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I’m not going to pretend like I’m a dating expert—in fact, I’m far from it. I’ve gone on a few dates here and there, but I’m notorious for canceling just days (sometimes hours) before. I know what you’re thinking, what a jerk. And I completely agree with you. It’s just that my nerves and my anxiety get to be too much and it appears to be the only fix… until now.

It finally dawned on me that there are more beneficial (and kinder) ways for dealing with this anxiety: accepting it and doing what I can to master the world of dating. Dr. Marie Fang, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Rev. Sheri Heller, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, offered me a few tips and I’m confident they’ll help you as well:

    1) Focus on friendship first.

    Fang says you should first focus on establishing a friendship with someone before thinking too much into a romantic connection. “Sometimes people get so caught up on trying to figure out if there is any romantic potential while on a first date that they forget how to act like a normal person,” she explains. “By seeing a date as an opportunity to make a new friend, you’re more likely to be yourself. Romance begins with a foundation of friendship, so it’s important to see if you are compatible as friends before making any strides into romance. And who knows, you may make a friend or two along the way!”

    2) Know what you want.

    Heller builds off of Fang’s first tip, saying that you need to make your intentions clear. While it’s a good idea to build a friendship first, if you’re hoping it advances into a romantic relationship, you should make that clear to the individual. “Be clear about the type of relationship you are ultimately seeking; friendship, casual dating, or a committed relationship. Define what conditions characterize the relationship you hope to experience through dating,” she says. “The more conviction you have about what you seek and what you can offer, the less confusion there is around who you are compatible with and who it’s appropriate for you to pursue an ongoing connection with.”

    3) Set small goals.

    It’s also smart to set small goals and have realistic expectations, as explained by Fang. “Often people are feeling pressure to find the one when they embark on a new dating app or platform. This high level of pressure is impossible to meet based on a brief profile or photo,” she says. “Instead, set smaller, more manageable goals to take the pressure off of the first dates. For example, setting a goal of going on two first dates per month may feel more manageable than trying to figure out if this person could be a long-term partner. Relieving some of the anxiety around dating can also help you to be more yourself, and potentially more likeable to your potential suitors.”

    4) Be transparent.

    Heller also recommends establishing and maintaining yourself as an open book—doing so well allow you to first build that important friendship and potential relationship. “Being vague and cryptic leads to insecurity and indifference. To nurture friendship and a deeper romantic connection, one has to be willing to risk vulnerability and reveal who they are,” she explains. “Honest sharing and disclosure is what makes relationships meaningful. We need to be seen in order to feel cared for. Show who you truly are and those who can reciprocate and validate this gesture are those worth exploring a relationship with.”

    5) Pick activities you enjoy.

    Fang’s third and final dating tips is to structure your dates around what you enjoy. You don’t have to go to dinner or grab a drink if that’s not your thing! “It’s okay to go on less conventional dates if there are certain activities that you feel more comfortable doing. The typical first date of going to a bar for a drink doesn’t necessarily work for the average person. Find what activities are appropriate to you and allow yourself to think outside the box,” she explains. “Maybe you might enjoy going to a farmers market, food truck, or exhibit instead. Picking activities that suit you will help you feel more comfortable on the date while also having an opportunity to do something you enjoy.”

    6) Uphold high interpersonal standards.

    And lastly, keep your values at the forefront, Heller advises. “Interpersonal respect and integrity are the foundation of building trust and encouraging intimacy. Upholding interpersonal behaviors that offer consistency and predictability with communication and making plans is essential to establishing momentum with dating. Showing a willingness to accommodate another person’s interests and learn about who they are builds a solid connection. And naturally being open to receiving generosity is critical to a balanced experience of give and take,” she explains.

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