As a hopeful romantic, I dreamt of my fairy tale ending long before I would have it.
I was hyper-aware of romantic love all around me. Couples holding hands as they walked. Friends giddily sharing stories about their partners. My parents continuing their decades-long marriage.
I wanted badly what they had. And I went on more dates than I could count to find it.
Some made for great first-date horror stories. Others were unremarkable. A few led to meaningful relationships that ultimately ended. And one led to the love of my life.
These days, it seems we have more options than ever to find love. Friend intros. Dating apps. Singles events. You name it. And yet dating can feel like a game you just can’t win.
It involves putting yourself out there. Risking rejection. Opening up your heart. And—when the going gets tough—keeping the romantic alive inside you.
It’s no wonder dating can make us feel anxious!
But there are ways to beat anxiety during the dating process. The tips below will help you not only conquer first date jitters but also find peace during the “early dating” and “pre-relationship” stages.
Stage 1: Pre-Date Jitters
Pre-date jitters are the worst. Will you be attracted to your date? Will they be attracted to you? Will you run out of things to talk about? Will it be the worst date ever or turn into a “how I met my love” story?
The culprit of anxiety at this stage is expectations.
You have a few about how you’d like the date to go. And presuming your date meets your expectations, you want to meet theirs, too. The fear is that someone’s expectations won’t be met.
So why not eliminate them, for now?
There will be a time for expectations. But the first step is letting go, being open to a range of possibilities, and setting yourself up for a great first date.
The right mindset is the most important thing before a first date. Some other ideas to calm pre-date jitters:
• Call a supportive friend
• Keep busy before the date
• Listen to music that calms you or pumps you up
• Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident
• Have one (no cheating!) cocktail or a glass of wine
• Give yourself enough time to commute so you arrive on time
Choose whichever strategies work best for you and stay optimistic! At worst, you’ll have a great first-date horror story (we all have them). At best, you’ll meet the love of your life.
Stage 2: Early Dating Nerves
So you’ve made it to the first date. Or second. Or third. And those pesky nerves haven’t entirely gone away.
It’s normal. In the early dating stage, we’re still figuring out what we want and what our date wants of us. Sometimes, this stage can drag on longer than we’d like.
On the dates themselves, practice getting out of your own head. Live in the moment.
Focus on who your date is, not on who they may become to you. Enjoy the company, the food, the wine, the atmosphere, and all the rest!
Once you’ve done that, it’s time for the harder part: the time in between the dates. If you’re enjoying date after date, you may begin to wonder where things are headed.
Why hasn’t your date texted you yet? When’s the next date? Is your date as smitten by you as you are with them?
Are they the relationship type or are they looking for something more casual? Are they open to either and you’re not sure where you stand?
At some point, you’ll have to have “the talk.” Yep, that one. The one where you tell your date exactly how you feel about them and ask them to return the favor.
This need not be the time to jump into a relationship. It takes time for two people to understand each other fully and decide if a relationship is right for them.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t put a finger to the wind and assess which direction your connection is heading in.
We often avoid “the talk” because it’s scary. We’re afraid we’ll get an “I don’t know” or something worse.
We’re unsure if we’ve given things enough time to develop. And we don’t want the fun times to end, whether our paramour is relationship material or not.
But sooner or later, the talk must be had. And when it does, remember:
Don’t let someone’s perception of you define you. You are beautiful and good enough just as you are. And while you may have things you’re working on, that doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy of admiration and love now.
If the talk doesn’t go as you’d hoped, don’t worry. You’ll have plenty more at-bats.
And in the meantime, you can foster the greatest kind of love there is: self-love. Be your own champion before you ask for another.
Don’t let the dating process overshadow the rest of your life or how you view yourself.
Treat dating as a series of experiences, lessons, and connections that will leave you wiser and more self-aware.
Embrace the process, stay relaxed, and keep the romantic in you alive.
Stage 3: “Pre-Relationship” Anxiety
If you’ve had “the talk” and things are headed in the right direction, you may be close to a relationship. Congrats! It’s an exciting time. But it can come with some anxiety.
How can you tell whether you’re truly falling in love or whether it’s just a fling? What if your feelings change over time?
What if you do love each other but you have different values, interests, or plans for your lives?
These are tough questions to answer. Rush to answer them and you may find yourself knee-deep in something you’re not ready for.
It takes time to fully process our emotions, especially when it comes to love. Love comes in all kinds of forms.
Sometimes it lasts, and sometimes it doesn’t. And the nature of love changes depending on the people involved.
Take your time to understand how you feel about your potential partner. Pay attention to how they make you feel about yourself.
Cherish the good times and enjoy the present, but also consider if you’d like to go through the tough times with them, too.
How do they handle disappointment? When you have a disagreement, do they open up or shut down? Are they willing to work on themselves and the relationship, should one develop?
While you’re taking your time, let your counterpart take theirs! Give them the freedom and space to assess whether they feel you’re a good match for them. After all, they know themselves best.
While you’re both feeling things out, keep an open line of communication. Don’t be afraid to express what you want and need—or even that you might not know yet.
Find peace in knowing that while you can’t control how someone else feels, you can control how you respond.
Aim to be understanding, even if they’re moving at a different pace or say something less than ideal.
Most importantly, remember: You don’t need someone else to complete you.
If a relationship doesn’t develop, you will be more than okay. You will still have everything that makes you uniquely you; that’s something to celebrate.
And one day, you may just find someone to celebrate with.