Are you sensitive? No, that isn’t an insult. Some people are truly more sensitive than others, and understanding your own sensitive nature can help you handle online and offline dating challenges, romantic relationships, and rejection with ease.
What Is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?
There’s a wide spectrum of sensitive people and empaths. Some have an especially strong intuition, while others are highly attuned to others’ emotions.
Psychologist Elaine Aron researched people with sensitive characteristics to discover a type of person with especially high sensitivity and depth of processing: the highly sensitive person, or HSP.
She realized that sensitivity is more than a personality trait for many people, and it may even be genetic. HSPs are especially unique in the way they can receive a lot of information and stimulation, almost like they experience life with the dial turned up.
But this can lead to overstimulation easily, with the nervous system going into overdrive and burnout happening quickly.
It’s no surprise, then, that HSPs feel deeply and are more easily moved by the little things—both positive and negative. Chaotic environments with a lot of stimuli like loud noise, bright lights, and strong smells can be especially stressful for sensitive people.
On the other hand, HSPs love to get lost in their rich inner world, enjoying reflecting and thinking deeply about life. In fact, it’s in this downtime that HSPs often find comfort, typically preferring to withdraw and decompress alone at home.
If this sounds familiar to you, you may be a highly sensitive person. And given that HSPs experience emotions and life so deeply, this can certainly have a major influence on your dating experiences and love relationships.
How Being a (Highly) Sensitive Person Affects Your Love Life
Part of what makes sensitive people unique is their sensitivity to stimulation. Dating can be emotionally and mentally (and even physically) stimulating for everyone, but for highly sensitive people, that stimulation level is amplified.
This can create some difficult challenges, but it can also be a gift for sensitive people and their dating partners.
Dating and Relationship Challenges
Because your sensitive nature affects so many aspects of how you function, it can create some special challenges—and, at times, bad habits—when it comes to dating. Here are a few to watch out for:
- Associating stimulation with love: According to Elaine Aron, HSPs may be more likely to make the mistake of equating stimulation and arousal for attraction and compatibility. If you go on a date and feel stressed or aroused from overstimulation, you may assume this is from your interest in the other person, when in reality, it could be from your own nervousness, stimulation from the environment you’re in, or a number of other factors.
- Avoidance and withdrawal: Though not all HSPs have an avoidant attachment style, HSPs may be more likely to behave in avoidant ways. If you’re highly sensitive, you might feel tempted to run from discomfort, yet discomfort is a hurdle that must be overcome when dating.
You may also hide behind your shyness, telling yourself that you simply aren’t capable of confrontation or assertiveness. Many HSPs are introverts, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying your own company. However, be aware of the tendency to build walls around yourself, preventing you from creating real connection with dates and potential partners.
- Too-high standards: Since only 15 to 20% of the population is highly sensitive, you’re likely to date many people who are less sensitive than you. You may hold them to high standards and feel disappointed when they aren’t as thoughtful and empathic as you. For HSPs, your observant and aware character makes it easy to find others’ flaws and become nit-picky and judgmental as a result.
- Codependency: As a sensitive person, you may find yourself attracted to those who are vastly different from you, with the strengths, as well as weaknesses, you lack.
This can, in some cases, trigger a codependent dynamic where both partners, and especially the sensitive partner, always depends on the other for support, without learning how to be more independent and self-sufficient.
A healthier alternative is to find dating partners who encourage you to reach your full potential, even when it feels overstimulating and uncomfortable.
- Self-sacrificing: HSPs are often natural givers because they are so attuned to others’ feelings and needs. But in dating, this can lead to you neglecting your own needs.
At times, you may even mould yourself to fit what would help and please the other person. When dating and getting to know new people, it’s important to present yourself as you truly are, not as you think they want you to be.
- The sensitive, overthinking brain: It can be hard to shut off your brain when there’s so much stimuli and information to process. And when it comes to dating, it’s especially common to fall into the trap of overthinking: “What did that text mean? Why did they seem unhappy today? Did I do something wrong? Are they going to ghost me?”
HSPs may pick up on some cues that others can’t. However, that doesn’t mean every thought or hunch you have is actually accurate.
Dating as a highly sensitive person has its challenges, but it isn’t as hopeless as it may seem. In fact, HSPs bring many special strengths and gifts to their interactions and relationships with others.
Secret Strengths of Sensitive People
One of the most empowering things you can do as a sensitive person looking to date or start a relationship is to get to know your own sensitive superpowers.
The truth is, society often looks down on sensitivity, judging and shaming some of the unique traits of HSPs. You may, then, internalize these judgements and begin looking down on yourself. To do this, however, is to overlook the amazing qualities sensitive people bring to relationships and the world in general.
Here are some typical characteristics of HSPs that can be extremely beneficial in dating and relationships:
- Natural compassion: Compassion is arguably one of the most important qualities to have in an intimate relationship, but truthfully, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. For HSPs, though, compassion is an innate skill, allowing you to easily connect and empathize with romantic partners.
- Selflessness: Selfishness is a major turn-off and acting selfishly can be the downfall of many relationships. Sensitive people tend to be highly aware of others and their well-being, making it nearly impossible to ever be too self-absorbed. But, as mentioned in the previous section, don’t allow your selflessness to turn into self-sacrifice.
