I constantly struggle with anxiety. It’s not always there, but it also is—in that there’s always something gnawing at me, even during my brightest moments and on my best days. A little voice that sounds just like me screams in my head about all the things that could go wrong. Sometimes, it’s deafening. On those days, it wins.
Anxiety and dating don’t mix well. When I first began dating as an adult, I was 23, and had been living in New York City for four years. I made an account on a dating app and matched with a few people pretty quickly—a musician from Brooklyn, an account director from London, and an IT professional from upstate New York. The whole thing seemed far easier than I thought it would be. But, then I prepared to go on the actual dates. The gnawing in my head grew more powerful and persistent, and I found myself struggling with more worries than ever before. Would find me attractive upon actually meeting me in person?
Looking back now, I was in the throes of constant anxiety attacks. Much of it was rooted in unacknowledged body dysmorphia, but I didn't feel equipped to deal with it yet. None of the people I met during that time were a good fit, and yet, I worried I wasn’t good enough for them. I found myself in relationships built on my partner’s needs only.
It would be a few more years before I began to acknowledge I had a problem. Therapy, breathing exercises, and more therapy began to help me understand my anxiety issues, and how to live with it. I’m 29 now, and though it’s still with me, I understand it for what it is.
When I began dating after starting therapy, I got back on the dating apps. This time, finding people to connect with was far more difficult; even when I matched with someone, I found myself disinterested in meeting them. I wondered what had changed in the dating world, and why it was suddenly so much harder to find a connection.
In reality, what had happened was that I’d become more honest about what, and who, I was looking for. I knew myself now in a way I never did before—I knew what I needed out of a relationship, and out of a partner, so that I could feel fulfilled. I found myself less worried about what my dates thought of me, and more concerned with what I thought about them. How would they fit into my life, and enhance it, if we entered a relationship? Would I be able to fall into the kind of love I wanted with them?
It’s often said you can’t find someone else to love you until you love yourself—and in my experience, this has been true. Most strikingly, I found deeper, more emotional connections with the people I was meeting it taught me more about myself and what I wanted out of my future. I began to open up when I dated, and not adjust my personality or my interests to what I thought the other person might find attractive. I talked about my anxiety, my desires, my fears, and my goals. For the first time, I was being honest with myself as much as I was being more honest with other people.
I’m still single. But I’m confident now more than about what will make me happy. And that is the most important step toward quieting those gnawing thoughts.