While basically everyone has experienced getting nervous on a first date, sometimes the fear of meeting a new person in a romantic setting can be way more intense than the common feeling nervous butterflies. First date anxiety can be totally unnerving, but you need to get through the first date to make it to the second. So it's time to face those jitters head-on.
"First dates are notoriously anxiety producing as there are a significant number of unknowns that may be encountered," psychiatrist Dr. Jared Heathman tells Bustle. "Our mind is incredibly adept at brainstorming worst case scenarios when we encounter unknowns."
Luckily, when it comes to genuine worst-case scenarios, like a dangerous first date, there's a good amount of prep you can do to keep yourself safe. "Many fears stem from safety concerns; choosing to meet in a neutral, very public place ... not in your own neighborhood but still somewhere populated can help to reassure you," therapist and licensed social worker Kryss Shane tells Bustle. "[Once you've got a plan,] remind yourself that, as long as you are safe, the worst case scenario is a first date story bad enough to make your friends laugh. That way, it's a win whether it's great or awful!" If you've been on bad dates before, that prospect can still be intimidating, but it's probably worth the effort to meet someone who you might click with.
Here are 11 things you can do if first dates seriously freak you out, according to experts.
1Realize Why It Freaks You Out
The most important thing you can do is realize that it's totally rational to be a bit scared of going on a first date. "The anxiety you feel could very well be in proportion to the potential which you attribute to the process, and it is easy to see why you would get all worked up," health and wellness coach Caleb Backe tells Bustle. Once you acknowledge that, you might feel a little bit more at home in your emotions.
"For some people just meeting someone new can be an anxiety provoking experience and then add in the idea that it may be someone you eventually end up with, that's a lot of pressure being put on a situation," Dr. Dawn Michael, certified clinical sexologist & sexuality counselor, tells Bustle. So check in with yourself as you start to feel anxious. Try saying "it's totally common to feel scared meeting someone new who I might want to build something with. That's OK."
2Let Yourself Make Plans That Are Safe And Comfortable
It may feel annoying to go through the back and forth of "what do you want to do?" but guiding the plans of the date can be really meaningful in mitigating anxiety. "To relieve and prevent stress, be involved in the planning process," Dr. Heathman says. "Know the place where the date will occur and agree to something you enjoy." Being a part of the planning will not only make sure you feel safe, but also mean that you don't have to go unnecessarily out of your comfort zone.
"A general recommendation [I give] has to do with safety and comfortability," Kristin Marie Bennion, licensed mental health therapist and certified sex therapist, tells Bustle. "I always suggest meeting in public and familiarizing yourself with restaurants and lounges (including what to order) [or] with environments that compliment your personality type! This can give one a sense of being on their own 'turf' which can eliminate extra potentially stressful aspects that can come along with unfamiliar territory." You don't need to feel bad whatsoever for asking for what you need. Plus, it probably takes some pressure off of your date, too.
3Plan The Date To Be (Relatively) Short
Another way you can take control of the date (and, in turn, your anxiety around the date) is to plan around it. "Plan the first date to be relatively short. If there is a connection, you can always extend the date or agree to a second date," Dr. Heathman says. Make plans with friends after, or agree to something that will take a set amount of time.
Having an exit plan also helps to remind you that you aren't stuck. "First dates are so scary because there is so much unknown about the person we are meeting, and the unknown often feels scary," Shane says. "When you're feeling the jitters as you prepare for the date, take some deep breaths and think about your exit plan. Whether this is tied to a friend calling with a fake emergency, scheduling plans for an hour after the date begins so you're forced to make the meeting quick, or something else, reminding yourself that you have a way out can help you to not feel trapped." There's nothing wrong with having an out for a good date, either. It's quite alright to leave early even when you're having a good time.
4Don't Go To Just Dinner Or Drinks
If you don't want your date to feel like an interview, don't set it up interview-style. "Avoid dinner for the first date, try to find an activity like putt-putt or an art gallery or something that you guys could do and discuss so that you have something to talk about outside of the standard first date questions that can put people on edge or make them anxious," Nicole Richardson, licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. If you have a specific exhibit you want to see, invite your date along. Or, if you both love your local sports team, go check out a game. That way, you won't just be asking each other uncomfortable questions all night.
Then, when it comes time for the date, you'll feel better prepared. "Rather than getting ahead of yourself and over-analyzing whether you like this person or this person likes you, ask yourself 'Will I have a fun, safe time on this date?' If you believe the answer is yes then go!" Jane Scudder, certified life coach, tells Bustle. You'll also know that you'll be doing something you'll enjoy, regardless of how you feel about the person you're with.
