There are a few phases of dating. In general, each phase is complicated in its own right. Throw someone who struggles with anxiety into the mix and we have a whole new ball game, folks. Let me see if I can break it down for you.
You start talking, doesn’t matter whether you found each other online or ran into one another and decided to exchange contact information. Usually there is some flirty banter for a week or two before a first date. This is fun, even for those of us with anxiety, and we can handle phase one. Maybe if the banter is truly engaging, we start to think about dating this person, we plan every word we text and wait for their response. It is exciting, but we think about it way more than we should.
First date (maybe second and third). Traditionally, these dates are more formal, or at least they are planned out ahead of time. Dinner or drinks and appetizers, maybe an activity, either way it is something to look forward to.
BUT, if you have anxiety, you worry about Every. Single. Detail. Where will you go? What will you talk about? What are you going to wear? You will inevitably spend WAY too much time getting ready. Yes, I know everyone spends a fair amount of time getting ready for a date. I am talking HOURS, trying on 10 outfits before you decide on one, making sure your hair is just right, makeup done if you are a woman. It’s going to be exhausting. Not suggesting we aren’t having fun, just know that our wheels are spinning. The dates themselves will probably be fine and you will have no idea what we went through beforehand.
Okay, you’ve been on a few dates, probably more casual. Dates four and five may have been at your place and one of you cooked and you watched T.V. When you are together, everything is easy. Conversation flows, you find you have things in common, laugh with and at each other, no stress.
THEN YOU GET IN YOUR CAR AND DRIVE HOME. This is where you start asking yourself all of the things that you KNOW it’s too soon to be asking yourself, but you just can’t help it. Where is this going? When do you sleep together? Do you start telling your friends about them? Could they be “the one?” What if it doesn’t work out? Meanwhile the other person has no idea this is all going on because you can still hide your crazy. You have to hide it; otherwise they will run for the hills.
Somewhere between dates five and fifteen, you have slept together. By now, you have probably met a couple of their friends or some of each other’s family. Since you see each other regularly, it would be hard to avoid bringing other people into the fold. Plus, your anxiety is itching to find confirmation for the way you are starting to feel.
What do people you trust think about this person? You think they are awesome, but are you just blinded by the attention you are getting right now? Are there some major flaws you would consider deal breakers that you are overlooking right now? Maybe there are and it is okay to overlook them because you are happy, getting a second opinion will definitely help sort it out, right? Besides, you have to be able to ask all these questions that are in your head and you certainly cannot under ANY circumstances ask the person you’re dating (because you still have to hide your crazy), so you feel better being able to ask a friend who now has met them.
Phase Four And A Half
You start to come up with all sorts of reasons why this is doomed to fail. Oh, and by the way, what is “this” anyway? Other people have been asking you, but you aren’t sure how to respond. You feel like you should know how to answer that question, why can’t you answer that yet? You can’t come out and ask if you are a “thing” or are you my boy/girlfriend, because it is too soon and you have learned that getting attached, labels and expecting clear boundaries scares people away.
You have to try your hardest to pretend that you are just as aloof and carefree as they are. Even if you just aren’t built that way, another reason why this (whatever this is) is primed for failure. Besides, of course all the other reasons are ones you have made up in your head. Your age difference is a problem, right? Their home haircuts will drive you bonkers, they have too many exes, everyone likes them (clearly that’s bad!), their job keeps them out late and you go to bed really early, see obviously it’s DOOMED!
Introducing them to the real you. At some point before now you have convinced yourself that they realize you’re crazy, or that they have found someone else that interests them more than you. There was more than likely a day they were busy and you didn’t hear from them at all, that day drove you insane. What did you do wrong? Every fiber of your being is telling you to hold back and chill out because everything is probably fine. They are legitimately busy and them not texting you does not mean anything other than that. They don’t really know what is going on inside your head, they aren’t scared away and they still want to spend time with you.
HAHA, that is utterly impossible.
It is time to either passive aggressively make comments or straight up explain that at this point you are going to need some clear idea of what direction things are going. You will also have to explain all of the things that have been going on in your head the last month or two. You have to accept that they will either step up to the plate or walk away, but you can’t keep driving yourself crazy. If they care about you they will understand and want to help you. Or all your concerns were correct and they aren’t worth it anyway.
I haven’t seen phase six yet because; I either haven’t handled phase five appropriately, or the people I have made it to phase five with are not capable of accepting someone who requires as much work as I do. Their loss, not mine, I know.
Phase Six, I assume, is amazing. You aren’t worried about when you will see them again because they are just as into it as you. I’m also going to guess that this is where some official “label” comes into play. They will introduce you as their “girl/boyfriend” and you will talk to your co-workers about your “boy/girlfriend.” You smile a lot. I mean, A LOT.
Will you still get anxious about things? Yes, but whoever is with you will be willing to snap you out of it. They won’t think you are crazy, they will understand that sometimes you need a little bit more than they do. Even if they don’t understand why, they will still be willing.
Happily. Ever. After. AKA the phantom phase, because it does not exist.