- Loyalty and commitment: You may feel somewhat fearful and timid in the beginning of dating and forming a relationship. But once you find your safe person, you may find it very easy to be loyal and committed to them. If you and your date are both looking for a serious relationship, this is good news!
- Appreciation for the small things: HSPs don’t need grand gestures or expensive gifts. For you, noticing and appreciating the small things is effortless. You can see beauty and positivity all around, from perfectly-timed eye contact to a nourishing meal to a comforting walk in the park.
- Attunement to others: Because sensitive people are always observing others’ reactions, body language, and emotional cues, it’s easy to respond to others with support and care. This attunement is one key to healthy relationships that likely comes naturally to you due to your high sensitivity.
- Self-Awareness: Being an HSP means not only being observant of others, but also yourself. HSPs are known to take time to reflect, look for areas of improvement, and listen to feedback from others.
This means you are especially open to growth and self-development, and this self-awareness can benefit you when dating. After all, it’s difficult to see others clearly until you see yourself clearly.
Which of these traits can you most identify with? If you’re a sensitive person, you likely relate to many of them. Though society may not always appreciate your sensitive side, and others may not always understand you, remind yourself regularly of the strengths you possess as an HSP.
Tips for Dating as a Sensitive Person
You’re now aware of the challenges, as well as the strengths, that come with dating as a sensitive person. Still, you might struggle with dating and not know how to use your unique traits to your advantage.
If you don’t feel particularly confident, it might help to date yourself first before rushing into love. Here’s Renee Slansky’s advice on how to establish a great relationship with yourself.
One tip to remember is to take your time. Keep conversations and dates light and do simple activities together. Dating can be overstimulating for many sensitive people, so pace yourself as needed.
It’s also crucial to have a form of self-care that you know works for you. Resist the temptation to lose yourself in someone else and give yourself the care you need.
For example, do you need alone time everyday? Do you require space to process after finishing a date? Make sure to prioritize your own wellness and replenish your energy as needed so you can show up as your best self in dating.
On that note, also get to know what will help you be comfortable on dates. Maybe you’ve found that active, high-energy dates aren’t for you, or staying out late with a new person is exhausting.
Prioritize your well-being, and remember that the discomfort of saying “no” is only short-lived, while the discomfort of neglecting yourself and your boundaries will likely linger much longer.
Finally, become familiar with what is triggering for you. Sensitive people tend to have an overwhelming response to too much stimulation and arousal. And sometimes, HSPs make the mistake of misattributing that feeling.
For example, you may think your feeling of being stimulated is due to attraction towards the other person (as mentioned previously). On the other hand, you may also misunderstand your feeling of being stimulated as a sign of distress.
Remember that, as a sensitive person, it’s normal to become overstimulated, and this could be unrelated to the date or the other person. Become aware, then, of what is triggering for you, and check in with yourself and your feelings often.
Tips for Dealing With Rejection
To truly master dating as a sensitive person, you must also master dealing with rejection. Rejection is a completely normal and inevitable part of dating, yet for HSPs, it can stir up a lot of fear.
When faced with rejection, sensitive people often react one of two ways: wanting to pursue and chase the other person even more, or shutting down and becoming more avoidant, promising yourself that you’ll never let this happen again.
This relates to a response strategy Elaine Aron calls being either “too out” or “too in.” HSPs often cope with discomfort by either pushing themselves way beyond their limits and ignoring their own needs, or indulging those needs too much and overprotecting themselves.
When it comes to dating and dealing with rejection, you must find a balance: give the other person space and don’t rush things, but allow yourself to get out of your head and your comfort zone too.
For example, take time to process how you’re feeling, but still push yourself to take action and message the other person to see if they want to meet. In other words, balance your sense of caution with action to overcome your fear of rejection.
Online Dating for Highly Sensitive People
Dating sites and apps can be a great option for HSPs because you can connect and meet with matches while also, to some extent, controlling the amount of interaction and stimulation required.
Online dating allows you to end conversations when needed, take breaks from chats, and go slow with responding to others.
To get the most out of online dating, choose sites for serious dating and relationships. A lot of swiping and talking to dozens of people at once is likely not suitable for you, so choose services that are designed to limit your options to only the best matches.
And remember: because of your sensitivity, and not in spite of it, you will also be the best match for someone else too!
Brie Schmidt is a Tokyo-based relationship educator and coach helping womxn and couples around the world have secure, healthy relationships. She has been featured in The Japan Times, Channel News Asia, and on the Feminist Fridays podcast.
Brie’s background includes training in cognitive behavioral coaching, life coaching, as well as studies focused on sexuality and sociology. She combines this education, along with her own personal experiences and struggles, to create a practical, no shame, no sugarcoat approach to coaching and relationship education.
These days, you can often find her writing about relationship skills, updating her Instagram account with empowering relationship posts, and offering coaching both privately and in self-coaching products and resources.
You can also find her every week hosting Relationship Reminders, a podcast focusing on building healthy relationships, both with others and with ourselves.