Treat First Dates Like They Could Be Special

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It’s wise not to put so much pressure on a first date that you create impossibly high expectations. You’ll only make yourself nervous and likely make your date uncomfortable. But have we gone too far the other direction? It’s time to stop treating every first date like the first pancake in the frying pan. Do not feed it to the relationship dog.

In an essay for The Cut, writer Rainesford Stauffer writes that the best first date is getting a “boring coffee”. She gives an example of her own, where someone invited her for coffee, coffee turned into a walk, then a movie, then a late night of hanging out and laughing. That does sound like a great day, and I don’t disagree with any of this:

With something simple as coffee, you can’t rely on anything else to fill the space of getting to know the stranger sitting across from you, to distract from the awkwardness that brings. You can’t be a dating performance artist nailing all your lines; you have to be a person. And activities and adventures are exciting, but sometimes you just want someone you can sit still with.

And, as I’ve said before, coffee is far cheaper than alcohol and it makes you look at another person with the objectivity of sobriety.

What kind of surprised me about Stauffer’s assertion was how many fancy first dates she’d been on: “Cooking classes, invitations to galas I didn’t own dresses for, extravagant bottles of wine purchased with reminders of exactly how expensive they were, formal dinners where we both realised midway through the bread basket that neither of us was really feeling it.”

What?! Who are all these master planners and generous benefactors? It sounds like the folks planning these more elaborate dates were not her cup of tea — or coffee.

But it has become so rare in the modern dating scene to take the time to actually plan or treat a first date as though you might be meeting someone special. Which is sad, because isn’t that what we’re all kind of hoping we’re doing?

So, I’m arguing for making more of first dates. In a totally chill, laid back, no pressure way, of course.

Start With Coffee, But Have A Part Two In Mind

Like Stauffer basically writes, it doesn’t matter how fancy the restaurant is, if you don’t like your date, you won’t want to be there. Starting out with coffee is a great low stakes way to feel out the vibe. Vibes usually get felt out very quickly, and unlike a bar, it’s harder to drink coffee after coffee if you’re really into the person. Instead of getting buzzed enough to ask for a kiss, you’ll be asking where the bathroom is.

The best thing to do is scout ahead — what is near the cafe that you could suggest you walk to with your caffeinated brew? A park? A museum? A mural that would make for a good photo shoot? I recently went on a date where, after coffee, we were near a river. We ended up going kayaking for a few hours, and it was a blast.

Planning proximity to a second date activity is still fairly low stakes, but having something in your back pocket to extend your meeting is smart. This could be someone you really like. Take them to do something memorable in case they really like you, too.

Avoid Getting Into A Pattern

For a while, I would always invite dates to the same bar on the corner near my house. It was awesome when those dates went well, because, well, I was near my house. And if they were bad, I could leave without having wasted my time on a commute. It wasn’t a bad strategy for getting to know people and the bartenders became quite friendly.

The negative part was that my mind started to get into kind of a rut. First dates usually include a lot of the same stuff — the same questions, giving the same answers to those questions. I found I was often coasting and not engaging as much as I might have in fresher surroundings.

As long as you’re meeting a new person, why not try a new venue? Invite them someplace where you’ve always wanted to try a special cocktail, or where there’s a fancy dessert you’ve always seen in the window. Things don’t have to be huge commitments to be original and cool. It’ll also give you something to talk about besides how many siblings you both have.

Treat It Like It Is A Date

This may seem like it goes without saying, but the other night I was out with a fella who seemed to find the idea of calling meeting at a bar a “date” weird. It seemed like too serious a word to him. We’d matched on Tinder and made plans to meet somewhere: What should we have called it, exactly?

This is an extreme example of a general trend I’ve noticed where people are so afraid of commitment, they can’t even admit their intentions. The old forms of courting (now there’s a serious word) have fallen so far out of fashion, some people won’t even admit they’re in a relationship until the second kid is on the way.

To my mind, a date is when two people get together to see if they could develop romantic interest in each other of some kind. It isn’t a huge deal, but it is different than just hanging out with a friend. It’s hard for more to happen if you can’t even admit what possibilities you’re looking for in the person sitting across from you.

Admit When You’re Jaded

Even if you aren’t looking for The One, going on a series of bad dates can be draining. Sometimes, no matter how you plan fun events or try to enliven the experience, we don’t meet anyone we really click with.

If you’re having a bad run, admit when it’s time to take a break. As Lord Byron wrote, “The heart must pause to breathe, and love itself have rest.” Yes, I quoted Lord Byron.

If you’re feeling bad about dating, you probably won’t be in the headspace to even recognise when you’ve met someone great. Let yourself do stuff just for you, with friends, with family, and remember how much fun there is to be had with the right people. Then you’ll be more open to having that kind of fun with a new person. After a cup of coffee.


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