Whether you’re 25 and fancy free or 65 with grown children, first dates for the majority of people are pressure moments—a situation in which you have something at stake and the outcome is dependent on your performance.
When pressure is your chaperone, you become overly self-conscious, anxious, a poor listener, and abrupt speaker, and poor judgment that causes you to be unlike a “gentleman or lady.” Pressure makes you unattractive — it’s the opposite of your Fairy Godmother. And while performing under pressure does not guarantee love at first meeting, it does increase the chances that there will be a second date. Then, anything is possible. Here are the 4 most common first date pressures and how to reduce them so you can be your best when it matters most.
1. The Pressure to Look Good
Pressure on first dates is created by wanting to be attractive to others and uncertain if you will be. Most try to reduce this pressure by enhancing how they look via their dress or hairstyle. These “attractiveness boosters” help but physical appearance only takes you so far. It’s more effective to reduce first date pressure by switching your focus from how you look to others to how you feel about yourself. Prior to the date, remember your assets, reaffirm your self worth, and look for fun. You’ll feel more confident and positive and your own experiences will confirm — as do many studies — that people who are positive and confident are attractive to others.
2. Date Place Pressure
Dates, like battles, can be won and lost because of location, and choosing the wrong location can turn a date into a battle. Where to go becomes a pressured decision and decisions made under pressure are usually bad. Reduce right place pressure by remembering that nature guides you to seek an empowering environment so you can flourish. Be considerate of your date, but take more time to think about what type of location allows you to be authentic. A restaurant you can’t afford doesn’t. Even if your date doesn’t choose the meeting place, if you are relaxed and authentic, you will be having fun and most likely he or she will too. Case in point is that most people try to reduce this first date pressure by selecting a place his or her date would like. A hot place might be impressive to your date, but it could also prevent you from having a charming, fun conversation, let alone hearing one. A celebrity chef restaurant might be impressive, but the expensive menu makes you jittery, especially when ordering!
3. Conversational Pressure
Conversation is a natural and spontaneous occurrence, but when it comes to a first date, people feel pressured to do it “right.” Topics to discuss or not, what information to share or keep private, often turn into worry. Nobody wants a dating aftermath to be, “I never should have said that. I was boring, and we had nothing to talk about. I was too quiet, and I sounded silly.”
Most people reduce conversational pressure by increasing their awareness to what they will say and how they say it and before the date, deciding what they will not disclose, like past relationships, or financial status.
You can reduce conversational pressure by expressing your thoughts and feelings about the topics you discuss in the moment. Thoughts and feelings represent intimate levels of communication—they are your uniqueness and add color to the conversation. Sharing them makes you more interesting to others and knowing their thoughts and feelings make them more interesting to you.
It’s easy to integrate thoughts and feelings into your first date conversation. Just preference your statements with “I think…I feel.” Instead of giving details of your job, express your thoughts and feelings about your job –your date will learn a lot more about what makes you tick.
Encourage your date to share his thoughts and feelings too and refrain from evaluating them – that would add pressure; rather ask for more of his thoughts and feelings so you make the conversation even more authentic. The goal is to have a first date conversation that helps you feel connected. If you do, you will want a second date. If you don’t, you don’t.
Because it’s a hardwired human need to want a relationship, first dates are important to us. Your most effective way to reduce the pressure is to remember that a first date is not a do or die situation, but an opportunity to have fun and meet someone that can enhance your life and even if it doesn’t work out, there are always more dates to come. When you date along these lines, you’ll feel less first-date pressure and enjoy yourself when it matters most!
Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D. is a world-renowned psychologist, pioneer in the field of pressure management, the originator of criticism training and the author of two New York Times bestselling books. He has consulted with and developed programs for dozens of Fortune 500 Companies and government agencies and has taught in Executive Education and Executive MBA programs at Wharton, UCLA, NYU, Cornell, Penn State, and MIT. His work has been featured several times in national media including The New York Times Sunday Business Section, and numerous publications. His new book and recent NY Times Bestseller is Performing Under Pressure: The Science Of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. Read more of his work here.