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The Curse Of “What If’ing”

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For 10 years, I suffered from a flying phobia. I traveled only to areas I could reach by car, train, or bus, plagued by the voice in my head that “what if’d” incessantly: What if the plane crashes? What if I have a panic attack on board? What if the people on my flight think I’m nuts? What if I fly there but can’t get back on the plane to come home and have to miss work? What if I die before getting to accomplish my goals in life? And on and on. It was a severely limiting mindset, to the point where I missed out on job opportunities, vacations, weddings, and visits with friends. Eventually, I conquered my fear through a local, flying phobia program (thank you, Dr. Forgione!), and while I still don’t love to fly, I try my best not to let my fears rule my life.

Too much “what if’ing” has the potential to negatively impact every area of your life. As a dating coach, I work with singles who “what if” constantly. I’ve seen their “what ifs” run the gamut, from the superficial, short-term type of anxieties (what if we meet and I’m not attracted to him?) to the more serious, long-term kinds of dilemmas (what if I get my heart broken?). How many times have you talked yourself out of a date or self-sabotaged a relationship because of these limiting thoughts?

If you are like I used to be, you’ve probably done this a lot. Not only did I “what if” with flying, but also when it came to matters of the heart; that is, until I learned how to stop my thoughts and beliefs from ruling my actions (or lack thereof). With regard to my dating anxieties, I did this by working through each “what if” scenario my head latched onto, always asking myself one question: What’s the worst that could happen?

Let’s use a former client of mine to illustrate more specifically how this process works. Despite my encouragement to embrace online dating, Laura (name changed) was hesitant. She felt overly pressured by the process: What if I feel pressure to like someone I meet, but don’t actually feel a spark? As a result of her mindset, she not only underutilized her online dating subscription, but she started off her dates on the wrong foot by having a negative, fearful attitude. This ultimately did not allow her to relax and have fun. Together, we worked through her anxiety by imagining all the possible feelings and outcomes associated with her “what ifs,” and then countered with more rational statements. Here is some of what we talked about:

What if I feel pressure to like someone I meet, but don’t actually feel a spark?

  • The worst thing that could happen is there’s no romantic spark and his feelings are hurt. That’s just a part of dating.
  • So you feel anxious – that’s OK. Everyone feels a little anxious when they first meet someone. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.
  • You are not obligated to like this person. You don’t owe him anything.
  • You sit with your frustration or anxiety about not feeling a spark and try to push past it while on the date (it’s only an hour or so).
  • You spend an hour or so getting to know someone despite not being attracted to him. Maybe you make a friend or a new professional contact.
  • You practice your dating skills and become a better, more confident dater.
  • If he asks for your number and you feel too awkward saying no, give it to him, but remember you have no obligation to this person to either see him again or return a call. You can always send a follow-up email explaining what you’re feeling.
  • Just because you have no spark with a handful of online dates doesn’t mean you won’t have success with online dating.

When Laura started to rationalize her “what if” fears and insecurities in this way, she was able to go into her dates with a healthier mindset and feeling more relaxed.

By working though your “what if” thoughts, you are able to recognize them as harmless, eventually allowing yourself to move forward and take chances in your dating and love life. Ultimately, in the world of dating and relationships, you need to be vulnerable and willing to take risks. Don’t be so caught up in your head, so overly cautious, that you never let go of that limiting voice.

Don’t let “what if’ing” be your curse.

Neely Steinberg has been writing and speaking about dating, sex, love and relationships for more than a decade. As Boston’s premier dating coach for the modern-day woman, Neely’s goal is to help women get what they want out of life when it comes to dating and relationships, to instill women with confidence and faith that a great dating life and a great relationship can and WILL happen with a little effort and determination.
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