I want to talk to you about fear – especially the fears I see crop up around dating. Success in dating, after all, is 80% internal, 10% external presentation and 10% skill. When you want to improve your dating life, you have to start working from the inside out. This includes dealing with your dating fears. No matter how much work you put into your wardrobe or your banter, not facing down your dating fears will sabotage your progress.
The problem is that for many guys, those fears become the reason why they don’t progress. They want to avoid triggering those dating fears and become risk-averse. They throw away their shot because they see the risks as being too high. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a warm approach or cold approach situation. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a party or a coffee shop. Unless they’re 100% assured of success – or at least, a lack of failure – they don’t want to take a chance. After all: if you don’t fail, then you can live with the idea that you could succeed if you really felt like it. In the meantime, you get to enjoy the warm feeling of setting your dreams on fire.
However, it’s in avoiding failure that they ultimately cause themselves to stagnate. If we never take those risks, we lose our ability to overcome adversity. Failure is how we build those emotional hit-points that let us keep going after we fuck up. By risking rejection, we learn that rejection isn’t fatal. We court failure in order to learn how to recover from it. It’s in falling that we learn how to get up again.
So let’s look at some of your most common dating fears and how to overcome them.
“I’m Going To Be Awkward And Weird and I’ll Never Live It Down”
Let’s start with one of the primal dating fears: being so incredibly awkward that people will wonder how you’re allowed out of the house in the first place. This fear crops up in every social scenario, whether you’re trying to make new friends or get a date. You’re tense. You’re nervous. You have absolutely no idea what you’re going to say, but you know with the iron-clad certainty only achievable by religious zealots and evangelical anime fans, that you’re going to fuck up so spectacularly that you’ll be forever etched in their memory. You will become the Platonic ideal of “Awkward Creeper”, to be trotted out whenever people need to laugh at someone who dared to address their betters.
Now I’m fond of saying that any problems my readers have had, I’ve had before and usually worse. That is especially true when it comes to this particular dating fear. I’ve run the gamut for tripping over my tongue and my dick in all kinds of spectacular ways. I delivered lines so cheesy that they won culinary awards in France. I once panicked and told one girl I liked during high-school that I admired her boobs.
I’ve literally choked when trying to talk to a woman at a bar. Not figuratively or “emphatically”. Literally – turning a lovely shade of blue and coughing a lung out. And in one great moment, I freaked out over meeting my favorite childhood author so much that I told him I hated him and his book. I’d been trying to tell him how I hadn’t understood it when I was younger, but started to see the meaning of it as I grew up.
What I actually said was “so I hated this and the ending and didn’t understand why you got the story wrong and I’m going to just go away forever now.”
Since then, I learned that being awkward almost always comes from nerves. You’re so keyed up that you’re trying to concentrate on a thousand things at once. Your heart is pounding. Your brain is running at a mile a minute and your mouth is four steps behind. As a result: you say and do awkward things and feel like the biggest pile of stupid ever to walk the earth. I was so caught up in the panic of what to say to someone that shaped my childhood that I shoved my foot in my mouth up to the knee. If I’d taken a moment to relax, it would have all gone much more smoothly.
Not a year later, however, I saw him at a signing. My first impulse was to go and apologize except he had no idea who I was. For me, it was a moment that was permanently etched in my soul. For him… it was 30 seconds with an awkward fan. That taught me a secret: nobody is that phased by awkwardness. We’ve all been there, usually on both sides. Most of the time, those awkward moments will barely register to the other person. We’re usually too caught up in our own bullshit to notice.
So overcoming the fear of being awkward is simple: you slow your roll. Take slow, controlled breaths. This will lower your heart rate and ease the panic response you’re dropping into. Your heart rate will decrease. You’ll stop shaking. Your mind will stop racing. Instead of throwing a thousand words out at once, you can pause and consider them. That pause makes you look thoughtful, like you’re giving the other person your full consideration… even if you’re desperately trying to figure out what to say next.
And if you do have an awkward moment, you can recover from it. Nothing dispels awkwardness like owning and naming it. Slow down, breathe and say “hey, sorry, that was a bit awkward, huh? Let me try that again.” Calming down and taking ownership is a great way to turn “awkward” into “adorable” – especially when it becomes part of the story of how you first asked out your partner.
“Everyone’s Going To Laugh At Me”
Speaking of fear and awkwardness, let’s talk about a related fear: the fear of other people seeing you get rejected.
This is one of the most common dating fears, especially for people who have approach anxiety. You want to go say “hey” to the cutie who’s caught your eye, but you’re frozen in place. It doesn’t matter how much you try to talk yourself out of it; your limbic system’s kicked into overdrive and now you’re coming up with a thousand scenarios that end with you in jail. The situation may never change, but the end result is the same: not only are you going to get rejected, but everyone will know. And point. And laugh.
