The Key to ‘Successful’ First Dates

The Key to 'Successful' First Dates

Dating is a process of being open and closed; open to letting a stranger become significant, closed to the immediate discomfort of the moment. The discomfort of being judged by our appearance or job title, the pressure of keeping up a conversation.

I’ve lived in New York, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Tel Aviv, Kyiv, St. Petersburg and Singapore. And I’ve been single in every city. That’s a lot of first dates. There was a post-lecture mezcal at a conference in Mexico. A night safari in Singapore. A Thai dinner with a British teacher in Russia. These dates have been passionate, insightful, sexy, funny – and sometimes empty. Sometimes, we have nothing to say.

A regular yoga practitioner, I’ve been taught that to get through uncomfortable poses is to stay present in the discomfort. On many evenings on a date with someone new, I found the opportunity to put this into practice. If a date wasn’t going well, rather than jump ahead mentally (What work can I still get done tonight? How will I spin this date to friends tomorrow?), I could work on staying present.

We’re often so focused on appearing confident and impressive that we cease to pay attention to those we’re interacting with.

For example: What can I learn from this person in the remaining thirty minutes before finishing my drink? What can I learn about myself? If not a relationship, or even a one-night stand, what might this interaction offer?

Maybe they’re saying something I disagree with. Maybe it’s out of my comfort zone. Maybe they’re explaining the mortgage crisis or stock advice or a perfect recipe for mushroom risotto. Let the only goal be to stay present. (Unless someone gives you a horrible gut feeling. Perhaps I’ve been fortunate, but of all my dates, only one was creepy enough to warrant getting up and leaving before we ordered.)

Allow someone to truly have your full attention. Let go of the non-stop rush of, How am I coming across? Take in the person in front of you instead. We’re often so focused on appearing confident and impressive that we cease to pay attention to those we’re interacting with.

“Rock-solid judgment and gold-plated impulse control are the first and second things we should look for in someone,” advice columnist Dan Savage has said on his fantastic podcast, Savage Lovecast, and I take this to mean I should expect my date not to use dinner as an impromptu therapy session.

But we can also expect the experience of being present to mean that we’re being more truthful, and seeing more clearly. To become more present with another person is to become present with yourself. Allow yourself to:

  • ?? Truthfully experience a person–even if it means you simply don’t click with someone who’s perfect on paper and have to tell them at the end of a date, despite how frightening that level of honesty can be, that this isn’t for you.
  • ??? Slow down the tendency to leap ahead to What will I say next? Instead, tune into: What is this person saying?
  • ??? Acknowledge and honor an aspect of yourself that can’t be summed up in career sound-bites, or in five OKCupid photos.

Going on a date, like so many life experiences, can be such a worthwhile growth experience – even if that after-work drink doesn’t lead to a serious romance. Remaining present in the face of discomfort, and of someone new, is worth it for the insights you gain.


Image by stockarch –

Naomi Telushkin

Naomi Telushkin is a Fulbright Research Fellow, working in Singapore on a screenwriting project. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University.

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