Dating before COVID was scary enough. It brings up all our issues and insecurities as well as our inability to see and break our dysfunctional relationship patterns and choices. Ones that we are either conscious of or not. Now, on top of all of these usual dating challenges, after being stuck in our own insulated bubble for the past 18 months, we have lost our practice and confidence in interacting with others socially. Simply greeting a neighbour or engaging in chit chat with a store clerk has become harder than normal! Topics for conversation are limited because we aren’t doing as much as we are used to. This all translates to more stilted awkwardness and discomfort for something that should be fun. It doesn’t have to be this hard – reaching out for the right support can make all the difference in the world when it comes to getting back on your horse for dating during COVID. How you can make meeting people fun again (or for the first time) is totally your call!
How has the pandemic impacted our relationships?
Since the pandemic started a year and a half ago we have all collectively been indoors in isolation. Our social circles have shrunk and our routines have been diminished to our immediate space. The sphere of our inputs and outputs has been limited mostly to what’s on TV or on our computers and phones. Social Media platforms and Netflix have never seen so much traffic before. Our relationships have also changed with the effects of the pandemic and with some of the factors just mentioned.
Covid break ups have been a social trend that we continue to see. Couples with relationship issues experienced a magnifying effect with the pandemic. There was less space, heightened stress and an acute need for emotional support. Statistics Canada plans to have numbers available next year as to just how many marriages the pandemic has impacted.
For others, the pandemic forced them into long term relationships that should have had a shorter life cycle. In these cases, couples got together for companionship, or colleagues took things to the next level due to lack of work- life separation. These couples are in the midst of untangling themselves not only from lockdown but also from these relationships.
For those that were single and stayed single during the pandemic, it has been a long time since they have dated. The pandemic has completely changed the way that we can come together. Sporadic social touch points, ease of physical interactions, and space available to be in, have all been wiped out.
The pandemic has also forced good and bad changes, not only to our daily routines, but to larger aspects of our lives. For example, we see many clients who have either used this time as an opportunity to switch careers and to try something different. People who have been used to working for an employer are suddenly grappling with being their own bosses and the accountability and peaks and valleys entailed in being an entrepreneur. Other small business owners we see, as a direct result of COVID, had to shift gears and change plans – leaving many disagreements between business partners and co-owners who might have varying opinions on how to survive and thrive in this new pandemic climate.
With all of these different factors impacting us and the way that we relate to each other in relationships, the pandemic has left a lot of us single, and nervous.
What is the fear that we are having about dating again?
The chronic stress that we have accumulated from the experience of the pandemic has left a lot of us emotionally burnt out. It is difficult to be available for others when we ourselves have very little to give.
A lot of us have been socially distant for so long that we have gotten used to it and have lost our knowledge and ability to move outside of these small social bubbles.
For others, dating is not an easy feat and without the practice for the last year and a half, many now suffer from a loss of confidence. Compounded by issues of body image, for those that were not able to get out to exercise or maintain a fitness regime.
The fear of the unknown is also a large part of the problem. We have been living with a virus that is invisible outside of a lab and many of us have grown a sense of general anxiety towards our environments and the people in them.
How does this fear manifest in our daily lives?
We have all lost some of our complex social skills, we can see this manifesting in our lives through:
- Fear of rejection
- Overthinking unknown social situations
- General anxiety
Also, many young people that were not ready to settle down before the pandemic have changed gears and now feel that they have lost a lot of time, and are now looking to catch up and take relationships quickly to a more serious level in an effort to stay on track with their personal and professional plans. This can add a lot of extra pressure and anxiety to any new relationship.
How to know if you are ready to start dating again?
An important starting point is to determine whether you are ready to start dating, for a lot of people the answer is simply “no”, and that is ok. Others are and may need to take it slow in the beginning. Here are a few tools to consider when you choose to take the plunge.
Dating in the new reality
Try not to bring expectations from pre-pandemic dating. We have all been through a very difficult last year and a half. Conversations and body language will differ greatly from what we remember. Mask wearing will be a talking point, as well as social restrictions. The initial period of warming up to someone may also be extended and reading social cues might be hard in the beginning as we have all lost some of our experience with it.
Don’t overthink it
It is easy to overthink when we are nervous and vulnerable. We get stuck in our heads with a cycle of judgement of ourselves and others. You might be thinking about how you have nothing to talk about or how the person you are meeting is not going to find you very interesting. To help with this negative self-talk, 30 minutes before your date take some time to relax and slowly get ready. The author of this blog finds that listening to relaxing spa type music from her Spotify playlist helps distract her overactive brain and consequently soothes an anxious mind and body.
