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Background:

I'm a college student currently at home on summer vacation. A few weeks before I left school, I was approached by a girl who knew me through a mutual friend. She suggested we hang out and we spent most of the next few weeks spending most of our free time together, often into the dawn hours. There were obvious signs of interest on her part, especially looking back (the fact that she approached first, flirting, suggesting that I sing for her when she found out I'm learning guitar, etc...)

Over these few weeks, she began to open up about her suffering from OCD/severe anxiety, going as far as to share what her particular obsessive thoughts revolve around.

About a month ago, I drove back to my college town to hang out with her. She seemed excited to see me, even going as far as taking off work last minute so she wouldn't have to leave as early. Things were going great, but by the time it came for me to leave she began to have a panic attack and I didn't handle it as well as I have in the past (I called and apologized later for how I acted). She asked for some time and space and she muttered under her breath that she had "sabotaged herself again." From what I've researched, people with anxiety will often push others away even if they care about that person. I'm not sure if that's the case here, but it would make sense since this situation unfolded as fast as it did.

Since then she has reached out several times and we've talked. She seems to be doing better and seems to be excited at the prospect of me moving back in a month.

Question

I care about her, at least on a platonic level, and I want to try to date her. How to communicate to her I'd like to get to know her more without triggering her anxiety? I fear that if I take things too slowly and wait to ask her out for too long, I would project disinterest, which obviously isn't the case. On the other hand, I fear that if I move too fast I will make her uncomfortable and scare her away.

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    Questions should ask for help achieving a specific goal. Your question is asking for personal advice on "what to do" without defining a goal; this is too subjective. Edit your question to explain what you hope to achieve. We can't tell you whether to take baby steps or be more direct. When you make the decision of what to do, edit the question then we can try to help you achieve your interpersonal goal! – ElizB Jul 4 at 20:39
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    Hi Jason! Welcome to IPS. As ElizB said, "what should I do" questions aren't a great fit on this stack. Upon review of your post, I assume you'd like to get to know her more without letting her think she'd ruin everything, which is why I allowed myself to edit your question to reflect that goal. If I got you wrong, or if there are some details missing, do not hesitate to edit it again. Otherwise, you may click on the "reopen" link, so that we know the post now reflects what it is you want to achieve. Have a great time among us! – avazula Jul 5 at 6:04
  • Very important question: Is she on a treatment plan? In other words, is she in therapy? – Johns-305 Jul 5 at 20:48
  • Sorry for not getting back sooner, but she is on a treatment plan. I'm not totally sure though how closely she follows it though (i.e. medication). Also, thanks for editing the question. That pretty well represents what I intended to write in the beginning. – Jason Jul 6 at 3:31
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The truth is, you can't really predict what any other person will think or feel, and there is no perfect 'speed' at which to start a new relationship. All you can do it be attentive to the other person's cues, and allow things to unfold somewhat naturally without pushing. I know this is kind of vague, but truly any artificial attempt to 'not scare her away' or 'not go to slow' may likely backfire. The parts of your friendship that have been successful so far are probably the best predictor of how frequent/intense your contact should be. (If multiple days of staying together late into the night seemed to make her panic, pull back a little. If talking a few times a week feels comfortable and companionable, aim to maintain that.)

Mental health challenges can make things more complicated, but on the whole, you can ask her out very much like you would approach someone else you want to date, with a little extra consideration for the fact she tends to be anxious.

When I talk to my friends and loved ones with anxiety, the main thing I keep in mind is to be specific, and not leave a lot open for interpretation/overthinking. So something like "Hey, have dinner with me!" might leave her wondering if it's a date or not. Using wording like, "I would love to take you out on a date." makes it clear what your intentions are, and reassures her about where she stands with you. If you really aren't ready for the dating step, but just want to spend time together, say that instead: "I really enjoy your company. Can we get to know each other better?"

Reassure her that you like and care about her, and don't bring up past negative interactions as part of this conversation. (If you need to clear the air about her previous panic attack or anything like that, choose another time. Keeping things positive when asking her out will help to ensure that she gets the right message-- 'I like you as a person and I am excited to spend time with you'.)

You might also ask her input on what kind of date or hangout she would like, since some people with anxiety have difficulty with certain activities- For example a rock concert might make her uncomfortable because of the crowds, or perhaps she doesn't like driving at night and would prefer your movie date to be a matinee. Her OCD and anxiety may constrain what types of dates she can relax enough to enjoy.

An easy way to do this without making her solely responsible for choosing the date is to come up with two or three options that appeal to you, and let her pick her favorite from those. I get a bit of 'decision anxiety' when I am asked to choose from a large number of options, for example where to eat when any place is town is a possible choice, so my husband and I use a 'one person says several options that they would be okay with, the other picks from the list' system, and it works fantastically to reduce my anxiety and get a decision made efficiently.

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    Thanks for the detailed answer! Looking back, she seemed to enjoy herself a lot more when I "led" and suggested things to do/places to go so that may be a good thing to do moving forward. – Jason Jul 6 at 3:44

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