We’ve all had one of those unexpectedly incredible dates. What’s supposed to be a 45-minute coffee meetup evolves into a whole-day affair where you learn everything about the person, realize you share similar values, watch the same shows, like the same music, and have the same relationship goals. By the time you say goodbye, you’re convinced you’ve found the elusive “one.”
This isn’t a story about that.
I used to demand fireworks on a first date, refusing to go out with a person again unless they swept me off my feet. In fact, that’s how every single one of my relationships began in the past decade. After spending only one day with them, I’d have to do everything in my power to hold back the words, “I love you,” because by the time night rolled around, I felt like I really did.
But none of my relationships have ever lasted. Some of them exploded like a supernova, shining brightly for a mere month before bursting into flames. A few hung on for a year. None longer than that.
That is until I met my current boyfriend, Ryan. We got drinks on a Monday, but I didn’t do my research, and the two bars we went to were both closed. He came back to my apartment, and the date turned sexual quickly. The same thing happened a couple weeks later and a couple weeks after that. Both of us knew what our relationship was: FWB — if you could even call us friends, really — and we were happy with it. Then, one night when Ryan was over, my roommates were out in the living room watching TV, and I invited Ryan to watch with us.
One roommate, who’s known me since college, said he thought Ryan was cool. He hasn’t said that about pretty much any person I’ve dated.
I remember thinking to myself, Hm? Maybe I should get to know this guy better. So we actually started dating, probably three months after we first set eyes on one another. Our first real dates were fun but never awe-inspiring. Three official dates in, I didn’t see him as a serious love interest. But I kept seeing him because I enjoyed being with him, and everything was simple and good. Sometimes, I’ve learned, good is good enough.
After a month or two of dating, I had a realization when I was away on a trip: I missed Ryan. So I FaceTimed him. He answered, and it was at that point we both realized, yup, we definitely like one another. A few months later we said “I love you,” and now he’s my little man. But boy, did it take some time to get there.
However, that’s why I think we’ve lasted a year, with no end in sight.
The thing is, when you have an incredible first date, the sparks flying blind you. You should not love a person within a few hours of meeting them. You don’t know them. So if you find yourself in love so quickly, odds are you like the idea of the other person, or if you’re me, you find them so attractive you tend to overlook everything else about their personality.
“An ‘incredible’ first date is usually based on strong physical attraction and perhaps finding a lot of superficial things in common,” explains V-Club CEO Courtney Cleman. “I say ‘superficial,’ because people are unlikely to open up deeply to a stranger.”
Will, 27, had just gotten out of a long-term relationship before meeting his now-partner of a year. After the first date, “I thought he was a good guy, but [I was] not sure if he was my type,” Will says. “He was friendly and nice but slightly, dare I say, nerdier than I expected. He didn’t seem open to a lot of the same things I was. I wasn’t even sure if he’d be okay with a second date.”
It took Will two months, roughly eight dates, to realize he really liked his now-partner. “I started to trust him more, and we started having more serious conversations and learning more about each other’s wants, desires, and goals.” He’s glad about that trajectory. “I think that it’s better to let the fire of the relationship grow steadily versus engulfing quickly and burning itself out,” he says. “So many of my friends and myself had thought they needed to have that moment of, yep this is the one after a first date just to be disappointed that [the person wasn’t].” When he has felt that excitement, he’s found himself searching for the high again rather than wanting to build a sustainable relationship.
“When your first date is amazing, you set your expectations high and you might be disappointed the next time,” says intimacy and relationship coach Lia Holmgren. Cleman adds, “An OK first date sets you up for going into a relationship with your eyes open and more reasonable expectations.”
Suzy*, 34, met her now-husband seven years ago at a bar. He asked her out to dinner, and she agreed, thinking it wouldn’t go anywhere. Their dinner date lasted only an hour, “And I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I just don’t remember. It was so average. We must have spoken about work and family and the usual first date stuff.” That’s why Suzy was surprised when she received a text from him asking to go out again.
The second date, she remembers well. It was yet another dinner, but perhaps she felt as if she had nothing to lose, so she was able to be herself. She felt they really connected that time around, and they have now been married for almost two years.
“First dates are usually awkward since we’re self-conscious about how we look and act,” Holmgren says. When we’re in our head, we’re taken out of the experience. Additionally, we often want to impress someone on a first date. As a result, we may present and act in a certain, more performative manner. Suzy, however, clearly wasn’t attempting to impress her now-husband, which is likely why she was able to enjoy the second date as much as she did.
“Remember, there is no ‘perfect’ partner,” Cleman says. “Long-term relationships that go the distance are based on friendship and are underpinned by acceptance and realistic expectations.”
That, in a nutshell, is why a good-enough first date is worth a second go around. Without the infatuation that comes after an incredible first date, you’re able to set realistic expectations for what the future will hold. Over time, you’ll get to see — and perhaps slowly fall in love with — who someone really is instead of the person you simply want them to be.
*Name has been changed.