Dating is a process that some people hate, some love and some just endure for the sake of finding a soul mate. It can be fun, grueling, exciting and frustrating all at once. If dating were easy, there wouldn't be books out there with names like "Dating Makes You Want to Die But You Have to Do It Anyway" and "Dating, Inc.: Recruit, Select and Retain the Right Man for the Relationship." Dating how-to books like "How Not to Date" are full of horror stories about dates who show up without showering, talk too much or are just downright scary. Why is dating in the 21st century more nerve-wracking than ever?
Part of it is demographics. About half of Americans are single, so there should be lots of choices out there, right [Source: The New York Times]? Not necessarily. Single men outnumber single women in the western half of the U.S., and vice versa in the eastern half, where there are more single women. So anyone living in Los Angeles (where there are about 90,000 more single men than women) who is looking for a man has an advantage over someone living in New York (which has 210,000 more single women than men) [Source: The Boston Globe].
Dating anxiety could also have something to do with changing social norms -- you may not be sure what your role is in the dating sphere. People are living longer, gender roles are becoming more flexible, and adults are putting equal priority on their careers, friendships and social causes. Still, the pressure is on to date as much as possible, find a soul mate and get married. However, despite all this pressure and the unfavorable odds, dating can be a lot of fun. The trick may be in the attitude one brings to the process of dating, and in having the confidence to give it a go and survive to date again.
Read on to learn how to build up your confidence for that next big date.
How to Relax Before a Date
Soothing music fills the air, candlelight softly illuminates your face and a warm evening breeze brings the scent of jasmine into the room -- are you on your dream date? Nope. This is all happening inside your head when you practice the relaxation technique known as visualization. By transporting yourself in your mind to a place that makes you feel calm and relaxed, visualization can help you erase the tension induced by thinking about your impending date. Less tension means steadier hands for applying mascara or shaving off a five-o'clock shadow, and more energy left over for sparkling conversation and salsa dancing. According to the Mayo Clinic, practicing visualization and other relaxation techniques can do the following:
- Slow your heart rate
- Lower your blood pressure
- Increase blood flow to your muscles and reduce muscle tension
- Boost confidence
Just breathing more deeply can help calm a frazzled mind. Practice the 4-7-8 breath recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil, or try abdominal breathing, which helps to deepen your breath and relax the abdominal muscles that keep those butterflies trapped in your stomach.
Since being in a rush will raise your adrenaline, give yourself plenty of time to get ready. If you know that you won't have much time, plan ahead. Know what you're going to wear, down to the last accessory, and program directions to the restaurant into your GPS. If you're going straight from work, all the better -- you're already dressed. Ladies, just switch out low-key daytime accessories for something more glamorous, and touch up your makeup for the nighttime lights. Gentlemen, put on a jacket and comb your hair.
Other methods you may use to relax before your date depend on your personality. If the date follows a hectic day at work, you might prefer a long, warm bath while listening to calming music. Someone with energy to spare might find it more relaxing to dance around the house to loud music and take an invigorating shower before the date.
If all else fails, take the tried-and-true route to feeling good -- laugh! Laughter turns off the hormones responsible for the fight-or-flight response to stress [source: Mayo Clinic]. So take a few minutes before your date arrives to watch a favorite funny video or read a comic strip that you know will split your sides.
Next up, we'll look at another way to use body chemistry to boost your mood.
Working Out Before a Date
According to the CDC, fewer than 33 percent of adults in the U.S. exercise regularly, and 36 percent don't exercise at all. While it doesn't mention what the other 31 percent are or aren't doing; presumably they are the ones who exercise in fits and starts throughout the year, or perhaps only during bathing-suit season. However, besides firming up abs, thighs and buttocks, exercise has some interesting biochemical effects that help keep stress and anxiety at bay, and heighten a person's sense of well-being and confidence.
Currently, scientists are debating which chemicals in the body are responsible for producing the happy feelings induced by exercise. Most of the compounds being studied are neurotransmitters, the molecules that help the brain communicate with the body. You may have heard of some of them: endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Research has found that moderate exercise may also have an antioxidant effect that lessens the effects of stress on the body [Source: Reynolds]. Regardless of which molecule is responsible, there is no doubt that exercise has a positive effect on mood and cognitive function.
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America says that even a quick 10-minute walk can relieve anxiety for several hours. Regular exercise may be as good as medicine and psychotherapy for lessening symptoms of anxiety [source: USA Today]. While feeling anxious before a date hardly qualifies you as having an anxiety disorder, the same principles can be applied. The mood-lifting effects of just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity bike riding can last up to 12 hours [source: USA Today].
In addition to taking a brisk walk to relieve date-related stress on the big day, consider making that sporadic exercise schedule more consistent. Much of the research into exercise and anxiety shows that whatever effects are gained from short-term exercise are multiplied in the long-term. These long-term effects include less anxiety, clearer thinking, more energy and sounder sleep. And let's not forget another important benefit of exercise -- being fit and looking healthy.
Looking good is a big confidence booster, and next up we'll talk about how dressing for a date can help.
Update Your Look Before a Date
In her book, "How to Date in a Post-Dating World," Diane Mapes keeps her advice on what to wear on a first date simple: "Something that's comfortable, something that's flattering and something that fits." Though this is great advice, it covers anything from your favorite pair of sweats to the most revealing lingerie, not to mention that dress you bought five years ago but never wore. You can still wear that dress as long as it's comfortable, flattering and well-fitting. However, you might want to add a couple of newer accessories, like a stylish pair of shoes, an updated haircut (yes, your hair is an accessory) or a trendy belt.
