Dating in adulthood is no easy task. It comes with a completely new and foreign set of social codes and cues. I’m still unsure if I was a late-bloomer in this world or on par with my contemporaries, but I do know it did not come easily to me. I never really dated in high school, and college dating is sort of its own beast. Post college, I was in a long term relationship, living with my partner for 3 years. When that fell to pieces, I didn’t know where to start. At that point, not only were all my friends coupled up, but it seemed all of our extended social scene was as well. I didn’t know how else people met people in the real world, so I turned to online dating.
So here’s the thing with that: I’m awkward. I have social anxiety and am not always a strong conversationalist (this is part of WHY online dating was my go-to). My interests are nerdy and range from somewhat to extremely esoteric. Thus, during first dates in particular, I tend to default into a state of over-politeness. With online dating, you’re starting basically at step one when you mean in person, which can be quite trying. When I started dating in this way, I found myself often stuck continuing useless small talk for way too long when I felt no connection whatsoever. My bad dates lasted longer than my good ones. Sometimes I imagined sawing my arm off with a butter knife under the table, but I didn’t think I could free myself. After some time in this particular dating world, however, I started enacting rules that made bad dates bearable and good dates more apparent.
Here’s a few of my tips and tricks:
Meet in person as soon as possible. Whatever you do, avoid sending messages back and forth for too long. This goes for whether you’re looking for just a hookup or a longer term dating situation. I know it’s easier if you have social anxiety to keep the computer screen between you and the other person as long as possible, but it’s just not a good idea. You end up creating an unrealistic idea of who that person in your head, which rarely matches the person in real life. I have had really amazing online conversations with people, who I was then really excited to meet, only to not mesh with them at all in real life. The sooner you meet face-to-face, the better. It’s worth skipping the deliberation process to get to the full and real personality of the person.
Plan your first date around an activity you enjoy. No matter what, you will have fun. If the activity is a little off the beaten path, all the better. Choosing an activity with some universal appeal but also some personal significance will reveal something about you and give you a gauge of the other person based on how they react. My go-to for awhile was Drag Queen Bingo. It was fun and engrossing, but still allowed for one-on-one conversation and some degree of intimacy. It also illustrated I was comfortable in and around the queer community, which is a huge part of my life.
Also one that has a time limit. I’m terrible at two people talking over dinner type of first dates. I can’t ever excuse myself, even when I know it’s not working and there is no romantic or even friend chemistry. Planning around an activity that has a set time limit takes the pressure off of both parties to calling the date over. If you really hit it off, you can always go out for drinks or whatever after.
Be honest. We’ve all seen awful romantic comedies and heard limitless bad advice when it comes to dating. There’s a lot of artificial rules at play, largely about games and how to get the upper hand and control the dynamic. And when you don’t know any better because you’re socially clueless, they may seem like good ideas. But those ideas are almost always a bad call. Be honest and straightforward and it will be much clearer if there is anything worth pursuing. If there isn’t, it’s also important to be honest about that. In the past, when I defaulted to over-politeness, it was never clear to the other party whether or not I was interested, and that both was unfair to them and led to some later awkward conversations. It’s better to just throw it out there.
Even for the socially awkward,online and real life dating can be navigated successfully. With planning, it can even be a fun, minimally stressful activity.