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What dating, a minefield of micro-anxieties, can teach us

Communication in new relationships — both the need for it, or the lack of it — could help us understand ourselves better

How the other person might perceive the relationship tends to become the focal point — people tend to therefore ruminate, presume, overthink.
How the other person might perceive the relationship tends to become the focal point — people tend to therefore ruminate, presume, overthink. (Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash)

An evening coffee date that moved on to a buffet dinner. He was great — a photographer and food blogger. The conversation felt seamless. Any awkward silences were filled up with laughter. For me, it was a sign of a successful date.

But that was it. No text, no call and no Instagram request followed. Three days later, I was as disappointed as I was happy right after the date. I grew more invested in what might have been his version of the date, over mine. My happiness evaporated into a world of questions; and the biggest one was— what did I do wrong?

“What if he hated the conversation? What if he’s found someone else?” This never-ending game of “what ifs” went on. A supportive friend made sure she didn’t interrupt me as I wallowed in them over a pitcher of G&T, on a Thursday afternoon. I’d obviously been ghosted.

When communication can be calming

“You’re thinking about what went wrong without even knowing if anything is actually wrong?,” my friend asked, when I ran out of questions to articulate my self-doubt. “If you have questions, ask him. It’s that simple.”

Simple. I would describe dating as anything but simple. Still, the idea of directly asking him was a eureka moment in itself. Would dating actually be simpler if everyone let their veil of fears and insecurities down?

Anamika (name changed), a 25-year-old consultant from Mumbai, had once met someone she thought she might be interested in, through a dating app. “He was a management consultant who travelled the world and was great at his job. I found his clarity immensely attractive and I couldn’t wait for a second date,” she says. “But he never asked for one, or even hinted at it. I’d already felt I wasn’t as successful as him, but it has become clear to me that I wasn’t even enough,” she adds. She would keep replaying the entire date, wondering if she was “un-cool” or “unworthy of his attention”.

Ghosting is normalized in dating culture to an extent that it’s now deemed as a natural, almost automatic response when you’re simply not interested. It is convenient, and worse, cold.

But excess communication can also be a trigger

While this lack of communication is common, there is the other end of the spectrum, where the need for communication comes with its own share of stress in modern couples.

For 27-year-old Pune-based yoga instructor, Miheeka (name changed), the impending conversation of “where are we headed?” is a real anxiety-driver.

“After every 4-5 dates, I’m faced with the dreaded question of where the relationship is going, or whether to even call it a one,” she says. When she sees that moment coming, she feels the compulsive need to be prepared for it — she plans the time of the meeting, and even the place she should have it.

“These thoughts intensify when I genuinely like the person and worry if we’re on the same page. The fear of being perceived as too desperate or too casual haunts me and I struggle to find a balance between being myself and meeting the needs of my date,” she adds.

Process oriented, picture perfect

There was a time when relationships grew organically. But now, dating has evolved into a process-oriented culture. How the other person might perceive the relationship tends to become the focal point — people tend to therefore ruminate, presume, overthink.

This is important also because the fears and insecurities that come with this also potentially manifest into how, or whether, a person chooses to express sexual intimacy.

“I enjoy going out on dates and engaging in stimulating conversations. It opens my horizons and I feel comfortable putting myself out there,” says Aniket, 34, Bengaluru-based entrepreneur. However, he finds the physical aspects of dating especially daunting. “I choose to go for casual relationships without any physical or emotional commitment. I ensure that I communicate that before the date. Since I have the tendency to develop anxiety, I fear that it will affect my sexual performance with them. It’s stressful at times, but I’m learning how to deal with it in my own way with therapy.”

As with most things therefore, identifying what affects us the most while putting ourselves through the dating “scene”, helps with the process of building internal beliefs.

“Today self-worth is determined by the outcome of the date,” says counselling psychologist and founder of Pune-based counselling centre Healsoul World, Ms. Nupur Akotkar. “We’re so focussed on trying to be the perfect person for our dates that in the process we hardly reflect on what we want…As there’s a need for validation, we tend to portray different personalities that could potentially result in exhaustion and insecurity. It’s important to embrace our own journey rather than focussing on adapting ourselves to someone else’s,” she says.

Who are we doing this for?

Social media too plays its part. Photographs of happy couples on holidays or dates present a filtered image of what perfect relationships should look like.

“It puts an unconscious pressure on achieving what we see. But that’s the half-truth that is chosen to be put out,” says Akotkar. “Every individual is different and what might work for other couples might not work for you. Dating can be hard, but also be a beautiful way to grow and [understand] ourselves,” she adds.

It addressed my flurry of self-doubt too, when Akotkar had noted how “every experience might leave remnants of self-doubt but it is equally important to check-in and understand what we want”.

Eventually, I stopped wondering why my date didn’t text me and instead chose to focus on making myself the protagonist — it was time I started getting clarity about what I actually wanted from the dating world, instead of having insecurities and fears drive my decisions.

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