Updating your look doesn't require a major overhaul of your closet by an expensive professional stylist, or going on a talk show to get a head-to-toe makeover. Here are some dos and don'ts for how to freshen up your look when you've got a hot date:
- Hair: Try a different hairstyle, color or, for the ladies, a hair accessory. If you're going for a radical change, like long to short, or brown to blonde, do it with enough lead time so that you can fix it if you don't like the new look. Nothing undermines your confidence like a bad hair day.
- Makeup: Get some makeup tips from an expert. The salespeople at the makeup counters in department stores would love to match you up with a new shade of lipstick or blush. Make sure you test the new look in different kinds of lighting before your date.
- Clothing: Invest in a fabulous new piece of clothing, or enliven a favorite outfit with a new accessory.
- Don't radically change your look unless it's part of your style to do so regularly. It may be a good idea to leave your "wild" clothes at home and avoid extreme styles.
- Don't dress outside your comfort zone. If jeans are appropriate for where you're going on the date, wearing them may help you feel more comfortable.
- Don't reveal too much with your clothing. "Sexy" is more than just the way you dress. Choose one feature to accentuate rather than trying to show it all off at once.
Think Positive Before a Date
Realistically, not every date is going to lead to a soul mate, so having a good attitude about the dating process can take a lot of the stress out of it -- at least until you do find that perfect person or just someone you'd like to get to know better. What does a good attitude look like? It's more than just positive thinking. It's about keeping your perspective so that even if the date goes sour, you can still go home with your self-confidence intact.
For instance, start with managing your expectations. If you've spent all week fantasizing that you and your date are going to fall madly in love, you will likely be disappointed with the reality, even if the reality is that you have a really good time. The Buddhist philosophy of nonattachment is a good one to practice in dating. Pema Chödrön, a renowned teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, explains that being attached to things, even the outcome of a date, keeps you oriented to the future rather than the present and prevents you from connecting with the people around you. Leaving your expectations at home also includes not bringing along memories of all the bad dates you've ever been on and grudges from past relationships [source: eHarmony].
That said, it doesn't hurt to be optimistic. Optimists live longer, and you'll definitely want to live as long as possible once you've found "the one" [source: Weil]. This doesn't just mean always thinking happy thoughts. Optimism leaves room for something good to come out of a bad date -- after all, even the worst date will at least make a good story to tell your friends.
If you aren't naturally optimistic, don't worry; optimism and positive thinking can be learned. Visualization and affirmation are ways to teach yourself positive thinking. Close your eyes and visualize being confident, sexy and charming on the date. Make up a couple of key phrases, or affirmations, to say to yourself before and during the date -- try "I radiate confidence and ease."
Visualizations and affirmations will help you focus on your many good qualities. They'll also help you accept your imperfections and know that you may stumble over your words now and then, or spill a little wine, but these moments are your opportunities to be vulnerable and show how human you are. This is also when those laughter-induced endorphins can really make a difference.
For more dating tips and tricks, check out the links on the next page.
More Great Links
- Amundsen, Mark. "What to Wear on First Dates." Happen Magazine. 2009. (Sept. 26, 2010) http://www.match.com/magazine/article0.aspx?articleid=11813
- Anxiety Disorders Association of America. "Exercise for Stress and Anxiety." (Oct. 3, 2010) http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety
- FastStats, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Exercise or Physical Activity." April 21, 2009. (Oct. 3, 2010) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/exercise.htm
- Gobeske KT, Das S, Bonaguidi MA, Weiss C, Radulovic J, Disterhoft JF, Kessler JA. "BMP signaling mediates effects of exercise on hippocampal neurogenesis and cognition in mice." PLoS One. Oct. 20, 2009. (Oct. 3, 2010) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2759555/?tool=pubmed
- Hellmich, Nancy. "Good mood can run a long time after workout." USA Today. June 2, 2009. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2009-06-02-exercise-mood_N.htm
- Krinsky, Natalie. "Be More Confident on Dates." Happen Magazine. 2009. (Sept. 26, 2010) http://www.match.com/magazine/article0.aspx?articleid=5961
- Mapes, Diane. "How to Date in a Post-Dating World." Sasquatch Books. 2006.
- Mayo Clinic. "Relaxation techniques: Essential for reducing stress." May 23, 2009. (Oct. 2, 2010) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/relaxation-technique/SR00007
- Mayo Clinic. "Stress relief from laughter? Yes, no joke." July 23, 2009. (Oct. 2, 2010) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress-relief/SR00034
- Neumann, Kimberly Dawn. "Calm Those Pre-Date Jitters." Happen Magazine. 2009. (Sept. 26, 2010) http://www.match.com/magazine/article0.aspx?articleid=4877
- Painter, Kim. "Exercise helps fight anxiety, depression." USA Today. April 26, 2010. (Oct. 4, 2010) http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/painter/2010-04-26-yourhealth26_ST_N.htm
- Raye, Rori. "Two Steps to Becoming Irresistibly Confident." eHarmony.com Advice. (Sept. 26, 2010) http://advice.eharmony.com/article/two-steps-to-being-irresistibly-confident.html
- Reynolds, Gretchen. "Phys Ed: Your Brain on Exercise." The New York Times. July 7, 2010. (Oct. 3, 2010) http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/07/your-brain-on-exercise/
- Reynolds, Gretchen. "Phys Ed: Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious." The New York Times. Nov. 18, 2009. (Oct. 3, 2010) http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/phys-ed-why-exercise-makes-you-less-anxious/
- Spencer, Amy. "Be a Dating Optimist." Happen Magazine. 2009. (Sept. 26, 2010) http://www.match.com/magazine/article0.aspx?articleid=6031
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Counseling Center. "Self-Confidence." http://www.counselingcenter.illinois.edu/?page_id=191