Online dating, it doesn’t sound like a fun adventure – why I started dating after depression
Not enough people talk about getting back into things you love after a period of mental illness. In my case it was depression, but it can be burn-out or something else – it isn’t always easy to get back to the things you love whilst also taking care of yourself. Once I started my recovery one of the things I started looking forward to again was dating! Despite having recovered from depression, dating still made me nervous!
I’d been feeling better for some months and I missed flirting and the fun side of dating. The suspense of how your date would go, kissing someone cute for the first time (or the 10th time). However fun I think dating is, it takes a lot of energy, time and brain space. Three things that were important for my recovery and I didn’t want to ‘waste’. This isn’t the same for everyone, let’s be clear. But I have the type of personality that will dive in headfirst into most things and not think whether something (or someone) is worth my energy or time. However, I missed flirting and I was getting seriously out of shape. My flirting skills started bringing more laughs than seduction – which let’s be honest, isn’t the effect most of us are going for. So, I signed back into a dating app and started swiping with enthusiastic support from friends.
Depression brings out the personal ‘snakes’ and dating even more!
I always say that going to therapy is like confronting your personal snake pit. You don’t get to choose which snake slithers out. Usually, most of them slither out all at the same time and you have to get to work to get them under control.
After two years of therapy, I thought I was on first-name basis with the majority of my snakes. When I started dating, suddenly MORE snakes started popping up. And yes, a few of the people I had dates with were snakes – but mostly it was just my own insecurities and undetermined boundaries that gave me a hard time. What I found especially hard was installing what I had been working on so hard with friends and family – being my authentic self. Dating brought back some of the insecurities about that. And it pissed me off with myself, to be honest.
Getting self-worth from relationships has not been something prominent in my life (career and education is a whole other loaf of bread), but suddenly I found myself being insecure if my dates would find me too loud. And too present. Too dominant. Too much into having fun and discussing all the heavy topics of the universe at the same time. It gave me a feeling of restlessness and frustration. My stubborn streak is especially strong with myself, and I didn’t want to be burdened with these feelings. Fun is all I wanted to have, not bring extra snakes to the party.
Why I spent so much time thinking about dating – when dating
Looking back on the first months of dating I can see how stubbornly I was holding on to this idea of control. That I could control my and their feelings with clear boundaries and expectations. That I could control which insecurities would crop op, and how I reacted – or rather not reacted to them. But life doesn’t work like that. It was rather naïve of me to think that with my personality I wouldn’t be in for a bumpy ride.
I had decided that this time around, I would do things differently. My profile was fun, but with clear wants and needs. Being comfortable with LGBTQIA+ and mutual sexual pleasure was non-negotiable. Being clear about these matters brought a lot of questions, but also made it clear if certain matches were right or not. I was very clear about what I expected in terms of transparency and honesty. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will get them from your dates – I loaned a travel guide to a someone I was seeing that subsequently ghosted me and disappeared with my travel guide *insert dramatic eye roll here*.
Being clear about these things would not have been possible without a healthy dose of self-reflection. I know this sounds corny, but it is true! After my initial period of dating, I had to be honest with myself and admit I wanted more than just fun. As we try new (and old) things, we get a better idea of what we want and get to adjust our ‘specification’. The same applies to dating.
I do not believe in ‘looking for’ relationships as with one person you may feel overwhelmed and a relationship may feel too heavy and demanding. Whereas, your next date could bring someone with a completely different type of energy who’d you would love to be with! You can’t plan or force these connections in my opinion – nor should you want to. I could say that it was easy to let go of this expectation. It wasn’t. It took time and a lot of honest reflection time with myself.
Trusting yourself and just chilling the f*ck out
A note on expectations: if you want to or just started dating again after a long time of not doing so (for whatever reason, but especially if you dealt with mental health), I would recommend making a list for purely yourself of wants, needs, and expectations which are unbiased and reflect what you need in this specific phase. I found that a lot of people will reflect their expectations onto you:
“No, I think it’s really time you get serious now, it’s time you stop f*cking around”
“Just have sex with him, why should you care about his feelings?”
“Oh I can see you now, you two could travel together to [country] next year!]
These were just a few of the statements that carried expectations of other people when I told them I was dating. Usually, it is meant well (and some have a hint of slut-shaming) – however, they still carry an expectation of your behavior and feelings that you can acknowledge and then happily put down and leave behind.
In the end, I needed time in order to have a better idea of want I wanted from dating and how to tackle this after healing from depression. It came down to it being clear with myself what I want my life to be/feel like, and how dating would fit into that. I had worked on letting go of that inscribed ‘list of needs and wants’ a partner should have – and worked on how I wanted my love connection to feel. And I wanted a connection that felt easy-going, relaxed, fun, enthusiastic, loving and authentic. Me feeling like I could be my full authentic self was a high priority (and them doing the same), as was having someone that would love being part of my life (enjoying spending time with each other’s friends, traveling together, etc.).
Because I had dived in head first, I had invested a lot of time into dating, taking time away from mainly my creative outlets. After five months, I decided that the endless stream of first dates & ghosting was enough for some time (y’all, why are some people above 30 still SO emotionally immature). I had had fun and met some nice people who were just not the right romantic match. After a while – it takes a while, I’m a stubborn Aries – I had come to the conclusion that I did enjoy dating again, but it needed to be in balance with the rest of my life and at least should be entertaining. As it wasn’t that anymore, I made the decision to chill the f*ck out, go on the last two dates I had planned and trust the timing of…whatever helps in these things.
I had dived into the ball pit head first, what did I learn?
I learned that the universe has a good sense of humor. The moment I decided I was going to stop dating for a while and planned two last first dates, it decided to have some fun with me. One of the dates presented the potential to be many things on my ‘how I want it to feel list’. It’s as if the universe was saying “surprise b*tch! You had so much to say about what you wanted and that you are ready – are you going to walk the talk?”. I had a good panic at first, but have to admit that the universe delivered something which is fun, easy, full of respect and so damn handsome! It makes me feel a bit sappy…and hopeful? Can we ask for things and then actually get them in a way that is good for us? I’m super happy now, and can see that prioritizing being my authentic self really paid off – being in a relationship where that is fully possible feels so freeing!
Diving into the ‘ball pit’ 😉 full-on taught me a few things. I learned that I could date in a way that works for me, and allows me to be my authentic self. However, this takes some self-work too as to not allow rejections and bad experiences to ruin the fun. Setting clear boundaries, such as wants and needs, works for me. It re-affirmed to me that I get to ask for what I want, and really helped to navigate all my personal insecurities. However, I needed to have frequent check-ins with myself, to see if I was still having fun (not always), if I was dating for the right reasons (fun vs. ‘must’) and how I felt about people.
In the end, it didn’t matter that much whether I did meet someone that I liked. The many first dates and lots of self-reflection had shown me that I could date in a way that allowed me to stay true to myself, which I defined as success!
P.S. If you are struggling with mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to talk. Friends, family or a professional – or myself if you like. My Instagram is open if you would like to talk 😊.