In praise of bad first dates

First dates are always laced with a nice balance of promise and nerves. Primarily, though, it seems that dates are just to numb the sting of loneliness. It’s easy to bite the inside of your cheek when the date is plummeting fast. You roll your eyes, thinking, I knew it, this always happens. Conversations dwindle and the person suddenly becomes less attractive than you remember. It’s easy to sigh, stretch and put yourself on cruise control. It’s easy to be charming when your heart isn’t on the line. You’re allowed to stare out the window and think about where everyone else in the world is at that very moment. Then the pinot you had with dinner blurs everything just enough to close your eyes and pretend you’re with someone else.

After years and years of dating, it seems to become the normal reaction. There’s a glimmer of hope each time, but no one is ever surprised when it doesn’t work out, because most things in life never work out. Yet we still keep saying yes to going out for drinks, creating online profiles, or checking out the cute coworker that makes your palms sweaty. People still manage to retain that glimmer of hope inside of them that allows them to take another roulette spin in the world of dating, hoping for someone that will stick around. Everyone hopes for a great date, but expects a bad one. Does this contradictory mindset limit us from finding what we need?

But every so often, a date comes around that you look forward to. Time and place are set, and contemplation of outfit choices takes more time than you’d like to admit. Red, black or blue; form-fitting, but not too form-fitting. Look like you’re not trying, but trying just hard enough to be called “lovely.” Nerves make the most confident person quiver as the clock counts down to the evening.

In time, the faces fade and all the dates seem to scramble into one blob, reminding us how difficult it is to find someone who just “gets” you; whose pupils dilate when you speak passionately about your favorite song on the radio; who tries to crack the castle walls that you’ve spent so much time constructing around yourself through the years of frustrations and missteps. Each brick of heartbreak and disappointment becomes a little bit thinner as they step in, as you start to notice the creases in the corners of their eyes when they smile, or the way they try to hold your hand.

There is no full “living in the moment” after a good first date, albeit all attempts to push the thoughts of the future away. A team has just been made, whether one likes it or not. There are no filler conversations, no nonchalant kisses. Everything becomes a stepping stone, either forward or backwards to something that transcends the physical world. It makes all those bad dates worth this moment.

The final moments after a first date, saying, “I had a really great time” in unison. Alluding that you will see each other again. Breathing in the cold air, and shuddering a bit with excitement as you breathe it back out. Breathing in the possibilities. Breathing out reluctance.

The time in between first and second dates usually feels like constant motion sickness. The second date weighs on your shoulders even more than the first, snowballing the panic and hope. Will the conversation still flow? Will it be less awkward? Where are we going to eat? Should I pack mints? Condoms? Chapstick? You shudder awaiting text messages. How soon is too soon to text back? The rules are so gray now, you’ve been closed off for so long, how does real dating work past the one-night stands and the first few hours of meeting someone?

Those are the first dates we must be wary of. Good first dates open you up, leading to the hope of another date. Then another, then another, before your realize you’re inseparable. You’ve turned into Paul and Linda McCartney. The stressors kick in, the what-ifs. They are now the tingling in your toes and fingers. The flightiness for choosing an outfit increases and your insides feel like a pile of discarded cable wires. Now your presence needs to read as “keep me around, because I like you.” You navigate it all together at first, finding the pauses, relishing them instead of recoiling. The moments for the gut-wrenching laughs never seem forced. You don’t take them to the back seat of your car to release your sexual tension. The cracks in the walls begin; this is something special.

Then the chaos sets in after the oxytocin dies down. The most levelheaded people find themselves on the brink of insanity. Perusing Facebook photos for hours, replaying their smile in their heads, wondering what they are doing every moment. Wondering if at any moment, they would break your heart. The first date has opened the floodgates of a relationship, navigating someone new, and the roads are always bumpier than expected. Exes, bad habits, weird comments float to the surface slowly. The panic in your gut throbs, telling you to get out. You barely recognize yourself. You’re now an entity of someone else. Now this person will create a stamp on your life, changing the way you’ll approach your future relationships. For better or for worse.

So keep the bad dates for the funny stories to tell friends, to reflect on the lessons learned, to practice table etiquette and conversational skills. Keep the good first dates tucked away somewhere safe. Keep them in their perfect form as they once were, before time and break-ups tainted them. Remember the tingling. And hope someone comes along eventually that makes you feel like every moment is like a great first date. Till then, enjoy those easy, silly, bad first dates.

Amanda Deltuvia is a writer from New Jersey. When she’s not busy globetrotting, she spends her time talking to her dogs, doing artsy things and pretending to be a superhero. Contact her @Amanda_Deltuvia or [email protected].

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