to Look at You” camp, you don’t reduce anxiety by trying to convince yourself that you don’t have it.
2. Using dating as treatment for your anxiety.
I’m not saying it’s never appropriate to face your fears and learn to deal with anxiety provoking situations first-hand. In many cases in addition to therapy and/or medication it’s an eventual step in dealing with this sort of anxiety. What I’m talking about here is hurling yourself headlong into the dating world with little to no preparation or forethought and thinking that this alone will get rid of your anxiety around dating.
3. Being too self-conscious/focusing on worry
Anxiety has this way of making us fixate on making sure we do All The Right Things. Dating should not feel like defusing a bomb. An oops here and there is usually a lot more okay than you think. In the moment self-consciousness may seem like merely due caution or harmless ambition but in date settings, this kind of perfectionism can lead to stilted awkwardness and often creepiness.
“But how? I’m trying so hard!” you ask.
Self-consciousness at its extreme blinds you to the effects of your actions. You may be following the instructions in your head to a T not missing a word from the script you wrote beforehand, but your attention is not where it should be—which is on your (prospective) date. How are you supposed to read their cues of discomfort, disinterest, or even enjoyment and interest for that matter, if you’re so narrowly focused on only doing Right Things? In cases where this makes you accidentally creepy, this can be particularly disheartening. After all, the painstaking blueprint for this was written up to avoid this. It can seem like even though you did everything “perfectly” you’re still a creep and nobody will ever love you, where all that was needed was a little shift of focus. And it cuts both ways.
True story. Once I was at an event with a female acquaintance of mine and I was making sure I did All The Right Things. So fixated was I on not being too forward, I hadn’t noticed at all how forward she was being. I barely noticed that she did not stop touching me the entire night and that at points where we were standing, her body was nearly in full contact with mine. Everybody else knew what was going on. As one friend who witnessed this described the scene to me after the fact, “She practically crammed you up her ass!“. But my take in the moment was “But reacting in kind will make me break my jerkbrain’s rules! And if I break those Bad Things will happen! It’s a trap!” So there I was worried to death of offending and creeping out someone I probably could have taken home that night. Don’t be me.
4. Using one date to prove to yourself that you’re over it.
This one can be tough to get around. Obviously, if you have anxiety around dating, at some point your goal, even if it’s only a personal goal, is going to be to have a successful date. That is fair. What isn’t fair is staking your self-esteem on achieving this goal on THIS PARTICULAR DATE RIGHT NOW with THIS PERSON. This changes this date from being just a date to being a referendum on your self-concept and The Thing that’s supposed to make you Okay now. Not only is this putting extra pressure on you, but it’s also putting an unfair amount of pressure on your date who as far as they knew were only on just a date. They didn’t sign up for something as high-stakes as this.
A similar idea that ties in with #2 is that once you finally “get it right”, getting a date that later becomes a girlfriend, the anxiety you had around dating will magically vanish because after all, you know how to do it now, right? Any person with this sort of anxiety who has been in relationships before will tell you that this is not true. The reason why this is not true is the same reason why you shouldn’t bet your entire concept of yourself, your desirability and your anxiety management on one date. There are far too many variables that are outside your control that have no bearing on your worth as a person or even on whether you’re managing your anxiety well enough. Additionally, it’s also unfair to your date to hold them responsible for “saving” you from your anxiety. Which brings me to…
5. Expecting your date to manage your anxiety for you
This happens in a variety of ways and not always on purpose or from the start. A common way this creeps up (no pun intended) is when a person is stuck in an anxious-about-being-anxious loop. As a way to break the cycle,they might say to their date “Sorry if I do [awkward thing]. I’m really nervous.” Or “I do have anxiety, so I might do [thing].”. There. The pressure is released somewhat now that there’s nothing to hide and the fact that their date isn’t already put off by the possibility of anxiety expressing itself, the real thing might not be so bad either. This is fine until…
Date: I don’t think this is gonna work out.
Anxious Person: HOW could you DO THAT TO ME?!! Don’t you know I have ANXIETY?!?!?!”
And there it is.
Mind you, there is nothing wrong with disclosing your anxiety to your date. It often serves as a helpful heads-up for when you might do something that might otherwise seem odd if there were no explanation for it. This helps avoid creepage. What’s really not cool and sends a flood of creepiness back into your date situation is when you use the disclosure of your anxiety to put the onus on your date to make sure that it goes well, that they appear to be enjoying themselves and that it leads to more dates and eventually a commited relationship (and so on)—even if the date is going terribly, you have no chemistry, they’re having a miserable time and they don’t really like you that much. It’s like giving a mouse a cookie, except not cute and really stressful and annoying.
And you can only hope that your date is cold-hearted enough to nip this in the bud, lest you be unwittingly led on by someone who felt obligated and sorry for you.
Here comes the scary part. Men and women alike know that when someone places such high stakes on a date, there’s a good chance they might not want to let go if it turns out the feelings aren’t mutual. Here there be stalkings and harrassings, emotional blackmailings and the creepers always creeping. I’m not saying everybody with anxiety does these things, but people are right to be on alert about them with people they don’t know well.
6. Getting your goals confused
One way this surfaces is in the idea that anxiety is the One Thing in the way of getting the partner of your dreams. In other words the belief that anxiety is why people of your preferred gender don’t seem to like you and if only you could rid yourself of your wretched anxiety, you could have anyone you wanted and you’d have no difficulties in dating ever again. The End.
Not so. Again with the variables. Sure, for some folks anxiety might be a dealbreaker. Some people might be really skeeved out when their date looks the least bit nervous. Just because anxiety might be a thing you’re working on managing, this doesn’t mean you have to set the bar so high your goal becomes dating one of those people for whom one shred of anxiety shrivels their boner like a raisin. Conversely, as I said, you needn’t avoid dating at all until you can somehow do so with not an ounce of trepidation. There’s a variable again. Someone might like you and not be bothered by your anxiety one bit. Another reason why dating success and anxiety management don’t belong on the same yardstick.
Another related fallacy relates to both #4 and #5. This often stems from one’s definition of a “successful date”. There is no set definition really, but in terms of anxiety management if the anxiety makes dating difficult, a successful date as a goal usually would be defined as something like “A date where I didn’t have to excuse myself for a panic attack.” or “A date I was able to bring myself to show up for.” or “A date where I was able to sit through and actually enjoy myself.” Particularly in therapy, the goal you set with your therapist will probably not be “Get a girlfriend.” or “Get a boyfriend.” largely because of the variables I mentioned above in #4. To address your anxiety, any date where you were more relaxed and more able to have a good time than previous is a success. Treat it like one and give yourself those pats on the back you deserve without anyone having to do that for you.
That’s something we could all try to do better.