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15 Things You Need To Know If You’re Dating A Person With Social Anxiety

“We fear the thing we want the most.” – Robert Anthony

In the 2002 movie ‘Adaptation,’ Nicholas Cage has a double role – one, a screenwriter named Charlie and the other, Charlie’s twin, Donald. What’s remarkable here is that despite being twins, the two characters couldn’t be more different. Donald is a gregarious, self-confident man, while Charlie has terrible self-esteem and his insecurity comes in the way of his happiness. Some people might not know it, but Charlie’s problem has a name, social anxiety, and it is more common than we think.

a still from the movie 'adaptation'

A still from the movie ‘Adaptation,’ starring Nicholas Cage

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

What is social anxiety?

The Social Anxiety Institute website defines social anxiety as a fear of interaction with others and of being judged, resulting in self-consciousness and consequently, avoidance. People who suffer from social anxiety worry about how they’ll be perceived by others, and think they’re constantly begin evaluated and coming short. Even the anticipation of going out and meeting people is enough to work up a sweat.

There are many other terms that are used interchangeably with social anxiety, albeit incorrectly, like shyness or introversion. These are completely different from social anxiety, as is social anxiety disorder or social phobia. The intensity of feelings ranges from introversion, shyness, and goes up to social anxiety and finally phobia. As you can see, social anxiety falls somewhat in the middle of the spectrum, which is why it is so easy to confuse it with something milder like introversion, or something severe like phobia.

shy woman on a date

Image source: Shutterstock

To differentiate social anxiety from the others, it’s worthwhile to look at common social anxiety symptoms:

  1. Anxiety when thinking about an upcoming social event like a party
  2. Trying their best to avoid all kinds of social situations
  3. Last minute change of plans, like arriving at a destination but returning without meeting anyone
  4. Sleeplessness before the day of a social event like a job fair, meeting, etc.,
  5. Physical manifestations of anxiety like sweating, increased heart rate, and stomach trouble

Realizing the difference is essential, especially for those who have social anxiety, since they can’t understand why they can’t do the things other shy people can, and they’ll use it as another reason to beat themselves up.

Suggested read: 6 signs to know if your partner is an introvert

What causes social anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder is considered the third most common mental disorder in the United States, with more women suffering from it than men. Social anxiety may be caused due to a variety of reasons, the most common of which are:

1. Heredity – A person is more likely to have social anxiety if he/she has a parent or sibling with this problem

2. Childhood circumstances – Children who grow up in extremely sheltered environments seem to have more trouble with social anxiety

3. Past trauma – Any embarrassing incident during the formative years can cause a deep impact on one’s mind, leading to social anxiety later in life

4. Depression – Anyone who has a family history of depression or has suffered it himself has an increased chance of social anxiety

sad man

Image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License

People with social anxiety are perfectly fine when they’re by themselves or at home. However, the anxiety rears its head during social situations, with triggers similar to:

  1. Having to use a public washroom
  2. Eating or drinking in front of others
  3. Getting introduced to someone new
  4. Saying something in public

Suggested read: 8 ways to get your shy partner to open up

Dating someone with social anxiety

When a social situation is a cause for a person’s anxiety issues, one can only imagine his or her state of mind when it comes to intimate relationships and dating. Setting foot into a long term relationship requires even a non-anxious person to open up, and even a little vulnerability can scare them. This problem is compounded several times in a person with social anxiety who is in constant dread of the other person’s judgment.

But people with social anxiety are perfectly nice, normal individuals, and all they need is a partner who can work their way around this anxiety. But this isn’t universal knowledge and requires a bit of guidance. To ease things, here is a list of 15 things to know when dating someone with social anxiety – information that is valuable for the one you’re dating as well as other friends with anxiety.

(For the purposes of our discussion here, ‘regular’ or ‘normal’ will refer to people who don’t have social anxiety, and in no way does it mean that socially anxious people are abnormal!)

15 things to know when dating someone with social anxiety disorder

1. It’s not you; it’s them

First things first – you’re already dealing with someone who’s beating himself up; the last thing he needs is a partner who does the same! Don’t take an anxious behavior as an indication of the way he or she feels about you; it is only an extension of their inner fears and nothing to do with you. So let’s be clear on that right away.

couple holding hands (2)

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

2. One person’s normal is another person’s panic attack

For you, a quick trip to the bank or grocery store may seem like something you can do without batting an eyelid, but for the socially anxious person, this constitutes an ‘event.’ Any kind of social situation that seems mild to regular people is a big deal for an anxious person, simply because there are others involved.

3. What’s sauce for the goose is NOT sauce for the gander

Bungee jumping may be fun, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Dancing at a club –more likely to be a popular pastime, but for someone with social anxiety, this is far from fun! You might think that it’s okay to get anxious for an interview, but a group picnic is fun, right? Wrong! For socially anxious people, the expectation that an upcoming social event is ‘supposed’ to be fun puts even more pressure on them, building up the anxiety.

