Dating can be a great way of meeting and getting to know a potential partner. It allows us, in many ways, to have more control over the kinds of people we meet and to think in more detail about the kind of partner that might work for us - it has also come with a few potential challenges and pitfalls.
Feeling the pressure
In some ways, dating is a somewhat artificial way of getting to know someone. Going on a date can sometimes feel like a fairly formal interaction: you meet up, you spend time together and, hopefully, you figure out whether you want to meet up again. Dating can sometimes feel like a means to an end: figuring out if you could work as a couple.
For this reason, it can sometimes feel like quite a pressurised activity. It can be fairly anxiety-inducing, and, somewhat inconveniently, it can also make it difficult to actually settle into the experience of getting to know the other person. Most of us don’t like the feeling of being judged. And many of us may feel vaguely uncomfortable judging someone else! But the subtext of dating can so often feel that this is what you’re supposed to be doing: that you’re supposed to be figuring out, ideally in as short a time as possible, whether you and this other person could ‘work’.
The actual format of dating doesn’t do much to help this. As a social interaction, dating can be, in some ways, fairly intense. Very often, you meet up and talk for a few hours. The classic scenario is going to a pub or restaurant, where you’re sat opposite each other, looking directly at each other. This is something you might not actually do that often with close friends, let alone complete strangers. For people who might usually struggle to engage in long conversations like this, going on a date can be pretty stressful. And even the most confident person can find themselves sweating over the prospect of an ‘awkward pause’ in the conversation.
A transactional experience
Online dating has, in some ways, further complicated things. This can put quite a lot of emphasis on presenting yourself in quite a specific and somewhat artificial way. When we put together an online dating profile, we often choose to create a very precise image of ourselves. We include the information that we’d like people to know about and leave out the information we don’t. We select specific pictures of ourselves to support this impression.
This can be quite different to meeting someone in ‘real life’, where it’s not quite as easy to manage other people’s impressions of us. When we meet someone in, say, a pub or at a party, we see what they actually look like, we hear what they actually sound like when they speak, and we pick up on their body language. We get a more distinct picture, more quickly. Of course, real life interactions contain a lot of artificiality too - we all try to present ourselves in a certain way when out and about - but the level and nature of the details can be quite different.
As a result, when we come to meet someone that we’ve met online, it can take a while for that sense of artificiality to wear off. Many of us have been through the experience of meeting up with someone to find out that they aren’t what we thought they would be like at all. This can be quite jarring or even disappointing. The temptation can be to reject this unexpected person out of hand and go back to our search. But this may not be a fair response - someone being different doesn’t mean they’re not interesting or appealing in other ways - but it’s also not a surprising one. Online dating can give us a sense of control over the dating experience that we don’t always actually have.
This leads us on to the other big pitfall of online dating: being too prescriptive. Many of us enter the world of dating with some idea of the kind of person we’d like to meet. Being able to scroll through hundreds upon hundreds of profiles online can reinforce the sense that we may, if we look hard enough, meet that exact person. We might find ourselves going from date to date, waiting until we stumble across that person who is just ‘perfect’.
In some ways, this sense of prescriptiveness has dovetailed in the modern day with old-fashioned ideas around ‘the one’. A while ago, we might have come to believe someone was ‘the one’ because we spent enough time with them to really get to know them - and then might ask them out. Now, we might risk feeling that ‘the one’ is out there, but only if we trawl for long enough.
Managing your expectations
So how do we mitigate some of these potentially problematic ideas around dating? While it might sound like these pitfalls make dating a potential minefield, in some ways it’s just a case of simplifying how you think about dating and what you hope to get out of it.
The anxiety and pressure around dating is something we can feel because we think we’re working towards a definite ‘purpose’. But if we take that big objective out of the equation, things can suddenly get much easier. When we don’t worry quite so much about where dating is ‘going’, what we’re left with instead can be a fun, useful and exciting experience. When putting yourself under less pressure to figure out what you think about this person, you may find you can just be yourself and have a good conversation. Counter-intuitively, this can then make it easier to get to this point anyway - as both of you may then be able to relax a little and begin to properly connect as people.
It can, in fact, be useful to verbalise this attitude at one point early on when dating - not as a way of pushing the other person back or directing how they should approach things, but simply as a way of saying what works for you.
This leads us to the second and equally simple principle that you might like to apply to dating: to try to know the other person and allow them to know you. As we’ve already said, dating - and online dating in particular - can create a bit of an artificial, transactional dynamic. But - at the risk of stating the obvious - dating isn’t shopping, and people aren’t products.
Put simply, it can take a while to get to know a person. It’s important to try to open yourself up to the possibility of letting this happen, even - or rather, especially - when you aren’t yet sure how you feel about them. You may find that someone who, on first impression, wasn’t totally grabbing your attention, begins to reveal hidden depths after you meet a second or third time. Someone who seemed nervous and hard to understand on a first date might then settle into things on a second.
We know this can take a bit of a leap of faith, but it can also give you the chance to properly figure out how you feel about someone so you can make an informed decision about whether you’d like to keep seeing them. Sometimes, it can be as simple as going on two or three dates with a person, instead of just one.
And a big part of this can mean being willing to let go - or at least be flexible on - the idea of your ‘perfect person’. It can be really easy to get caught up in this idea. But it can also be really limiting. Responding to a new person with a knee-jerk reaction - noticing something you don’t quite like and deciding immediately to move on and resume your search - can mean you end up writing people off without giving them a chance to show who they really are. Given a little time to be themselves, it could be that the people you’re meeting are closer to what you were after than you realised. Or - and just as importantly - they could offer you something you didn’t even know you wanted.
Mixing things up
A couple of final practical tips.
Firstly, if you find that you’re really struggling to relax when on a date, you might want to consider switching up the kinds of dates you go on. Sometimes, carrying out an activity at the same time can really help, as it means you’re not having to make conversation the whole time, and, conversely, can also give you something to talk about.
It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or even particularly adventurous: going on a bike ride, or for a walk, or visiting an art gallery together can be great ways of making things feel fun, interesting and casual - all the while allowing you to get to know each other.
And don’t forget - you don’t have to meet people online. Although it may not always seem it these days, it’s still perfectly normal to prefer meeting in a more natural environment. Often this can mean just being social by doing things you like: joining a club or trying to join in with group social occasions. This can give you the chance to get to know someone a little without having to enter that more formal ‘dating dynamic’.
How we can help
One Session Therapy is a solution focused, one off appointment, which can help you navigate through these feelings, and discuss how to move forward with finding love, either in your own time or with further Therapy.
Diving into dating, and finding common ground in new relationships takes time. One Session Therapy equips you with tools to communicate effectively, set boundaries, and work towards understanding yourself whilst you’re starting this exciting journey.
Ready to move forward and take steps to date, and form new relationships? Book a One Session Therapy session with us to speak with a counsellor at a time that works for you and take the first step in resolving the problem you’re facing.
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