Saturday, April 7, 2012

Enjoy Yourself, Take Only What You Need From It: First Dates

For someone who has spent most of the past twelve years in some kind of relationship, I haven’t really been on that many dates. Or let me rephrase that, I haven’t been on a lot of first dates. The kind of first dates with people I don’t already know. I don’t really like it. It feels forced and contrived, which as a result makes me feel uncomfortable. I’ve always tended to kind of fall into relationships; meeting someone in a low pressure setting (friends party, work event, extracurricular activity) become friends with them and then all of a sudden we’re together. In fact, for the most part, I’ve managed to skip over the fumbling bits that lead us into a relationship.

Dating is weird. The whole concept is awkward. You’re basically interviewing someone to find out if you want to hang out with them again, eventually get physical, and potentially enter into a relationship with them. You’re basing this on several factors: being attracted to them, chemistry, connection, all of which are supposed to be achieved within a high pressure several hour time frame. It’s worse than a job interview because if you’re not asked out again you can’t even tell yourself the lie of being under qualified or it being a factor of nepotism, it’s simply because you’re just not that compelling or good looking. Even if you didn’t want to go out with the person again, you want to be the one to make that decision, not vice versa.

I have discovered that there are several types of people, those who view dating as nerve wrecking and those who view it as an adventure. The latter approach it as something exciting rather than panic, they go in feeling like they have nothing to lose (which to be honest they don’t) They’re usually stellar on first dates. They’re also great to go on first dates with because they put their partner for the evening at ease and make the process more fun. Sometimes though, the issue with these people is they tend to view dating as a sport, a game, and you may think something is going really well and there’s a connection but for them it’s just a way to pass the evening. (This is obviously not applicable to everyone)

I’m pretty sure that I’m the former. Especially if I don’t have a pre-established foundation of friendship first. When I like guy that I am not already good friends with, I become incredibly stupid and even more awkward. I blurt out inappropriate and offensive things, I’ll get drunk and start insulting them, or I’ll spend hours in their presence only to run away. I can not tell you how many times that I have literally run away from a man who I liked. After a date, my friends don’t ask me if I kissed him, they asked me if I ran. The more I like you, the worse I am. The good news, is that upon talking to people about this, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in this. Other people do this too. Feelings are scary.

I may be getting a bit ahead of myself, as this is supposed to be about first dates not what happens after them, and, if you’re single, first dates are an inevitable part of life. Like it or not, we’re going to get to the point with someone we’re interested in that we have to go out with them, regardless of how “laid back” and “casual” we are in our approach to life and rekationships. In addition to speaking endlessly to my friends about this, I have also spent the past three months being “single” and going on dates, some successful and some disastrous (I might actually post about those for just sheer entertainment purposes) and think the following guidelines can help with the initial stages of dating:

1. Location is everything. Intimate meets interesting... find a place that is busy enough that you don't feel like the last people on earth, but quiet enough that allows for conversation... at least for the first leg of the date. If the spot is interesting, it is a conversation filler for those awkward moments. It also will make a good story at your engagement party. "Our first date was at the ho tay waterpark and we got stuck on the ferris wheel" (on a side note, I’ve got great date spots in Hanoi and NYC for those stuck on ideas) Instead of the “dinner and movie” (or just one of them) route, do an activity. It’s an ice breaker and makes the whole process seem like less of an interview and more like what it is, a fun activity. Since you probably don’t know much about the person you may want to do a little research (asking mutual friends or them) what they’re into but you can pick something different. Examples: food festivals, art gallery opening, museum, cooking class, rock climbing etc

2. Dates are always better with a little lubrication. A glass or two of wine (or beer) can help relax you but don’t get too drunk.

