There is an old joke about a man lost in New York City. He asks a woman, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The woman replies, “Practice!” So how do you overcome first date anxieties? Practice! Social skills are just that, skills. Enjoying dating is not a talent or a gift, it’s an attitude and collection of skills you can learn and master through practice.
First dates make almost everyone nervous. For some of us, however, those butterflies in our stomachs can turn into hornets and make us want to hide out instead of go out. We ask ourselves so many questions that fuel our pre-date anxieties: “How do I not feel awkward and self-conscious?” “What will we talk about?” “Where should we go?” “Should I cancel?” And the worst question of all, “What if they don’t like me?” It doesn’t matter how rich, smart or attractive you are, everyone has these thoughts and concerns. Below are some tips that will help to calm your jitters and put your best foot forward. Plus, the skills to help you become a great first date.
How to First Date Well
First, to begin building our skills we must make dates and not cancel. When we avoid something that causes us anxiety we experience some relief. Relief that we don’t have to go through with what scares us. Feeling that relief is a little reward that reinforces our style of avoidance. Our brain signals us that it’s good to keep avoiding dates. Research has shown that the more we avoid something that scares us the more fearful of it we actually become. So, the more you date the easier it will be to date.
To conquer anxiety, you need to have actual experiences that disprove your fears. Experiences that teach you it’s not a catastrophe to have a bad date. Experiences that show you most dates are good, even if they don’t result in a second date. The more good dates you have, the more your fears will heal. Your pre-date nerves can then begin turning into an exciting feeling rather than a scary one.
I am talking about “enjoying” going on dates. Not how to manipulate someone into liking you or coming across like the most interesting person in the world. As simple as it sounds the mindset to remember is a first date is meant to be enjoyable. You can’t have expectations when you don’t really know each other yet. Having a nice time is your first date goal. That’s it.
Having a Realistic Perspective Helps
If you are worried your date will be critical of you, just remember that they are nervous too, and they are also just hoping it will go well. You two have the same goal in mind, so keep a positive attitude. If your date is a negative person, stay positive. There is no reason to ever get angry, critical, or mean on a first date. If you don’t like each other then you won’t see each other again. You should never express disappointment or try and change them. It’s just a first date.
Going too big on a first date adds to expectations. Expectations = Pressure = Anxiety. It’s safe to say that first dates should be short. A lunch, a coffee, or a cocktail. Keep it around one hour long. Have someplace to be after so you have a time you must leave. A successful hour sets you up nicely for date number two that will probably be longer. If there is no date number two, then you have not made a big emotional investment so you won’t be as disappointed.
Focus More on Your Date and Less on Yourself
Being self-conscious on your date is just that. It’s being conscious of yourself. A great skill to make you more comfortable is to focus on your date, not yourself. This seems simple but it makes a world of difference. Help them feel comfortable. For example, make sure they like their food, or the table. Pay attention to their experience.
Many clients have told me stories of bad first dates. The number one complaint is that the other person talked “at” them the whole time. The second most common complaint was that their date asked a long series of questions “integration style”. The third is oversharing of personal information. Keep the conversation at the same level you would when meeting a new friend.
Most importantly, listen, listen, listen. Listening is a skill. When we really listen, we make the other person feel special and liked. We like people who like us. We also tend to judge others not by who they are, but by how they make us feel. “You’re a great listener”, is always an affectionate comment. “You’re easy to talk to” is a long-term relationship must. Remember you have one mouth but two ears so try to listen twice as much as you speak.
The conversation should not be a job interview. Let it flow as much as possible. It should never be a therapy session. Do not share your whole life story and do not bring up traumatic experiences or ex’s. Share something simple like, “On Sunday mornings I like staying in bed and reading the newspaper and doing the crossword. What do you do on Sundays?” In this example you shared something first then asked them to share. Focus on life style questions. Avoid hot topics like politics.
The Simplicity and Ease of Small Talk
“Cherry picking” is a conversational skill I love. Let’s say it was your date who said, “On Sunday mornings I stay in bed and read the newspaper and do the crossword. What do you do on Sundays?” You can answer them, and then cherry pick topics from their question. You could now ask “What other games besides crossword do you like?” “What paper do you read?” “What’s your favorite section?” This skill keeps the conversation from stalling into awkward silence. Plus, these tidbits then give you or your date an opening to share a story or a favorite thing. Also, as chatty as it sounds, knowing something like a person’s favorite news source or or newspaper section can tell you a lot about their interest and perspective.
First dates can be scary. But with practice you can learn to relax more and to have a positive attitude.
Small talk is designed to make people comfortable with each other slowly. It also lets both members of the conversation control the depth. If you hate small talk or are not good at it, practice. Small talk can easily turn into a funny story from your childhood or an endearing story about your pet. It takes time to really get know someone. Take your time. It’s just a first date.
What if they don’t like you? This question cannot be your focus. Your goal needs to be to help them have a nice time and to have a nice time yourself. There are a million reasons someone may not want a second date that have nothing to do with you. This is why we never have expectation, but we do have a positive attitude. We practice our listening skills, our conversation skills, and how to focus on your date and not on yourself. Finally, and most importantly, we stay brave and practice, practice, practice!