Have past dating experiences left you feeling burnt, bruised, and bitter? Do you now get ready for future dates with a sense of anxious dread? Does the prospect of getting intimate with someone cause more fear than excitement?
If you said yes to more than one question you may suffer from Post-Traumatic Dating Disorder. Yes that’s right, PTDD.
What, you haven’t heard of it?
Well, neither had I until I listened to a podcast called “Why Oh Why, a weekly conversation about sex and technology between journalist Andrea Silenzi and a rotating cast of guests, from friends to her grandma. The episode on PTDD (co-hosted by Silenzi’s friend Holly Wood) sent me into a WebMD-esque moment of self-diagnosis. Here’s what I discerned:
PTDD can strike at any time but often comes over you while you are on a date with somebody new. The condition may be accompanied by a preoccupation with bad dates of the past, an outsized desire to impress your dating partner (due to the fact that one or more previous dates have disappeared on you seemingly without reason) and a difficulty staying present with the person you’re with.
As I listened, I found myself regressing into moments of romantic anxiety when I’d lied about what I do, tried to imitate Joey’s “half smile” from Dawson’s Creek and ended up going radio silent because I had nothing to say. It’s not a cute look. I also realized that I’d probably triggered somebody else’s PTDD by not returning their texts for weeks without explanation.
I felt terrible, so I had to call up Andrea and talk to her about it. Together with Holly, she helped me discern what we can learn from terrible dating experiences and how to behave in ways that don’t make us close ourselves off to new adventures in love, sex and romance.
Here’s how to survive dating trauma, according to my guests, with my own two cents sprinkled in:
Transform the past.
“Bad dates aren’t social disasters that just erupt,” offer Andrea and Holly. “They are meaningful experiences that can, with some creativity, be catalysts for self-understanding, art, and growth.” Taylor Swift and Lena Dunham are just a couple people who have profited on this reality.
If you like someone new, be real about it.
Anybody that’s ever liked me has been into the fact that i seem to have even more feelings sober than Hemingway did when he was in the drunk tank. According to my guests, expressing those feelings is the right move. “If you feel it, say it,“ they offer. “Holding in feelings because you’re afraid of scaring someone off is the worst kind of self-crime.”
Confess to past scars.
Once you trust your new partner, be as honest as you can about dating scars from the past. "You’ll feel closer, more human. It’s a different level of intimacy,” Holly and Andrea advise. In my book, there’s nothing sexier than that.
Don’t be vague.
Heed this advice. If you’ve made it clear to a new partner that you’re looking for a relationship, and that person tells you I don’t know what I want, or I’m just sort of open for anything right now, then this person is likely saying I don’t want a relationship with you right now.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out what exactly it is we mean when we say this word “relationship.” I still don’t know, but I think it means being so into another person that you want to change your plans to be with them more. “Being open to anything" isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean that person will never love you, but this language does signify “something low-key and ambiguous,“ in the words of my guests. "If that’s you, go for it. If not, move on.”
Prepare a lifeboat in case of disaster.
When performance artist Marina Abramović broke up with her partner of 12 years, the two decided to commemorate their union’s demise by hiking from either side of the Great Wall of China until they met in the middle to say bye. Accorrding to Andrea and Holly, everyone with PTDD should have an exit plan ready:
“When you realize you would miss the other person if they left, discuss an exit strategy. Tell them how you would like to be treated if they decide they would like to stop dating you. Be honest with yourself because they are likely to honor this.”
Do you want to be dumped while making out on the beach? Or maybe a text message will suffice? An actual discussion about a break-up plan with a new partner would likely make me feel exposed. I’d probably broach the topic by expressing my admiration for Marina and her need for control.
Keep your hopes up.
As Doctor King said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” He was speaking about political and moral issues far greater than your love life; however, his words stand as a universal lesson about the power of hope. In the words of Holly and Andrea: “Let your mind walk down that path and imagine sharing a holiday together, an airport layover. What would that be like?” Don’t let yourself succumb to disappointment. Fantasy is a key part of romance. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure.
Dating always comes back to respect. When people violate your respect, Holly and Andrea urge you to take this seriously: “Treat them like a zombie…a threat to your wellbeing. When they see you and say ‘We should get coffee sometime.’ tell them, ‘No, thank you.’” Sometimes I also like to ask myself, “What would Beyonce do,” and then do that.
So my friends, I, along with my guests, encourage you to keep putting yourself out there. Focus more on how great things could be rather than the trauma of how bad it’s been. If somebody isn’t into you being what you think is the best, sexiest version of yourself, don’t try and win them over with a limp imitation of a ‘90s TV character. And if you find yourself ignoring somebody that you went on a date with and would rather not see again, think twice because nobody wants to end up a zombie with a case of PTDD tied to their name.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column, with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.