The world is round. The sun always rises and sets. And first dates can be awkward. It’s just the way of life. So what is it that makes first dates so weird? “Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected,” says co-founder of dating site It’s Just Lunch, Irene LaCota. While there are ways to make things less uncomfortable, even the concept of a first date leads to inevitable awkwardness. “You’re so new to each other that you don’t have any common ground yet,” therapist Jill Whitney explains. “You’re both aware that you’re evaluating each other. You’re both trying to strike a balance between making a good impression and being your authentic self. With all this going on, of course things can be awkward.”
It can seem hard, maybe even impossible to avoid, but it’s not. I talked to psychologists and relationship experts to get their secrets on how to truly release awkwardness and tension. Hopefully with these 10 secrets, both of you will be able to enjoy each other’s company and conversation. Hey, it might even lead to date number two!
Don’t worry about the future
This one seems obvious, but a lot of people still do it. Putting pressure on the future of this one date, can make things really awkward. Maybe the two of you are on different pages — or you’re stressing yourself out, trying to read every sign and signal. “When you put a ton of pressure on a first date you add unnecessary stress,” explains LaCota. “Keep in mind the first date is simply an opportunity to determine if you want to see someone again. You do not have to decide if you want to marry this person on the first date.”
So, she suggests letting yourself off the hook, and focusing on the moment. Stress is what creates awkwardness so instead just think of it as meeting someone new — not someone you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. Not all first dates are the last first date. And that’s ok!
Try an activity-centered date
Thanks to its naturally playful nature, an activity date really helps release pressure and tension. These activities can be anything from bowling, to rock climbing, to a carnival visit, to ease the pressure and tension. “It allows you to talk and get to know each other, people watch, and observe your date’s interactions with other people,” explains psychologist Erika Martinez. “Most importantly, the activity allows you to displace the awkwardness you or your date may be feeling.”
She further explains, “It’s okay if you screw up because it affords the opportunity to say, ‘Gosh, that was terrible! I’m just kind of nervous.’ That honest comment is disarming and can lead to a great, deeper conversation, and even connection, with your date.” This playful, vulnerable, relaxed attitude is almost impossible for awkwardness to penetrate.
Avoid certain controversial topics
There are certain topics that are just inappropriate to bring up with strangers. And technically, your date is a stranger. “Avoid the following topics of conversation: sex, finances, illnesses, past relationships, and exes,” says Martinez. “Talking about them would signal poor judgment and interpersonal boundaries, and make your date feel awkward.” When your date feels awkward, that awkwardness is going to seep into the whole interaction.
If you aren’t sure whether something is appropriate to discuss, Martinez explains, “If you wouldn’t talk about it with the person next to you on the subway, or in line at the grocery store, then don’t discuss it during the initial stages as you’re getting to know someone new.” But don’t stress about it too much — just be aware that certain things are off limits on the first couple of dates. Most of these topics won’t be important until you’re getting more serious in a relationship, anyway.
Acknowledge any awkwardness
First dates are awkward — it just is what it is, and sometimes it just happens! “It is odd to sit down with someone you hardly know and have a one-on-one conversation,” Whitney reassures. But if you acknowledge this awkwardness to yourself and maybe even your date, it can actually relax things a bit.
“If you go into a first date thinking it won’t be awkward, or thinking there’s something wrong with you if things are weird, you’re setting yourself up for trouble,” says Whitney. So just own up to what it is, allowing the both of you to move past it.
Be genuinely curious
Dates aren’t just about you — they’re about that other person, as well, and the connection you two share (or maybe don’t). In order to open up to someone and let them in, and connect, be curious about who they are deep down as a human being. “The best way to reduce awkwardness is to be truly curious about your date. Who is this person? What makes him tick? What’s interesting about her? What do you have in common? What’s different, but maybe intriguing?” Whitney continues, “Don’t interrogate, of course, but ask questions and listen with an open heart.”
Martinez points out the importance of abundance with curiosity. “I think going into a date with the mindset of curiosity and abundance is key,” she explains. “You’re there to start the process of getting to know a stranger, which takes time.” And while the date may not go anywhere, Whitney makes a good point about using this curiosity and conversation as learning curve. “Even if you decide early on that the person isn’t someone you’ll want to see again,” she says, “Use the time to learn about what people are like.”
Order something besides water
OK, this isn’t a free pass to go nuts on the cosmo’s. While, of course, there is no shame in staying hydrated, relationship expert Samantha Daniels explains that just sticking with water could send the wrong message. “When you only order water on a date, you send the message that you are not invested in the date itself.” This may make your date feel uncomfortable, which may then transform into awkward tension.
You can sip a cocktail, beer, or glass of wine, but you can also just order a seltzer, or juice, if you don’t drink alcohol. “It is a small and significant way to show your date that you are committed to spending time with him or her for the next hour or so.” This small act will surely ease uncertain feelings.
Brush up on current events
Many times you can feel awkward because you don’t know what to say, or the conversation comes to a lull. Not only is it when this actually happens, but it’s also the anxiousness of it maybe happening, that can cause stress. “Singles often dread first dates because they don’t know what to say to start the conversation off, so they end up talking about themselves rather than finding out more about the person they are with,” explains LaCota.
To release the worry of awkward silence, or tension leading up to the date, LaCota suggests reading up on a few topics — such as current news or trending stories. “A few minutes of preparation will do wonders in calming first date nerves. ” So while none of what you researched may end up coming up on the date, it’s the fact that you’re familiar with several interesting topics that will help you relax, going into it.
Flash those pearly whites
Sounds simple and maybe a bit silly but more than one expert advised that smiling is a huge benefit in easing any awkwardness on a first date. “Smiling is an easy, yet often underrated way to ease the initial discomfort of a first date,” says Daniels. “Regardless of whether or not you think the person is attractive, you should smile at the outset to let him or her know that you are open and interested in seeing where the date leads.”
LaCota agrees, saying, “If you arrive with a smile and a carefree attitude, then the date will likely feel light and loose. But if you arrive with a terse look on your face and a lot of tension in your demeanor, then the date will likely feel uncomfortable.” The whole idea here, is to make both parties feel comfortable, and ease the mood. “Just smile and be happy in the moment,” says Susan Trombetti, matchmaker, and owner of Exclusive Matchmaking. “Flirt — and if you don’t know how to do that, ‘smiling and friendly’ is 90 percent of it.”
So, then what?
“There is no “worst case” scenario if the date is not enjoyable. You don’t have to see them again,” says LaCota. “If it’s not a match — no harm, no foul, just move onto the next!”
Trombetti reminds you that you aren’t in this alone. “[He or she] is just someone else in the same boat as you, trying to find someone special to connect with on a more meaningful level,” she says. “Realize [that] whether this person is ‘the one’ or not, you are meeting someone new and different. It’s practice for when you meet the right one.” Just keep it light, don’t get ahead of yourself and enjoy your experience. You’re meeting someone new — and with these tips, you’re sure to have a great time doing exactly that!