3. Get weird. You know you are hitting it off with someone when it starts off very normal with polite conversation but by the end of the night you are talking about horse humpers on youtube. (If you need some inspiration please see:

4. Don't judge a book by its cover. The worst thing you could possibly do is write someone off as soon as you meet them... if anything, you could end up as good friends

5. Accept the awkwardness. First dates are painful for all parties involved. Accept it and go wtih the flow.

6. The world is your oyster. The best thing about first date is you really can't run out of things to talk about. Cover all basis to keep the conversation flowing- where are you from? Why are you here? What do you do? Favourite movies, etc

7. Have some wild cards. Ask some crazy questions or tell some bizarre funny stories about yourself to make the date interesting

8. Don't show all your cards on the first date. Leave something for the next date(s)

9. Put your mobile on silent. It’s rude to text others or answer your phone during a date. This may be the 21st century, but don't forget your manners. (If for some reason you have an extenuating circumstance like a pressing work obligation, family issue etc, inform your date before…”I want to apologize in advance but there is an issue at work and they may call me.” But DO NOT use the age old emergency phone call from a friend. Everyone sees right through it.)

10. Manners. Just a quick follow up on the mobile phone issue. MANNERS MANNERS MANNERS. You learned them, so don't forget them. Don't interrupt or insult your date. There is never an excuse to be offensive or rude, even if your date is. Also, don't forget to say THANK YOU.

11. Be honest, but not too honest. Always be yourself, because everyone shows their true colors eventually. But, don't forget to play the game. Don't let yourself seem desperate, but don't be too aloof. Talking about past relationships on the first date is probably not a good idea. Keep it light, if you disagree- don't start an argument, but use the chance to show you have your own opinions. Be polite, keep it lighthearted and have some fun.

12. Let things happen organically. If you have a connection with someone it will be obvious and you won’t have to try and force things such a follow up hang out session. Try to not even think in those terms of whether or not they’ll want to see you again, it’ll detract from your natural self.

13. Don’t have expectations. This kind of falls with the above but is different in the fact that we often go into things with an idea of how they’re going to play out, which is not a good idea. It will only lead to disappoint and will affect your behavior. A personal example of this, is I spend the latter half of dates worrying whether or not the guy is going to try and kiss me, which, for the record, makes me nervous. I then begin behaving erratically and, by some people’s definitions “weirdly” which is just ridiculous. There is no rule that says you have to kiss someone on the first date, just like there is no rule that says you can’t sleep with them. Do what feels right and don’t worry.

14. Listen. This is essential, not only is it important to seem/be interested in the person you’re with but if you listen, REALLY listen, you’ll find out a lot about the person you’re with. It’s also a great way to determine how to see them again if you want to. Getting someone to share something they enjoy with you is one of the best and most natural way to have a relationship progress. If the person mentions something they’re good at or enjoy doing, it’s normal to respond with, “Oh I’ve always wanted to do X” and, if they’re interested, they’ll make it a point to include you in that activity. I use street food as a way to spend time with people. I love street food and know great spots, and can suggest places to go in a non pressure environment that still results in time together, but also doesn’t expire. The street food options are endless.

15. Keep intrigue without playing games. If you want to see the person again, tell them. Let them know that you had fun and enjoyed yourself. Maybe not send them excessive messages but a simple note the next day is important. Just like being overeager and desperate is a turn off, playing it cool is overrated.

As we all know, there are several different stages of dating: First dates, casually, exclusive, committed relationship and each chapter brings new excitement and anxieties but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it?

Thanks AH for most of the tips on this, MV for the donkey documentary and JF for making the process way easier than it should be

1 comment:

  1. [prints; pastes to wall...]

    I have only had a 12-year relationship, really. This dating malarkey .. eesh. I see it as an adventure, but I'm also rather fussy about who I share it with.


    Hmm, I've probably 'had' more dates than I realise, but I just call them 'having coffee with someone who might become a friend' [delusional]. I think the whole 'meeting someone with the express idea of etc etc' feels really alien to me, too; I'm much more comfortable with the way you've started relationships!

    Good luck with next First Date, hun .. and I guess we're all looking forward to that first date which is our LAST first date :)