I still remember the day with clarity — the day I decided to put myself out there and explore the world of dating for the first time.
I had just moved to New York City, and after easing into my first adult job, I felt ready to step outside of my comfort zone. So, with a hopeful glimmer in my eyes, I downloaded the apps with the anticipation of meeting someone special, maybe even “the one.”
The Pinterest boards from my tween years danced around in my head like Sugar Plum Fairies. What color would the bridesmaid dresses be? Where would we travel on our honeymoon? What flavor of cake would we eat at the wedding? (Priorities, of course…)
As a hopeless romantic, I envisioned myself being swept off my feet and whisked away via horse-drawn carriage into the setting sun. All my hopes and dreams were one swipe away.
But that’s not always how life works, is it?
Looking back, I appreciate my younger self’s unbridled optimism. She didn’t know any better than the romantic comedies and love stories fed to her since youth, the ones that heightened her expectations and gave her a rose-colored notion of what dating would be like. I can’t fault her well-intentioned, idealistic dreams.
Yet I can say now, after having gone through the motions of dating, I’ve learned to take a step back and to focus on the process, rather than the outcome. After all, dating isn’t just about starry-eyed visions of hearts and flowers; it’s about finding someone compatible, someone who you genuinely enjoy spending time with.
So, for anyone who’s braving the scene for the first time or simply for those dating in general, here is what I wish I would have told myself and what advice I would impart to anyone else.
1. A first date is just an opportunity to get to know someone, not a binding commitment
I’ll admit before my first date, I couldn’t control my building jitters. In my mind, I embellished the situation, perceiving the date as an obligation. Because I had agreed to it, I thought this meant that we were inevitably going to continue dating, start a relationship, and end up together. It was both exciting and overwhelming.
Of course, I did want the date to go well. After all, this person had the potential to become an important part of my life. The problem was, we hadn’t even met face-to-face yet. I was getting ahead of myself, assuming that just because I was about to share an evening with someone, I should begin envisioning our entire future together.
Instead, I’ve learned that a first date is simply an opportunity to get to know someone new. Dating gives you the ability to explore what qualities you’re looking for in a significant other. It allows you to open up to different experiences and enjoy the company of another human being.
And who knows, if all goes well, maybe there will be more dates to come. But it’s best not to worry about thinking too far into the future just yet. The most important part is to be present and actively enjoy the experience.
2. It’s not an interview, so don’t try to say the right things
When I first began dating, I couldn’t help but place my focus internally. Will he like me? Will I capture his interest? Will I say all the right things? I thought the fate of the date was dependent upon how I was viewed. But dating isn’t about passing a test or acing an interview. It’s about being yourself and saying how you genuinely feel.
If you don’t share a hobby or don’t agree on a certain viewpoint, you don’t have to say you do just to impress someone. And if you have a goofy or quirky habit, don’t hide it out of fear of embarrassment. If this person likes you, they should like you for who you are, not because you’re trying to be someone else.
Plus, remember that the decision isn’t simply one-sided. It’s not about how the other person feels about you; it’s about how you mutually feel about each other. Could you genuinely see yourself with this person? You’re both trying to determine if it’s the right fit.
3. Your worth is not defined by how the course of a date goes
The difficult part of dating is that you can’t always predict the outcome. In my case, I had some dates go well. I also had some awesome dates where I never received a call or text the next day. And while some might be able to shrug that off easily, I couldn’t help but take those personally. I would replay the dates in my head on a repeated loop, trying to understand what could have gone wrong.
What’s important to remember is that you can’t change another person’s mind or their feelings. In fact, many elements are out of your control. All you can do is put your best foot forward and know that you were authentically yourself. Sometimes people are on separate pages. They might be unsure of what they want or are still getting over others. They might be at different stages in their lives. And there’s no shame in that.
It took me a while to learn that an unsuccessful date did not mean that I was a failure, nor was it a reflection of my worth. If anything, a person saves you time and energy by setting you free so you can instead find the person who is right for you. Dating takes guts, and you should be proud of putting yourself out there, regardless of how the date goes.
4. There should be an equal level of investment
I wish someone would have told me what a good dynamic between two people looked like, before I started dating. There were guys I used to bend over backwards to impress, and I naively thought that I could make someone like me if I worked hard enough. The issue is, I accepted some apathetic behavior at first because I didn’t know what it meant to be liked back equally.
When two people truly like each other, the relationship should feel natural and easy. If someone likes you, they will make an effort. They will be in regular contact. And they will make the time to see you, because they’re genuinely excited about spending their time with you. If you feel like the relationship is only one-sided, or you’re doing all the work, then it’s probably a sign. You deserve more than an occasional check-in— you deserve someone who’s capable of giving you real consistency and communication.
If I could go back, I would tell myself these lessons. While I can’t exactly time travel, I hope that these can inspire others going through the process. After all, dating is an exhilarating and exciting experience. At the end of the day, it’s about having fun and learning more about yourself, as well as what you’re looking for in another person. So, in case you need a pep-talk before getting out there, this is it. You got this.