During the date, try not to overthink the small details of the date, instead if things are feeling awkward or you are feeling nervous try to bring humor and honesty to the situation. Expressing that it has been a while since you have engaged in dating helps to find connection and break the tension. Joke about some of the silly and quirky things you have started doing during COVID such as becoming addicted to Kimino’s (yes I own 10 different patterned Japanese robes now – It made me feel pretty and comfy and hid some of that extra COVID weight) and tie dye clothes. Or you could joke about how your pet and you spend every day all day together and your heart hurts a bit when you and your ‘bestie’ are apart for any length of time.
Give yourself time to ease back into dating
No matter where you are in the process of dating, taking the time to go slow in the first phase is a really good idea. Letting yourself feel ready, by listening to your feelings as well as any boundaries you may have is important. The first date could be a walk in the park, or chat on a porch. Some people may not feel comfortable or ready to sit inside of a restaurant or coffee shop yet and that is okay. Removing some of these expectations that we have of what a first date should look like will be helpful for a more authentic experience.
You might experience some challenges:
Dating again might bring up dysfunctional relationship patterns:
Many of us have struggled with relationships pre pandemic and are now faced with bringing those challenges with us into this “new dating” environment. For example, you might choose the exact same type of person who is unhealthy for you repeatedly. You might create a parent-child type of relationship, or a master-slave type of power dynamic. You might believe a man should do everything for you to prove he is interested in you by expecting him to woo you while you don’t have to put any effort in. Or you might be attracted to men or women who show no interest in you. These stressors can certainly cause dating to be difficult. We highly recommend booking a session with a therapist if you feel like you have patterns that are getting in the way of a happy love life. They are not easy to break on your own and we all need help at different times in our lives.
Feeling out of practice and lacking confidence socially:
It is hard to believe that social skills require practice. As we have been in isolation for the past year and a half, we may certainly feel slow to start new conversations with others and find ways to relate to others easily. It is really important to remember that this is normal and not unique to any one person. In the beginning this may all feel uncomfortable and slow but with time this will change. The key to success here is just trying. Your first few dates or conversations might be awkward as H#% but that’s okay because you will get better. Think of them as just practice conversations or dates for when you meet the right person.
Struggle with basic conversation skills:
For those of us with social anxiety, having normal conversations was challenging before the pandemic – the lockdown for some was a bit of a social relief. Coming back out of the lockdown, social triggers can feel difficult to deal with. A basic conversation can be daunting. Check out some of our other blogs for some practical tips on how to manage anxiety.
Strategies to start dating safely again:
The good news is that this is a transitional period and we will eventually have a more consistent social cycle again. Until we get there, we will all have to work through it. At Psych Company, we understand that this is a critical time and many of us need a little bit of help to get through it. We have compiled a list of things that you can do now to ease back into social situations in general.
Listen and be curious
Rather than trying to impress your date and make it all about you, make your focus about the person. This takes all the pressure off you trying to prove how great you are and allows you to really make your date feel heard. Rarely do people take the time to pay attention to another person and it feels great to have someone’s full attention. Usually, people are more focused on what they will say next or how what the other person is talking affects me or relates to me. We have many self-oriented responses that will get in the way of having a great date. Sometimes when we go on dates, we are really focused on trying to get the other person to like us. We want to be interesting or smart or charming or funny and of course likeable. This is a lot of work and can come across in ways that you don’t intend. For example, we might come across to others as self-absorbed or arrogant and that’s not a good dating look.
The best way to be someone that others enjoy dating is to just listen and show genuine interest in getting to know the other person. Try to put yourself in your date’s shoes as they tell you about themselves. People feel connected to you and truly heard and understand when you show this type of empathy.
One way to respond after really hearing your date is by summarizing what the other person told you. Another way to show interest is by paying attention to what your date is interested in by watching for when a topic makes them light up. They might sit up straighter, smile, or get more animated. Once you know what your date is passionate about, practice engaging with what the person has said by asking open-ended questions to try to learn more about it. Here are some examples of curious follow up questions to learn more about what they are talking about…
- That’s really interesting how you…
- Tell me more about….
- Why do you think that is?
- I know what you mean, but how…
- What do you think about..
- What is the connection between…and…?
Give your date your full attention
It is challenging to focus on the other person but start by turning your phone off, not checking it and making eye contact. Take all the things that are on your mind and leave them at home (you can come back to them later). Not easy to do but if you can clear your mind you can start to feel and think like your date does and that helps you to really get to know and understand them. Now that you are not so focused on yourself it will really help to reduce your anxieties and fear of dating.
Keep it simple and have great first date conversation starters
When first connecting with others and planning a date, take the time to go slow and simplify your plans. A lot of us might be feeling nervous about re-entering society for safety reasons or a natural anxiety. Talking on the phone is a great way to develop the initial intimacy and connection that happens in relationships. Next try a video chat if you feel comfortable being on camera. Here are some simple questions to help you get to know someone new:
- What are your close friends like?
- What did you do today/last weekend?
- What’s the best/worst date you have been on?
- What’s your favourite type of vacation?
- Tell me about your family?
- What were you like as a kid?
