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Objectively speaking, I’m a great first date. I listen and show interest, I crack jokes, I maintain an appropriate amount of eye contact—fuck, I even split the bill like a true gentleman.

Subsequent dates however? I’m the WORST. Mostly because I usually cancel them or postpone them over and over until the guy loses interest or realizes dating me isn’t worth the hassle. And if he continues to pursue me despite that, I’ll tell him I’m too emotionally unavailable/mentally unstable to date anyone.

Clearly, I have some issues.

I’m great at first dates because I like them. I like having an excuse to get drinks or go out to dinner. I like getting to know someone new, and I really like having the chance to talk long-windedly about myself (we all do). What I like most about them though is the potential they possess. There’s nothing better than connecting with someone and seeing a spark that could turn into something real and substantial.

But when it comes to subsequent dates, that potential becomes terrifying. Instead of looking forward to the future, I fixate on the pitfalls of the past. I think of my bad experiences and prepare for them to be repeated. When a guy shows me genuine affection, I tell myself I’ll fail to reciprocate it like in my previous relationship. When a guy tries to get me to open up, I panic and push him away because I’m afraid he’ll run away once he knows the real me. And when a guy doesn’t meet my unrealistic standards, I dump him because I’ve already convinced myself that we’d be incompatible or doomed to fail in the long run. I use the past to create an abstract, awful future so I can justify ending anything before it starts.

As someone who deals with dating anxiety, I mentally prepare for impending disasters, search for patterns and meanings that don’t exist, and talk myself out of any promising relationship that comes my way. And I do it because I’m scared—I’m scared of being vulnerable, I’m scared of investing time and energy into something that could collapse, and I’m terrified of becoming dependent on someone and having my heart get broken. I’m scared of the uncertainty because I don’t know how to not be in control.

It’s okay to feel anxious or nervous about the future. The truth is there’s always a chance that things will blow up in your face. But what I’m trying to remind myself of though is that I’ve survived my past experiences and come out on the other side. I’m stronger than I give myself credit for, and if I end up rejected or heartbroken, I know I’ll be able to pick up the pieces and build myself back up again. And I shouldn’t let the uncertainty of the future scare me into staying on the sidelines—I should embrace it and let things take their course.

Instead of putting all our energy, effort, and emotion into worrying about the future, we should put those things toward enjoying and engaging in the present. And for us anxious folks, we can do that by keeping ourselves occupied on things outside of the relationship. We don’t need to think about whether this person is “The One”, we can just accept them as “Someone” we enjoy spending time with. We can focus on the positive possibilities and suspend judgment and concern. We can stay “outside” of ourselves and focus on the person we’re with and look at things with a sense of curiosity—not uncertainty.

It’s okay to look at the future with a cautious eye as long as we remind ourselves we’re strong enough to survive whatever’s on the other side.