If you date actively in any major city, chances are you go on a lot of dates. And what I hear from friends and acquaintances over and over again is how bad their dates are. And how many bad dates they have to endure between the good dates. And how they haven’t been on a good date in months. And how people on apps are just looking to bang and aren’t actually interested in dating at all. And on and on and on about how it is everyone else’s fault that their dates are consistently awful. And this is what I ask them:
Have you ever considered that you might be the bad date?
Let me be super clear: I don’t mean ‘have you ever considered that you might not be worth dating. You are worth dating. You are a fabulous, incredible, unique human being who is worthy of love, sex, flirtation, courtship, companionship and everything in between. How do I know this? I don’t know you (or maybe I do, hey friend readers!). I know this because you are a human being. And all humans are worthy of love, sex, flirtation, courtship, companionship and everything in between.
What I’m asking is whether or not you’ve taken any time to get good at dating.
Many people see dating as a means to an end. You date to find a partner. You date to get laid. But the dating part is not why they are dating. So why get good at something you essentially don’t want to have to do anymore?
However, being a good date makes it much more likely that you are going to find a partner (or partners, I see you poly people), and much much more likely that you’re going to get laid. So here are the fundamental mistakes I believe many modern daters are making, and they are all based around unmet and unreasonable expectations.
When it comes to modern dating, particularly online dating, here are some basic principles to become a much better date and make more interesting, honest connections with the people you are courting, particularly if those courtships begin on an app.
Overly specific expectations kill genuine connection.
It is wildly unreasonable have the expectation that a person with whom you are going on a first date is going to check all of your boxes. That’s not a euphemism. And it kind of is.
Very specific expectations make meeting someone as they are, taking them in, and learning about them next to impossible. First, unless you give them a list of your expectations (cough, demands) before you meet, how do they know? Second, your and their expectations will likely shift and change throughout your interactions. And third, some expectations are just plain unreasonable to bring to most first dates.
This is easy to say this about the douchey dude who expects all of his dates to want to blow him in the bathroom within five minutes of meeting him. And it’s easy to think this about the woman who writes off any man who doesn’t make six figures and isn’t ready to put a ring on her finger in six months and have 2.5 kids in the next 3.7 years (not to make this gendered, but stereotypes are based on something y’all). Those are outliers, and are ends of a spectrum. As dating humans we usually fall somewhere between Blow Job Jason and Marry Me Marianna.
When you are on a date with someone, if you want to really get to know them, you need to leave space for them to share various parts of themselves with you, and for you to share parts of yourselves with them. As you learn more about each other your expectations for your interaction will probably shift. Be open to these changing desires, and know that the person with whom you are interacting is also likely going through similar shifts.
The person you swiped right on is never the person you meet.
When we match with people online, we build a version of a person in our heads before we ever meet or talk to them. This imaginary person who is built off an idea based on a profile is not a person.
When our imaginary, idea-based version of a person comes into harsh conflict with the embodied reality of the human sipping their IPA on the barstool next to us, we can have a hard and fast recoil. You are not the Julian I swiped right on and exchanged three weeks of flirty messages with! You’re a socially awkward and smell slightly of lavender, but in a weird way.
One way to minimize this is by not dragging out pre-date texting too long. But another way is by treating all the information you receive about a person before you meet them as disposable. The real stuff is when you meet. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t matter how we treat another via text and that flirty messaging is discouraged. Heck now! Strong text game is freaking fun. Just make sure you are also open to the reality of this person who has taken the time to get to know you offline.
And give the person across from you a bit of a break if they’re awkward or nervous. They’re on a date with you, and you’re awesome! Nerves are kinda called for. Be as generous with your date as you hope they will be with you.
Stop comparing the date you’re on with the best date of your life.
This is one I had to learn the hard way. Many, many times. If you’ve ever been on a really great date it can totally sabotage the rest of the dates after it for quite some time. And this is where my least favorite phrase in dating comes in, “The Spark.” FUCK THE SPARK!
Some dates are sparkly. And DAMN, are they fun, or what? You click right away — there is banter, there is chemistry, the right amount of eye-gazing, hand touching, etc. etc. etc. But some dates just aren’t sparkly. Does that make them bad dates? Not necessarily. Chemistry is complicated. If we had it figured out we wouldn’t need dating apps, matchmaking services, well-meaning friends and family, or articles like this one.
So this is my best piece of advice: stop chasing the spark and learn to enjoy a greater variety of types of chemistry. Purrs, rumbles, kindlings, and cracklings can all be delightful. It doesn’t always have to be fireworks. Which brings me to my final point, and this one will really change your life if you learn to live by it:
Date for the sake of dating. All other outcomes are bonuses.
The best dates I’ve ever been on were based on a mutual desire to enjoy each others’ company for the afternoon, evening, or night, and then assess whether we would like to then enjoy each others’ company again. That was it. Some of these were casual coffees that never led to another meet up, some of them were potential one night stands that then turned into relationships. One of them was a couple cocktails that eventually turned into an engagement, and, if all continues as planned, will turn into a marriage next year.
The more we can meet each other with the true desire to enjoy each others’ company, suss out compatibility, and align desires in a mutually respectful way, the better dating culture will become. The more we can leave our expectations behind and be open to the possibility of vulnerable connection, the more we will grow as humans and the more likely we are to meet people who are on a similar path of growth.
Being a better date doesn’t guarantee all your dates will be wonderful. But learning to date for the sake of dating will make you a better date and drastically increase the odds that you will enjoy the journey of dating.