It’s the first date, and the pressure. is. on. You and your match finally committed to going offline and meeting IRL. But leading up to the special night, there are all these nerves around making a good impression, from what to wear to where to go (will my neighborhood bartender judge me for bringing a fifth dude here?). The good news is a lot of what we worry about is avoidable. Here’s how to have a stress-free first date.
Avoid having unrealistic expectations.
A first date should be an opportunity to meet someone new and embrace the unknown, according to Monica O’Neal, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and relationship expert. If you approach it with an agenda or preconceived notion of what that relationship will be in the future — whether it’s a serious something, hookup, or friendship — you could be setting yourself up for disaster or disappointment.
“The whole time I’m hyper-analyzing them, wondering, Is this going to work long-term? Could he be my boyfriend?” says Pam, 23. “Instead of enjoying their presence as a person, I’m sitting there thinking about their potential as a partner. This mentality adds more pressure on myself than it should.” It helps to keep an open mind and go with the flow.
Pay attention to your priorities.
Sometimes first dates can feel like job interviews, and it’s only human to want to impress and pass the test. But it’s important to keep in mind that you aren’t the only one in the hot seat. “People often forget that the date is not just for the other person to figure out whether or not they like you… a date should really be about assessing if you want to see them again,’” O’Neil says. “This paradigm shift lowers the stakes.”
Tune into the conversation and look for common interests as well as deal breakers. If you have different opinions, don’t hold back; be honest about it. “Pay attention to that little caution flag and recognize that this is important information,” O’Neil says.
Caitlin, 27, agrees: “I’m constantly seeking validation,” she says. “But I need to look for what I like and don’t like about the guy instead of thinking he’s the one if he likes me.”
Spend less time on appearance.
Put down the razor and the contour kit. You don’t need to spend hours grooming, primping, and dressing. Rather, reach for an outfit you know you love. “What I’ve come to realize is that you look your best when you feel your best. But your ‘best’ doesn’t necessarily mean something slinky, skin-tight, or revealing if that’s not what you’re comfortable in,” says Taylor, 28. “Same goes for makeup; I may add a little eyeshadow, but other than that, I stick to my everyday look. If you feel like yourself, you’ll act like yourself — that’s what you want the other person to be attracted to anyway.” And ladies, you should shave if and when you want to (they can deal with some scruff, TBH).
Give yourself a pep talk.
There are many ways to get pumped before a date (besides listening to Lizzo on repeat and power-posing in the mirror). “I have social anxiety with strangers and have to talk myself off a ledge when all these thoughts race through my head,” Caitlin says. “I remind myself that I’m desirable, so I can walk in with the confidence I have in my regular life that I don’t have with men.” Her therapist recommended an affirmation exercise where she asked her friends to list their favorite attributes of hers. She was surprised how much they saw in her that she couldn’t see in herself. “I read the note before I went out recently, and I realized that I don’t need this person to make me good enough,” Caitlin says. “And that was a killer first date.”
Consider a screening call.
It may sound old-school, but having a quick chat tends to be better than texting. “I think you should always talk on the phone first,” O’Neal says. “That gives you a reality check if there’s chemistry, and it’s another level of investment before you get together.” Not only does that save you time and energy, it also creates another bond when you do hit it off. “I like asking girls to FaceTime because it’s a really low-key way to see her with her guard down and to have a one-on-one conversation without there being dinner on the table,” says Connor, 25. “Even though it’s virtual, you can still feel if there’s a good connection.”
Have a date game plan.
Raise your hand if you hate the texting tango of “Where should we go?” and “When are you free?” Ideally, you both would bring an option to the table, so nobody feels like they were the only one to put in effort. “I’m always planning the dates. I don’t feel like guys I match with are very forward,” says Jonny, 29. “Maybe they put the ball in my court because my Tinder profile and Instagram are pretty adventurous.”
If you must be the organizer, have a routine so you’re not wearing yourself out brainstorming new ideas. “It’s OK to have a go-to date to avoid overthinking it,” O’Neil says. “Choose something you enjoy that gives you a sense of comfort.”
Jonny has his own tried-and-true date formula. “I have it down to a science,” he says. “I take them for a walk to the beach club, we get beer on the balcony overlooking the ocean, then [if it’s going well], we head back to my apartment and have a glass of wine on my rooftop patio.” Think of it like an experiment; if you set the environment as a constant, then you can focus on the thing that changes: your company.
Go beyond just getting drinks.
Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have a little liquid courage, but there are way more interesting icebreakers. “It can take a lot of pressure off to pick a first date that’s more interactive in lieu of drinks or dinner,” O’Neil says. For instance, you could go to a spot with games or live music — this will let you goof off and show your competitive side. Or avoid nightlife completely, and opt for an outdoor activity.
“I have a Tourism Vancouver attractions pass to go whale watching and stuff,” Jonny says. “I thought I’d look so cool too, like, ‘hey, want to use my key to the city?’” Caitlin’s ideal date is similar. “During the warmer months, I love to go to the park with a bottle of wine,” she says. “You don’t have to worry about spending a lot of money, it’s only about two glasses each, and it’s outside. Win, win.”
Follow up after meeting.
Nobody likes the dreaded gray area. Get to the point by checking in about how they think the date went. “I am the type who overthinks things,” Pam says. “I thought I had a good radar, but it seems like every date has been a dead end.”
Try sending a simple, straightforward text the next day. “I have no problem being like, ‘Thank you for taking me out. I had a really great time. Let me know if you’d like to do it again,’” Caitlin says. That single message will allow you to decipher how the other person is feeling and remove days of doubts while you wait for them to text first. “It may seem too touchy feely or New Age-y, but I really do believe if you come from a place of kindness and gratitude for the experience, it’ll keep them from doing dick-ish things, like ghosting,” says O’Neil.