What if he thinks I’m not as cute as my profile picture? What if we don’t have the same chemistry IRL as we do when texting? What if she used super old photos? What if they don’t think I’m funny? 

These are just some of the many thoughts we’ve had when going on a first date, because when you start your flirtation on the internet and then have to move it to the real world, a lot of emotions happen. In part, it’s because many of us have the nagging fear in the back of our minds that our real selves might not be as wonderful the ones we created online. It’s easy to be witty when you have time to think of clever one-liners, and it’s always tempting to add or remove a few inches from your height or use only the photos where the lighting is just right.

According to data from Singles in America, 26 percent of couples meet online — more than by any other means — so the key is to get good at it, not avoid it out of fear. You need to create a genuine representation of yourself that highlights your best qualities without going overboard. And then, you have to bring that person to your date.

1. Keep your profile details tight.

When in doubt, shorter is always better. You don’t want to ramble in your profile because people will tune out.

“Share just enough that others want to learn more about you,” says clinical sexologist and certified sex coach Sunny Rodgers, ACS.

If you keep your profile simple and to the point, you run much less of a risk of, um, exaggerating about yourself. This gives you an advantage when you make your way to a real-life date. You get to express all of your charisma and charm in person.

2. Use the nerves to your advantage.

If you’re low-key freaking out about meeting someone online, it doesn’t hurt to simply be open about this fact. The truth is that none of us really know what we’re doing, and a potential match may find your honesty refreshing. 

Rodgers suggests using the following openings: 

“I’m not sure I’m doing this right, but I’m going to lean in and see where our connection takes us.” 

“Are you also someone who’s unsure but is looking for a possible adventure?”

3. Get in the dating headspace.

As we all know very well, the time leading up to a first date is nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. Alexandra Solomon, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant clinical professor at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, suggests creating a pre-date ritual. When you’re about to go on a date, you can wind up in an emotional tailspin. A routine can help you stay calm, thus allowing you to present your very best self.

“Examples might include a kitchen dance party, a brisk walk, meditation, yoga, singing in the shower, or spending time on a hobby,” Solomon says. She also suggests having a pre-date mantra that keeps you centered. Consider these options: 

“I am worthy, I trust myself to be myself.” 

“Show up and release the outcome.” 

“I believe in love.”

 “I can do hard things.”

4. Meet up ASAP.

If you’re nervous about how you’ll handle your first date, don’t wait to meet up. This will only make meeting connecting IRL harder (and scarier), because both you and your potential date have created a fantasy person based on your texts and profile. As fun as imagining someone can be, it can ultimately lead to disappointment. Real humans are not dating profiles. Don’t put yourself in that position.

5. Meet up somewhere you actually want to go.

Rodgers tells us that when it comes to picking a date spot, it’s unwise to agree to something you don’t like to be agreeable. You want to be honest about yourself from the very beginning. Don’t kick off your dating experience by fibbing about things you like and don’t like. If you go to an Indian restaurant when you hate Indian food, you’ll wind up having to tell the date you don’t like Indian food. This is super awkward and makes you look disingenuous, even if you were just trying to be accomodating. 

6. In fact, don’t meet for food at all.

“Forget going out for a fancy dinner,” Rowett says. Instead, pick an activity that won’t make you feel trapped should the chemistry be off. You want to set up the circumstances so you’re at ease and able to let loose and let your real self shine. If you’re stuck in a situation that makes you feel awkward, your Tinder persona isn’t going to come across — you’ll just seem nervous. Plus, sitting down for a full meal is pretty overwhelming, especially when compared to activities that keep you busy but available to have a conversation. “Naturally having fun together helps bring out your true selves,” says Rodgers. 

7. Give it a second date.

Unless the date was truly horrible, Pam Shaffer, LMFT, says it’s a good idea to go on a second date. First dates are often uncomfortable, and given the pressure we put on them, you both may have been too nervous to be the truest and best version of yourself. Sure, some first dates turn out to be spectacular, but that’s more an exception than a rule. We need to have more empathy in dating and be open to giving second chances.