How to Deal with Severe Anxiety while Dating
My journey to getting married was riddled with uncertainty and severe anxiety. Here are some practical suggestions for those struggling with intense doubt and fear while dating.
I recently got married at age 38. I found my person and have been blessed with a supportive, caring, loving husband. It was a very long, difficult journey to get here. I can’t say I fully understand why I had to endure so much hardship and pain throughout my years of singlehood, but I can say that I felt God with me through many of my dating experiences and especially upon finally reaching the chuppah.
Whenever I’d get down about dating, people would tell me, “Dating is tough, but once you find the right person, everything will just fall into place.” This did not end up being the case for me. My journey to the chuppah was riddled with doubt, uncertainty, and severe anxiety that almost caused me to lose the one thing I had always wanted most and that took me nearly 20 years to find. I am sharing my story in hopes of shedding light on some issues that don’t get talked about enough.
My story began like most regular Orthodox Jewish girls, but the issues I grappled with apply to everyone. I grew up in a loving home with many siblings. I attended the typical schools in my community, seminary, then college and began dating at the tender age of 19. I figured I would be married within a year or two. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and as time trudged on, I grew increasingly more disappointed and frustrated with the direction that my life was taking. I had wanted to build a family, and that aspiration seemed increasingly more out of reach. As the years wore on, I just kept accumulating more and more relationship heartbreak.
At the age of 37 when I finally met my husband, I had been dating for 18 years. My life was so full at that point. I had amazing friends, a supportive family, had traveled the world, had lived on different continents, had seen different careers. There wasn’t much I hadn’t done. But marriage still evaded me. I had always held out hope of finding someone to settle down with, but after all the years of painful break-ups, the doubts and painful experiences had begun to eat away at me.
I wasn’t sleeping, my thoughts were constantly racing, and I was feeling nauseous all the time. I lost ten pounds during our second month of dating and I knew I needed help.
I met my husband and our first date was great, and so were the following few dates. Then the trouble started. I was hit with severe anxiety. Anxiety like I had never seen. I was someone who had previously experienced anxiety (only in dating) on a much smaller scale in my past relationships, but now it was severe. I wasn’t eating well, I wasn’t sleeping, my thoughts were constantly racing, and I was feeling nauseous all the time. I lost ten pounds during our second month of dating and I knew I needed professional help. I found a great psychiatrist who prescribed me medication that she was convinced would help me and I also saw her weekly to talk through my feelings.
Even though I sought out professional help, started a medication regimen and also confided in my close friends and family, I was still in turmoil. I couldn’t make up my mind about my husband. The anxiety, even though more manageable, was still very present. I found myself having ‘good dates’ where I felt more confident about moving forward, and then I had ‘bad ones’ where I felt that he might not be the right guy for me and that I should end things with him and move on. The worst part was not knowing if indeed he was the wrong guy for me, or if it was just my anxiety and fears taking over.
Between my anxiety and my doubts and concerns, I just didn’t see myself making it to the chuppah. I prayed for clarity and continued dating in the hopes that I would reach a place where I could either break up or get married and look back at whatever choice I ended up making with confidence.
Throughout this arduous process, I wished I could speak to someone who had also experienced severe anxiety while dating and managed to make it to the chuppah when their mental state and physiological symptoms threatened to derail their relationships. There was no one to turn to for advice who went through the same things and was open to talking about it.
I have seen how anxiety and fear can ruin promising relationships. I am an example of someone that found dating to be difficult, draining, overwhelming, and exhausting. Yet I managed, thank God, to persevere through medication, therapy, and working through a lot of my own issues. I had to look inside and ask myself some really hard questions in order to create my happy ending.
Don’t let your fears or anxiety overtake a good relationship and potentially hinder you from living your best life.
If there is anyone out there who sees themselves in these paragraphs, I urge you not to give up. To cry your tears of frustration, to pray or meditate or do whatever you need to in order to center yourself, and then to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Please don’t let your fears or anxiety overtake a good relationship and potentially hinder you from living your best life.
Here are a few suggestions that I recommend considering if you find yourself struggling with (severe) anxiety, fear and doubt about the relationship you are in or while dating in general.
1. Speak to mental health professionals to gain more support and perspective on your situation (and pursue the medication option if it’s deemed medically appropriate for you).
2. Talk to the friends and family that you trust to help unload some of the overwhelming emotions that you’re feeling. A solid and healthy support system is a huge key to helping you stay strong through this process.
3. Call a rabbi or mentor or someone older and wiser than you who may be able to give you valuable advice and offer a different perspective.
4. Be kind to yourself (whether that means getting a manicure, a massage, going for a run, listening to music or just taking time for yourself to reflect and stay centered).
5. Allow yourself to process through your feelings with patience and self-love. Do not beat yourself up for feeling confused, panicked, or afraid, and give yourself the permission to “not know right now”. Tolerate the uncertainty. While uncomfortable, it is not dangerous.
6. Pray. Journal. Use whatever means works for you to express your innermost thoughts in a coherent way so that you can better understand what is going on inside of you. Journaling also helps so that in the future, you can look back at the trajectory of the relationship, at a time when you are clearer headed and objective and not as emotionally enmeshed in the moment.
7. Explore some of the fears you have about moving forward. For instance, for someone who has been dating for many years, the thought of losing that ‘single’ identity and assuming a new ‘married’ one can be scary. It can open up all kinds of feelings around who you are as a person, and your sense of self. Ask yourself if fear of this transition is holding you back from reaching the goal you’ve been working towards all these years.
8. This one might be controversial but speak to the person you’re dating about how you’re feeling. You don’t have to unload everything, and definitely be mindful about what you share and how you share it, but still allow him or her to support you in whatever way you feel might help you. This was a very important one for me to let my husband in and for him to understand what I was going through and how I was feeling.
9. Let go of any ideas you may have in your head of what kind of person you thought you’d end up with. This is important because it may be holding your relationship back from progressing. If I hadn’t thrown out all the thoughts I had about what my life partner would be like, I may not have continued dating my husband. He is so different than the other people I had dated in the past, but I realized that I was prioritizing the wrong things in relationships before I met him. I started to see him for who he truly was and I can say with confidence, he is everything I need in a husband and has all the truly important qualities that make me happy and will help us have a great life together. Sometimes you just need to get out of your own way and embrace new ideas and the potential for happiness with someone you didn’t expect.
10. And finally, do things at your own pace, and talk to the person you’re dating about what that pace is. Don’t give in to social or family pressures to do things slower or faster than you feel comfortable with. If you need to date for a year to get to a good place, do that. If having a short engagement or skipping certain typical wedding procedures is what you need to make it through, then do that. You can even adjust your actual wedding to suit your needs (i.e, a small guest list, a less intimidating venue, less or no dancing, etc.). There are no rules, only social norms. Don’t let other people tell you what you need to do to make it to the other side. Only you can answer those questions for yourself and you need to find the strength to make it clear to the people around you how you need to do things for your own peace of mind.
I remember how alone I felt trying to stay afloat while dating my husband. There were times when I felt like I was drowning and I wish there had been people who had shared their difficult dating experiences, so that I would have known a happy ending was possible. So this is me telling you that your happy ending IS possible. Keep the faith, and keep fighting. You can pick yourself up and come out on the other side too. Even though this was the most difficult experience of my life, it’s amazing to have finally reached the finish line that I was working toward for almost 20 years of my life. I made it and you can too.
If any readers would like to contact me (all correspondence will remain confidential), I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org