Your clothes are picked out, plans have been made, and you even brought out that special scent you put on just for occasions like these. You, my friend, are headed out for a first date. Well done!
I’m very familiar with the need to make a good impression on a first date. Once, my roommate caught me rehearsing how I was going to greet my date when I walked up to her apartment. As I opened my bedroom door, there he stood, gaping at my cheeky smile and rehearsed swagger. He suppressed his pity and kindly said, “Good luck, buddy.”
In all the effort that comes with trying to impress the object of our affection, we come face-to-face with the frightening and fascinating mystery of ourselves. We have to take an honest look at the raw material we’re working with in this dating endeavor and ask ourselves: Who am I? How do I present myself?
The answers to those questions can be unsettling or uncomfortable, but you’ll be more confident if you have your own house in order before venturing outside. If you’re looking for a dating experience that’s more than a fancy resume swap, one that touches on the deepest parts of who we are, here are some helpful ways to frame your experience.
Listen to what resonates
When you’re on a date, how do you know if it’s going well? In all the excitement and confusing feelings, how are you supposed to tell if this relationship has potential?
Here’s a thought experiment to illustrate how to listen to your own experience for the right movements: Imagine for a moment that you have just received a huge award at work and your colleagues shower you with compliments. Go ahead, imagine it! Notice what that feels like. Now, imagine you are enjoying the view at the top of a mountain at sunrise, taking in all the beauty the view has to offer.
Did you notice a difference? You may have experienced excitement in both scenarios, but I imagine the second also brought up a sense of peace and integration. The beauty of the scene touched something that was more deeply true than the self-aggrandizing appreciation of being noticed.
When on a date, pay attention to what brings about a feeling of deep peace and integration. There’s a reason those feelings are resonating in you (or not!) — it indicates that you have stumbled upon something real. Pay attention! That’s the place in your heart where you’ll find your deepest desires. Sometimes, what you find there can be surprising or even scary, but either way, be attentive and foster the courage to listen.
I am not my rejection
Dating requires an important skill: a willingness to risk and even fail.
When you are dating, you’ll find two kinds of people: the person you’ll marry and everyone else. So the odds are good that you will experience rejection, that you’ll meet people who just aren’t a good fit.
No one likes to get rejected. The sting can often surface unhelpful narratives regarding our worthiness of loving and being loved. Remember that rejection is something you go through — it’s not characteristic of your identity.
Root yourself in the awareness that you are loved regardless of the outcome of a date. Dating invites us to ground our dignity in something deeper than our abilities or what happens to us. Each of us is a beloved child of God — if we’re in touch with that reality as the deepest layer of our identity, we’ll be truly free.
It’s a date, not a dream
I’m a hopeless romantic and have the tendency to imagine creating over-the-top moments for someone I have feelings for. I start thinking about a picnic in the park with flowers followed by fine wine and a Ferris wheel ride with fireworks bursting in the background.
At times, our fear that we are not enough causes us to make dating into a sensational experience that is more about proving our worth than it is about encountering another human. Without recognizing it, we drift from being genuine and move toward projecting our expectations of who we think we are and who our date should be.
Ultimately, what you do on a date should showcase your authenticity. If going on a date that doesn’t involve a thrilling activity feels like walking on a tightrope without a safety net, it’s okay — that’s what courage feels like.
The person you’re meeting on that date is arriving with unanswered questions and a strange family and their own awkward high school experiences, just like you. Be open to the mystery within yourself and the person you are dating. Remember, you are not selling a product, you are taking the risk to be seen.
As you make your way out the door, remember: be attentive, be free, and be seen. Foster the space within that allows you to remember that you are worthy of love before this date, and you will remain worthy afterward. Now head out the door and enjoy yourself! A world of discovery awaits.