Dating and hookups are back, but it can be overwhelming. Here's how to ease back in.

After a year of little socialization, thanks to vaccines, the dating scene is bouncing back.

Some people are getting back out there to try to find "the one" while others are looking for casual hookups after a year of social distancing. But the return to dating has some people feeling overwhelmed.

"Putting yourself out there for dating/jobs/social events is difficult esp. after being in isolation and home quarantine. I lowkey liked being a hermit," writes Twitter user @beaglepuke

"Sooo...I started a dating profile. But now I feel a little overwhelmed," writes user @FromWhimsy.

"Once again thinking about getting dating apps for one week and promptly deleting them," user @omfgyay shared.

Experts say the process may feel overwhelming due to continuing concerns about the coronavirus as well as an increase in social anxiety. This is especially true for people who are trying to make up for lost time by cramming in a bunch of dates. 

Lee Wilson, a relationship expert with two decades of experience as a dating coach, says clients that are "jumping back in pretty hard" have reported feeling awkward.

"People have told me how strange it feels to go out in public again," he says. "There's a lot of sloppiness to this and a lot of people who are really not sure what the social norm is now."

The same is true for casual sex, Wilson says, explaining that clients have described lingering fears of contracting COVID-19 while also feeling "clumsy and out of practice" with human contact.

"I spoke with one client recently and she expressed it this way: 'I sat there wanting him to touch me and to touch him, but I kept my hands in my lap like I was in grade school and was petrified I'd get cooties,'" he recounted. 

Kruti Quazi, clinical director of group support app Sesh, says some people "sort of lost their confidence" during the pandemic. "That self-esteem is lowered. Some of them are... worried (about) how am I going to present myself?"

To help boost confidence before a hookup, Wilson encourages clients to imagine a scenario and picture each step as though they are rehearsing.

"Such detailed visualization can help with feelings of anxiety and reprogram a lack of recent experience," he says. "Like most situations, getting out of practice means time will be needed to re-adjust."

After months of isolation, dating can be overwhelming.

Dating stress may also be amplified due to other social engagements picking up, such going back to working in an office and making plans with friends and family.

"It feels like you have your social calendars filling up so quickly, and that you're not taking time for yourself," Quazi says, adding self-care is important for mental health.

Quazi suggests that people go at their own pace. Even if you're excited to be back out, it's OK to change course if things become too much.

"(Do) what you feel is best for you," she says. "I think a lot of times people are ready and raring to get out there and once they get out, they're like, 'Oh my gosh, this is way too overwhelming for me...' They're longing for that connection... And unfortunately, they've gotten themselves out so quickly that that social anxiety just creeps up on you."

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Wilson agrees a packed dating schedule can backfire.

“When you are really going out with a lot of people, especially if you are triple booking a night, sometimes you need to be careful about how another person might see that," he says. "It's your right... But it might not come across like you want it to if they find out you have a full night ahead of you."

If dating is starting to feel like a job, Wilson says taking breaks can help your game – and even make you more attractive. 

"When you are only used to being around people who you have shallow, early-level relationship with, then that can come across in conversation," he explains. He suggests balancing dates with spending time with good friends.

"(People who do that) are going to... be better at conversation, have more stories to pull from and they're going to be able to handle rejection," he adds.

How to ease back into dating

Quazi says we're all "a little rusty now with our social skills," but there are ways to make interactions easier.

Start slow: If you're not sure how much you can handle as you start getting back to dating, Quazi suggests having maybe "two social events in the week" and seeing how you feel.

Practice with a friend: If you're fearful of doing something you haven't done in a while, Wilson suggests practicing. "Basically having practice dates," he advises. "Go to dinner with a friend and get the feel of it again."

Discuss COVID boundaries ahead of time: Wilson says skip awkwardness on the date by asking any questions you have about masks or vaccinations ahead of time as opposed to when you're in-person. 

Pick a spot you feel safe: If you're COVID-wary, Wilson suggests outdoor dates such as picnics, walks in the park or a vineyard.

Take breaks as needed:  "Listen to your gut. If you're feeling overwhelmed, take that time out,'" Quazi says.

Take time for self-care: "Whether it be taking a walk, meditation, taking a shower. Just taking that time for yourself to do what makes you feel good," she says.

Know when to seek help: If you're experiencing anxiety, Quazi says it may be a sign to seek professional help if it's "getting in the way of doing your normal day-to-day activities."

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