4. It’s not as simple as it seems

When you’re dating someone, you’re likely to rely on them for small tasks like calling up your phone’s customer support, or returning something to the store. It might offend you when you see that your partner seems reluctant to help you with something so simple. The truth is, he wants to, but his deep insecurities are coming in the way, and the fact that he’s appearing unhelpful in your eyes just adds to the torture he’s experiencing.

couple holding hands

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

5. Not every ‘opportunity’ is a good one

Sometimes, it’s you who wants to help your partner. When the chance for a promotion comes up, you know that they deserve it and can very well get it if they pitch for it. But therein lies the problem – they don’t see it as an opportunity to move ahead; if anything, they see it as scope for getting rejected and humiliated in the process. As mentioned earlier, it upsets them further if they feel they’ve fallen in your expectations.

6. More isn’t necessarily merrier

When you’re dating someone, introducing that person to your friends and family members is a significant step in your relationship and most people want that first meeting to go well. It’s anxiety-inducing for everyone, not to mention socially anxious people! The increased pressure can make them sweat till they’re dehydrated, so don’t be put off if he seems less than enthusiastic!

Suggested read: How to date a girl with many friends

7. Laugh and the world looks at you

Socially anxious people worry that people are laughing at them even when no one is, so any jokes at their expense might not go the way you expect. It’s not that they don’t have a sense of humor, but a low self-esteem hinders their ability to laugh at themselves the way other people can.

8. Knowledge is everything

When you’re dating a person with social anxiety, you soon come to know about all their little ‘idiosyncrasies’. Rather than laugh or shrug them off, it’ll mean a great deal to them if you understand and work your way around them. So that’ll mean understanding their reluctance to use public bathrooms, not watching them eat, and avoiding conflict situations.

couple holding hands

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

9. When fear itself is feared

For socially anxious people, it is not just the social situation that brings on the panic; even the anticipation of said event can trigger anxiety attacks. You’ll often find such people worrying about an interview or a wedding, weeks ahead of time, often trying to figure out ways they can avoid the situation altogether rather than risk going and getting judged by the others there. This can affect their relationships, especially when the event in question is important to their significant others.

Suggested read: 8 things every couple should Stop doing

10. Trivialization doesn’t work

You might think it a good idea to not make a big deal of your partner’s anxiety, hoping it will fade away in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, and social anxiety is a very real thing. Simply saying things like ‘It’ll be okay,’ ‘Everything’s fine,’ or worse, ‘It’s no big deal,’ just trivializes your partner’s feelings and shows how little you understand the problem.

11. Awareness increases the pain

Shy people are simply shy, and that’s it. But socially anxious people are painfully aware of their ‘shortcoming’ and they hate it. They know you expect more and they want to give you what you deserve but they can’t, and this leads to a constant inner battle. This further lowers their self-esteem, leading to a vicious cycle.

couple lying on the couch

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

12. You are the safe space

Socially anxious people require heaps of support, not just to get through their social situations, but also to feel reassured and deserving of love. It is extremely important for such people to have relationships which are safe spaces for them; where they feel free of judgment or disapproval, where they have no fear of getting humiliated. It’s something everyone deserves, but is more significant when dating someone with social anxiety.

13. It might go away; it might stay

The fact is that there is no cure for social anxiety; only therapy to help patients deal with it. It might greatly improve a person’s responses to social situations, but it might never really go away. This is an important fact to understand for a person dating someone with social anxiety, so that you don’t live under the illusion that it is a temporary problem.

14. Don’t fight fire with fire

It’s human to get angry and frustrated, but trying to fight social anxiety with further nagging and humiliation will not work; it will only worsen the situation. It isn’t possible to fix a person’s anxiety by making him more anxious about his anxiety, however confusing that sounds!

couple having a picnic

Image source: Shutterstock

15. The importance of being honest

At the end of the day, be honest – with yourself as well as with the person you’re dating. Are you sure you’re okay with his anxiety, and that you can deal with it? Don’t live a lie or give someone false hopes – it can shatter them. Dating someone with social anxiety isn’t the end of the world, but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea either. Introspect and see if this is good for both of you.

Like we said, social anxiety is far from rare, so there is a good chance that the person you’re dating will have some level of social anxiety! And he’ll have some company among the rich and the famous – Johnny Depp, Barbara Streisand, and Kim Basinger have all suffered from social anxiety. It’s hard to believe that the sly yet humorous Captain Jack Sparrow had social anxiety in real life! So get armed with the right information on social anxiety and go enjoy life with your special someone!

Featured image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License

Article Name
Dating A Person With Social Anxiety - Things To Know
Social Anxiety is very different from shyness. It is important for anyone dating a person with social anxiety to be properly informed. Read on to know more.
Fabida Abdulla

Fabida Abdulla

Fabida is an erstwhile Software Engineer and current Freelance Writer cum stay-at-home mom to her boisterous 6-year-old. In between all the writing, baking, nagging, reading, and cuddling, she manages to blog a bit about her crazy life at Shocks and Shoes. []