As I left for my first date after the lockdown, I was tinkering with it.
We had been messaging on a dating app for the duration of the Sydney lockdown – about three or four months.
Spending all this time texting meant I was more stressed out than usual (which to me is saying something).
I felt more invested than usual before a first date and worried that if we didn’t hook up in person, all this preparation would be a huge waste of time.
I spent most of the date in a bubble of nervous panic. Does my breath smell bad? Was I sitting weird? Do I seem to be listening? Was I funny, charming and smart?
But it turns out it’s not just me struggling with post-containment encounters.
Why is it so scary to meet IRL?
Mental health practitioner and psychology researcher Ash King says many of her clients also feel stressed about post-containment encounters.
She says the type of anxiety you might have about having an IRL online date will depend on your situation and what you already tend to be anxious about.
“Some people may fear that they have a really good connection with this person online, and they fear that they won’t feel it in person,” Ms. King said.
“Or that it will be a real failure, that the date will not go well, and they will have to face another disappointment and face a miserable and lonely future.
“On the other hand, if you’re a little more socially anxious, you might be like, ‘Damn, am I going to say the right thing? What if I wore the wrong shoes? ‘had food in my teeth at dinner?’ “
She says some of these fears are due to our lack of control over the situation.
When you go online, you create a profile that features the best version of yourself.
Even once you’ve started chatting, you don’t need to respond right away – you can think about what you want to say, which gives you more grace in how you want to be seen.
In person, you can’t hold onto that identity anymore – you might stumble over your words or not think of a witty response in time, for example.
How to overcome the nerves of post-confinement dating
OK, so going on a first date sounds terrifying, but it doesn’t have to.
If you face a lot of anxiety before a date, Ms. King recommends that you focus on the other person and be present with them.
Rather than focusing on your appearance or behavior, Ms. King says you’re likely to forge a better and more meaningful connection just by being curious about the other person.
“Try to reduce those fears and expectations a bit,” she says.
“[Think of it as] I’m just going to sit with this other person that I share planet Earth with for a few hours over dinner. I want to ask them questions, I want to learn what their life is like. “
If you’ve got a headache that you can’t socialize after the lockdown, let alone date someone, Ms King warns that this kind of thinking isn’t helpful.
While it may take you a while to settle into the change and you may find socializing a bit more difficult than before, she says you need to be aware of the dialogue you are using with yourself.
“It just leads to this confirmation bias where we find evidence that we’re embarrassing, or dates always go wrong, then we end up living a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Questions to ask if you don’t know what to say
When Rebekah Campbell was 34, she hadn’t been on a date for 10 years. So naturally the Entrepreneur went on 138 dates and wrote a book about his journey.
Her biggest dating tip is to try to relax and remember that the other person is likely to be just as nervous as you are.
If you’re worried about staring at your date silently, she says you might think of some questions ahead of time, but be careful not to question them, especially on a first date.
“Don’t think about it, I have to determine if they will be a good step-parent for my child,” Rebekah says.
“You have to put that aside and say, ‘Okay, I’m going to gradually get to know this person over time. But on the first date I’m going to have fun and relax.'”
Her suggestion is to start by asking questions about their day and then ask follow-up questions from there.
Rebekah also learned to ask questions based on values.
For example, rather than asking them what they do for a living, you could ask them why they chose their profession.
“[I asked my now-husband], ‘Why did you want to become a teacher?’ And he told me this beautiful story about the impact a teacher had on him in school, and how he wanted to pass it on to other children, ”she says.
“So this question is not about the profession, but what is behind it.”
When talking for a long time works
Sending messages long before you meet isn’t always a bad thing.
Kelly Lehmann, 30, of Wyndham in Victoria, spoke to her current partner on a dating app for two months before meeting in person.
She stayed with her family in Adelaide during the Melbourne lockdown and for her chatting on the app for so long was positive as it showed her he was serious.
“I had people who outperformed me because I wasn’t in Melbourne,” says Kelly.
“But if someone doesn’t want to [chat], they probably won’t be in a relationship if they don’t want to put in the time and effort. “
After starting the first date with low expectations, Kelly has been with her partner for six months now – including three months locked together.
“My dating advice would be ‘Do it’, honestly. We could be locked up again, so get out,” she said.
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