Fear of Dating Again: advice on how to tackle post-pandemic ‘FODA’ - according to a psychologist

How exactly are we supposed to dive back into the world of face-to-face dating after a year of isolation?

As Covid-19 restrictions around the UK begin to ease and the vaccination programme continues at pace, life as we knew it before the pandemic is slowly starting to return.

However, most of us won’t be able to dive straight back into pre-pandemic living and will need to ease ourselves in gradually.

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This is especially true for people who are trying to dip their toes back into the world of relationships after a year of mostly digital dating.

Are you feeling anxious about dating in real life once again? (Photo: Kim Mogg / JPI Media)

Our pre-Covid FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out - has been replaced with FODA - Fear Of Dating Again.

The term was coined by dating app Hinge in January 2021, and refers to the fears and worries that come along with dating face to face after spending a year with limited real life social interactions.

While you may be anxious about going on dates in person once again, there are steps that you can take to soothe your fears. Speaking to NationalWorld, Professor Ewan Gillon, Chartered Psychologist and Clinical Director at First Psychology Scotland, offers up these seven pieces of advice.

You’re not alone in your fears

Straight off the bat, it’s important to know that it’s not just you that’s struggling with these feelings.

Professor Gillon says: “Dating can be tricky at the best of times. Whether you are hoping to meet a potential new partner online or in your favourite pub, most of us find the process daunting.

“The pandemic lockdowns put a stop to face to face dating for months at a time, but as things are easing and social interaction is becoming safer and more acceptable again, dating in person is a possibility.

“If the mere thought of going out and meeting with a stranger outside of your social bubble makes you break out in a cold sweat, don’t worry, you are not alone. FODA - the fear of dating again - is real.”

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Pinpoint the reasons for your anxiety

It’s important to try and pinpoint where exactly your feelings of anxiety are coming from - it’s likely that your worries about meeting with someone in real life are exacerbated by normal first date worries.

“As is the case with many different forms of anxiety, it is worth taking the time to understand why you are feeling this way,” says Professor Gillon.

“Let’s take a closer look at FODA. Starting with dating itself, and even without the pandemic, finding a new partner can be a bit of a minefield.

“Most of us are anxious when we meet someone new at social or networking events for instance, even if we have already chatted online.”

Don’t put pressure on yourself

While it’s normal to want to make an effort when it comes to dating, you should avoid putting yourself - or the date - under too much pressure.

Professor Gillon says: “Whilst it’s perfectly normal to make an effort when it comes to dating, try to avoid putting undue pressure on yourself.

“Admittedly, this is easier said than done. However, being aware of the source of your feelings of stress and anxiety is often the first step towards managing them.”

Focus on what you can control - not what you can’t

It’s easy for our minds to focus in on things that are outside of our control, and worry about what could go wrong, rather than thinking about what could go right.

Professor Gillon says: “Every date has aspects beyond your control. Wasting energy fretting about these will only add to your anxiety. Instead, it’s worth focusing on what elements you can influence. What ultimately are your fears?

“Are they perhaps fears of being rejected, not knowing what to say, or lacking confidence in how you look or come across. These are all perfectly rational fears and are likely ones shared by your date too!”

Keep it casual

While the prospect of being able to do all kinds of activities as lockdown eases might be tempting, it’s likely best to keep things casual for now to avoid the risk of stressing you, or your date, out.

Professor Gillon says: “To help you both relax and feel the most natural you can be, opt for a more casual meet up - for a short walk somewhere scenic or in a relaxed social environment where you feel safe.

“Plan a few topics you feel confident talking about and how you might open up a conversation. Listen to your date - it’s important they know you are listening and interested in what they have to say and this will help you both to relax too.

“Discovering common interests early on gives you both a head start to talk confidently and allay those nerves.”

Be honest with your date

Communication is the key to any successful relationship, so you should begin by setting the expectations and boundaries for your date before you arrive in person, rather than trying to deal with a situation you’re not comfortable with.

“It's important to be honest with yourself and your potential new partner about how you’re feeling and how things are going. If you are feeling anxious about meeting, shaking hands or hugging, let them know. Most people will appreciate and share these feelings,” Professor Gillon says.

It could be the story that your date is feeling exactly the same way as you, and will appreciate you broaching the subject first.

Be positive and enjoy the journey

Professor Gillon says: “Above all, whilst you don’t want FODA taking over your life, it’s important to avoid being rushed into something you are not comfortable with.

“Take your time and don’t put huge expectations on the date itself. If your potential date feels like he/she could be “the one” they will be happy to move at a pace you’re both happy with. This will allow you to spend more time to get to know each other.

“Be positive in your thoughts and enjoy the journey of getting to know each other.”