How to Date When You’re Feeling Low Self-Esteem

By Ella Dawson

As we navigate year three of pandemic life, many of us are feeling the strain. According to the World Health Organization, rates of anxiety and depression increased worldwide by 25% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Heightened feelings of uncertainty and isolation can make it hard to feel your best while dating. 

Psychologist Dr. Guy Winch says that our ability to meet new people, as well as absorb rejection, are muscles just like any other—and we’re out of practice. “Our social skills are skills, and therefore they can get rusty when we don’t use them,” he says. This is compounded by the fact that dating right now is also a little different. “People are overwhelmed and hitting their breaking points, so they’re less reliable, disappear more, and reschedule more,” says psychologist Dr. Liz Powell. The important thing to remember if you’re feeling frustrated and disheartened is that this isn’t about you, or only happening to you. 

If you’re ready to get back out there, or need some extra motivation to keep looking for the right person, here’s what experts recommend.

Make sure you’re in the right headspace to date

Have an honest conversation with yourself about if you’re ready to date, and keep checking in on that decision as you go. “Dating and all the rejection and uncertainty it involves can be huge triggers for our mental health,” says Allison Raskin, author of Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression. “If you start to notice that dating and all the risk that comes with it is bringing up negative thoughts for you, it’s probably a sign that you need to take a step back from diving into the dating pool.” Instead, refocus that energy on your mental health, find coping mechanisms that work for you, and come back to dating when you feel ready. 

Some folks are self-conscious about “lost” time during the pandemic and falling behind their peers when it comes to dating. But you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself to “catch up” to where you think you’re supposed to be if you’re just not feeling it right now. “It’s important for people not to date because they feel they ‘should,’” says clinical psychologist Sarah Coe-Odess. “If someone has recently gone through a breakup or feels overwhelmed by the dating process, it’s not only okay, but also advised, to go at a pace that is comfortable.” Don’t be afraid to hit pause on swiping until you’re in a better place. (You can always use Bumble’s Snooze feature to take some time off.)

Before a date, remind yourself that you’re a catch

While you get ready for your date, take some time to think about how great you are. No, really! “You need to recognize that you have something valuable to bring to a relationship before you can really start showing up in a healthy way when dating,” says Raskin. If singing your own praises feels goofy and you aren’t sure where to start, Dr. Winch recommends the following self-affirmation exercise: “Make a list of five qualities you know you have that would be very valuable in a relationship.” Then, before your date, write about why this quality is important, and how it might be valued by a partner. For example, “I’m emotionally available, and that’s valuable because it allows other people to lower their guard more and be more vulnerable,” explains Dr. Winch.

During your date, get in the boss mindset

When we’re feeling nervous and insecure, it’s easy to get wrapped up in whether or not you’re impressing your potential match. But chatting with someone new is a chance to evaluate whether this person is the right fit for you. “Remember that compatibility involves two people and is not solely a reflection on one person,” says Dr. Coe-Odess. “Instead of focusing so much on what the other person feels, it’s also important to focus on how you feel.”

Dr. Winch suggests approaching a first date like a job interview where you’re in charge. “On a date, yes, you’re the interviewee, but you’re also the boss. Put yourself in the boss mindset rather than the interviewee mindset,” he says. This will help you feel less self-conscious and allow you to pay attention to your date and your potential connection. You can bring this approach to conversations on Bumble as well. Instead of stressing about sending the perfect message to a new match, ask yourself if you like what they bring to the table. Don’t let your nerves distract you from what really matters: whether or not you feel a genuine connection.  

Refuse to take rejection personally

Sometimes a connection or a date doesn’t work out, and it’s easy for our imagination to spiral with reasons we weren’t good enough. But the last thing you should do is see a mismatch as a reflection of your value. “There’s no reason to assume it’s you,” says Dr. Winch. “Assume it’s them, because that’s much more likely. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives.”

Besides, even if the rejection was a little personal, that doesn’t mean that the other person’s opinion is all that important. Reach out to your personal hype squad for help remembering how awesome you are, or turn to a hobby that brings you comfort and satisfaction. “The more you fill your own cup, the more you have to give to others, and the easier it’ll be to let those flaked-on dates and dropped text chains roll off your back,” says Dr. Powell. 

At the end of the day, dating should be a fulfilling and fun experience. You deserve to spend your energy on people who make you feel more connected to your wonderful, lovable self.