My partner has severe social anxiety. When we first started dating, I had a hard time identifying what was happening. He’d become silent after certain social interactions, stating he needed a walk or even wanted to leave. Sometimes I’d think that I had done something wrong, or that somebody had said something terribly offensive to him. But most times, it was my partner who believed he’d done something wrong. He’d talk for 45 minutes about all the ways someone may have misinterpreted something he said and all of the social implications that come with that (who will they tell? What does that mean for their friendship now?) I’d try to talk him down and show him the error in his thinking, but there was some sort of haze over his eyes—like he was a million miles away. Eventually, I realized I couldn’t help him because I’m not a psychologist, and he has social anxiety. Here are the realities of dating someone with social anxiety.
He needs breakdowns on new people
If you’re going to introduce your partner to a lot of new people, he’ll want breakdowns on each one. What are they like? What might offend them? What topics put them in a bad mood? Is there anything they’re sensitive about? Your partner will ask for all the information you can give him to help him avoid all of the minefields he’s made up in his head.
He will obsess over things for days (or weeks)
If your partner feels that a social interaction went wrong, he’ll talk about it for long after. Don’t be surprised if, one night, you’re drifting off to sleep and your partner brings up something someone said to him a week ago. Yes—he’s been thinking about it all week.
One tiny mishap can turn the night upside down
If you want to take your partner to large parties filled with people he doesn’t know, just know you’re taking a risk. Big groups of new people provide a lot of opportunities for your partner to believe he did something wrong. And once he believes that, he won’t be able to enjoy himself for the rest of the night. Aka you could be going home early.
You can only travel with his very close friends
Relaxing is important for everybody, but it’s especially important for people with social anxiety. As such, people with social anxiety won’t run the risk of going on vacation with people they don’t know very well. They need to surround themselves with people who they know understand them, and who they know they cannot possibly offend. So don’t think you can just invite a couple your partner has met three times on vacation.
You’ll worry about him a lot
You’ll spend a lot of time in social settings worrying about your partner. You cannot control who will be at a party. You cannot predict what some stranger may possibly say to your partner to send him into a panic spiral the rest of the night. You always have one ear on your partner’s conversations at parties, so you can try to prevent a disaster.
You have to be careful with teasing
You have to be very careful when it comes to teasing your partner. Do not make any jokes implying he is being rude, insensitive or egotistical. People with social anxiety spend most of their days praying they are not those things, so you really can’t tease them about being those things.
You’ll stop him from sending apologies
You’ll have to stop your partner from sending out unnecessary apologies a lot. You’ll often find him at his computer, about to send a long, meandering explanation to somebody who he believes he insulted at a party three weeks ago. You know that person A) Wasn’t insulted and B) Won’t even remember what he’s talking about.
He’ll over-explain a lot
You’ll need to be very careful about criticizing your partner, or even giving just small notes within the relationship. Should you even mildly hint he did something that bothered you, you are welcoming a thirty-minute explanation. And daily recaps of the incident for the next three days.
Sarcastic people are hard for him
It’s very difficult for your partner to be around sarcastic people. It’s too easy to misunderstand a sarcastic person, and think they’re being serious when they aren’t. A person with social anxiety can’t be around that.
He’ll prefer eating at home
At restaurants, your partner worries that he isn’t making enough eye contact with the server, or being kind enough to the bus boy. He’ll worry that other people overhear and misinterpret your conversations. He’ll worry he is too loud or in some way his presence is insulting someone and he doesn’t even know it.
He may not see your friends enough
When it comes to whose friends you hang out with more, get ready for things to be off-balance. Your partner is most comfortable around his friends who he knows very well. Meanwhile, around your friends, he worries he’ll do something wrong, your friends won’t like him, and your friends will turn you against him.
He can’t have a go-go-go schedule
As you can imagine, socializing is particularly taxing on the man with social anxiety. So don’t plan a go-go-go weekend full of back-to-back events with your partner. He’ll need some downtime between social activities to regroup.
He notices every social dynamic
Your partner notices everything he does and everything everyone else does and says. He’ll often point out to you some argument people were having, or some tension between a couple, that you didn’t even notice.
Holidays and his birthday are precious
Like vacations, your partner won’t want to spend holidays or his birthday with anyone he doesn’t know very well. These days are sacred to him, and he doesn’t want them ruined by what he perceives as a bad social interaction.
He won’t like when you boast about him
One thing people with social anxiety worry about a lot is coming off as cocky. Your partner will become embarrassed and even a little upset if you boast too much about him.