On a list of things I enjoy doing, first dates would sit somewhere between getting a pap smear and going to the dentist. No matter how confident you are, there’s no getting around the fact that, often, first dates are just plain awkward. However, unless you married your high school sweetheart, you’re probably going to have at least a few first dates in your lifetime. Online dating these days has become a numbers game—you’re going to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince or princess—so you might as well learn how to make a first date less awkward.
I consulted a bunch of dating and relationship experts to find out whether it’s normal for a first date to feel awkward and how to prepare yourself for a less awkward first date.
Related: Our Best First Date Tips
Why are first dates so awkward?
When you think about it, of course first dates are awkward: You’re meeting a stranger, and you’re both assessing each other to decide whether you enjoy spending time together enough to warrant a second date. Humans are wired to avoid rejection at all costs because, in our caveman days, rejection meant facing those pesky saber tooth tigers alone—in other words, near-certain death. Because of this, it’s only natural to feel nervous about a first date.
Mel Williams, relationship expert and self-healing lifestyle coach from Healing Is Sexy, LLC. reminds us that “first dates will always carry anxiety, no matter how confident you may be in your abilities to relax and have a good time”.
So, if you’re feeling some first date jitters, rather than beating yourself up for feeling this way and trying to change the way you feel, accept the feeling. It’s okay.
How to not have an awkward first date
Just because it’s normal to feel nervous before a first date, doesn’t mean we can’t put a few things into place to ensure the date runs as smoothly as possible, with as little awkwardness as possible.
Michelle Traub, author of Online Dating for Sensitive Women, suggests that you “Set yourself up for success by honoring what feels best. Remember that the [person] you are meeting is likely just as nervous as you are”.
Katie Lasson agrees, adding, “First dates are naturally an awkward experience and almost everyone feels anxious before a first date. If they tell you they’re not nervous they’re probably lying.” Her advice? “Try not to obsess over the date. The more you think about it the more nervous you will become. What will be will be so try to enjoy the moment.”
“Every first date is intimidating, exciting, and awkward between two people,” says Michelle Devani, relationship expert and the founder of lovedevani.com. “There are a lot of emotions you have to deal with, but keeping yourself calm is one thing that can help you throughout the situation. That’s why relationship experts like me believe don’t be excessive with everything, especially with your details”.
- Talk about the things you are passionate about; this is a great way to get out of your shell.
- Don’t forget to be a good listener. Listen intently.
- Stay away from overly personal awkward topics altogether.
Lauren Johnston, co-founder of BerryLemon, adds her tips for being less awkward on a first date:
- Lead with authenticity. Tell your date you’re nervous. Tell them you’re feeling awkward. Your honesty will relieve your date of any nerves they’re inevitably feeling too. They’ll reassure you and the shared empathy will help you two break the ice.
- Plan a date that involves an activity rather than sitting across from each other having dinner. It takes some pressure off.
- Try to talk about topics you’re excited about. Passion is never awkward or shy. Try to get your date to talk about things they’re passionate about too.
- Don’t wear anything that doesn’t feel comfortable and authentic. If you’re dressing to impress but feeling uncomfy in your clothes, that’s not going to help your case. How you feel in your body is the energy you’re putting out. Make sure you feel comfy in your first date outfit.
- Come prepared with some open-ended questions and keep your date talking. That way you don’t feel too much pressure and you come off looking like a great listener. But make sure you’re adding to the conversation too. It’s not an interview. (See these first date conversation starters to help you out)
“Don’t put too much pressure on the future, as it’s too soon to tell how the relationship will progress. Appreciate the moment and the opportunity to get to know this new person. Also, only check your phone when necessary – you can reply to that text later. By doing so, you are showing genuine interest in your date, and it’s a common courtesy, even if you decide against meeting up for a second date.” says Amanda Levison a licensed professional counselor from Neurofeedback & Counseling Center.
“Talk moderately and avoid taking the conversation seriously by imagining the future. No one wants to be impulsive about that, and besides being awkward, it sounds creepy on the other person’s part. Also, it is a major turn-off and rude if you won’t let your date finish her sentence. That’s why focus on your conversation and don’t mess with that one. Nourish your date with undivided attention and put your device on silent so it won’t distract both of you,” suggests Michelle Devani.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it seems the secret to not being awkward on a first date is to simply be a decent human and also be yourself—someone who doesn’t appreciate you for all your quirks and awkward moments probably isn’t going to be a good fit for you long term. Remember: Dating is a filtering process and the quicker you can filter out the wrong people, the sooner you’ll find the right person.
Michelle Traub shared her experience too. “I reminded myself before every date that I was free to leave at any time. It took a lot of pressure off to realize that I didn’t owe my date anything and that my health came first. In addition, if I was feeling nervous or on edge, I just told my date upfront how I was feeling. These days anxiety is very common and dating is nerve-wracking for everyone. A man who is unable to show compassion if you are experiencing emotional discomfort is not going to be an ideal partner. It is a great test of your date’s empathy”.
As vulnerable and scary as it might feel to share how you’re feeling with your date, this can actually enhance your connection. Mel Williams agrees, adding, “You can text the day of the date or share when you first meet that you’re a little nervous, and chances are [that] they will share they feel the same way! This is a great way to help reduce both of your anxieties and share a good, genuine laugh”.
Finally, Katie Lasson suggests that you “always have a plan in place before you meet. It doesn’t have to be a rigid plan but you need to have some idea of what you’re going to do”. I agree—there’s nothing more awkward than the back-and-forth of trying to decide what to do and where to go once you’ve already met up.
Does having a phone call before a first date make it less awkward?
It’s okay for a first date to feel a little awkward—that doesn’t mean that you’re not destined to be together or that you won’t get a second date with them. Remember that a first date isn’t to decide whether you want to marry them or not, it’s simply to decide if you like them enough to have a second date. That’s all. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, you’re willing to laugh a little and you’re open to enjoying yourself on the date, you will be just fine.