Nothing gets the heart pumping quite like the nervous anticipation that goes along with going out on a first date with a guy. Whether it’s a blind date or someone you’re already acquainted with, the first meeting with a dating prospect brings with it a host of emotions, more commonly a mixture of excitement and nervousness. As the pivotal moment approaches, thoughts can become centered on such questions as: “Will he like me?” “Will I like him?” “Is he going to be The One?” “What if I mess things up and make a fool of myself?” “What will I talk about? What if I run out of things to say?”
Everyone’s experience is different, but the one common denominator that most daters would testify to is that it can be difficult to navigate through the waters of man-to-man dating. Although it’s changing, we gay men have few role models to emulate when it comes to love and romance. There’s no template to follow and we were never taught how to flirt with and date other men. There are no rules, no structure, and no guidance. How do two men join together in the “courtship dance?” While a lack of rules for gay dating can be a positive thing, lending to more creativity, spontaneity, and individuality, it can also create anxiety and a sense of “cluelessness” in how to meet and date successfully–kind of like a car without a driver.
This article will offer some tips on how to approach your first date with that lucky guy you’ve chosen to get to know in sequence of that date’s occurrence. While these are by no means “rules”, these ideas can offer a means to ground yourself and make the most out of the experience without sabotaging it before it gets off the ground. Pick and choose the ones that seem right for you and create your own principles as a means of being a healthy dater who lives with integrity and follows his own values.
Before the Date
·When setting a time and place for your date, be sure to make it a short meeting (1-2 hours) for the first time and select a place that is either activity-oriented or allows for lots of opportunity to talk. Avoid movies and instead opt for a short get-together at a coffee shop or at the zoo. Making it brief takes a lot of the pressure off, especially if you find the two of you aren’t compatible, and allows for healthy pacing of your dating relationship. You can always extend the date if you’re getting along famously.
·Take the emphasis off of it being a date and instead view it as a chance to meet a potential new friend. This can help “take the edge off” and allow you to relax without focusing on the outcome of the date. Avoid placing too many hopes and expectations on the encounter; let it evolve naturally and if a spark ignites during your time together, then that’s an added bonus!
·If you’re particularly nervous, take some time to do some relaxation exercises (deep breathing, visualization, etc.) to help soothe yourself and get centered. If you’re worried about what to talk about, generate a list of possible ideas beforehand and role-play with a friend to build confidence. But don’t rely too much on this or you’ll appear stiff and rehearsed. Be cool and be yourself. This isn’t about performance.
·Dress comfortably and in clothing that makes you feel good about yourself. Make sure you and your date are on the same page about the style of dress for your date. In my own dating days, I showed up for a second date in a nice oxford shirt and jeans to then find my other half dressed to the nines in a French suit not realizing his intentions for the evening. It made for a very embarrassing moment and he cancelled the reservations he’d made for us for dinner at a ritzy, fine-dining establishment. He then changed into more casual clothes and took me to a family restaurant instead. Ouch! His image of me instantly changed and he stopped seeing me after that. He did us both a favor by ending things, but at the time it was quite humiliating. So be clear to avoid any miscommunication.
During the Date
·Be punctual and relax. No matter how attracted you may be to the man sitting across from you, it is your responsibility to be yourself–avoid trying to put up a façade and be someone you’re not to try to impress your date. You are great just as you are. Let him get to know the real you; otherwise, you’re engaging in a form of deception that will only come back to bite you later. Be authentic and eventually you’ll be rewarded with a truly compatible partner.
·Be attentive to your date. Show respect by maintaining good eye contact and don’t let those eyes stray if there are other attractive men in the room. Have an open posture and let your nonverbal communication and body language convey interest in learning about your date. Stay out of your own head and shut off those distracting thoughts; really listen to what he’s saying. Balance active listening with sharing things about yourself. Ask open-ended questions to gain more elaboration on points made in your discussion to stretch out conversations and learn more about your date. This is especially effective if you’re feeling shy or are short on things to say because it gets the other person talking more, allowing for more tidbits that you can start other dialogues about. Be positive and let your sense of humor shine through.
·Avoid controversial topics of discussion as these may be offensive to your date. You can ease into these the more you get to know him. Avoid alcohol, as this may alter your behavior, and stay away from sexual content and innuendo. Unless sex is the motivation for your date, introducing sexual talk into your first date can set the tone in an inappropriate direction. Discussions about sex and sexual preferences can come later after you’ve been able to establish more of a genuine, mature connection. Questions like “Are you a top or a bottom?” may appear crass at a first meeting and may cause an unfavorable impression of you to form in your date’s mind and image of you.
After the Date
·Whether your date was a smash hit or a disaster, exercise good manners and thank your new acquaintance for the date. If you’d like to see him again, state this and call him in a day or so to ask him out again. Don’t get caught up in the whole dating game of “How many days should I hold off to call him to avoid looking desperate?” or “I’m going to let him be the one to call me.” If you like him, take charge of your life and make that call. If you didn’t feel a “love connection” with the guy, thank him for the date and kindly and tactfully tell him that it’s not a match. While this may be extremely difficult, it’s always best to be honest and direct in a gentle, polite way. If you’d like to try to develop a friendship instead, suggest that. But be honest and direct and don’t tell him you’ll call him again if you really have no intention of doing so. That’s cruel.
·Do some de-briefing after your date and reflect on your conduct, as well as your date’s, and perhaps journal about the experience. How did you feel? How did you manage yourself during the date? What would you have changed? What went well? What did you learn about yourself as a result of this date? How would you rate the date and the guy you met? From what you can tell so far, is there compatibility with your personal requirements and vision for a life partner? Is he matching up thus far with your needs, wants, goals, and values?
Dating can be a nerve-wracking, daunting task, particularly with the absence of dating education available to us as gay men. What traditions and roles that our heterosexual counterparts have for dating are applicable for us, if any? What are we supposed to do?
The key is to have fun with dating and take a light approach. Dating is both an art and a science in my belief, combining common sense decision-making with self-awareness of what one wants and needs for a happy and fulfilling lifestyle. When your dating behavior is in alignment with your values and vision for a relationship, you’ll be living with integrity and will be able to approach all your dates with a more relaxed tone and confident demeanor. It will make the process much more easy-going and rewarding. Cheers to your dating success!