YEAH, YEAH, YEAH, ALI: 5 ways to prepare to meet your online date and have a good time
“You don’t know how awkward I can be…”
This or some twisted version is what I hear from first online dates. Their desperation clings to the last semblance of intelligible words that dribble from their mouths like coffee spilling on a white, neatly pressed shirt. Then, they freeze, deer in headlights, with a look of fear and confusion. I think of a flashback from my childhood, a line from an episode of “Rocko’s Modern Life:” “Let me dance in your love cups and serve you tea.” I laugh to myself.
My date says, “What’s so funny?”
“I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
“That’s why. You’re a natural!”
Robot dating mode engage. Beep boop.
My date says, “OK, so let’s do this again sometime.”
I respond, “Yeah, sure.”
Awkward hug commences in parking lot. People watch us like they would animals in a zoo exhibit. My date approaches me, arms stiffly rotated at an upward 83 degree angle, and we hug like Barbie and Ken dolls saluting Hitler, then separate within 2.345 seconds and…
“Thanks, have a good night. Nice meeting you.”
Pac-Man dying noise. End dating sequence.
We never speak to or see each other again.
How many of you have had this experience? I’ve had it happen far too often. People can be weird. We’re all weird. Then again, so is online dating.
What do you do now that you have been talking to a potentially special someone from an online dating site? How do you avoid these dating disasters? Sometimes, it’s difficult to navigate, but at least you can have control over how you handle the situation. Part 2 of my online dating segment may provide some useful information. (Read Part 1 here.) It has been an interesting roller coaster.
1. Get the person’s full name/talk on the phone before meeting.
Get the full name of the person you want to meet. Do some Googling and Facebook stalking. I saved myself from dating a few men who were married or in a relationship this way. Ask them where they like to hang out. You may have mutual friends. You may have seen him or her before. Do a little homework. It goes a long way.
Also, I strongly suggest exchanging phone numbers after chatting online for a bit (you’ll know when it’s right… probably when the app chat is driving you insane). Text each other for a bit. Ask questions. Do this for a few days or so. When you think you want to meet the person, arrange a phone conversation. You can learn a lot about people by the way they speak, their inflections, their sarcasm, their sense of humor – all which gets lost in text messages. I have based my decision to finally meet the person upon a phone conversation or two. You may love the person’s voice or find them excruciatingly annoying. I abide by this rule most of the time and save myself and the other person valuable time.
2. Know yourself.
This may seem like a philosophical statement, but in all seriousness, know who you are. By this, I mean know what you love, your interests, and places that make you feel comfortable. Do you enjoy hiking, hate it, or could care less? Sports? The arts? Music? What kind of music? Are you sociable? Are you an introvert, maybe a hobbit? Do you enjoy going to bars, or would you prefer to stay home and watch Netflix? Or does it depend? If you’re not entirely self-aware of your interests, then make a list of ranking preferences from most to least important. If you think that your potential mate doesn’t need to have anything in common with you, you’re in for a rude awakening. Or maybe you just don’t care. Trust me, this will save you a lot of time and aggravation of meeting someone that is only going to end in disaster or a one-night stand. If that’s something you want, fine, but for those of us who want to be somewhat monogamous, it’s best to be efficient.
For example, I ran an hour late for a date (for reasons out of my control) and, of course, my date was pissed. Instead of getting over it, he decided to pout about it for about 10 minutes. Then he asked if I liked camping and whined about my response. We split the check and he ran to his car in a huff without saying goodbye. All of that tantrumming could have been avoided if he asked me that simple question through a text message.
By the way, if your date sucks, just get up and leave. Don’t waste your time explaining why. If your date is being stupid, like hitting on someone else or texting the entire time, you don’t need explain anything. Save yourself and walk out.
3. When you decide to meet, pick a neutral spot.
Chances are you’re going to have a few of those aforementioned robot dating mode experiences. It happens. Sometimes dates go horribly awry and sometimes they’re fantastic, then go horribly awry in the near future. Anyway, you don’t want to taint your favorite watering hole if a first date is bad, so pick a spot that you don’t frequent but feel safe in. If you don’t care about that possibility or are extremely nervous, go with what you like the best.
Also, activities are a good way to break the ice (e.g. bowling, mini golf, going to parks, whatever you feel like). If you go out to eat or drink, try not to get trashed. If you don’t care entirely where to go, ask your date’s preferences and what makes your date feel at ease. Going to your or your date’s apartment isn’t necessarily wise either. Always meet in a public place and send a text to your friend who you’re meeting and where, just in case. I had a few scary encounters that luckily ended without casualties. These all seem like common sense, but sometimes I had to learn the hard way. Be safe out there.
4. Watch your body language.
First dates are strange no matter how people have met. People get nervous. It’s natural. People have nervous tics: shaking their legs, biting their nails, looking away for extended periods of time. Give yourself a random mindfulness check if need be. Take a few seconds to notice what is going on around you. Excuse yourself for a minute and take a break. Gather your thoughts. Do belly breathing, think about what you are going to say, but don’t agonize over it. Give yourself a few seconds to stare at an object on your table and focus on its details (just don’t get carried away). It sounds easier said than done. If you practice these little things, dating will become easier.
Body language tells us a lot about what we truly think. If your date is physically restrained (arms folded or feet turned inward), your date is either extremely nervous or disinterested. I am a notorious face maker (I’ve tried not to, but it’s hard sometimes, so I get it). Anyway, I have called guys out on their restrained behaviors on dates, because I am just that blunt, and have heard interesting theories as to why this happens. Most often, guys tell me they “don’t want to cross boundaries” and “don’t know if you’re interested.” They may be right if I am not displaying behaviors to let them know I am interested or showing disinterest. We, as in most people, tend to copy each other’s behavior without realizing it. Next time you’re sitting across from a friend, put your hand alongside your face and see if this friend copies your behavior. It’s likely your friend will do the same.
5. Keep trying.
Online dating, like any kind of dating, isn’t easy. You may have a lot of disappointments. You may avoid all disasters or experience a multitude of them, but don’t give up! If a date gives you pointers as to what you did wrong (if they are so nice and generous – I say this with a bit of sarcasm), take it into consideration. Sometimes I ask dates what I did wrong, but most of them give the generic “it’s me, not you” bit. I thought about it, and sometimes it is the other person. People may not be attracted to you, or you may not be attracted to them when you meet. I have heard guys say things like, “She’s just going to leave me anyway.” Not everyone radiates confidence or honesty online, obviously, so maybe this person did you a favor by not wanting to see you again.
Be honest with yourself and others (not too honest – oversharing is another problem) and you will be OK. Be open-minded, but not oblivious. If you get the gut feeling someone isn’t right, go with it. If you feel good being with your date, without receiving constant insincere or superfluous compliments, enjoy it. Don’t worry about commitment or labels. That will come naturally if it’s meant to be. If you become overwhelmed, take a break. Online dating will be there waiting for you when you want to use it again. In the meantime, have fun meeting new people, gather some funny stories, and relax.
I hope these tips will guide you in your future online dating experiences. As always, please send your comments, experiences, and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or reply below.
by Ali Pica
Ali is a graduate student, educator, and writer. She enjoys creative writing, painting, cooking, and running.