First dates are inherently stressful situations. In the early stages of dating, two unacquainted individuals are sizing each other up as potential romantic partners. Both parties try to present themselves in the best light possible, accentuating what they perceive to be positive attributes while minimizing any not-so-shiny ones.
Getting ready for a first date can bring up feelings that run the gamut from pleasant anticipation to butterflies to flat-out dread. As introverts, we may be more prone to the latter. We may make ourselves so sick with worry that we fail to really enjoy ourselves on the date, or flat-out bail before even giving it a chance. However, at the same time, we crave a fulfilling relationship just as much as anyone else. It can feel like a real catch-22. As a fellow introvert with many near-and-dear introverted friends, I completely understand the struggle.
In hopes of bypassing the most common internal and external first date pitfalls, here are some general tips and guidelines that I hope will make prepping for (and actually going on) the first date as painless as possible!
Unless you feel simultaneously cozy and confident dressed to the nines, dress down for the first date. If you’re constantly fretting about touching up your red lipstick, or scratching at the stiff collar of your new button-up shirt, or taking the tiniest of steps as you try not to stumble in your new heels, you will be adding an extra bit of unneeded anxiety to the first date.This does not mean show up in sweats; rather, pick something that feels comfortable on your frame while still showing that you put in a bit of effort. Go for your everyday look plus a little extra. This will also help showcase the real you, and not just an idealized persona (a pitfall of many intros and extros on the first date).
When it’s the first time meeting a new person IRL (or sitting down with them for an extended period of time if you have previously been acquaintances), it’s best to set up a bite-sized chunk of time for the first date. Plan something that will occupy an hour or two rather than a marathon date session including dinner, movie, walk in the park, etc. If you’re having a great time, you two can always extend the short date, but it’s much more difficult to cut a long date short without significant awkwardness on both sides.
If you’re going for a traditional grab-a-bite or drink or cup of coffee type of date, consider choosing a spot that you already know and love. For an introvert trying to relax and open up, the less novelty, the better. Solid options include a cozy coffee shop you frequent, a neighborhood pub you are known to visit for a pint with a friend, or a casual cafe you like to stop by for lunch. If you are already familiar with the parking set up, the joint’s seating arrangements, the menu, and the staff, you will find it easier to focus on the task at hand, which is getting to know the person sitting across from you, instead of taking in all the new stimuli of an unaccustomed setting.
Another great option can be to ditch the traditional “sit down and chat while consuming food and drink” type of date and choose an activity that appeals to both of you. Some introverts find it easier to relax and enjoy themselves when there is something other than just the social aspect of the date to focus on (this is also my strategy at parties and events). Go wine tasting, do trivia night at a local bar, check out an art walk, visit a petting zoo; heck, any short-ish time frame type of activity that appeals to a common interest. This will also give you a chance to observe how the other person acts in a different situation (and possibly provide yourself with a venue in which to show off your sweet, sweet air hockey skills).
It might sound a little hokey, but some role-playing beforehand can be helpful. It’s similar to the principle behind rehearsing what you will say before giving a speech or presentation at school or work. A dry-run of the of the anxiety-provoking scenario can go a long way toward easing butterflies. Don’t just do this in your head! Mental rehearsal often gives way to rumination, i.e., the perpetual introvert trap of overthinking yourself into a hole in the ground. Actually sit down with a trusted friend and verbally go over some some scenarios. If natural conversation fades during the date and you find yourself at a loss for words, revisit what you practiced with your friend to help get the conversation flowing again.
This is a particularly vital action item if you are on a date with a fellow introvert. If one or both of you is feeling nervous, it’s easy to shut down and let the natural pauses in a conversation drag out to uncomfortable lengths. If you’re struggling to start up the conversation, or find that it’s lagging, don’t forget to ask questions. This doesn’t mean to subject the other person to a barrage of simple yes or no inquiries; rather, ask open-ended questions that provide them with an opportunity to share something of themselves. Listen to the details and ask thoughtful follow-up questions (this part should be easy, since we introverts tend to be good listeners). On the flip side, be sure to give good answers when the other person asks you a question. Don’t be monosyllabic, no matter how nervous you feel. Provide details; they are asking because they would like to know more about you. You don’t need to unfold your whole life story on the first date (and I highly recommend against oversharing), but you do need to allow the other person a chance to see your unique self.