To be fair: it’s not as though there isn’t precedent for this. Most of us have had the experience of the entire school (or, occasionally, the office) having a laugh over us getting shot down by Becky. The voyeuristic appeal of people live-tweeting strangers’ bad dates can also make us feel like we’re all one overheard conversation away from being a Buzzfeed listicle. Hell, I’ve documented bad approaches that I’ve observed while out and about. So it’s not entirely out of bounds to be afraid of this. But let us take a step back for a moment.
I want you to think of the last time you were at a crowded event. Maybe you were at a friend’s party. Perhaps you were at a bar. Or maybe you were at a restaurant. Regardless of where you were, I want you to stop and ask yourself: how many people did you notice there? Not “how many people were there”, but how many did you actively pay attention to? How many stories did you see unfolding around you? Unless you were specifically looking, the odds are the answer is somewhere between “very few” and “none”.
There were people making approaches and getting shot down and you never even knew. That’s because we pay the most attention to our own lives, rather than other peoples’. We all have enough of our own drama going on that 99 times out of 100, we’re completely unaware of anyone else’s. Even if somebody else’s story directly intersects with ours, unless they have a significant impact on our lives (spoiler alert: just chatting someone up rarely will), we tend to forget about them as soon as they leave our sight-line. At most we remember that the action happened, but rarely the person involved. There are two ways that you’ll be remembered and singled out: if you’re a profound asshole or if you end up actually damaging private property.
You can avoid the former through building social calibration, approaching women who want to be approached and not being a horrible dumpster fire of a human. The latter you avoid by not living in a bad romantic comedy.
The dreaded Mean Girls or Hot Bitchy Clique aren’t out there looking to emasculate you. Women aren’t looking to make you a warning to others. That’s your fear talking. Rejection happens. Rejection sucks. But nobody’s watching or judging you. Just relax and realize you’re not the center of the universe.
“My Friend/ Co-worker/Classmate Turned Me Down And Now I Can Never Talk To Her Again”
One of the reasons why so many guys are afraid to make their move is the fear that “it will be awkward”. This is an example of common dating fears that crop up among people who’re worried about trying to date within their social circle. They would love to take a risk and ask out this person they know but they dread the consequences. Sure, the rejection itself will suck but the aftermath would be worse. Now the two of you will have this… thing… between you like a socially awkward elephant. She’ll never want to talk to you again because… well, you don’t actually know why but you know it’ll happen.
It’s the fear of the nebulous “awkward”. Things will be “different” and bad because you… let somebody know that you want to date them.
But here’s the question: why should things be different or awkward? What, exactly, did you do that was so horrible that you now have to scorch the Earth and avoid them for the rest of time?
These dating fears come down to two issues. The first is one of low self-esteem: the belief that your liking somebody is something to be ashamed of. It comes up surprisingly often among geeks. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gotten letters from people who worry that their crush would “see them differently” if said crushes knew that their friend was harboring feelings. They hide it away like a shameful secret, afraid of letting the world know because it’s just so egregious.
The other issue is a fear of consequence. It’s one thing to pretend those feelings don’t exist; you don’t risk collapsing the quantum wave form that states you both do and don’t have a chance. Putting them out there, however, means that you now have to face up to the possibility of them turning you down and having to live with the results. At its core, the fear of awkwardness is less how she will respond and more your having to get over someone having turned you down.
The easiest way to avoid these dating fears is to learn to be comfortable with your feelings – both having them and expressing them. The more at ease you are with how you feel, the easier it is to express yourself and, y’know, ask them out. It doesn’t become an impossible task or a question that will change your life’s direction, it’s asking somebody out on a date. If they say no, life will go on, the same as before.
All that awkwardness tends to be borne out of your feelings and behavior. Most people will look to see how you are going to respond to being turned down and base their reactions accordingly. Are you going to be cool about it? Or are you going to be uncomfortable? If you don’t make things awkward, they won’t feel awkward around you afterwards.
Being able to take ownership of how you feel, without shame, means that you’re better able to handle rejection. Sure, it sucks, but it doesn’t mean that things need to change between you and your friend or coworker. Friendships don’t end because you asked them on a date, they end because you act like a dick about it.
Side note: It’s important to acknowledge in an article written for straight men, that there are disproportionate risks for women and LGBTQ folks. For queer and trans people, there are very different – and very real – risks involved in asking someone on a date. While it can be awkward for a hetero, cis man to be turned down, women have been assaulted for rejecting men. Similarly, for a queer or trans person, asking someone out can be dangerous or even fatal. As much as the awkwardness and fear of rejection can be scary, please remember that it could be much much worse.
