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Asking for a friend: ‘I’m back on the dating scene after the pandemic but I’ve forgotten how to flirt. How can I ditch the awkwardness?’

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Working on ways to improve your confidence will help you in more ways than just improving your dating life

Working on ways to improve your confidence will help you in more ways than just improving your dating life

Working on ways to improve your confidence will help you in more ways than just improving your dating life

Q: I’m back on the dating scene after the pandemic, and I’m finding it really awkward. I think I’ve forgotten how to flirt, and I feel uncomfortable trying to approach someone. I’m usually quite shy anyway, and I used to meet people by going along to events and talking to them, but meeting people in bars always feels like a lot of pressure. I’m not a big drinker either and don’t like being around really drunk people as it feels messy. Most of the events I used to go to aren’t back up and running yet after the pandemic, so I don’t have those comfortable spaces that I am used to. I feel lonely and really want to meet someone as it’s been a while since I had a relationship. I feel like my shyness is holding me back, and I am tired of feeling so awkward on dates. I end up feeling frustrated and like I haven’t shown off who I am and what I am really like. I feel like giving up on dates but, at the same time, I really want to meet someone special. How do I get over this block?

Dr West replies: I don’t think you are alone in feeling shy on dates and finding them to be stressful events. This is part of the reason people do meet in pubs while drinking as it can give a sense of confidence. However, it’s really hard to make an accurate judgement of someone when we are under the influence, and humans are often known to make poor choices when drunk, such as eating an entire kebab at 3am or kissing someone we actually aren’t really into.

You sound like the type of person who values getting to know someone in a relaxed environment while talking about mutual interests. Rather than continue to spend time in spaces that are uncomfortable and, frankly, a waste of your time, spend time researching upcoming events in areas that you like. While not all the events you used to go to might be back, newer ones might have sprung up, or look different to how they were before. Websites like meetup.com have tons of events around the country for a huge variety of interests, from kayaking to comedy and beyond. These are usually framed as ways to meet up and find new friends, but they also have dating-specific events.

Daytime events will also usually be sober events, so that may remove some sense of pressure for you. Sober dating has also increased over the pandemic, and there is a huge increase in outdoor dating, day dating, and going for coffee instead of a pint. There are also explicitly sober events going on around the country, so checking those out on Google might result in finding one close to you.

Dating apps can provide a way to explore digital intimacy and find new partners outside of a pub. Make sure your profile has a few current pictures of you that are clear, smiley, and reflect who you are and what you are interested in — so, for example, if you have any pictures of you engaging in your hobbies, this gives people a sense of the kind of things you are interested in. Make sure to fill out your profile — not too long, but not too short either. Explain what you like to do, what you are looking for, and a little bit about who you are as a person. Dating apps can often lead to endless conversations, but if you are interested in meeting someone, try to meet them within a week of initial contact. This time frame is important as, once you meet up with them, you can establish whether you are interested and wish to go further, or end things if it is not what you are looking for. This means that you are not wasting your time texting people that aren’t truly for you, and you can practise your conversation skills on multiple dates.

You can also get creative with dates. If you find someone online that you want to meet in real life, suggest meeting up at an art gallery or a very public place such as the Botanic Gardens (not an open space where you are isolated). This will also give you something to discuss straight away rather than suffering awkward silences, and moving around will allow you to avoid sitting straight across from someone and being stressed about eye contact.

Online forums for your interests may also allow you to chat to people, although this comes with the caveat of remembering that not everyone is who they say they are on the internet. They might provide a way to anonymously practise flirting, which may allow you to build up your confidence as you know you most likely will never see this person in real life. Alternatively, they may be a space for you to get to know people before a real-life event and therefore enable you to feel more comfortable going as you will already have a sense of what the people are like.

Working on ways to improve your confidence will help you in more ways than just improving your dating life. A healthy sense of confidence will improve your friendships, working life and general sense of happiness. This self-improvement work could look like going to therapy, taking public speaking classes, life coaching, taking up a new hobby to push you out of your comfort zone, or looking at resources such as podcasts or books on how to improve your confidence and self-esteem. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with time and effort. You don’t have to be a perfect person to date someone, and we are all works in progress as we make our way through life. Loving ourselves and being kind to ourselves is a difficult process for some, but it is not an impossible one — just an ongoing process as we grow.

Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to drwestanswersyourquestions@independent.ie. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately

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