With Matt Garman, ALMFT, and Sara Haynes, ALMFT

Let’s Talk About Love is a series of conversations between Matt and Sara, clinicians at Relationship Reality 312. Each discussion covers a different topic, intended to share tips and insights that you’ll find useful as you navigate your love life. Please contact us: matt@relationshipreality312.com and sara@relationshipreality312.com.

First Date Tips

First dates can be stressful. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when we’re meeting someone new. At times it can feel like it’s a job interview, but for a relationship instead.

Matt: Hi Sara!

Sara: Matt, how’s it going?

Matt: I’m doing well! Boy, I can tell you right now, first dates can be so tough. At least for a lot of folks. How do you feel about first dates?

Sara: I agree! For some people, no matter how many dates they go on, they tend to get that nervous feeling in their gut. It gets easier the more they do it though.

Matt: Very true.

Sara: What are some tips you would give to people who are dating and going on first dates?

Matt: First of all, knowing the place you’re meeting for the date is key. It should be a place that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed, so you can be your best self, and focus on the other person.

Sara: I like that! A good start is an environment where you feel comfortable. Like a go-to first date spot?

Matt: Exactly. If not that, then at least a place that you really want to check out. But ideally everyone is going to feel good about the space, no matter what.

Sara: Comfort is key; some people experience a lot of nerves going into a date, so the place you decide on can really help! I think you should get to know yourself and what is it you are looking for from a first date. A calm, quiet place? A spot that’s a little more energetic, so you can get up and have fun? Plan ahead.

Matt: Yes, for sure. Everyone has different preferences, and a date where you get a chance to know each other and also have an activity, to take the pressure off, is a great balance. A wine bar or coffee shop, a walk (even in Chicago’s crazy weather), followed by a video game bar, a board game spot, or heck — even karaoke!

Sara: I like that first-date combo: a sit-down and a fun activity mixed in! Karaoke in Chinatown, perhaps? That’s an opportunity to find out your date’s taste in music or whether they would make it through the final round of an American Idol audition!

Matt: Obviously that’s you. Okay Sara, I have two follow-up questions: first, what is your go-to karaoke song?

Sara: Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” gets me in the karaoke mood!

Matt: I can picture you singing that Whitney jam! For me it’s gotta be the Ramones, only because my singing mostly resembles shout-talking. But I digress. Second question: what should the mindset be on a first date?

Sara: We put so much pressure on ourselves; I think it’s important to remember this should be fun, and a chance to get to know somebody new.

Matt: Each early date should have one goal: to decide if you want another date. Keep it light, have fun, be real, and try not to overthink it. So how do people keep the conversation flowing, Sara?

Sara: I recommend having a few go-to open-ended questions prepared, and avoid yes-or-no questions. Think about some things you really want to know about the person, and ask questions that allow them to talk about themselves.

Matt: Plus, showing interest in your date, rather than talking about yourself the entire time, is never a bad idea.

Sara: True, be engaged and interested! Any other tips you got for calming your nerves while actually on the date?

Matt: It is really easy, and really normal, to get nerves on those early dates. My first thought is to keep a mindset of low stakes, like I said before: your only goal is to decide if you want another date. Also, keep the drinking to a minimum. It’s easy to overconsume when you’re nervous, but that can get messy. How about a nice sparkling water instead?

Sara: One or two drinks is fine. Meanwhile, being aware of your surroundings can calm first date nerves. What sounds do you hear? Notice the smells in the room. The taste of your food or drink. Focus on what is right in front of you in order to get out of your head.

Matt: Truly, the key to feeling a little anxious is the concrete stuff like the room we’re in, or the time we spend. For instance, having a firm stop time can ease pressure.

Sara: Absolutely! Sometimes I recommend 90 minutes for a first date. It’s not always a must; but generally planning a start and end time can eliminate worry about how long the date needs to be. How would you wrap up a first date?

Matt: I hate to sound like a broken record, but keep it light and low-pressure. Whether you’re feeling an excited connection, the opposite, or something in between, ending that first date should be easy: be polite, split the bill, and go on your way.

Sara: Split the bill, huh? That’s a controversial tip when it comes to first dates! Being polite is a must. Everyone is just out there trying to make a connection, so it’s important to make dating easy and fun for the people we meet. We all have great qualities and we should never forget that when we are putting ourselves out there!

Matt: I couldn’t agree more.

Sara: Until next time, we wish our readers a happy first date! We talk about stuff like this with our clients all the time, so feel free to contact us if you want to schedule a session: matt@relationshipreality312.com and sara@relationshipreality312.com.