“I’m Going To Do Something Wrong And Creep Her Out”
The fear of being creepy – or worse – comes up a lot. In fact, this may be the second most common out of all the dating fears I see amongst my readers. Many people have a not-unreasonable worry that they may misread a sign or push too far and end up chasing a woman away.
Whether it’s an issue of pursuing a woman and creeping her out, pushing too hard for a kiss or sex or just generally fucking up, many guys are terrified of being pushy creepers. Or being seen as being a creeper.
But while I’ve written a lot on what makes behavior creepy and how to avoid it, occasionally lines get crossed and people fuck up. But here’s the difference between a creepy asshole and someone who fucked up but gets a second chance: you earn it. Not by demanding it. Not by tearfully begging for forgiveness. You earn it through your actions. The worse the transgression, the harder it will be to earn that second chance.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you misread a sign and got a little too pushy during a make-out session. Things didn’t go too far but now she’s uncomfortable and feeling a little used. What do you do?
You start with an apology. Not a passive-voiced “mistakes were made, lines were crossed” non-apology. Not a mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry you were offended”. You take ownership of what happened. You say “I misunderstood things, I pushed too hard and I hurt and scared you. I didn’t mean to disturb you, but I did and I’m sorry.” Then you give her space to accept or not accept your apology as she sees fit. You don’t badger her to accept it or to forgive you. You don’t make a performance of how so very sorry you are. You’re showing that you understand you fucked up. You are not doing this so you’ll feel better.
If she accepts your apology, then you now need to show her that this was a one-time mistake and you know better. You do this by being on your best behavior. She may need you to take things back a step until she feels comfortable again. You may need to give her space if she wants it. Pulling yourself away without warning can come dangerously close to trying to perform a freeze-out. This is a dick move and will just ensure that you don’t get a second chance.
Similarly, You let her dictate the terms of what she is or isn’t comfortable with. What you don’t do is demand a time-table or a schedule to the forgiveness. She may be over it quickly or it may take her a while. Pushing her, however, tells her that you’re thinking of yourself, not about how she feels. And you do not use the idea of enthusiastic consent as a passive-aggressive tactic. Again: you’re trying to show that you understand and regret your mistake, not just maneuver your way back into her good graces (and her panties).
A creeper isn’t going to care about her comfort or her boundaries. You, on the other hand are demonstrating through your actions that you care and you’ve learned from your mistake.
We all fuck up on occasion. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference.
But let’s talk about the most common of all the dating fears out there…
“I’m Afraid That I’m Not Good Enough”
The hardest fear to overcome is simply the worry that you aren’t enough. That you just can’t compare to other, more desirable men. You’re too fat, too skinny, too short, too tall, too poor. You don’t have the right car (or a car) or the right job. You’re not cool enough, not rich enough, not suave enough, not anything enough… and you never will be. You’re going to be left behind, watching others live the dreams you wish you could have.
And to a certain extent… you’re right. If you continually define yourself by what you’re not, then you’re not going to find someone. Not because women will reject you, but because you will reject them before they get a chance to know you. You will miss all those people who might be into you because you won’t believe them. You’ll have already assumed that nobody could be interested in you and dismiss them before they even can say “boo”.
When you’re caught up in the fears of not being good enough, you’re falling into a trap. You’re buying into the toxic idea that attraction for women is about a checklist of attributes; you get so many points for your job or your car, more points for your abs, etc. In reality, it’s not about fitting a specific mold of being a man, it’s what you bring to the table. Money, for example, is great for attracting women… as long as you’re ok with women who’re only attracted to money. A guy who may not be rich but has ambition and passion is still someone who’s attractive. A guy who may not be classically handsome or built like a brick shithouse but can sing like an angel can still stir the hearts and loins of women.
Case in point.
Don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean that you need to be the best of the best. It just means that you need to have something going for you.
Of course, whenever I bring this up, there are the inevitable cries of “well what if I don’t have anything?” Setting aside the question of whether I believe them, then the answer is “then you find it.” You work on your personal development. You build your social skills, work on your personal presentation. You find those passions and interests and bring them to the forefront. I have never met anyone who was truly hopeless, just people who won’t let themselves hope.
The problem is that the process of developing yourself is scary. You frequently have to be willing to question the beliefs you’ve held about yourself for most of your life. You may have to let go of parts of you that are holding you back. You’ll have to put in a lot of work. It’s not easy and it’s certainly not fast. It may take longer than you’d like. But the work itself is worth it. You come out the other side a better, happier and more fulfilled person – even without a relationship. And that is what will bring love into your life.
Your dating fears are just that: fears. They’re scary. They lurk in the back of your mind and rob you of your drive and your hope. But they can be overcome. Learn from your dating fears and let those fears teach you how to succeed.