The only time I’ve ever made a first move, it was sneaky and planned. I had been eyeing this guy all night, but we hadn’t said anything to each other. When I realized he was about to walk behind me, I told my friend to push me so I’d bump into him. I turned around, apologized, and we started chatting. Smirk. If I hadn’t pretended to be completely unaware of my surroundings, I would’ve never approached him, because frankly, I was scared. 

“Being the first to express interest can feel petrifying,” says Rachel Dack, MS, LCPC, NCC, licensed psychotherapist and dating and relationship coach. “If you are prone to anxious thoughts, it’s common to overemphasize, analyze, or anticipate the risk of rejection, resulting in greater fear and avoidance. If you feel bad about yourself and question what you have to offer, you may [falsely believe] that the interaction is bound to end poorly.”

Hi, is she in my mind? I have anxiety, pick me! Dack’s right though — the thought of being rejected is sickening. And there’s more than just fear at play. Traditionally, men have been expected to make the first move. But now, some worry about coming on “too strong or appearing creepy or desperate,” says Dack. And women who make the first move may be “labeled as overly aggressive,” she adds. These rules, biases, and expectations are basically bullshit, and even as things continue to evolve in the right direction, we’re dealing with discomfort and confusion, the result of which is many missed opportunities to show interest in healthy ways.

That’s a lot to think about. (Getting anxious again). But as we work to sort out these societal issues, there are ways to combat your fear of going up to someone you think is all kinds of good-looking. Damn, I should listen to my own articles. 

When You Think About Making Your Move:

1. Expect the expected.

“Sometimes it’s actually helpful to expect to be anxious,” says Dack. “If you are willing to accept your anxiety, it is less likely to hold you back from taking risks in dating. Instead, try to talk yourself through any anxious thoughts so that they don’t dominate your behavior and cause you to shut down or avoid trying altogether.” (See next tip for how to talk yourself through.) 

2. Talk it out.

Dack acknowledges that some of these statements are probably going to feel a little forced or even fake. But it’s important to shift your thinking to empower yourself to take action 💪. 

  • I can handle anything that happens, even rejection and embarrassment.
  • Putting myself out there will be worth it in the end, regardless of what happens in this specific situation. Being vulnerable is part of being emotionally available and open to love (ed note: or like!).
  • My anxiety is telling me this experience will be unpleasant, but I am open to giving it a chance and am hopeful things will work out.
  • I am ready and available to connect with others.
  • I have a lot to offer. I am confident in who I am. I am ready to attract my ideal partner.

3. Give credit where credit is due.

“Even taking a small step, such as smiling at someone from across the room opposed to avoiding eye contact, is an accomplishment,” says Dack. Give yourself props for not running away, aka taking a step in the right direction. We see you!

4. Put things in perspective.

It’s important to remember that not every person you are interested in will be interested back. This is part of dating for everyone, so you may as well accept and try not to take it personally, says Dack. Rejection is inevitable — the key is not letting it stop you from trying to achieve what you want. Instead, try to see it as practice that leads you closer to meeting relationship goals.

5. Get in the zone.

Music, it has magical powers. Make a playlist that makes you feel all of the good things inside. Ask your Uber driver to plug in your phone on your way to the bar (that is, if you don’t care about your rating), and enjoy the sounds of Lizzo and Fall Out Boy circa 2007 (just me?).

Just Before You Make Your Move:

6. See it happening for yourself.

“Right before you approach the person you are interested in, take some deep breaths while visualizing the interaction going well,” says Dack. “Imagine having a great conversation. Maybe it includes laugher, the discovery of mutual interests, flirting, and chemistry. Imagine feeling confident and good about yourself. While you can’t control anyone but yourself, it can be helpful to approach the situation with a positive, hopeful attitude instead of allowing your anxiety or fear to convince you that you shouldn’t try or it won’t work out for you.”

7. Lean on your friends.

If you’re with someone you trust, ask them to give you a quick pep talk. “It can be extra comforting to know you have nearby support, regardless of the outcome,” says Dack. “Your friend can give you some courage and motivation by helping you see your strengths and positive qualities, and reminding you that you’re a great catch.” After all, what are friends for if not to tell you how great you are? 

8. Be in the moment.

Take one final deep breath, ground yourself, and “[remember that] you can handle [making the first move] and are worthy regardless of the outcome,” says Dack. At the end of the day — and we know this sounds cliché, but it’s true — do you really want to be with someone who doesn’t want you to buy them a whiskey ginger?