I am standing at Newtown Station just moments before meeting up with my first ever internet date and I am starting to panic. A perfect November overcast day is ruined by the sun breaking through the clouds, raising the temperature and making me sweat.
What’s got me nervous is what my internet date will think of the real me. My online persona is funny, charming and relaxed. But real-life me is a 38-year-old unemployed journalist who lives with his parents.
Adding to my anxiety is that it has been almost a decade since I’ve been in a relationship. I’m also doubting my decision to present my date with a picture frame that has her first name written in capital letters with a thick black texta on white paper framed by a border of owls.
But that’s not the reason I am panicking. Just a few nights ago I was so nervous about this first date that I had to call an ambulance due to having an episode of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD ) that lasted all night.
Two evenings before the big night I started experiencing severe pain in my stomach which lasted for hours.
Five months earlier, a heart attack and internal bleeding from a stomach ulcer almost killed me. But after regaining my health and strength and being accepted into university to do a post-graduate journalism degree I felt confident enough to join an internet dating site.
Despite writing in my online dating bio that I enjoyed taking long walks along the beach because it calmed my mind, I still managed to get a response from a woman named Dimitra.
After a few weeks of internet chatting we arranged to meet. However two evenings before the big night I started experiencing severe pain in my stomach which lasted for hours.
I tried to remedy it with a concoction of freshly squeezed lemon juice and Turkish coffee, which my mum used to give me as a child. I tried it again a few hours later, and when that didn’t work I tried breathing and mindfulness. But the only thing I was extremely mindful of was that as well as my stomach pain I had started to get symptoms that felt like I was having a heart attack, so I called 000.
As soon as the ambulance arrived the pain in my stomach suddenly stopped and so did the sweating and the tightness in my chest. From writhing on the floor for hours I was now joking with one of the paramedics, a young woman, about how I would never use lemon and Turkish coffee again.
While I was relieved this episode was over, it was clear the thought of going on a date was affecting me. After getting my life back on track in other areas, I was determined that I wasn’t going to let an internet date paralyse me with fear and anxiety. But I knew that if I was to make it, I needed help.
When I look back on that date, getting through it helped me battle my anxiety and allowed me to move forward in my life.
I went and saw my psychologist and she said all the right things. But the most crucial support I received was from my friend Daniel who I met up with in Newtown the night before I had arranged to meet Dimitra. When I told him I called the ambulance he suggested we do some reconnaissance work as that would alleviate my anxiety.
“Where are you meeting her and where is the date?” he asked. I told him I was meeting her at Newtown station and that we were having dinner at a dumpling place nearby.
“Right, let’s go to the station and walk to the dumpling place so you can see in your mind that it’s not that big of a deal,” he suggested. When we arrived at the station Daniel joked that I should hold up a sign with my date’s name like limousine drivers do when picking up people from the airport.
“Yeah right,” I said. “I should just write in thick black texta DIMITRA - that won’t be awkward at all.” “Yes, do that!” he said. “Meet me tomorrow at a newsagent and we will get some supplies.” I thought he was joking but when he called the next day he was serious.
So here I am at Newtown station holding up the sign in front of the peak hour commute wondering what on earth I have done. Suddenly I hear a voice ask, “are you Con?”
Oh no! I wasn’t holding up the sign. I missed my big moment! I belatedly hold up the sign and say: “Here, this is for you. It was supposed to be like I was meeting you at an airport but I stuffed up.” She laughed and said, “Oh my god no-one has ever done anything like that for me before. That’s funny.”
I was so relieved. My peacocking was done. Sure I lived at home with my parents, was unemployed and was a nervous wreck but surely that comedic gesture crossed out all those red dating flags, right?
As the date went on I relaxed a little and the anxiety, while still there, dissipated and I felt I could be myself. Near the end of the night Dimitra told me that she had been doing online dating for over a decade. When I told her I had never done this before she was shocked, “What? This your first ever internet date? You’ve hit the jackpot buddy!”
When I look back on that date, which was four and half years ago, getting through it helped me battle my anxiety and allowed me to move forward in my life.
When I got home from that first date Dimitra sent me a text with a photo of the sign watching TV on the couch, cooking and doing the dishes. She took my original joke and ran with it. I knew then that I hit the jackpot.
At our wedding speech Dimitra said that on our first date she could feel my vulnerability and my passion. Yes that’s right – the sign worked!
Con Stamocostas is a freelance writer. You can follow Con on Twitter at @constama10.