- What are your pet peeves?
Be Honest and Vulnerable
Feeling nervousness is a natural feeling when meeting people for the first time, however in this transition back into society these feelings are no doubt heightened. Holding on to those feelings will make for an uncomfortable time out with a new partner. Let them know you are excited and nervous to be out again. Vulnerability helps to create connection and trust.
Another way you can be vulnerable is by self-disclosing information about yourself to help the other person really get to know the real you. Sharing who you are builds comfort, intimacy, trust and connection (these are key to a healthy and a happy relationship). The purpose is to share what matters to you, and help your date know more about how you think and feel. Sometimes opening-up to someone new can be scary so start with small things and as you build safety with your date you can try sharing something a bit bigger or personal. This will help your date to feel more and more comfortable self-disclosing to you as well.
Here are a few ideas of things you can disclose and share about yourself:
- Things that you are really passionate about:
- Dreams and goals
- What your family or friends are like
- Whether you prefer staying in or going out?
Reframe and Learning from Negative thinking
Dating often triggers negative thoughts about ourselves. We might think thoughts such as, “I am not likeable or loveable because I am still not in a loving relationship. I’m too old/fat/uninteresting/under or over accomplished. Everyone else is with someone and I am not so there must be something wrong with me. or why did my friend find her/his partner so easily and I can’t find anyone who is a match for me?” This type of negative thinking can really close you off to others, ruining budding relationships. Doing some inner work is really important at this time because difficult breakups, or being stuck in dysfunctional relationship patterns make it hard to think more positively.
- There are a lot of great men/women out there. Switch to: I haven’t yet found the right person for me
- No one wants to be with me. Switch to: I am working on myself so that I can create the necessary conditions to have a healthy and happy relationship
- I am too fat/uninteresting. Switch to: I have been told I’m beautiful, interesting, attractive. Maybe I should further explore the evidence for me being attractive, interesting and fun.
- No one is interested in me. Switch to: I feel attractive when I’m confident. The things that make me feel confident are dancing, time with friends, how I feel after I exercise, wearing clothes I love, et cetera. I will focus on making myself feel confident.
I love to play with this phrase with my clients, “I like myself” What reactions does this phrase elicit in you? Does it make you feel empowered and more confident? Or does it make you think of all the reasons why you don’t like yourself. Can we use the list to learn more about some things we can do or other negative thoughts to reframe to start to like ourselves more? The more we like ourselves the more others will as well and the less we will care if someone doesn’t like us. The last part is key – we can’t nor should we even try to please everybody or be liked by everyone.
Have realistic expectations when dating
There are many other ways that negative thinking can make the dating process miserable. We might think that there are no good guys/ladies out there or online dating is only full of crazy, dysfunctional, sex-obsessed individuals. Yes you are right, the cold hard truth is, that dating is going to be full of people who are not going to be a good fit for you. This can be very disappointing and discouraging. I tell all my clients to know that 90% of the dates they go on aren’t going to be the one. Finding the right partner is rare. It is a needle in a haystack but if you have realistic expectations about it you won’t take each unsuccessful date so personally. You might tell yourself that each time you meet someone new you are getting closer to meeting the right one. You might not put so much pressure on yourself and your date to work out. Shifting your unrealistic expectations and expecting to find the one to take time and effort is key to alleviating a lot of suffering while dating.
How to let your date know when you aren’t interested in them
Since the majority of our dates won’t be ‘the one’ it is important that we learn how to let our dates know when we aren’t interested in a way that makes us feel confident and comfortable about our ability to properly deliver this kind of tricky feedback. One of the most nerve-wracking, uncomfortable and stress inducing parts of dating is letting someone know when you aren’t interested. I hear a lot about online daters ghosting each other but it really doesn’t have to be that way. It feels bad for the person who was ghosted so why put another fellow human being through that? I believe with my whole heart that the better we treat others – the better we will be treated by others.
Here are some phrases to let someone down gently:
- I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you and I am sorry to say that I don’t feel like we are the right fit for each other. Thank you for being such a fun/kind/caring date.
- It has been enjoyable getting to know each other. Many of our interests and life goals are quite different. I am sure you have noticed that too. I know you will find someone amazing!
- A lot has come up in my life and I will not be able to prioritize a relationship with you right now.
- How did you think this is going, or how do you think this went? … if I’m being honest I have to say that…
Working with a life coach
Before getting back out there again, a check in with a therapist or life coach can be invaluable. Ensuring that you deal with any underlying mental health challenges like unhealthy relationship patterns, stress, anxiety, or depression will start you off in a more positive and confident direction.
Whenever you decide that getting back out there to meet someone new is right for you, remember that we have all gone through a difficult year and a half and have shared in this experience together. Try to have fun and don’t be too hard on yourself.
If you are looking for a life coach or therapist to ease you back into the fray make sure to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org we thrive on coaching and supporting our clients through life’s many adventures.