To every introvert, the act of finding a significant other means doing the opposite of what you love most. But if you actually want a partner, it means you have to go through the dreaded Putting Yourself Out There.
Yes, it might mean squandering a night in for a Tinder date who talks about investment banking all night long and never asks you a single question. But, luckily, there are some ways to make the act of going out just a little less of a daunting hell-ride. Here are 11 tips for dating if you're a tried-and-true introvert:
Take the pressure off yourself to be perfect.
"A date can too often feel like a performance, or worse, an evaluation, which makes us freeze up," says Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, author of How to Be Yourself, Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. "[It's] much better to expect an awkward silence or two and a couple of jokes that fall flat." Honestly, you'd have to be a narcissist or sociopath to not even be a little self-conscious or visibly uncomfortable on a first date. First dates are supposed to be the bumbly, slightly-uncomfortable feeling-each-other-out stage. Embrace it!
Know what type of date brings out your chatty side.
It's probably best that you have a general gauge of what you're doing on the date so that you can suggest something else if it's not your vibe (like, say, a concert). "I think anything too noisy and distracting is just going to lead to you shutting down more," says Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "Your best foot forward is really capitalizing on your strengths, and it's being quiet and reflective."
However, if sitting down at a quiet bar with a stranger and making conversation feels impossible to you, you can go the opposite route and pick an activity to do together. "Some anxious introverts swear by attending an event, like a reading or a comedy show, because it provides a built-in topic of discussion afterward," says Dr. Hendriksen. Whatever it is, just make sure it's something that'll make you feel comfortable.
Wear something comfy and familiar.
If your day-to-day look is a sweater and jeans, you'll probably want to forego statement lipstick and an open-back dress even if you think it comes off as more confident. If you're focusing on how abnormal you feel, it only ups the pressure.
"It's the same as a job interview—you don't want to wear a brand new outfit and not know if it's too tight or too short," says Dr. Whitbourne. "Wear something you had good experiences with before and feel good about—and is appropriate for the occasion."
Prep ahead on convo topics.
If you're extra worried about running out of things to talk about, Dr. Whitbourne suggests a bit of pre-planning. "You can find out a little bit about the person ahead of time and have topics that won't run into dead-ends."
Be realistic: If you found this person on an app, you probably scoped out their Instagram anyway. No harm in turning some of those hiking pics from seven weeks ago into first-date-question gold!
Ask "yes, and" questions.
"Steer clear of closed-ended interview questions that can be answered in one word, like 'Where are you from?' or 'Do you have any siblings?'" says Dr. Hendriksen. "Think of the cardinal rule of comedy improv: 'yes, and.' Listen to whatever is being said, and then riff off of it."
And if you're the only one doing the legwork (it'll be pretty obvious if they're giving you nothing to work with)—then your date just sucks and you can close out your tab in peace.
Absolutely have a way out of the date if need be.
In the event of being saddled with the worst conversationalist (or just someone with horrible opinions), you'll want a foolproof way out. "Anxiety is driven by uncertainty, so if you have a flexible exit plan, you'll feel more confident," says Dr. Hendriksen.
And if you're afraid of feeling the pressure to stay out really late (even if the date is good), you can plan something between events, or during the day. "It’s good to have a definite time you need it to be over with," says Dr. Whitbourne. "If you go on a Saturday afternoon date, there's no commitment then to what happens next."
Get feedback if every date is a flop.
If you've gone on a handful of dates and they've all been stilted and painful to get through, it might be good to reevaluate your own behavior on dates. "If you’re insecure about your social skills, you could get feedback from close friends and find out how you’re coming across," says Dr. Whitbourne.
Figure out if you actually have social anxiety, not just introversion.
Introversion is a personality trait and preference—it doesn't automatically make you shy or awkward. If the idea of talking to anyone new freaks you out, even if it's about all the things you hardcore stan the most, you might be more than just introverted.
"With social anxiety, one of the biggest fears people have is meeting strangers," says Dr. Whitbourne. "If you think you have a lot of fears that cluster together, it might be good to seek counseling and find out where these fears of meeting new people are coming from."
Ditch the apps if they're stressing you out.
Introverts can feel , especially when they're stuck in a cycle of swiping but never wanting to actually go on the date. "If you had a couple of bad experiences with apps, you're going to be even more nervous about it," says Dr. Whitbourne. "If you don't like an online app and you don't want to go out, it's going to make tough and put more pressure on you."
So how do you meet people sans apps? There's scoping out people at a party or joining a club, which also means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone (but hey, at least you'll better know if you mesh well with someone off the bat). And then there's diving into your network. "I think meeting people through mutual friends is an excellent strategy," says Dr. Hendriksen. "They're already vetted, known entities, plus you have built-in commonalities to talk about." In any case, being a homebody doesn't mean apps are the most approachable way to date.
Compromise on going out with your partner sometimes.
Okay, so you found someone who's great but wants to go out a liiiiittle more often than you do. How do you compromise? "Sometimes it's worth channeling your inner extrovert," says Dr. Hendriksen. "We may not love psyching ourselves up to be 'on,' but if a person or a cause is important to you, it's absolutely worth it to push yourself."
Plus, there's one key element that's different from you being stuck at a house party alone: "If you’re comfortable with your partner, they'll be there with you," says Dr. Whitbourne. "You might find it was more fun than you thought it would be."
But also date someone who gets you.
"If you need a little push to get out and have fun, dating someone more extroverted can accomplish that," says Dr. Hendriksen. "But if you're already really hard on yourself and push yourself mercilessly, it can be validating to date someone who unabashedly stays in." The main thing is: this person has to accept your nesting, blanket-fort-enthusiast ways and never make you feel bad for them.
"I think when you're comfortable with someone, you don't need to explain your introversion," says Dr. Whitbourne. "You don't need to apologize for who you are."
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.