Although I’d love to be the kind of person who waltzes into first dates accompanied by a breezy air of nonchalance, alas—it’s not to be. There’s never a time when my stomach doesn’t flip over and twist around itself twice, especially on the walk over to the meeting place. (Ten minutes prior to a first date, you’ll generally find me on the verge of canceling.) There’s always a moment when I cannot think of one more thing to say, and I start to panic. But over the years, I’ve acquired a series of helpful tricks that have allowed me to become reasonably comfortable with the fact that I have to talk to human beings I don’t know in order to meet a special someone. I’ve managed to stay true to my introvert-self, who prefers quiet and meaningful conversation, while walking into a whole series of unknown variables.
Lucky you, I’m willing to share.
I love a good cocktail as much as the next gal, but I’d recommend laying off the hooch when it comes to first dates. I know, I know. It’s incredibly tempting to indulge in some liquid courage, but here’s the thing. It also obscures your ability to evaluate whether or not you actually enjoy the new person who’s sitting in front of you, and it’s certainly not allowing you the room to grow and tackle your fear of first dates. It’s a crutch. Buck up, you don’t need it.
Not to mention, if you decide to dabble in evening drinks, there’s a whole night stretched out in front of you. What happens if you start getting overwhelmed? Or the date is not going well? Or like me, you can’t put together another sentence? That is why coffee on a Sunday afternoon is my go-to first date suggestion.
If my ability to make small talk starts to run low or if I’m just not feeling the date, I can easily explain that I have to prep for the week ahead. (Excuses like grocery shopping for work lunches, doing laundry, or other Sunday errands are an ideal easy out. Plus, you probably have no clean socks or underwear, so you’re not lying per se.) You might not be ready to explain, “Hey, I’m an introvert, and even though your face looks nice and I might want to make out with it at some point in the future, conversations with new people are pretty exhausting for me. So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a break now, please.”
Instead, you can merely state, “This has been fun, but I have to run some errands.” And if you want to see them again, follow it with, “I’d like to see you again.”
Rocket science! Basically, what you want to do is…
Leave a potential new interest wanting a little more. Cultivating curiosity and excitement is the entire goal of a first date. You are both asking yourselves, “Am I interested in spending more time with this person?” And if the answer is yes, then you can put something else on the schedule. You can even get together the next day if you want! But this decision doesn’t have to be made in one solid chunk of indigestible time. Break it up into tiny pieces. Savor it. If you wind up falling in love, these are the days you’ll reminisce about, and then you’ll have wanted them to last longer anyway.
Now, I’m not saying to cut the date off abruptly. But I know that my award-winning ability to make small talk with a new person tends to crap out after a maximum chat time of 90 minutes. (We’re introverts. We’re not exactly known to be chatterboxes, are we?) And while you’re at it…
After many years of first-date exposure therapy, wherein I worked myself into a frenzy trying to come up with new and inventive first date ideas (a process that often stressed me out more than the actual dates themselves), I finally figured out this was the worst possible way to approach the situation. I needed to ground myself in the comfort of a familiar setting. Try it. I swear, it’ll help you out. A well-known backdrop will set you at ease and provide a tiny boost of confidence. Plus, if your date happens to appreciate the place as much as you do, you’ll have some quick reassurance it was a good decision to hang out in the first place.
Now, my location scouting is down to a science. I have backup plans for my backup plans. I even choose coffee places near parks so we can escape outdoors if the place is too packed and the weather is nice. And there are obvious pitfalls I’ve learned to avoid straight off the bat.
Crowded areas? Count ‘em out. You might love concerts, but venues are claustrophobic enough without the addition of a fraught new person breathing down your neck. Save such plans for date number two because you probably won’t even get the chance to talk to one another when you’re surrounded by others. (We’re not even going to talk about going to the movies. What are you, a teenager? Do you need a place to fool around other than your parents’ basement? C’mon, be an adult.) I will make the occasional exception for a museum I’ve never visited with an exhibit that seems particularly interesting. The art provides a jumping off point for conversation, and, unlike at concerts, you’ll be able to hear one another speak.
If you’re a literary nerd such as myself, try a reading at your favorite bookstore. You can sit and listen for a bit, adjust to being in this person’s presence, and then discuss the author afterward. Undoubtedly, you’ll move on to similar writers and favorite books, and the conversation will start to flow naturally.
If you must break my no alcohol rule, then please, heed this advice, and avoid bars on the weekends. Go to your favorite dive on a Tuesday when the patrons are scarce but your bartender buddy can provide a watchful eye over your meeting with a complete stranger. Might I suggest one with a nice jukebox? If the dialogue starts to slow down, you can fall back on picking musical selections to perk it up a bit. This also has the potential to lead to some interesting talking points. Have you asked about their favorite album yet? (You might have noticed, I’m trying to suggest locations that breed conversation and will give you fall back questions because…)
This is the cardinal rule of dating. Even if you’ve been together for 40 years and are an old married couple, you still need to ask questions. (How was your day, honey?) And I often find that nervousness makes this the first rule to go right out the window. I’ve been guilty of it myself.
I’ll be sitting across from a lovely person who has just inquired about some minor detail of my job, and I’ll either get so wrapped up in the answer or in my own head, hoping I’m not boring them half to death, that I’ll forget to inquire about them. In order for a first date to go well, it has to be a dialogue. Banter is a two-way street. Listening is just as important as sharing. If someone asks you how many siblings you have, they’ve just lobbed you the opportunity to return the question right down the center of the plate. So, get in the habit of checking yourself and making sure you have also made an effort to learn about the other person.
Dating requires confidence, and it’s all right if you lack some of it in this particular area. You don’t have to get it perfect every single time, and you certainly should not go into every date thinking you might meet “the one.” Slow down, kiddo. Way too much pressure—not only for you but for your date as well! Chances are, they’re human. This means they’re also nervous. Plus, there’s already much compulsion from our extroverted society to try to push introverts into uncomfortable situations. (Remember how your boss asked you to do that presentation in front of 30 people?) You don’t need any additional stress in your love life.
Did you have a pleasant conversation? Well then, even if you never see them again, consider it a win. You made it through the experience no worse for wear, so keep that fresh in your mind, and apply the lesson to the next date. Dates are scary and fun. Those feelings can exist simultaneously, side by side, and if you’re experiencing both, it’s a sign you’re onto something good. You’re challenging yourself and being true to your inherent nature. And you know what that’s called? We call that balance, my friend.
And you know what’s sexier than a person who knows their own mind and is able to express it while still putting themselves out there and taking a chance? Pretty much nothing. You’ll be fending ‘em off. Happy trails.