If I don’t leave a first date feeling like an entire conservatory of insects are flapping their lil’ wings around in my belly, my only conclusion is that both the date and the person were just meh. And if I’m getting meh vibes, I’m unlikely to want to see that person again (who has the time?). But this need for a stomach full of fluttery sensations may be causing me to prematurely release prospective partners back into the wild without giving them a real chance.
“Growing up, we hear stories like ‘I saw your dad from across the room, and I knew I was going to marry him,’ but that’s rarely the case.’” says Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW, founder of Manhattan Wellness Associates. “These stories make us build up a narrative in our head and create an expectation, and then we’re disappointed if we don’t [fulfill] it.” Since our parents and even our grandparents were in the dating game, goals have changed — less of us are looking to get married ASAP (if at all). So thinking you’re going to magically spot your forever S.O. is kind of silly, and maybe also beside the point.
Social media, TV, and movies are also to blame (shocker) for this heightened presumption that the “right” relationship is going to feel like perfection from day one. Think about it: Every reality show you watch is a hundred hours packed into one hour-long highlight reel. “Everyone is editing, zsushing, and making the most efficient, bestselling story they can, which is ‘I knew right away.’ The more realistic story, which isn’t the cute one, is that after a few dates, you realized you were great match,” says Silvershein. We’re so caught up in what sounds good that we get obsessed with the idea of feeling all the feelings. “People are so quick to move to what they think is the next right thing,” says Silvershein. “[It can get to a point where] they are just competing with their friends, not focusing on what may be appropriate for their specific situation.”
Besides, it turns out that butterflies aren’t always a good thing. “Someone branded this [feeling] as ‘butterflies,’ but it is actually a little bit of anxiety and discomfort,” Silvershein says. “We’re putting ourselves out there, and we’re also on the chopping block, so we’re feeling all of these nerves.” This explains why that feeling in your stomach is similar to the one you felt before going on stage at your fifth grade spelling bee — and it doesn’t always work to your advantage. It can push you to think way too far ahead about something that’s only existed for two hours. Look, it’s normal to fantasize to some extent about the future, but you’ve got to remain realistic. SIlvershein suggests doing your best to stay present by focusing on the excitement of the next couple of dates, not the next couple of years.
I mean, after learning all of this, the phenomena of getting butterflies sounds kind of shitty. And not feeling this way actually sometimes speaks greater volumes. “It means you’re feeling comfortable with someone and not in that state of discomfort,” says Silvershein. So, if your stomach feels regular, that’s probably a good sign. Instead of shooting for butterflies, maybe we should rebrand it as looking for caterpillars: a slow, steady feeling that metamorphosizes to something even more awesome.