First Dates Don’t Mean All That Much To Me — Here’s Why

Photographed by Rachel Cabbit.
Being one of the token single women in your friend group means that you become numb to certain conversations and situations. Last New Year’s Eve, it didn’t bother me that I was the only person without someone to smooch when the clock struck midnight, even though all the pals around me were making out with their significant others. I’ve gotten used to friends and family pointing out every semi-attractive guy at the bar, urging me to go talk to them. But the one thing that continues to bother me to this day is how some people react when I tell them I have a first date.
The conversation usually goes like this: Someone asks what I’m up to after work or over the weekend and I let them know that I have a date, in the same tone of voice I’d say that I’m headed to the dentist. They’ll ask the person’s stats (What’s his name? What does he do? Where did you meet?) and I’ll answer. But if I don’t express what they see as the appropriate amount of enthusiasm, I’ll get a line that irritates me no end: “You don’t seem all that excited about this!”
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And they’re right. I’m not excited. First dates to me aren’t exactly thrilling. But I’m also not in the camp of people who see them as hell on earth. For me, a first date serves one single purpose — to get to know someone over two drinks maximum in order to see whether or not I want to hang out with them more. Romantic? Not exactly. But I’m way over seeing every first date scenario as a possibility of meeting “The One” — and not just because I don’t believe that there is “One” person for everyone. (That’s another topic for another day…)
To a lot of people, this may read as cynical. I see it as realistic. I used to get excited over every single first date I went on. I’d spend time picking out my outfit, imagining what we’d talk about, and reading into the place he chose to meet. I genuinely enjoy meeting new people, and the prospect of meeting and getting to know someone who could potentially turn into my partner was nothing short of exhilarating.
The problem with this kind of excitement is that it leads to heightened expectations. The more amped I’d get ahead of a date, the more I’d expect it to be a home run. But usually, they’d go the way these things typically go — just fine. By putting so much pressure on the first date, I was basically ensuring that the guys I was dating could never live up to my expectations. I was cutting them off at the legs before I even got a chance to know them. And in my experience, when I did get the rush of butterflies on the first date, the guy in question would turn out to be a total jerk.

By putting so much pressure on the first date, I was basically ensuring that the guys I was dating could never live up to my expectations.

As you can imagine, this excitement-to-disappointment cycle was completely draining. It became even more taxing when I took my own stats into consideration: At 27 years old, I’ve been in the dating game for the better part of a decade. I go on a lot of dates, given the fact that I live in a hugely populated city, have a library of apps available to me, and actually enjoy dating. (I feel like that last part is something a lot of people don’t understand — if the pressure is off, dating is typically fun for me.)
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But just like it’s easy to get overexcited for a first date, it’s also so easy to fear them — and I understand that. For a lot of people, the simple act of meeting a new person and having a conversation with them is an incredible feat. On the other end of that spectrum, though, many people (like me) can see first dates as a waste of time. Whether we realise it or not, this line of thinking puts extra pressure on the situation, because every first date has to be the opposite of a waste of time. And you know what? Sometimes they might not live up to that, in the same way that anything we choose to do can be a waste of time.
So I had to recalibrate my expectations, which meant I started setting a very low bar for first dates. They were just an excuse for me to meet someone who I seemed to click with, and to figure out whether I liked that person enough to go out with them again. Once I started doing this, the craziest thing started to happen: I found myself getting to know the guy I was out with much better than I had in the past. Since I had zero expectations, I wasn’t projecting a utopian future on him. More importantly, I was actually able to take the time to figure out if I liked him, instead of worrying whether or not he liked me. And truthfully, unless the guy does something incredibly egregious, I’m usually willing to go on a second date.
Now, instead of feeling excited or anxious or downright dreadful over the prospect of a first date, I see the situation in one of two ways. At worst, it’s an opportunity to figure out what I want or don’t want in a partnership. At best, it could foster a connection with a person who I’ll want to see again. And that connection could lead to some type of relationship — be it a partnership or a friendship. Basically, I’ve come to see my first dates the way I see any other meet-up: A reason to grab a glass of wine, chat with another person, and gain a deeper understanding about them or myself. And if a romantic relationship comes of it? That’s just the cherry.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realised that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at maria.delrusso@refinery29.com.
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