You’re not the person I thought you’d be.’ His eyes took in my body. I felt him recoil as he took a step back.
‘I’m just gonna leave,’ he said, as I muttered an apology. I hadn’t lived up to the photos on my dating profile. I walked away with that tight feeling in my chest, willing it not to turn into a panic attack. What’s wrong with me?
Looking back, I’ve no idea why I apologised to him. I was desperate to find someone, I guess. Riddled with chronic anxiety, I took his words as a truth I already knew: I was not a person who someone would want to date.
Sadly, I’m not alone. A recent Cosmopolitan poll found that 61% of you have had an experience on a date that has negatively affected how you feel about yourself. Plus, research by Bumble reveals that one in three people in the UK have suffered racial discrimination, fetishisation or microaggressions when dating online, making this an even bigger concern for those from marginalised communities.
While we’re getting better at talking about mental health when it comes wellbeing, it’s the intimate connections we have with people we date on apps and IRL – the ones who see us naked and at our most vulnerable – that have a huge impact on the way we feel about ourselves and our bodies. So we asked you for your biggest concerns when it comes to dating and mental health, and here’s what the experts have to say...
‘Online dating is so demoralising, how do I ignore the horrible comments?’
It can be tough. In our poll, we discovered that flaws (that don’t even exist) are being pointed out and people are being compared to others on apps. Many are finding that if they fall outside of ‘conventional’ beauty standards, they are being fetishised or rejected.
It’s important to remind yourself that the people typing those comments are strangers who don’t know you. ‘It’s them and not you,’ says life coach and mental wellbeing expert Catri Barrett, who founded The Curiosity Club. If a comment oversteps the mark, never feel like you have to reply. ‘Make a dating doc in the notes section of your phone,’ suggests Barrett. ‘In it, list all your worth and value that you can refer back to whenever you need a pep talk.’
‘Men call me exotic. How can I deal with being fetishised on dating apps?’
Fetishisation is a sexual fascination with race, gender, sexuality or body type – things not inherently sexual – and it’s something no one should have to put up with. ‘When someone calls you “exotic”, or tells you that they’re “really into” Black or brown people, that’s fetishising and often comes from a legacy of racial stereotypes,’ says author of Raceless and Bumble brand ambassador, Georgina Lawton. It’s up to you whether you’re comfortable engaging with the person, but you can use the app’s tools, such as the block and report system, says Lawton.‘Then you know that they will be dealt with.’
‘I’m going on a first date, should I tell them about my mental health?’
Fear of being judged, labelled as “weird” or someone not understanding – just a handful of the reasons why people didn’t want to reveal too much about their mental health before a first date. But here’s your reminder that your mental health is equal to your physical health. ‘And sharing information like this can require a certain level of intimacy,’ says Barrett. ‘You can be honest without disclosing everything all at once.’
Psychologist Dr Tina Mistry believes it’s important to reflect on what values matter the most to you. ‘Would you respect someone who shows vulnerability?’ she says. ‘Because if they show this, they’re reaching out for care.’ And perhaps they will feel the same about your truth, too.
‘I’ve been burned in the past. How do I mentally prepare myself to start dating again?’
It’s scary to start dating again after a bad experience, but here’s the things about dating – it’s a real possibility that could happen again. ‘Ask yourself if you feel resilient enough to handle rejection right now,’ says Barrett. ‘If the answer is no, take some steps to work on your coping skills before you dive back in.’
You could also try identifying any specific anxieties and setting clear boundaries. 'If you have anxieties about yourself when dating, come to the table honestly, you should be able to gauge a date’s emotional intelligence from how they respond to a line of ideas,' says therapist Jodie Cariss, founder of Self Space and author of How to Grow Through What You Go Through. For example, 'explain that you have insecurities about your body, and that you’re working on it.' If you want someone to avoid making comments about how you look before you know them, you could try texting that to them before you meet up.
Lastly, try to embrace the uncertainty dating brings. ‘It’s temporary,’ says Mistry. ‘Once we accept that, we can focus on now, here, this moment.’ Meaning it might be easier to appreciate what’s in front of us – hello, hot date – and easier to walkaway if it doesn’t work out.
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