5Go On A "Date" With Yourself First
This may sound like a silly one, but if you've ever felt the obsession with holding yourself to higher standards for a first date, this one's for you. "The key to being a better date, and having a better date, is getting in touch with who you are, without resorting to ... unnecessary judgement ... A good self-care technique is to approach yourself as if you don’t know who you are," Backe says. "Grab a few minutes before the date is scheduled to take place, stand in front of the mirror, and look at yourself truthfully." You wouldn't expect your date to be perfect, so don't put that pressure on yourself.
"We are our own biggest critic. We perceive even the smallest flaws that peers never recognize," Heathman says. "Combined, first dates often start being quite stressful." Remind yourself of some fun facts about your life that people tend to be interested in when they learn about you, or do your favorite party trick for yourself. You should start to feel more confident (or at least a little goofy and calmer) pretty quickly.
6Manage Stress-Levels Day-Of
Maybe planning a date for the same day you have a big presentation at work isn't the best idea. But also, having a 7 p.m. date after a day with no plans might be anxiety-provoking, too. "Some ideas for self-care or first date rituals include managing stress the day of the date as much as possible," Bennion says. "For example, scheduling a date on days where [you aren't] working or in school can be helpful for some, where working or school can benefit others as it keeps their mind off of the date they have planned for that evening." It's important to find the balance that works for you.
Once you've scheduled your day to minimize stress, dedicate some time before the date to care for yourself, too. "It is always a good idea to be clean and feel your best ... Some people enjoy taking a bath and using some bath salts and a cleansing mask," Dr. Michael says. Whatever little rituals make you feel good are fair game.
7Get A Playlist Going
It's been proven that music affects your mood. So if you feel the need for something that can calm you down or boost you up, music can be your best bet. "Some clients utilize skills such as creating a playlist of music that they can listen to before [a date]," Bennion says. "Every person responds to different types of music, so it's important to pick something that caters to [your] personality type where the music can serve a purpose, such as music that is distracting, empowering, or erotic — whatever might be most helpful in preparation for the date!"
8Realize The Other Person Is Nervous Too
It might be hard to imagine if you haven't met them in person yet, but if you're feeling anxious you can do the first-date equivalent of imagining your audience in their underpants: by remembering that your date is a person too, who is probably also nervous. "It can be useful to remember that everyone feels vulnerable on a first date," Bennion says. "The person you are going out with doesn't want to feel rejected, either. Remembering that first dates are inherently risky for everyone involved can be normalizing and grounding." You're both putting yourself out there, and there's an equal possibility of you rejecting them, so try not to build their inherent power up too much in your head.
9Don't Talk About It With Too Many People
It can be incredibly appealing to dish on your upcoming date to everyone you know, but it might not help calm your nerves.
"Try not to talk to too many people about it," Richardson says. "They are well intentioned but they will all give you advice and a lot of it will contradict which could make you feel confused and even more anxious. Tell one or two people that are supportive of you and talk to them about what is scaring you. Get it out, let them soothe you. You are going to be OK, weather it goes well or if it bombs." Then, once it's over, you can go back to telling everyone you know about it.
10Think Of Friendship First
It sounds a little contradictory because this is — duh — a date, but it is important to remember that friendship comes first, even in romantic settings. Plus, if you focus on friendship beforehand, and the chemistry once you meet isn't fantastic, you still might be able to build a friendship afterwards with your date.
"Remind yourself that the foundation for any good relationship is friendship," Richardson says. "Get yourself in a mindset of meeting up with a new friend, that takes the pressure off of being a ‘certain’ way ... Remember that you are enough and this person could be a good friend! If it doesn’t go well, you can go home and take a bubble bath or meet up with friends." It really comes back down to taking the pressure off of both you and your potential partner. If it doesn't go well, nothing is ruined, and if it does, you have a lot of time to get settled into things. Nothing extreme has to happen the first time you meet.
11If You Start To Spin Out, Be Mindful
If you've got everything planned, the playlist is pumping, and you still feel quite nervous, check in with your old friend mindfulness. There are a bunch of techniques that can work for when you need an instantaneous cool-down. "[The person feeling anxious can try] focusing on their five senses so they are grounded in that moment and not so focused on all the 'what if' questions running though their head," Heidi McBain, MA, licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), tells Bustle. The "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" grounding technique is a great way to connect with your senses when your anxious.
When it comes down to it, the dates should be a good experience for you. These techniques will hopefully just get you to the place where you can enjoy yourself a little bit earlier.
"Set the intention to have fun, and enjoy yourself, regardless of whether it's a love match," Jasmin Terrany, licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) tells Bustle. "Be curious, be interested to get to know someone new, and learn something new. We are all human, we are all flawed, it's OK for you to be human and real, this is your perfection." Plus, a lot of the unknowns will be answered pretty soon. The jitters are perfectly natural, but they're temporary.