As she fired off another message to her Bumble conquest I marvelled at her breezy demeanour. Whilst she revelled in the giddy highs of a new relationship, my own dating life seemed a veritable circus of horrors. The tell-tale signs of my mental health struggles were always there: After graduating from university the fear of failing to achieve excellence gnawed at me. At first it was quiet, a murmur in the back of my mind, but it quickly rose to the crescendo of an impossible to ignore symphony.
As my anxiety escalated from nauseating to completely paralysing a small part of me encouraged it. The crippling dread of an unremarkable job drove me to secure my dream career. Anxiety was both my worst enemy and my greatest cheerleader, my oldest and most toxic friend. Perhaps predictably my relationships bore the brunt of this ostensible frenemy. Opening yourself up to someone can be frightening for the most secure of people.
Dating in the Tinder-age is particularly triggering for anyone struggling with their mental health. When the next better thing is a mere right swipe away rejection is expected, to be blocked out by seeking more matches, more dates, more distractions from the niggling sense of being not quite good enough. Each telling blue WhatsApp tick divulging that your message has gone read but unanswered could spell the end.
You re-read conversations and scour through your last meeting for any subtext that your love interest could be planning a spectral escape. Unsurprisingly my anxiety made me difficult to date.
I was sure that each unsuccessful relationship was a reflection on me, and that if only I could somehow do better I would be rewarded. I became fixated on becoming the cool girl who I was convinced that everyone wanted to be with. I careered wildly from being aloof and guarded to desperately vulnerable as I tried to mimic versions of myself I thought others would want me to be. I needed constant reassurance, which drove me towards frighteningly possessive people.
In one particularly low moment I sobbed through a police statement after an ex stalked and harassed me, threatening self-harm if I rejected him before pouring sexually violent expletives down the phone.
A cultural narrative proclaims that when somebody makes us feel good enough our issues will melt away. Anxieties and insecurities become a plot device wedged in to convince us that love is the antidote to our supposed flaws.
Instead, shortly after the end of a relationship that felt like being forever on the edge of some terrible and inexplicable disaster, I finally began to seek help for my mental health. Learning to manage the negative chatter I constantly contend with has changed the way I date. Relationships have become, for the first time, enjoyable, and not just another way of measuring myself up against an impossibly high standard, feeding my hungry and gleeful anxiety each time I fall short.
My perception of myself takes a quieter back seat. In spite of what the game-like nature of online dating might suggest, relationships are not a thing that you can win or lose at. Have fun, stay safe, and show a little love for yourself. Maybe eventually you will share that love with someone else too. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more Newsletter Please enter a valid email address Thank you for signing up! You should receive an email to confirm your subscription shortly.
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