Dating and self-esteem are intimately connected. The partners that we choose and how we spend time with them can greatly influence our self-esteem. If you have to adopt a pretend personality because your partner demands it or do things unwillingly to please your partner, chances are, you're in a toxic relationship. It's only about time before the toxicity catches up to you and poisons your self-esteem. On the flip side, dating a compassionate and respectful person can reward you with higher self-esteem.
All of this sounds pretty straightforward and you might think that any sane person would avoid a toxic relationship and opt for a loving one instead.
But, relationships aren't black and white. Interactions are always contextual and we rarely ever make a decision in isolation of the past. For example, even after witnessing consistent red flags, we might think of how great our partner made us feel in the past and forego their toxic behaviour.
To help you identify the behaviours in relationships that are negatively or positively affecting your self-esteem, let's understand how dating and self-esteem are interlinked.
It can lift you up and boost your self-esteem
Dating someone who is positive towards you is great for your self-esteem. You feel valid, wanted, and accepted for who you are. For example, if your partner tells you that you’re good at sex it can make you feel confident about yourself.
A study called Positive relationships to boost self-esteem, and vice versa confirmed this belief. The authors found that positive social relationships, social support, and social acceptance help shape the development of self-esteem in people over time across ages 4 to 76. Since romantic relationships are highly consuming and intense, they can heavily mould our self-esteem.
So, if you’re in a relationship where you're both happy with one another, touching each other quite often, having good sex, and overall share a good rapport, it’s going to make you feel better. You’ll feel valid, and gain higher self-esteem.
But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the opposite happens, and that’s the problem.
It can bring you down
Just as a good relationship can make you feel on top of the world like you're gliding through life, a bad dating experience can really shatter your self-esteem.
For example, if your partner consistently undermines your ability even in a joking manner, soon you could start to internalize the criticism leading to negative self-talk. Some other signs of a bad partner are - they never compliment you, they criticize you for not being good in bed, you're their last priority, they laugh at your aspirations, they insult you around their friends, and don't respect your personal space.
These aren't straightforward dealbreakers as any long-term relationship may contain some of these elements from time to time. But, as we know, when the bad times start to outnumber the good, a relationship is inevitably headed for trouble.
How to know if your romantic relationship is harming your self-esteem?
Women tend to apologize more than men and when in a relationship with a dominating partner, women may feel compelled to say sorry even more often. This isn't a good sign. If your partner makes you apologize for the tiniest of inconvenience to them, they're instilling fear in you of never doing anything to disappoint them.
We're not saying that you mustn't apologize if you've done something hurtful or mean. But if they give you a hard time for not picking up a call in the middle of the night or refusing sex, the emotional distress of their reaction can make you apologize for things that aren't really 'wrong'.
A clear indication of good self-esteem is when you're not afraid to ask for what you want or how you want to be treated. If you find that your partner is doing things that hurt you such as insulting your parents or using your phone without permission and you're scared to confront them about it, it's a bad sign. It can eat away at your mental health and your self-esteem.
The vicious cycle of bad relationships and self-esteem
When you know that you're in an unhealthy relationship and think that you deserve it because you think you’re cruddy, it's a huge sign of plummeting self-esteem. It's a vicious cycle, bad dating causes low self-esteem and low self-esteem leads you to believe you deserve the worst, hence, you set the bar too low. This downward spiral continues to purport bad dating experiences.
Letting toxic people with insecurities and low self-esteem could be because you've become accustomed to unhealthy relationships due to your own low self-esteem. We're not pointing fingers but it's a fact that you will most likely let yourself be walked all over if you lack high self-esteem.
Online dating can also crush your self-esteem
Gone are the days of blind dates and chatting up strangers at a cafe, dating apps are how young adults meet potential partners now. It’s wonderful how you can find a date sitting on your couch now but there's a cost attached to it. With online dating, people are considered and discarded in seconds, primarily based on their looks. This can feed self-esteem issues. Researchers from the University of North Texas found that dating apps were negatively affecting Tinder users' self-esteem and body image.
Tinder users were less satisfied with their face and body and were more likely to compare their appearance to others, in contrast to non-users. Nicole Ivens, a relationship counsellor, in an interview with The Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia, advises Tinder users to be mindful of how they're feeling.
“If you’re starting to question your looks, or whether you’re good enough, then it may be a sign that your dating app may be starting to affect your self-esteem. If you’re considering changing your looks in order to please others, it’s a red flag your self-esteem is taking a hit,” she says.
Facing ghosting and rejection on dating apps
If there's one thing we've all experienced on Tinder, it's being ghosted or ghosting a match. Since there's so little physical and intimate interaction on dating apps, it's easy for people to feel less empathetic towards their matches. If the conversation on text seems boring, people immediately move on to the next match, unwilling to consider the previous match.
This is has become a norm on dating apps as one dating site reported 78% of people aged between 18-33 have been ghosted. Online daters also date multiple people at once which can again tear down your self-esteem if you take it personally.
Rejection can appear in the form of unanswered text messages or swiping right on someone and not have them do the same. Similar to social media, if you're beginning to measure your value on the number of texts you receive, it could lower self-esteem.
How to improve confidence while dating?
Transforming into a confident person takes time but you will get there. For starters, know what you are worth and maintain the value you attach to yourself across situations and independent of what your partner thinks of you. Tell yourself that you are worthy of respect, love, and intimacy irrespective of your physical appearance or intellectual capacity.
Having self-worth will make you less reliant on another's approval. Yes, it won't make you immune to heartbreaks and rejection but you'll land on your feet much quicker this way. By valuing yourself, you're setting an example for your potential partner of how you want to be treated.
You can have high standards but don't expect perfection
When dating someone, understand that you can have standards. You don’t need toxic people or behaviours in your life. You’re totally valid if you have higher standards. That doesn't make you “stuck up,” it just means you know what you want.
There's no perfect partner as all of us have our flaws and quirks. So, stop searching for an ideal person, it will take the pressure off you as well. As Joanna Coles, author of Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World, advises, “Embrace imperfection and find a partner who embraces yours.”
Know that you have some control over the situation
It is natural to feel butterflies in your stomach before a date. So, if you feel nervous, express that in a humorous and honest manner to defuse the tension in the situation. Your date might find that tiny self-disclosure endearing and fizzle out the awkwardness.
Additionally, stop fretting over the question, "Do they like me?" and ask yourself "Do I like them?". Most people are concerned with gaining their date's approval and acceptance but give all the power to them. But it takes two people to agree they want a relationship so don't forget to consider what you like and if they are worth your time. You also hold power in the decision.
Consider meeting a therapist if nothing works
Sometimes, our confidence issues stem from complicated childhood issues or past traumatic experiences. It can be difficult to get to the bottom of why these issues keep recurring, you may not even be aware of them. For example, you might let your partner take advantage of you if you've always had poor boundaries in the past or were a people pleaser.
Instead, you can get help and therapy for your confidence issues. Talking to a counsellor is totally valid, and you can go to BetterHelp to get the therapy you need online to help you feel more confident.
Remember, dating does affect your self-esteem. If you have poor self-esteem, you’ll have poor dating experiences. Be confident, have self-esteem, and have positive dating experiences that’ll help you feel good and happy.