Dating and Mate Selection — 11 December 2008
Overcoming the dating jitters

Teenagers do it, adults do it and even older folks do it, yet at any age dating is viewed with hesitation, reservations and even fear. Why would people be so uncomfortable about the process that may eventually lead them to their desired goal of being happily coupled with their beloved mate? And what can they do to reduce the discomfort and expedite the positive outcome?

Dating is not one of the life skills that are formally taught anywhere. Teenagers who become interested in finding a boy/girl friend are left to their own devices since schools, parents, or religious institutions do not provide youngsters with dating education. Even when young people observe their parents’ successful interactions, it still does not model early courtship sequences. So peers end up emulating each other, none of whom are truly knowledgeable or experienced with dating rituals.

Young adults are often at an equally awkward state of resuming dating once they are no longer coupled. A handsome 29 year old platoon commander just returning from a second tour of duty in Iraq blushingly confesses, “I was trained and feel confident about managing my men and making critical life and death decisions during action, but feel intimidated and scared to ask a girl out.”

Though some of the 14.6 million women and 10.3 million men living alone in the U.S. may not chose to date, for others, dating frequency is not as common as may be expected. In one study at the University of Michigan Institute for Social research, Jerald Bachman, Ph.D. found that 50 percent of 18 year olds went out at least once a week compared to only 25 percent of 32 year olds.

Divorced and widowed older adults who desire to have a permanent companion may be even more perplexed about the dating process and practices. They have been distanced from doing so for years and realize that the norms and expectations may have changed. “What am I expected to do on a first date? “ asks a shy 57-year-old widow. “It feels so awkward to even be dating at my age.”

Aside from lack of experience or training at any age, fear is a compelling hindrance to dating. Psychologist Michael Broder, author of “The Art of Living Single” states, ”It can be the fear of being hurt, rejected or involved, and it can stem from a history of having been hurt or of traumatic relationships. People can be very proficient in other parts of their lives, but the fear of dating can make them stay alone or pine for the relationship they left.”

Since being rejected is a very painful and an ego deflating experience it is understandable that people would recoil from any situation that may trigger their own self-doubt or require them to hurt an interested party. The statistical probability of mutually finding an appealing match is low for any given date. This causes some people to become quickly discouraged with the dating process.

• Understand that because the choice of a loving mate is so crucial, it is, by default, a tension inducing process.
• View every date as an interview of a candidate who is applying for the most important job of becoming your life partner.
• Abstain from worrying about the impression you make. Present your true self and concentrate on assessing your date’s potential for another date.
• Personal appeal is a very complex and is mostly associated with the other person’s childhood, history, upbringing and intuitive tastes. Thus, it does not reflect on your appeal and desirability if you do not match his/her preprogrammed image.
• Schedule the first date for a short time that can easily be extended if mutual interest occurs.
• Expect to have a good time. Meeting any person, even the least suitable partner, is never a failure and can be a learning and enriching experience.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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