When you have an anxiety disorder, living a normal life becomes virtually impossible. Everyday situations that other people don’t think twice about can make you sweat and give you heart palpitations, and experiences that most people might consider to be slightly stressful can give you a full-on panic attack. Your emotional and physical symptoms can control your life, dictating everything from what you do to where you go. And unfortunately for those of us who are hoping to find love, anxiety can affect your love life and relationship.
I’ve dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and while my symptoms aren’t nearly as severe as those of a lot of people I know, the disorder has still made dating a challenge. A couple people I’ve dated have seen my panic attacks and thought that I was just being “dramatic,” and a couple more have actually used my anxiety to try to control and manipulate me. Luckily, I’ve since upgraded, and my current partner has been nothing but helpful and supportive in my battle against anxiety and its pesky cousin, depression. But that doesn’t mean my anxiety has simply stopped affecting my love life.
If you have anxiety and are trying to get into or maintain a relationship or just an active sex life, you’ve probably dealt with a lot of difficulties that many people with anxiety struggle through. It can be frustrating, and even enraging at times, but somewhere out there is a person who isn’t just willing to tolerate your anxiety, but also help you through it as your mental health sidekick. Just remember that if you find yourself dealing with any of these anxiety-related dating woes, you’re definitely not alone.
Zero people are going to blame you if you turn down your romantic interest’s suggestion of going skydiving on the first date. But lots of situations that are no big deal to most people can cause a serious rush of adrenaline for someone with anxiety. Trying out that interesting new Indian restaurant in town? Ha, like I’d ever put myself in a situation where the waiter could laugh at me for mispronouncing the name of a food. Going out for a drink on a Friday night? Thanks, but people would probably touch or bump into me by accident, and quite frankly, nope.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that up to 18 percent of adults in the United States live with an anxiety disorder, with up to 23 percent of those cases being classified as “severe.” This makes it one of the most common mental illnesses around, and yet, it’s still massively misunderstood and stigmatized But even worse than someone who doesn’t want to deal with your anxiety is someone who seriously just does. not. get it. They’ll say things like, “I have anxiety, too! My heart pounds a little faster right before a potentially life-changing job interview,” or, “I totally know what you’re going through. I start sweating every time I have to walk through a sketchy neighborhood at 3 a.m.”
Lots of folks don’t understand that having your mind and body respond appropriately to scary situations is not the same as freaking out over an everyday situation that shouldn’t be terrifying. It’s pretty much a miracle when you either find someone who actually gets what you’re going through or is willing to do their best to understand your anxiety and how it impacts your life.
Once you’ve been dating someone for a while, you generally know enough about them to figure out if they just fell asleep in the middle of texting or if they actually decided that they hate you mid-conversation. When you’re talking to someone new, though, everything they do is enough to make your heart rate go up. Did they really think your joke was funny? Or are they secretly praying for this date to come to an early end because your attempts at humor are so pathetic? No smiley face emoji at the end of their “Talk to you later!” message? Even if all the signs point to your new love interest genuinely enjoying your company, your anxiety will twist everything it can into convincing you that they’re just talking to you and spending time with you because they pity you.
You know that sense of dread you get during that part in a horror movie when all the main characters are happy and not being murdered? It’s awful because everything seems so great, and you want it to continue being great, but you know without a doubt that it’s only a matter of time before things start to go horribly wrong. For those of us with anxiety, that’s what it’s like being in a happy relationship.
It’s almost more comforting when things do start to go wrong, because your mind has spent so much time preparing for disaster that it’s a relief to know that you’re not crazy and the downfall of your relationship has really always been waiting just around the corner. Your worries become a self-fulfilling prophecy as your anxiety begins to affect your relationship for the worse, and it’s like there’s nothing you can do to stop it. The feeling you get when there’s conflict in your relationship is a more vibrant form of anxiety that bursts into your mind and feels much more intense, but the kind you get when everything appears to be just fine is a slow-burning worry that sits in the back of your mind and wreaks a very subtle kind of havoc on your psyche.
All the paranoia, panic attacks, and physical health symptoms that plague you when you have anxiety can make you feel like you’re sometimes less than human. But here’s the thing: you’re not some freak of nature. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that women are 60 percent more likely than men to develop an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, so if you’re dating a dude, it shouldn’t be a big surprise if you have the disorder and he doesn’t. However, despite the fact that your partner has happily stayed with you thus far and tried to help you through your anxiety, you might start to wonder if they’re really as content in this relationship as they say they are. Maybe they’re just sticking around because it’s convenient… or worse, maybe you’ve accidentally manipulated them into thinking that everyone freaks out as often as you do. The rational side of you knows that your S.O. is well aware of what they sign up for every day when they decide to love you and not someone else, but there’s always that voice of doubt that makes you wonder exactly when they’re going to realize the “mistake” they made by dating you.