You look at yourself in the mirror: hair tastefully wavy, the sort of "I care about how I look, but I'm not obsessed with looks" style of wavy. It's so hard to craft a "I woke up like this" aesthetic when you desperately do not want people to know how exactly you woke up. Regardless, jeans are cuffed perfectly - not trying too hard, but also still… Trying. Shirt fits nicely enough (“except maybe a few pounds” you think to yourself)…
And that's where it hits you: the toxic thoughts spiraling in your head. You remember almost nothing from your sophomore year of high school, but you do remember how Drew laughed at your stomach; or, maybe, the toxicity started even earlier for you when your mom told you "boys don't want to date a girl who talks too much". Maybe your scars came later in life when a specific guy told you that you would accomplish nothing apart from him and even he thought you were stupid.
In today's dating game, there's one basic truth: it ain't your Mama's dating game. Hell, it might not even be your cool aunt's, the one uncomfortably close to your age. Tinder, Bumble, and all of the other dating apps can definitely cause our insecurities to skyrocket, or simply expose the superficialities of the dating scene. And, of course, nobody actually wants to be the superficial one if you are looking for realness and authenticity in a relationship.
It is a little hard (okay, a LOT hard!) to explain to those not in the game: when do you know an actual date is worth it? Meaning, what if you get dressed to go, establish your best CTA game plan (obviously choosing a restaurant/bar, conveniently situated for whichever line you both take) and then he cancels on you!!! Obviously, there are worse tragedies happening in the world, but for that hour, you mentally prepared yourself to put yourself out there and be social - and, then, sometimes they cancel. Or worse, what if it turns into a "story time" date where you could actually entertain thousands of people by retelling the horrendous nature of this date? Or, what if, there is that off chance that you actually really hit it off well; it turns out he's not actually carrying a flag in every shade of red imaginable?
Protecting yourself against the unknown - literally and figuratively - is not a completely lost cause. You can enter this ring and win this game; but you will need to take a cue from my buddy Zach Efron and "get your head in the game" - and, yes, that was a shameless High School Musical reference.
Here are some tips for doing just that: getting your head - your mental health - in the [dating] game:
3 Ways to Care for Your Mental Health While Dating from a Chicago Therapist
1. Remain confident in who you are independent of compliments.
For me, it is the hair rule. One of my best physical features is my hair, without a doubt. It is long, dark brown with natural highlights, thick, and surprisingly low maintenance. The thing is, I know I have great hair, whether anyone says anything about it or not. It is an area external validation neither adds nor detracts - I have objectively great hair. Maybe yours is not hair; maybe it is your hands, your eyes, your height, or something else. The point is, pick a feature you like that does not require anyone else's approval.
2. Remember this simple rule: you are more obsessed with your faults than anyone you would want to date.
If someone is as obsessed with your faults as you, that probably means you do not want to pursue a deep, meaningful relationship with that person. Period. Hard stop. I don’t care how attractive, witty, smart, financial stable, or anything else they are.
And while we’re at it, using this dating period to ease up on your negative thinking. Catch yourself falling into those traps and substitute them with statements that are kinder to yourself. This will impact your overall health and create a lifetime of benefits to reap. A therapist can absolutely help you with this if you’d like accountability, tips on how to do it, and a professional who can outline the steps.
3. Maintain your life around dating.
In other words, dating should not become your job—the part of your life that everything else revolves around. It can be a dynamic, lively part of your life! But beware the “mission creep” if dating, especially in this dating app world.
Check out new restaurants with your friends. Go to a happy hour with coworkers. Check out the new exhibit at the art museum. Read this month’s book for book club. This will help you retain perspective while dating—especially when it goes south. And it will give you the added bonus of having a lot to talk about while on dates.
Bonus tip: Remember that one person does represent the preferences for an entire population. In college, a guy once told me he could never marry me because of my lips - I used them too much when I talked. Unbeknownst to him, that is actually because I speak Spanish; that happens to be a language spoken with the tongue towards the end teeth and with a lot of lip movement. For the next few years, I was self-conscious about my mouth and how I looked as I spoke. But then it dawned on me: nobody else was put off by it - or at least, not enough to say that was the reason I was not attractive. That one guy? He was the outlier, not the norm. Recognizing that helped me build my confidence and recognize that I did not want to look like I lost my Spanish.
Here is the bottom line: when we can confidently look ourselves in the mirror and say, "I like this person I'm seeing" putting yourself out there seems a little less daunting. Winning the dating game obviously looks differently depending on your goals - but loving yourself? That's the ultimate win.
Talk to you soon!
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