Hey Is For Horses: That First Date

[This is part three in an ongoing simultaneous blogging journey with my friend Emmy Kegler!]

The worst date I’ve ever gone on lasted approximately 45 minutes in a coffee shop near the University of Chicago. I drove about an hour through Chicago traffic to get there. He walked down the street from his apartment. I paid $2.00 for burnt coffee. He got free water. I was a little early. He was late.

And that was just the beginning. This young man seemed reasonable online – we’d spent about two weeks discussing various philosophies and enjoying a discussion of progressive politics. But the date was so far removed from that comfortable online chat that I began to wonder if I was being punk’d or on “What Would You Do?” with John Quinones. But I wasn’t. It was just a really bad date.

And it goes to show – you can have all the online game in the world, but if you’re a terrible date in person, things are not going to go well for you. I can’t possibly talk about what not to do on a date without talking about what this guy (and others) actually did.

Do: Be on time, or text if you’re not going to be.

I’m a fairly punctual person. I arrive for work about 10 minutes before my shift starts, I get to doctor’s appointments early, and I try to get to dates a good 15 minutes before they’re actually scheduled. You don’t have to be early like me, but you should try to be as close to on time as you can be. I arrived a little early for my date with Worst Dater Ever, and was pretty miffed to discover that, even though he lived literally one block away, he was still running late.

Do: Remember that this is your first impression.

So, I knew Worst Dater Ever was about to be a doozy when he opened the date – after the usual “how are you’s” with “My Tiger Mom Therapist told me I need to meet more people.”

There’s nothing wrong with therapy, and I commend people who are in it (and if I could afford it, I’d probably be seeing a counselor myself). But there are some things that should maybe be kept to yourself – like the fact that you’re using this to practice things your therapist told you to do. Some information should not be someone’s first impression of you. Keep it cordial, ask questions, and don’t volunteer information that seems shocking or out of the ordinary for the conversation.

This isn’t to say shocking revelations can’t be part of the first date. On my first date ever – with my first boyfriend ever – we arrived at the coffee shop we were going to, talking about our lives and our experiences, and he ended up telling me all about a medical event that had happened in his past. Normally, I’d say medical things should be an oh-no-no for a first date. BUT, he wasn’t bringing it up about the blue to tell a funny story. It was actually relevant to the conversation at hand (our college experiences) and gave me a picture of what his life was like as he deals with this ongoing medical issue.

This is not a moratorium on saying personal things or telling stories about your past. That’s what a date’s about. But you need to be careful to make sure it’s actually a relevant topic in the conversation and that the person you’re talking to is interested in your story. People have polite but obvious signals for when someone’s not interested – they stop asking questions, or their questions lack enthusiasm. They start nodding and going “uh-huh” while staring into space. Etc.

Do: Ask your date questions about themselves. Be interested.

The Worst Dater Ever didn’t really even seem to want to get to know me. He used questions he asked me as a jumping off point to talk about things that were going on in his life. Even when he asked about my tattoo, he used it as an opportunity to lecture me about how it was a bad choice for a tattoo (seriously!).

One of the things that’s really hard for a lot of people to learn (it seems) is to not steamroll their conversation partner and sit there waiting for an opportunity to top their story. But this attitude doesn’t tend to work well on dates – you need to actually show interest, not just feigned interest, in what the other person has to say.

We should go back to middle school here: try some active listening techniques. Sit up straight, make eye contact, respond to what they’re saying without launching into your own story, ask relevant questions.

On the other hand, don’t turn it into an interview. It should be a back and forth. Relax and think about how you talk with your friends – respond enthusiastically if there’s something to be enthusiastic about.

A Few Other Random Thoughts

Dates and first dates are hard. I’ve found, for myself, that if we keep the first date short, meet in a public place like a coffee shop or a bar, and don’t put too much pressure on it for a first date, I can learn a lot about a person and know pretty quickly if I want to spend more time with them. A lot of dating means developing your radar for who you want to spend time with.

This means, purity culture graduates, that you may be starting at a disadvantage because so much of purity culture training is repression. We’re trained to be “nice” Christians, who are good and polite to everyone and who don’t like to reject people or even say that we don’t like someone. This conflict makes it hard for us to admit to ourselves that we’re just not clicking with someone, and a lot of religious and social pressure makes us give it “one more shot.”

But most of us have decent instincts about people we do and don’t like and do and don’t want to spend time with. We need to learn to listen to those instincts, to trust our own intuition. It takes some time to regain that intuition after it’s been stomped out by the purity movement. But you can do it – start by asking yourself at the end of every date, “Do I want to see that person again? Would I be able to hold a longer conversation with them?” And if you don’t think the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then there’s your intuition. There’s how you feel.

When we grow up in evangelical culture, we lose some grasp on the ability to listen to our own instincts and our own selves. That’s a major problem that takes a long time to fix. It will take work. But with practice and with continued questioning of our world, we can arrive at a safe place where we know ourselves and we know what we want. And we easily say “nope” to the worst date ever.

[Photo by Brandon Shea via Flickr]