A first date can boost your ego, energize you, and be the start of a life-changing connection. Or, a first date can turn out to be a depressing, discouraging, totally awkward waste of your time. Between those two extremes, it's easy to trampoline between excited butterflies and anxiety-ridden dread. For poly folk, first dates can be an even bigger landmine. Unless your date already identifies as non-monogamous, this may be their first time encountering a non-traditional relationship style. Trying to make a first impression that is a positive and accurate reflection of yourself and your life drops a lot of pressure on what should otherwise be a fun, flirtatious evening.
So how do you shrug off the pressure and get into the moment? It’s not always an option to drop into lotus position and meditate before each date (though I can tell you from experience that if you can do that, it’s totally worth it.) Here are 3 ways to stay Zen on a first date, whether your date is the person of your dreams or somebody you definitely should have swiped left on.
1. Leave your expectations (both positive and negative) at the door.
When I’m heading to a first date, my mind is usually a maelstrom. I’ll review the conversations I’ve had with this person up until now, creating a mental backlog of conversation topics to go to if a deadly lull of silence should fall on us. I’ll think twice about the outfit that I chose to wear -- wondering if I went too fancy or if I went too comfortable. I might think of a convenient excuse I can use to escape if it’s really going off the rails.
All of this chatter will take on a decidedly positive or negative tone, colored by the strong undercurrent of my expectations for the date. If I’m desperately hoping and expecting that this person will become my next great love, my inner monologue is colored by both excitement and fear that it won’t turn out well. More times than I can count, I’ve gone home with spirits crushed when it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.
On the converse, if I’m totally not in the mood and expecting that this person will probably disappoint me or not be able to jive with polyamory, my inner monologue takes on a dark, brooding, Eeyore-esque quality. This makes me put up a wall, ready to protect my feelings from disappointment before I’ve even sat down with the person.
I hit a breakthrough the day I realized something very important. Our expectations color our perception, which in turn colors our experience of reality. By deciding ahead of time how the date would go, it left little room for the unexpected to happen. Because we often fear the unexpected and the unknown, our brains compensate by trying to cover every possible scenario, as though that will keep us safe.
My expectations were a desperate attempt to understand and to try to know the unknowable future. Regardless of whether my brain decided that future was going to be good or bad, it still caused an unnecessary amount of stress and preoccupied, unconscious thinking. So I decided to change that.
Instead of worrying about how the date would turn out, I started repeating to myself a mantra that I learned from one of my meditation teachers. “Let me rest in not knowing. Let me rest in calm.” I consciously embraced my ignorance of the future, not as a point of weakness, but as a way to give my inner self a freaking break.
2. Take off the mask.
In her book If the Buddha Dated, Charlotte Kasi describes the way we put on masks at the beginning of relationships. We put on the masks of charm, of sexual appeal, of wit, of perceived wealth, or any other number of things in order to make us look more appealing. The tragedy comes later down the road, when you are faced with the choice to either to wear the same masks for the rest of your life, or to remove them and risk losing someone you love because you no longer match their expectations of you.
If you are polyamorous and going on a first date with someone you like who is not, you might find yourself reaching for the mask of “being normal and not a total weirdo” or the mask of “I have other relationships but don’t be threatened they aren’t too serious” or the mask of “I can totally meet your expectations for spending 90% of our time together, even though I already have two other partners.” It should be apparent that putting on these masks can lead to disastrous results down the line.
A person you are going to be in a relationship with should love you for you, not for your pretty mask. But it’s our paralyzing fear of having love withheld because of who we are that motivates us to put on the mask in the first place. Letting go of expectations (see number 1) is one of many first steps towards getting yourself to leave the masks behind.
Another important step to paring down the collection of masks is to start to love for yourself. We’ve all heard the tired out cliche that you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else, but I propose turning it on its head: you have to love yourself before anyone else can truly love you, rather than loving your mask. The more love and acceptance you have for yourself, including the parts that are unpopular, unappealing, and uncomfortable, the more likely you will be able to find people who will give you their own love and acceptance.
3. Enjoy the moment, even when the moment is disappointing.
So you’re about an hour into your first date, and things are not looking up. Maybe the person is not as attractive to you as they looked in their photos. Maybe there’s just no chemistry. Maybe they have started spouting a bunch of crazy conspiracy theories. In the moment it becomes clear to you that there will be no date number two, it becomes all too easy to mentally check out.
This scenario may seem like a drag, but it’s actually a perfect opportunity to exercise conscious awareness, compassion, and generosity. It is a chance to step away from the transactional thinking that plagues a lot of the dating scene. If you are no longer “getting” something from this interaction or from this person, can you still give them your full attention? Can you still care about what they are saying? Can you still find the common ground?
It doesn’t require pretending like you’re interested in a second date when you are not. It doesn’t require putting up a facade of surface-level politeness. It doesn’t require lying or leading the person on. It just requires bringing your full focus into the moment. It requires active listening. It requires finding joy in the moment, even though it didn’t turn out the way you had hoped.
Even if you never see this person again, it is still a completely unique and unrepeatable meeting between two unique and unrepeatable individuals. That, in itself, is amazing! Allow yourself to relax, soak into the moment, and enjoy it while it lasts. Even if this person may not turn out to be everything you’d hoped, there is always a chance they may fit into your life in some other, unexpected way. If you can allow that to be enough, you will come out of every first date feeling fulfilled, even if you never see this person again.