A Guide to Dating for Highly Sensitive People 

Written by Rachel H.

February 14, 2024

Dating kinda sucks. It can feel like an unfair gamble, an exhausting and excruciating hamster wheel of swiping, crushed hopes and a tug of war between the desire to throw in the towel completely and the urge to download the apps maybe just this one more time. 

There’s nothing like beginning to open up to a new person with the goal of intimacy in the back of your mind to bring up longstanding insecurities, doubts and questions about self-worth. Relationships can hold up a mirror to what’s most needing attention within us, and sometimes we may not like what we see.

For the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) living in a world of too-fast, too-loud, too-bright, dating can feel particularly overwhelming. It’s like all the yuckiness of the process – the pressure to show up as the best possible version of yourself, the uncertainty of where you stand with someone you’re really into, the pain of rejection – is turned up to 11.

You’re frustrated with the dating advice, which either seems to tell you to just stop trying and “learn how to be happy on your own” or that you’re doing it wrong – that there’s some easy, 5-step method to nabbing the love of your life and you just haven’t figured it out yet. 

The truth is that dating is messy. For the sensitive and non-sensitive alike. There are no guarantees and you will likely get hurt along the way. Risking connection always means risking heartbreak.

Yet at the same time, dating can help you come to know yourself more deeply. It’s also generally a prerequisite to the kind of deep, intimate relationships that you desire. 

So what is a sensitive soul who’s still longing (even if only in secret) for deeper love connections to do? Whether you’re already very much in the dating scene, or just getting back out there, here are a few pointers that might help bring more levity and ease to the process. 

Get present

Sweaty palms, racing heart, churning stomach. First (or second, or third) date jitters are totally normal.  If it seems like the dread of anxiety is holding you back from taking more dating risks, know that re-orienting yourself to the here and now is a resource you can come back to over and over. 

You might ground yourself with some deep, slow breaths, or bring your awareness more fully to the physical environment around you by naming 5 things you can see, 5 things you can feel and 5 things you can hear. If your mind is working overtime, try writing whatever is coming up for you in a journal that is for you and only you. Sometimes when we put the words down on the page, they lose a little of their power.

Give yourself permission to take it slow

HSP’s are deep processors, meaning that they tend to think long and hard about just about everything. Know that it’s OK to take the time you need to reflect and that you don’t need to  rush into any decision-making about where a new connection is or isn’t going.

If you find yourself feeling pulled to share deeper tidbits about yourself early on (HSP’s often have little interest in small talk), it is a good idea to pay close attention to how your shares are received by the other person. Not everyone deserves to know your most tender and vulnerable parts. 

Treat yourself with compassion 

Our inner critics will often rear their heads when it comes to dating. Notice what voices of pressure, judgment and fear might be crowding your inner landscape, and see if you can invite in some compassion for how hard it is to be a sensitive and discerning person trying to find your person in a scattered and frenetically-paced world. 

I love Kristin Neff’s short “Self Compassion Break” practice where you simply name that “this is a moment of pain/suffering/hardship,” connect to the common humanity of hardship (you are definitely not alone!) and send yourself a message of kindness and connection (something like “may I treat myself with kindness”) while placing a hand over your heart. 

Trust your intuition 

HSP’s are naturally intuitive, which can be a boon to dating but also create some complications when the rational mind is in disagreement with what our gut/body/heart is telling us. Pay attention to how you feel in the presence of your date – what sensations are present in your body? How might this align or be in dissonance with the stories your mind is making?

We’re better able to tap into our intuition when we can access a sense of openness, spaciousness and curiosity to what’s arising in our emotional and physical world. Mostly feeling fear and confusion? Get curious about that. Give yourself space to journal or talk with a friend or therapist in Philadelphia about what’s coming up for you.

Know your values

As helpful as it can be to invite a sense of openness and curiosity into your dating world, it is just as important to know what really matters to you and use that as a compass when discerning who you want to be spending your precious time with.

Get clear on what you value and pay attention to how your date embodies (or doesn’t embody) this. For example, if you value kindness and you notice your date being rude to the server, that’s important information you don’t want to overlook!

Looking for more support as you navigate the wild west of modern dating? Working with a therapist in Philadelphia who specializes in highly sensitive people and anxiety can help you better discern your values, access your intuition beyond fear and treat yourself with more kindness as you do the hard things. Schedule a free consultation with me today!

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