Bad First Dates Gone Good

We’ve all gone on dates that left us with a bad first impression of someone. Here are the reasons why you may want to give your date a second chance.

By Haley Shapley

hen Cherie went to a coffee shop to meet up with a man for what would be their first date, she expected him to be on time (or at least close to it). An hour later, he finally appeared. Normally she would’ve bailed before that point, but something told her to stay — and since that bad date is now her husband, it’s a good thing she did.

First impressions matter, no doubt — why else would we spend so much energy on acing that initial
I would’ve missed out on something great if I didn’t try again.
encounter? — but a first date doesn’t have to be perfect to work. Sure, you want to give yourself the highest odds of success on connecting with someone, but since life isn’t the movies, it’s unlikely that everything will unfold perfectly.

Nervous Nellies
The biggest first-date factor that contributes to people acting differently than they might in other situations is nerves. That’s what happened to Raeann, 24, who lives in Berkeley, CA, when she finally met in person someone she had been exchanging messages with online. “It was extremely awkward and boring,” Raeann says. “There was forced conversation the whole time, and I was miserable. The fact that we’d already been emailing for a couple of weeks caused a lot of pressure, and that made it worse.” After he texted her that night and said he’d had fun, she knew she’d never see him again, since clearly their idea of “fun” was wildly different.

But then they resumed the emailing, and a couple of weeks later, they hung out again. Raeann was feeling the just-friends vibe, but as time passed, a romantic connection evolved and they began dating. “I would’ve missed out on something great if I didn’t try again,” she admits.

“It can take a lot of time for people to form connections, especially if you’re talking about people who meet online,” says Dr. Rachel Dinero, assistant professor of psychology at Cazenovia College. “When they meet each other in person and it’s not there, it’s largely because they’re both nervous; neither of them are really feeling like they’re able to be themselves.”

Communicating clearly
Back in his 20s, Bert, now 46, of Houston, liked to go on double dates when meeting someone for the first time. “It was easier on everybody, and the girls typically felt better when there was another girl,” he says. But in one particular instance, it didn’t go so well. “She spoke two words the whole time,” he remembers. “It was just like pulling teeth to get any kind of interaction. I just thought, “Man, we aren’t hitting it off; we’re completely not compatible.”

His date, Joelle, also remembers it as a bad experience. “It was awful,” she says. “They all spoke Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish. It was just uncomfortable; I just had nothing to say.”

Although both never planned to date each other again, they reconnected at a party and started talking on the phone, which later led to dating, and then to marriage. “First impressions aren’t always the best impressions,” Bert says. “My dating advice is you’re certainly not going to lose anything by going out on one more date — it may be the difference between finding your soul mate or a good friend.”

“I always say to give people three dates, unless there are some real red flags,” says Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman, a clinical
It was pretty intense, and clearly not appropriate first-date material.
psychologist and author of Dating from the Inside Out. Changing settings can be a big help, too. If Bert and Joelle had tried a one-on-one date for their second outing, she likely would have felt more comfortable talking and they may have had an easier time connecting.

Laugh it off
Inviting his date to an art gallery exhibit seemed like a good plan to Gary, 50, of New York City, until they got there and found that the collection involved peering one person at a time into a dozen small dioramas, bedroom scenes decorated to represent a different emotion of love, from lust to jealousy to infatuation. “It was pretty intense, and clearly not appropriate first-date material,” Gary says. “She was stunned, and actually thought I was testing her somehow. It certainly didn’t help us get to know each other.”

Now married for 21 years (he called and begged for a second date; she acquiesced), they look back and laugh, but at the time, it was embarrassing. When something happens to make you red in the face, don’t let it be the elephant in the room — address it and move on. “If there’s an embarrassing moment or you feel you’ve botched the first date, use humor. This can lighten the atmosphere,” says Jonathan Alpert, a licensed psychotherapist in New York.

Cutting your losses
Sometimes, even despite the best efforts on everyone’s part, a date really is bad enough to make it both the first and the last. “Avoid a second date when you feel the other person is from a totally different planet than you,” Alpert says. “If there are fundamental differences in your beliefs, goals, values, and how you view the world, it simply isn’t worth pursuing.”

And, of course, if you feel in any danger, your core beliefs are disrespected, or there are other red flags, don’t feel like you have to give someone a second chance. Only you can tell when it might be worth another go and when it’s a better idea to move on.

Try, try again
Cherie’s experience of nearly getting stood up for coffee didn’t end there. Once her date arrived, they had a decent conversation. “There weren’t immediate sparks; I think real love does take some time to build,” says Cherie, 42, of Milwaukee, WI, who has a book out on relationships called Internet Dating Is Not Like Ordering a Pizza. She gave him a hug as they were leaving; he didn’t reciprocate. He later admitted he was so surprised that he couldn’t move. “He was really worried I’d yell at him and storm off because he’d made such a bad first impression,” Cherie says.

There are two big reasons why people don’t go on a second date, says Dr. Dinero — one is that they weren’t attracted to their date, the other is that they didn’t feel a “spark.” If it’s the former and you don’t see your attraction potentially growing, Dr. Dinero says that’s understandable. Dr. Sherman agrees: “If there’s zero physical attraction, then why bother?” But if you just don’t feel fireworks going off, like Cherie and her now husband, it’s worth it to give it another shot. That’s something that often takes time to develop and may come with getting to know the other person better.

“As far as being representative of how the relationship is going to be, [first dates are] not very important,” Dr. Dinero says. “I don’t think anyone would want to be judged on one hour of their life.”

Haley Shapley is a freelance writer based in Dallas.
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