Ahhh, “be yourself”, that old chestnut. Of course it’s the oldest piece of advice in the book, but be sure to take special heed in this case. On first dates, we all try to put our best foot forward…well, to be more accurate, we put forward what we THINK the other person will perceive as our best foot! Perhaps you have some internalized self-judgement about being introverted (and don’t we all, from living in our society’s cult of extrovert-worship). You may be tempted to try to portray yourself as outgoing, happy-go-lucky, life-of-the-party type person. If you have that side to your personality, and the interaction with this new person is bringing it out, by all means do what feels natural! But if that’s just not you, please don’t fake it. You’re setting a trap for yourself and cheating the other person out of the chance to get to know the real you. Be up front that you are an introverted person that enjoys solo time and private pursuits along with measured doses of social time. You don’t need to give your date a lecture on the meaning of introversion or even touch on the term; just make sure that when you talk about your temperament, your hobbies, and your pursuits that you stay true to the very cool and totally valid way of being that you have as an introvert!
All of the tips so far have been doled out from a perspective which assumes that you’ve been enjoying your date with this new person and wanting to keep the good times rolling. However…what if, mid-date, you discover that you’re simply not feeling their vibe? Or worse, that they are kind of a jerk and you want to pull the ripcord right away? Confrontation is not generally the strong suit of the introvert. In fact, many of us would rather ride out an awkward situation to the bitter end rather than make it a thousand times more awkward by confronting the situation dead-on, especially if the confrontation must go down spur-of-the-moment. As an introvert, you have probably already played out this scenario in your head and may have even begun a lovely cycle of rumination over it (believe me, I’ve been there). To avoid this pitfall, it’s best to have a strategy in place that minimizes the need for any spontaneous, unrehearsed action on your part. A friend of mine always arranges with her best friend to send her a text about 45 minutes into the date so she will have an excuse to look at her phone and feign an unfolding situation if it’s going poorly. If it’s going well, she’ll ignore the text. There’s even an app called Bad Date Rescue that removes the need to recruit a friend! If this sounds like too much logistical complexity, you can simply rehearse plausible excuses ahead of time (not feeling well, recovering from being sick, family member needs help with something, etc, etc.). Feel free to be creative with your white lies, but think them over first and run through them with a friend to make sure you feel comfortable rattling them off in case of emergency.
As introverts, we need extra time to recover our energy reserves after ANY social occasion. Because of the added pressure that is simply a natural part of going on a first date, expect yourself to need even more recovery time than usual afterward. If your date is on a Friday evening, don’t plan a busy weekend. And it’s generally best to avoid scheduling first dates for worknights. If you have a typical 5 days on, 2 days off type of work or school schedule, best practice is to schedule the date for the night before your weekend off work, or the afternoon of the first day of your weekend. If you don’t have the luxury of two days off in a row, simply do your best to plug the date into a time slot that allows at least some low-pressure downtime afterward.
Above all…when you go home, please, please, please be kind to yourself and don’t dissect every moment of the date. We introverts are prone to overanalyzing in general, and may beat ourselves up over moments when we think we have been weird or awkward that the other person probably didn’t even pick up on. Pay more attention to how your date made YOU feel and if you would like to go for round 2.
This might be hard to hear…but don’t attach too much importance to the first date. If the person seemed great, DO go out on date 2, but DON’T let your idealistic and imaginative mind start putting them on a pedestal. If they seemed pretty cool but the sparks weren’t exactly flying on the first date, consider giving them another chance. You may just be a naturally cautious person, and they might be as well. As an introvert, you know better than anyone that people don’t always tip their whole hand the first time you meet them. Sometimes the most solid relationships begin as a slow-burn rather than with fireworks.
Happy dating, my introvert friends!
Craig is the founder of LifeGuider, he is dedicated to improving not only himself but also others in being more physically fit and mentally capable of handling life’s challenges. He is not your regular life coach, no fancy clothes or fast cars, just a regular “Ole Joe” who has experienced the ups and downs of life like everyone else.
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