What Modern Dating Is Really Like for Someone With Anxiety and Depression
Gone are the days when we met people through friends or random encounters at festivals, pubs, events, work and the like. We don’t just meet people in real life anymore. We have mobile app enablers like Tinder that are meant to make things easier. But in my experience, these actually increase anxiety more than anything.
I have dealt with anxiety and depression most of my life, to a point where it’s affected my relationships (friends and family), my work and my entire ability to function as a “normal” person. It has even gone as far as destroying my marriage with a fantastic human being — not to say that the anxiety and depression were the only things to blame for it, and I take full responsibility where due, but it was a massive contributing factor.
Two years on from the divorce, and I have started to date again. But it’s been met with a lot of anxiety and doubt, knowing my past, along with an increase in depression.
At the beginning of last year, I decided to make several life changes. I started the long journey of self-love through self-discovery. I began to improve my confidence by going back to the gym, which was quite a significant challenge in itself while facing depression and the lack of energy to want to go. I started new hobbies, such as sea kayaking and motorbiking, something I have always wanted to do. And this year I have even gone as far as shaving my head finally, after feeling quite self-conscious about my looks for many years.
Just a little over a year ago, I decided to face the world, and created a profile on Tinder, looking to meet new and interesting people outside of my existing social circles. If any materialized further than friendship, that would be a bonus — but no expectations. It was also a means to improve my confidence and force myself to be more social than my slightly introverted personality would allow, and to take me out of my comfort zone.
Creating the profile and swiping on people of interest seemed like the easy part, but some real challenges started to surface — and I hadn’t even begun engaging with anyone. With my level of depression, naturally, I began to question: is my profile good enough, am I good enough? Have I said enough in my bio, have I said too little? What if they don’t like me, what if they do? This wasn’t going to be the last time I asked these questions. I had created new profiles, then gave up and deleted them several times over the course of the year before I settled about a month ago. Each profile with different photos and different bios — some short, some long, all masking the truth of who I was.
At this point, I was highly anxious, not knowing what was going to happen this time around. My mind was swimming in so many thoughts, all at the same time, questioning myself, revisiting past experiences and injecting fear and doubt into my thoughts to a point where I felt complete frozen. I decided I needed to remove myself from the space I found myself in again and take my mind completely off what I had just done. I left my phone on my bedside table and took my motorbike out for a ride along the beachfront. The cold refreshing sea air and the open roads made me feel a lot better, so I decided to come back to see what had happened since I created this new persona.
As I started to unlocked my phone, I could feel my anxiety returning. Once my shaking finger lifted from the fingerprint reader, I was inundated with Tinder notifications: “Somebody likes you ..” repeatedly flashed across my screen. I am surprised I got one like, let alone several. Is this a prank or bots, perhaps? ran through my mind. After liking several profiles back, I was ready to start chatting and setting up a date to meet. This posing the next challenge, and for the life of me, I don’t remember meeting new people being this hard before.
“Hi Suzan, how are you?”
“I am fine thanks. Is that your kid in the photo?”
“Yeah, my amazing little firecracker.”
“Oh .. I am sorry, I am not ready to be an instant mom.”
The rejection was hard, and this was the first person. I felt overwhelmed. I wasn’t good enough and Wait, hold on, but you don’t even know me crossed my mind. I was feeling depressed and ready to give up. It took a bit of analyzing the situation and fighting with my internal demons, only to realize this wasn’t because of me, who I was or the fact that I had a daughter. This was a blessing in disguise, and I wanted someone to accept my daughter and me entirely, and Suzan wasn’t that person. I moved on swiftly, but it made the second interaction even harder to deal with, as I had no energy at this point to want to say hi and put myself out there in fear of being rejected again. This was harder than I thought.
“Hi Jane, how are you?”
“Hey, Johan! I am fine thanks. Is that your daughter in the photo?”
Oh, dear, here we go again.
“Yeah, my amazing little munchkin… Are you OK with the fact that I have a kid?”
My entire response changed. I needed to get straight to the point. My walls were up from the start. Fighting to control the turmoil I was already feeling.
“No, I don’t mind that you have a kid. She is beautiful, and you are a lucky guy. I don’t talk on here much, so if you want to meet up, let’s chat on Whatsapp. My number is …”
My spirits lifted. I was smiling for the first time in ages! I added her on Whatsapp and set up a meet and greet (not an official date yet). The day came, and I arrived early at Bootleggers coffee shop. I don’t like being late for anything. I sat down and sent her a message to say I had arrived a little early, but there is no rush, and I was excited to meet her in a bit.
This message almost played out very differently. I almost cancelled today. I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed and leave the house, let alone meet someone completely new and put myself in the most uncomfortable place I could be.
She arrived on time, and greeted me with a big hug, happy smile and bubbly personality. I could feel the energy leaving my body already. We sat down, looked directly at one another, and I awkwardly smiled back. I felt like I was on the verge of emotional overload, and I was about to shut down. I reverted to my deadpan expression.
“It’s so nice to meet you, Johan.”
“Y…y…you too. You can call me Jay. Everyone does,” I said nervously.
“Can I be honest with you Jay, since I have no filter. You should smile more in your photos — you look far too serious, and you have a nice smile.”
I smiled like a Cheshire cat and laughed. I was dying on the inside. My photos showed a depressed version of myself, and I wasn’t aware. Maybe she saw through this facade. I was highly conscious of my body language and hers at this stage. I was being distracted by the hustle and bustle of the coffee shop while trying to remain present all the while, making conversation and holding a smile. This was a lot of work on my part.
“Why is your hand shaking like that? Can I get you some orange juice or something?” I asked.
“No, I am completely fine! I am just super nervous,” she responded while she chuckled sheepishly and brushed her hair behind her ear.
My nervousness subsided and I felt relieved we were in the same boat. But I felt every part of my being pulling in different directions. On one side congratulating me I pushed through today and made it. On another side telling me to keep smiling, stay optimistic and force happy emotions if you have to — suppress any signs of depression and anxiety. And then the third side, saying this is too much, she will not like you after this. Stop smiling so much. Stop asking so many questions. Stop crossing your arms. Stop talking so nervously. Just stop breathing altogether. An hour felt like an eternity. It felt like torture and pleasure all at once.
After the meet up, I felt emotionally and physically drained. This wasn’t going to be the last time I was going to feel like this.
“Hey Johan, I am sorry”
I was shutting down.
“Oops, I am being trigger happy. I am sorry our meet up wasn’t longer today. I really want to see you again.”
And this wasn’t going to be the last time I went on a date with her.
Struggling with emotions is a daily hustle. Some days the struggle is debilitating. Some days I push myself to do what I have to. Other days I don’t even feel present, and I don’t recall the day. It’s a constant energy drain. I don’t always have the answers to these challenges I face, nor do I have a “one size fits all” recommendation of how to deal with the anxiety and depression. But every day I try to work on it and in most cases, I am a more functioning person than the day before. In other cases, I learn from it and move on and try something different the next time around.
I still have a long way to go. There will be a lot more dates, heartaches, energy-draining and hating life. But I am feeling hopeful I will one day find a person who may not only understand me and what I am going through, but is also willing to hold my hand and walk the long road with me. Maybe that is Jane. Maybe not. My next challenge would be to have and maintain a relationship without it becoming like my last one. I have grown so much since then.
It’s time to add more smiling photos to that profile. Keep my chin up and continue being me. Accept and love who I am and who I want to be and keep fighting the good fight.
Getty image by MissTuni