It has been almost exactly one year since my last date. Was it some awful, earth-shattering experience that made me want to give up on dating for the rest of my life? Absolutely not. It has never been about the people I was dating. It has always been about everything brewing inside of me. It has always been because of all of my anxiety.
I cannot remember a time before anxiety began to interfere with all of my relationships. I tell most people I meet that I have been stressed out since I was four (if only that were an exaggeration). I have never known myself without the anxiety. Sometimes I think that if I were to lose it, I would lose myself. I would lose the identity I have forged over these 27 years, and I start to wonder, would I really be okay with that? And then I realize that I am having anxiety over the fact that I have anxiety, and then I truly start to see the endless whirlpool I have trapped myself in.
Anxiety in real life is often nothing like the way we see it portrayed in movies and TV. Dates don’t always understand your “cute little anxiety,” and dates do not always know what to do to help you cope. Some people don’t feel like their heart is going to explode out of their chest, so how can you explain to them that yours always feels this way? My life isn’t a romantic comedy, and oftentimes my “quirky charm” is not enough to save us both from drowning in everything I am bringing to the table. You only made a reservation for two, so maybe my anxiety and I should just leave before we even get the chance to begin.
I always have an escape plan ready for every single date I go on. I try to choose destinations based on how easy it would be to get away if I really needed to. I calculate how long it will take me to get there from my job. I calculate how long it will take me to get to the train that will get me out of there in case I really need it to. I spend too long wondering what my outfit will look like by the time I get to my date. I spend hours going back and forth over whether or not my red lipstick is too much for a first date. I have spent my entire life wondering if I am just too much for a first date.
I have always pictured myself meeting the love of my life in a coffee shop or just while I am out running errands. It’s not because I want some picturesque romantic comedy meet cute. No, I just want to meet someone when I am not expecting to. I want to meet someone when my hair is not done, and my makeup is not on, and when I haven’t spent half the day wondering if the outfit I am wearing makes me look fat. I just want to meet someone and know that the person they saw the first day they met me was exactly the person they hoped to meet on their first date.
I am too afraid to meet someone from a dating app and have them be upset when I am not everything my profile made me out to be. I am too afraid to show myself to someone in 3D, when all they have fallen for is someone one dimensional, someone simple. Someone I will never be. I am too afraid to meet someone, so I have stopped trying to meet them. I am so afraid to meet someone that I would rather never meet anyone.
I cannot picture myself on any more dates where I nervously play with my coffee cup, hoping that my date will be the one to decide that this is all over now. I cannot imagine what it would be like to walk up to someone again and see the look in their eyes that says, “She is not the girl I wanted her to be.” I cannot see myself sitting awkwardly at a bar I never wanted to be at in the first place, explaining for what seems like the millionth time why I don’t want a drink. I will not put myself back in the position of being treated like I am undateable because of my anxiety.
How could anyone ever want to go on a date with someone hauling all of this baggage around? How could anyone ever want to introduce someone who looks like this to their friends? Crooked teeth, nervous hands, and emotional trauma are not usually the top three things a person is looking for in their soulmate. I wonder if I will ever be exactly what someone is looking for in their soulmate.
I never want to bring my anxiety with me when I go on a date. I do everything I can to leave it at home, and yet somehow it comes creeping in every time. It pulls up a seat to the table before I even get the chance to tell it, “There’s no room for you here.” It becomes the third wheel no one ever wanted to come with them to the party. It becomes the center of attention, and suddenly, all eyes are on me. All eyes are on me, waiting for me to mess up, waiting for me to ruin another night that could have finally been one to remember. These days, my anxiety is becoming all I can remember.
I see happy couples all of the time, and I often desperately wish that I could find that same happiness. But how do you explain to the one you have been with your entire life that you no longer want to be with them? How do you explain to the one who has been by your side since day one that you would like to meet other people? How do I free myself from the one thing I know has always held me back?
How can I do any of this when I can barely even get through an anxiety attack?
This is your reminder to breathe.
This is your reminder that it’s okay to start anew.
This is your reminder that you are more than your anxiety.
This is your reminder that you have so much more that you can and will be.