How to protect your mental health while dating

The horror movie "Fresh" pretty much epitomizes how terrifying modern dating is. Without giving any spoilers about the rest of the movie, "Fresh" starts out with Noa, the main character, going on a Tinder date. After the guy criticizes the way she dresses and yanks the leftovers she paid for, he asks if they can do this again sometime, and she responds, "I don't think we're really a match." He shoots back: "I was literally just being polite. You're not even my type. Good luck finding a guy, you stuck-up b*tch." 

Dating can really put your mental health and your self-esteem through the ringer. I remember one time, during my single years, I hung out with this guy every Tuesday for a month, and when I asked if we could hang out on a Saturday, he called me clingy and needy and stopped talking to me. And it made me question myself, wondering if I really was asking for too much, instead of realizing um...this guy is probably either married or has a designated girl for every day of the week and was mad when I challenged his system.

I am thankful to now be in a healthy relationship —with a man who actually wants to see me everyday (it's a miracle). It's sad that, with all the bad dates I had been on previously, I used to think this kind of relationship was impossible. 

But, I recently suffered from a cruel flashback to my dating life and a reminder of how hard the words and actions of people you just met can affect you. 

I went to the bar with a friend, and, after returning from the bathroom, she told me that a guy hit on her and told her she was "more attractive than her friend" (aka me). And it shouldn't have bothered me. Who cares what this stranger thought of me? But the fact that, in order to hit on my friend, he also had to diminish the way I look — it shattered my self confidence and heightened my anxiety symptoms for days. 

Those with depression, anxiety disorder and other mental health conditions are more likely to struggle with their self confidence. And, when you already have low self-esteem, when just one person says anything negative about you or does anything negative to you, you believe it because, well, that's the way you feel about yourself. 

For those who are dating — especially in the age of online dating — you are in more situations than ever that can affect both your confidence and mental health (and this doesn't even take into account the additional anxiety about your personal safety with each new person you meet, but that's for another day and another blog post). The derogatory messages on dating apps. The ghosting. The games. The anxiety that comes from wondering "Will he/she text me back?" And sometimes insults when things don't work out. 

So, what are some ways you can stop thinking it's a reflection of your own self worth when someone objectifies you or tells you they're not interested in you?

Remind yourself: Just because someone doesn't find you attractive, it doesn't mean you're not attractive. 

I know it's easier said than done, but when someone doesn't want to be with you, you need to stop thinking it's because there's something wrong with you. Because there's not! It's something that's happened to the best of us and what you're feeling right now, please just know that you're not alone.

"Chemistry — the 'spark' or that feeling in your stomach you get when you’re around someone you think is attractive is a very subjective feeling not based on anything that makes logical sense," writes Megan Boley, copywriter for the relationship blog P.S. I Love you.

"If someone you’re into turns you down because the sex wasn’t that good or because they just decided they aren’t attracted to you — you can’t take that personally. ... You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re still a stellar human being who’s interesting and beautiful and attractive, even if one person doesn’t think that you are."

Realize that some people are just emotionally unavailable — and there's nothing you can do about it.

On dating apps, you will definitely find your fair share of people who don't want anything more than "casual" or people who will consistently flake out on you. And you may think to yourself, "Well, I can change that! If they liked me enough, they would change!" Stop it! It's not you. They would treat anybody they meet this way.

"No matter how gorgeous or funny they are, if you get involved with someone who can’t consistently line up their actions with their words, you’re going to be miserable with them. So do your future self a favor and just say no to psychological stunted Romeos and emotionally immature Juliets," writes psychologist and blogger Nick Wignall on Medium.

And realize that some people are just plain cruel.

There are plenty of cowardly and just plain cruel people in the world (and if you've watched the movie "Fresh," you'll see multiple examples of this!) And, when you're online dating, you are bound to find some of these people, and oftentimes people are even more cruel when hiding behind a computer. Just know that you didn't do anything to deserve the way you're being treated. 

Washington Post staff writer Lisa Bonos recounted a time when she was waiting for a date to show up at the bar — and then realized that, not only was he not showing up, but, instead of canceling like a minimally decent human, he had blocked her on the dating app so she couldn't contact him. Stories like this are, unfortunately, not uncommon, and if something like this happens to you, instead of placing blame on yourself, thank your lucky stars that they showed their true colors early on so you didn't have to waste anymore time on them. 

Identify your feelings and let yourself grieve.

It sucks when things end. And there shouldn't be any timeline for that. I know people who have had a relationship end after 4+ years and they were relieved — but then had things end with someone else after only a couple dates and they were devastated. Let yourself feel how you feel because, often, when you try to force yourself to stop, it only makes it worse. So take that time to cry while watching break-up movies and eating chocolate. When you identify how you're feeling and realize your feelings are valid, then you're giving yourself that time to mourn and then move on.  

Know your own power when it comes to dating too.

When you struggle with your self-esteem, you may be unconsciously giving all the power to the other person. You may be overlooking the things that just aren't right because you want to feel wanted by another person. You may feel like you're the one being rejected all the time — but you need to realize your own self-worth. If you don't feel that "spark" or you're not being treated the way you deserve, take your power back and you end things. Dating isn't a one-way street; it's about what you want too. 

Connect with friends.

As they say in Sex and the City, "Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with." Remember to regularly meet up with friends when you're dating —because having those people you can rant to about the latest date-gone-wrong and having your friends remind you of your worth and how much they love you, it really is a life saver. Right after my last break-up, my friend came over to my apartment within 30 minutes after my ex left, and we drank wine, talked crap, and watched the movie "John Dies at the End" (because, well, I wanted to watch anything but a romance flick). And that was definitely the kind of therapy I needed right then. 

If you're feeling a strain from dating, take a break.

I took a dating hiatus for several months at the end of 2016 after dating pretty consistently for more than two years. I was emotionally exhausted and didn't want to get to know anyone else just to have it end and start all over again. 

Just like occasional breaks from social media, I think breaks from dating are also necessary for your mental health and to make time to focus on yourself and your own needs. Spend the time you would have spent dating on a new hobby, going to the gym, traveling, taking some classes, getting an extra part-time job to get that moo-lah, etc. 

Also, have you ever heard the saying "Good things come when you least expect it." For me, during that break from dating, I actually ended up finding my current boyfriend, who I've been in a relationship with for the last five years. He kept in contact with me for six months, even though I kept avoiding him whenever he asked me out on a date because I figured, "What's the point? It's not like it's going to work out anyway." But because I took that break from dating, it opened my eyes to the fact that there was a good, stable man out there who liked me enough that he was willing to wait six months for me to be ready to date again.

I'm not saying this should be your reason for taking a break from dating but — hey — you never know what can happen. Your break could reveal to you the people who are actually worth it. 

For more ideas on things to do instead of dating, read this article on Thought Catalog

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