No. 2: Be involved in making the plans.
Dating is back, baby. In a recent survey conducted by the dating app Bumble, nearly 90% of respondents said they’re ready for face-to-face dating after a year of Zoom and FaceTime meetups. But with that change come the inevitable first-date jitters, waves of nervousness and anxiety that can make a second date seem practically implausible. We get it. We’ve been there. "First dates are notoriously anxiety producing as there are a significant number of unknowns that may be encountered," says Dr. Jared Heathman, a Texas psychiatrist. "Our mind is incredibly adept at brainstorming worst-case scenarios when we encounter unknowns."
Fortunately, there’s a good amount of prep you can do in advance to keep yourself mentally and physically safe. "Many fears stem from safety concerns,” says Kryss Shane, a New York social worker and author of The Educator's Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion. “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."
In order to ease you back into the wild world of dating, we asked nine experts for tips and tricks to help calm those first-date nerves.
Schedule The Date To Be (Relatively) Short
"Plan the first date to be relatively short,” Heathman recommends. “If there’s a connection, you can always extend the date or agree to a second date.”
Make plans with friends after, or schedule an activity that requires a fixed amount of time. Having an exit plan also helps. "First dates are scary because there’s so much unknown about the person you’re meeting," Shane says. "When you're feeling the jitters, take deep breaths and think about your exit plan. Whether this is tied to a friend calling with a fake emergency, or scheduling plans for an hour after the date begins so you're forced to make the meeting quick, reminding yourself that you have a way out can help you to not feel trapped."
Plan A Fun Activity
“Active” is the key word root here. If you don't want your date to feel like an interview, don't set it up as such. "Avoid dinner for the first date,” recommends Nicole Richardson, a counselor and therapist. “Find an activity like Putt-Putt or [visiting] an art gallery so you have something to talk about [besides] the standard first-date questions, which can put people on edge and make them anxious.”
This way, you'll be doing something you enjoy, regardless of your rapport. "Rather than 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!" says life coach Jane Scudder.
Avoid External Stressors
While scheduling your date for the same day as a big work presentation isn’t a great idea, it’s also ill-advised to clear the day entirely, Bennion says. Find a balance that works for you. And, adds Michael, "It’s always a good idea to be clean and feel your best. Some people enjoy taking a bath and using bath salts or a cleansing mask.”
Create A Feel-Good Playlist
It's been proven that music affects your mood, so if you need something to calm you down or boost you up, bet on a melody. "Every person responds to different types of music, so it's important to pick something that caters to [your] personality,” Bennion says. “Such as music that is distracting, empowering, or erotic — whatever is most helpful in preparation for the date."
Be Confident In Yourself
Easier said than done. If you've ever felt the need to hold 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,” Backe says. “A good self-care technique is to approach yourself as if you don’t know who you are. Grab a few minutes before the date is scheduled to take place, stand in front of the mirror, and look at yourself truthfully."
"We are our own biggest critics,” Heathman adds. “We perceive even the smallest flaws that peers never recognize.” You wouldn't expect your date to be perfect, so don't put that pressure on yourself.
Don't Talk About It With Too Many People
Richardson recommends resisting the temptation to gab about the date before it happens. "Try not to talk to too many people about it," she says. "They are well intentioned, but will all give you advice and a lot of it will contradict, which could make you confused and even more anxious.” She recommends talking to one or two close friends. “Get it out, and let them soothe you,” she says.
Prioritize A Friendship
The New York Times vows column is full of couples who started as friends, and who maintained that platonic rapport for years before it evolved into romance. "Get yourself in a mindset of meeting up with a new friend, which can take the pressure off of [acting] a ‘certain way,’” Richardson says. “Remember that you are enough, and this person could be a good friend.” Sparks don’t need to fly the first time you meet.
"Set the intention to have fun, and enjoy yourself, regardless of whether it's a love match," adds Jasmin Terrany, a mental health counselor. "Be curious, be interested to get to know someone, and learn something new. We are all human, we are all flawed. It's OK for you to be human and real."
Remember The Other Person Is Nervous, Too
Your date is a person, too, and someone equally susceptible to first-date jitters. "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.
If You Start To Spin Out, Practice Mindfulness
You've got everything planned, the playlist is pumping, but you still feel quite nervous. What now? "Focus on your five senses, so you’re grounded in that moment and not focused on all the 'What if' questions running through your head," says Heidi McBain, a marriage and family therapist. Consider practicing some time-tested mindfulness techniques, like the "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" grounding technique or going for a short walk.
Dr. Jared Heathman, MD, psychiatrist
Kryss Shane, MSW, LSW, LMSW, social worker, educator, and corporate trainer
Caleb Backe, life coach
Dawn Michael, Ph.D., CSC, sexologist and sexuality counselor
Kristin Marie Bennion, LCSW, CST, social worker and sex therapist
Nicole Richardson, counselor and therapist
Jane Scudder, life coach
Jasmin Terrany, LMHC, MBCT, NLP, mental health counselor
Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, marriage and family therapist
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