Going on a First Date 101
First date jitters are real. While dating should be fun, it can also be stressful. When you’re focusing on impressing each other and being the best version of yourself, it’s a lot of pressure. There’s a lot to think about as you try to look your best and sound as interesting as possible. Nerves are normal, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in what you will wear or say to your date. If you’re feeling nervous, here are nine psychologist-approved tips to help you feel more calm.
Why Are First Dates Nerve-Racking?
A new situation can be stressful, and dates are no different. Meeting someone new, fear of rejection, previous bad dating experience, awkward conversation; the list could go on. It’s 100% normal to feel nervous. But sometimes, those pesky nerves can get in the way of showing who you are.
It’s far too easy to ditch someone based on a profession or something silly they say in passing. As you start thinking about picket fences and the future, you stop being present on the date. Within ten minutes of meeting, you quickly write off a potential partner if they don’t fit into your checklist.
Dr. Tirrell De Gannes, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York, says that when it comes to first date nerves, “the top reason that I’ve come across boils down to expectations. You may be expecting “sparks,” a hook-up, or expecting “the perfect partner” or even a future spouse when all you need to expect is a positive first impression.”
Often, people create rules on first dates. While it’s perfectly fine to spot red flags and decide it’s not for you. If you’re nervous or focusing on the future, it’s difficult to give your date the chance to prove that they could be your potential partner.
To see if someone is a good match for you, you have to be vulnerable at times. Being vulnerable is scary and stressful. It puts your authentic self out there, and there’s a chance that not everyone will like it. That fear of rejection lurks at the back of the mind, making the dating experience much more stressful and sensitive.
Fear of rejection is a deep human fear that occurs in all areas of life, from relationships to work. Whether you fear being alone and cut-off or hate change. It’s no secret that rejection hurts. Social rejection can even influence emotional, cognitive, and physical health. But actively avoiding rejection can put a roadblock in your dating experience as you hold back and protect yourself.
Anxious About a First Date? Try These 9 Tips
Putting yourself out there isn’t always easy. Try these nine tips if you’re feeling a little anxious about a first date.
1. Stay Present
Staying present on a first date is tricky. However, if you can feel more in the moment, you can focus more on the connection. Try switching your phone to airplane mode so you’re not distracted by notifications. Research shows that just quickly checking your phone can harm the connection between two people.
If it’s an emergency, let your date know and answer the call. But if you’re quickly checking emails or a social media notification, wait for the date to be over. Prepare to ask follow-up questions so you can give your date the chance to show who they are.
2. Enjoy Yourself
With all the planning and prep that goes into dating, it’s easy to forget to have a good time. Dating, meeting new people, and having new experiences should be enjoyable. Wear what feels comfortable, choose a date spot where you can have fun, and be honest.
3. Own Your Nerves
Think about why first dates freak you out. Is it meeting someone new or the fear of rejection? Or maybe you find first-date conversation a little awkward. If a long dinner fills you with dread, try planning a shorter activity-focused date. Go somewhere you already feel comfortable and take the pressure off the date.
4. Banish Negative Self-Talk
First dates can bring intense emotions to the surface that work to shift you out of the present moment. Avoid giving in to negative self-talk on a first date and try to stay positive. Everyone has negative thoughts about a first date like:
- I’m so bad at small talk.
- Did I share too much?
- They are more attractive than me.
Try not to let these thoughts get to you, and focus on the fact that the other person is probably thinking the same thing. Take a deep breath and focus on your positives.
5. Focus on What’s Important
In most cases, dating is a part of finding a potential partner. Although it’s easy for your mind to wander during a date, try to focus on what’s important.
Do you want to see this person again? This question should be the main focus. If the answer is yes, it doesn’t mean you need to move in together and buy a house. It simply means you’re interested in a second date and enjoyed your time together.
6. Be Realistic
Although dating can be romantic, you should also be realistic. Expectations often get a bad rep in relationships. So, while it’s unrealistic that a date can read your mind, they should be able to communicate well. Also, stay true to who you are and be honest about your interests and wants.
7. Listen to Your Date
Being a good listener on a first date is just as important as answering questions. Listen without judgment and let your date talk. Actively listening is a skill that many people need to develop; it doesn’t always come naturally. Being listened to can make a person feel special with hardly any effort on your side. Active or deep listening is often at the heart of healthy relationships.
Dr. Tirrell De Gannes recommends “having open-ended questions that you are interested in discussing. They can be small getting-to-know-you questions like ‘What was it like where you grew up?’ or larger, more provoking questions like ‘What led up to your best sexual experience?’”
8. Stay Safe
Remember always to date safely. If you’re nervous, it might make you feel more comfortable for a friend to check in at an agreed time. This gives you a chance to leave or stay, depending on how you feel. Meet in a public spot and make sure you feel safe.
“Have an exit strategy. There is much less pressure for a date when you know you have to meet up with a friend or family member, and you can run out the clock for a bad date or be late if it is going well,” says Dr. Tirrell De Gannes.
9. Pick the Right First Date Location
The first date location sets the tone for the rest of the evening. Try to match your location to a mutual interest or somewhere that will spark good conversation. It should be easy to reach and accessible for both parties. There are many alternatives to dinner and drinks if you’re looking for something different, like bowling, a cooking class, or going for a picnic.
How to Ease Your First Date Nerves
Dr. Tirreel De Gannes says, “you will commonly hear ‘get a drink’ beforehand. I would advise against that. I think the best thing you can do is get there early and make a point of contact. Maybe it’s a waiter, a bartender, the instructor for a class, etc., and speak to them. It will mean someone friendly is in the area.
You can also use techniques such as deep breathing or visualization. One of my favorite recommendations is to create a mental game just before the date. An example would be bad date bingo. Did that person yell at the server, spit food, or call you by the wrong name? Bingo!”
If you’re feeling those first date jitters, there are things you can do to calm yourself in the moment and beforehand.
- Go for a workout before the date
- Practice meditation and mindfulness
- Take a few deep breaths
Learn relaxation techniques that you can tap into when anxiety and panic hit. Whether it’s a first date, job interview, or exam, you can utilize relaxation techniques to help you feel more in control. Yoga, focusing on your breath, mindfulness, and meditation are great ways to encourage a relaxation response.
If you’re overly anxious before a first date or experience mental health issues, our team of compassionate psychologists can help you learn the right tools to feel more in control.