Dating in the 21st century can be tough.
The culture is becoming this weird limbo where it's super uncool to express any sort of feeling towards another human being, but really deep down all of us have all of the feels. Social anxiety can make this weird dating culture a little trickier. Although social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, it is often one that we don't talk about.
At 22, I like to consider myself a really well-managed socially anxious individual. I go to parties, I make new friends wherever I go, and I no longer leave the store if the sales associate tries to ask me how I'm doing. It has been a journey, but as I look back on my long-term adventure with social anxiety, I realize that I ended up in a lot of weird situations because of it. Many of those weird situations were a part of my dating life.
When I was just a young grasshopper, dates were a big deal. I was pretty awkward and kind of weird so the fact that a cute boy was paying me any attention sort of blew my mind. On one occasion a boy I was seriously into asked me ever-so-graciously to "chill". *SWOON* I was over the moon about it, but also immensely terrified. There was approximately 3 days in between him asking me to chill and the day we agreed to chill on. In those 3 days, my old friend anxiety came to town for an unwelcome visit.
If I could describe my social anxiety at that time in one word it would be: looming.
For those three days, it peered over my shoulder as I did my homework. It sat beside me on my bus rides home. It tucked itself into bed with me as I fell asleep. It was always there. I did everything I could to distract myself from the terrifying issue at hand (that being that a boy might actually kind of sort of like me) but nothing really helped. It was like I had a mental sunburn that was constantly stinging. I wish I could say that this experience was limited to mental pain, but as many of us socially anxious adventurers know, it rarely ends there.
When people think of social anxiety, the image of a shy girl in the corner, blushing and giggling softly comes to mind. What is not pictured in this adorable vision is vomiting and diarrhea. I wish I could have avoided talking about the least-cute-of-all bodily functions, but the reality is that it happens- and it is the worst. Although anxiety is a mental illness, it can have some really physical symptoms. I was so worked up that barely ate for three days and when I did, it all exited my body in a less than orderly fashion. It didn't stop. If I wasn't anxious enough already, the day of the *chill sesh* came and the physical symptoms were still in full swing.
For those of you reading this who do not experience anxiety, social or otherwise, you may be thinking "this sounds exhausting, you really shouldn't worry so much" and believe me I am aware that this is a lot of work to be so concerned about one thing. I am all about the 'Don't Worry Be Happy' vibes, but anxiety happens whether you are completely aware of it or not. It may seem that one could avoid these overwhelming feelings but that is simply not true.
I knew that I could just straight up cancel on him, never speak to him again and move to another continent, but I also knew that I genuinely wanted to do this, and that somewhere really deep down this would be good for me.
The chill sesh began and I was the absolute opposite of chill about it.
I was no longer hopeful that he would kiss me, I was just hopeful that I wouldn't vomit whilst in his presence. There was a million thoughts racing through my head:
Am I sitting too close to him?
Is he looking at the zit on my chin?
Did I sweat through my deodorant?
OMG Did I even wear deodorant??
He's speaking to me as all of these thought race around inside my brain. I frantically search for words that I can muster. I respond with something that may not even make any sense because my thoughts are so loud that I can barely hear what he is saying.
I hope I smell okay.
Am I breathing too loudly?
*literally stops breathing for a moment*
We ended up hanging out in his parents basement and watching Nacho Libre, which stars Jack Black and was rated 5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. If I were to rate this date I would also give it a 5/10. By the end of it he put his arm around me and did that cute thing where he gently picks your chin up like it's an hors d'oeuvre to kiss me, which was by far the best part. All of the nervous thoughts in my head rejoiced and high-fived one another before doing the Macarena in unison.
I walked away from the suburb in which his parents lived feeling like I just destroyed a horcrux.
Slowly but surely my feelings of normalcy came back. My hands were no longer shaking. I was no longer nauseous, and you better believe that when my hunger returned I made myself a hefty plate of french fries. I also left feeling quite upset with myself.
Although I've had social anxiety since I can remember, at the time I had no idea what social anxiety was. I was angry at myself for worrying and being worked up. I was mad at myself for being "over dramatic" I knew that my friends didn't react the same way that I did when faced with similar situations. Everything that I went through to make it through this *chill sesh* was exhausting and from an outsider's perspective, totally ridiculous. It was isolating.
Luckily, now as a semi-professional grown up, I understand that I have a mental illness. I understand that social anxiety exists, and is a (very small) part of who I am. As a self-proclaimed "well-managed" socially anxious 22 year old, I can look back at this and give my young grasshopper self a high five "You did it, champ"
Written by Executive Assistant, Addie Van Rijn