First dates hold a lot of promise. All it really takes to begin the relationship of your dreams is that one. Great. First date. You’ll sit down, instantly feel comfortable, and launch into nonstop verbal back-and-forth with a person who you also happen to find charming and good-looking. If things really go well, you may even shut the place down and continue on to a second stop, where you’ll sip Champagne cocktails, toast to a second date (already!?), and have your first kiss.
That scenario sounds pretty great, but it’s no secret that first dates rarely work out quite so magically. More often than not, a first date is mediocre at best, which is to say nothing of how stressful it can be to prepare for one. According to Match.com’s latest Singles in America survey, 89 percent of singles get nervous before a first date, so if the thought of a first date makes you think of breathing into a paper bag more than a romantic smooch, you’re definitely not alone.
We’ve gathered advice from 11 dating and relationship experts and personal coaches that will (hopefully) help take the edge off next time you’re experiencing the totally understandable nerves that come with a first date. Read on for how to ease any pre-date anxiety so you can actually be yourself.
1. Embrace the jitters. Who said that nerves are all bad? Not relationship expert Erin Tierno! “It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious before a first date,” Tierno notes. “Remind yourself that anxiety, in moderation, can be a healthy signal to slow down and is to be expected when encountering an entirely new person in a pressure-filled scenario.” Next time you find yourself stressing before a first date, cut yourself some slack and stop trying to interpret those nerves as something more than they really are.
2. Switch up your post-date habits. If your go-to move after finishing a date is to immediately call a friend and start picking apart the other person’s character, it’s no wonder that you feel anxious at the thought of what someone else might say about you after dinner and a movie. “Part of your jitters comes from thinking about what the other person is going to say about you… because you know how harsh you can be,” psychotherapist Eileen Purdy says. “Figure out another way to tell your friends about a first date that doesn’t end in a second one.”
3. Treat yourself. If there was ever a time to show yourself a little extra love, a first date is it. Go wild and get yourself a manicure, a blowout, or even a new pair of shoes. “When you use [a first date] as an opportunity to pamper yourself, you are taking the pressure off yourself,” Rori Sassoon, owner of high-end matchmaking service Platinum Poire, tells us. You’ll have one less thing to worry about when you delegate the primping to someone else, plus you’ll have a great reason to enjoy some well-deserved time for yourself.
4. Take the pressure off. When you think about it, a first date is really nothing more than an opportunity to meet someone new… which feels a lot less intimidating than meeting someone who could potentially be The One. “This helps take the pressure off and gives you a bit of distance from the outcome,” psychotherapist Ashleigh Edelstein notes.
5. Practice self-soothing. Your body has physiological responses to first date nerves, but there are things you can do to ease those symptoms and create an overall calming effect. Author and Match dating coach Samantha Burns suggests taking slow breaths, drinking water, and pushing up your sleeves to cool off, all of which can help you regulate your heart rate and focus on the task at hand — figuring out whether or not you have feelings for the person sitting across the table from you.
6. Reframe your attitude. “So many daters give their power away and place too much weight on the other person liking them,” dating and empowerment coach and Match dating coach Laurel House says. “There’s no reason for anxiety if you reframe your feelings into an attitude of ‘I’m interested to see if I’m interested.'” This seemingly minor adjustment will relieve some pressure and give you a fresh perspective on the dating game.
7. Choose a familiar spot. If you plan to meet your date at a restaurant you already know and love or in a part of town where you’re comfortable, there will be one less thing for you to be anxious about, so personal coach Benjamin Ritter recommends that you suggest a place that feels familiar when you and your date are finalizing plans.
8. Have a back-up plan. Your fear of the unknown probably plays a large part in your dating anxieties. That’s why transformational life coach Susan Gibson recommends that you make a plan for what to do if things don’t go positively. Will you excuse yourself and call a friend from the bathroom? Will you politely tell your date after the salad course that you’re not feeling like it’s a good match? Whatever you decide, making these considerations before the date even happens should help you reclaim some of the control that you lose any time you open yourself to someone new.
9. Remember that there only has to be one first date. Did we just blow your mind with that revelation? Yeah, we thought so. We don’t often think about first dates in these terms, but it’s true — and it’s a healthy perspective. “Regardless of how things turn out, you only have to do [the first date] once, and then you can decide to either have more dates with someone that you’re getting to know and like, or you decide to stop seeing them altogether,” marriage and family therapist Racine Henry says. “Either way, once you get it over with, you never have to have a first date with that person again.”
10. Make plans for the next day. The outcome of your upcoming date will feel a lot less impactful when you already have a full dance card for the day after. “Remind yourself — the date is an exciting opportunity, but there’s more to me, more to my life than just this date,” social worker Amy Deacon advises. “There’s no better way to remind yourself of that than remembering to fill your calendar with things that are important and nurturing for you!” Book a spin class or invite a friend to brunch so you can keep things rolling, no matter how well (or not so well) the date goes.
11. Consider the worst-case scenario. Okay, so this might sound a little dramatic, but all we’re really suggesting is that you think through how bad the outcome could really be, because doing so might help ease your jitters. “Maybe you experience a couple awkward silences on the date — what would happen?” mental health therapist and wellness blogger Dominique Talley says. “Although you might break out in hives at the thought of sitting across from your date in awkward silence for 30 seconds, in reality, the 30 seconds would pass and you’d move on to another topic of conversation.”
How do you ease your jitters before a first date? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)