What is Minimal Dating?
The simplest answer is that minimal dating occurs when a man or woman has significantly fewer dates or romantic partners than they would prefer. It is also likely that this causes some form of psychological distress. The number and frequency of dates and romatic partners is an entirely personal thing: some people are perfectly happy to date only occasionally, or may want a long-term committed relationship. Others may want to meet and go out with many different people. This definition of minimal dating does not assume that there is a “normal” amount of social interaction that people should be compared to. Instead, it simply asks the question of a person’s satisfaction with their love life.
Is Minimal Dating a Mental Illness?
No, minimal dating is not recognized as a mental illness. However, just like academic problems, stress, domestic violence, and divorce, it can cause significant personal distress. And just like those and other problematic situations, it can be caused or made worse by a mental illness. Some people who struggle with forming romantic relationships live with a treatable disorder called social anxiety disorder (sometimes called social phobia). Social anxiety disorder is a severe and persistent fear of some or all situations that require an individual to interact with others. Most people are at least a little afraid of some social situations (like a job interview or public speaking), and some people are shy when meeting new people, but social anxiety disorder involves significant fear that impairs a person’s ability to be healthy and happy in everyday life. Another mental illness that may lead to minimal dating is avoidant personality disorder. Personality disorders are thought to be patterns of responding to and interacting with the world that are unhealthy or counterproductive for the person with the disorder. Avoidant personality disorder involves a pattern of of behavior that is characterized by social inhibition and fear of rejection. We also know that many people who are minimal daters live with depression. Depression is a disorder which affects mood, energy, and a person’s outlook on the world. Minimal dating may also be a product of Asperger’s syndrome, a neurological disorder that is similar to autism but with less severe symptoms. Individuals living with Asperger’s syndrome often struggle with daily interpersonal communication. For them, understanding nonverbal information and emotions can be challenging. These are by no means all of the mental or neurological disorders that can lead people to struggle with dating, and many minimal daters may not have any such disorder.
Can Minimal Dating be Treated?
Absolutely. Just like the non-psychiatric interpersonal situations described above, mental health professionals (e.g., psychologists, social workers, counselors) can help people with minimal dating. The challenge is finding someone who has experience dealing with situations similar to yours. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find people who specialize in the disorders listed above (which would probably be more helpful if such a condition were behind your minimal dating). You can also seek the help of a generalist, who does not specialize in any particular area. Either way, there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, if you are looking for help with a specific concern (such as your minimal dating), clinicians who are goal oriented are more appropriate in your situation. Behavioral health professionals who focus more on building insight and exploring your past may be wonderful, but may also not deal directly with your concerns. This is not to say that your love life should be the only thing a clinician focuses on; if social anxiety is impacting your ability to meet or get close to people, it may be preferable (or even necessary) to address your anxiety before or while you work towards other goals. A competent behavioral health professional will be able to help identify important areas that should be addressed. Second, it is important to find a clinician who is sex-positive. This means they will accept that you have your own set of values surrounding dating and sexuality, instead of trying to impose their own upon you. Whether you are looking to meet one person and settle down, or date many different people to learn what you are really looking for, this is your decision. As long as your behavior is legal and safe, they should not make you feel judged. Finally, it is important to find someone who is qualified. Most states require a license to practice as a behavioral health professional. You should also look into their education and experience, as well as any certifications they posses. Any legitimate professional should be happy to provide you this information (if they don’t volunteer it even before you ask). Remember, being an informed and empowered consumer is smart, not rude.
What Research is there on Minimal Dating?
Surprisingly little. There are entire scientific journals on marriage and couples, but by comparison there is very little on dating and what makes a person happy and successful in their love life before they get into a long-term relationship. Fortunately, there is a great deal of research on related mental disorders. For example, the last 30 years have seen great advances in the understanding and treatment of social anxiety. Research groups around the country continue to investigate how anxiety, shyness, Asperger’s syndrome, and other conditions affect people and their relationships. Researchers in the areas of communications and social psychology work to understand the dynamics of interpersonal communication. So the good news is that there is a lot of research that can be applied to help minimal daters; the bad news is that there is little focusing directly on understanding and treating minimal dating.