Previously I’ve written about avoiding coffee first dates — I’ve discussed taking walks or seeing a movie instead, but let’s face it: sometimes the coffee date is inevitable. Especially since, in our world today, a lot of the time we don’t really know if we’re being asked out on a date until someone says the phrase “do you want to grab coffee sometime?” We’ve been conditioned to know that, at the very least, the person asking the question is most likely slightly interested in being more than friends. Probably.
So what now?
Now that you’ve chosen the coffee shop. Maybe the Starbucks downtown, or a locally owned joint, or the coffee shop on your college campus. Now it’s planned. And it’s looming on the horizon. And oh-dear-god what in the name of all that is awkward are you going to wear??
Here are my top 10 tips for surviving the first coffee date. Go get ’em, you anxious, beautiful, people.
10 Tips for Surviving the “Let’s Grab Coffee” first date
1) Make a post-date plan that’s all your own.
Whether it’s hanging out with a friend, buying yourself a new scarf, or getting to run home, throw on sweats, and watch a marathon of Game of Thrones, make a plan. This will remind you that life will go on after the date. It will keep you moving forward. And it will remind you that you are in control of your own life (when your anxiety and emotions try to take it over instead).
2) Wear something comfortable.
I know it might be tempting to wear those new heels, or your blazer that’s a little scratchy but hey it looks sharp, but don’t. Because the more physically comfortable you are, the more this will help you be emotionally comfortable. Wear what you like, not what you think your date will like. Because, who knows, maybe that worn-out Middle Earth shirt you’ve had since High School will be exactly the kind of thing your date digs.
3) Make eye contact.
Especially at the very beginning. Even if you hate eye contact and it’s viciously uncomfortable for you, do it when you first meet the person. Do it. Just DO IT. Look up, say hello, look at least somewhere near their eyeballs, then give yourself permission to look away. Check back in, with their eyes, every once in a while. The more you do it the easier it gets. It’s important we all try and connect more with the people around us. Especially if you have anxiety, which can be isolating.
4) Don’t guzzle a beer before meeting up with them.
I did this once. Not for a date, mind you, it was just before a class I shared with my crush. I ended up crying the entire bus-ride to school since I knew I was on a slippery slope. I was coping with my anxiety with alcohol and this scared me. Do lots and lots of people cope with social anxiety with alcohol? Yes. Oh yes. I don’t think it’s always bad, it’s completely understandable, but I do think it’s important to prove to yourself that you can do it without it. Try it. You might end up feeling proud of yourself.
5) Brush your teeth.
This is more to give you confidence to smile and less to do with hygiene. If you brush your teeth you’ll know you have clean teeth and at least slightly fresh breath. This will help you smile. Which is SO important on first dates.
6) Ask questions.
If you have no idea what to talk about, just start asking questions. Ask how their bike ride to the coffee shop was, how long they’ve had their dog, if they miss college, blablabla whatever, just ASK them something and then ask them a follow-up question. It’s also a good way to gauge how well your conversation style meshes with someone else. Sometimes a person answers a question, then stops talking. This can be awkward. OR they never reciprocate. You can learn a lot from simply asking. This was what really drew me into the man I’m now currently dating. When we first met, he asked me questions. I wasn’t bombarded with them, and they weren’t invasive or weird or anything, he just was able to naturally keep the conversation moving. I realized it was easy to be around him.
7) Make a list of conversation topics.
My friends made fun of me profusely when they found out about this, but I swear by it. I write lists. I still did it months into dating my boyfriend. List lists lists of things to talk about. My brain has a habit of either freezing up or getting lazy when I’m around another person, so it helps to get some ideas going beforehand. I usually just list 3 things I could talk about, but those 3 things always helped when I needed something to say.
8) Get there a little early.
If the idea of having someone watch you walk in makes you queasy, get there early. Bring a book or something that will calm your nerves and have a little zen-time before the date. This will also give you the power to create the “cool and collected” image you might want for the first impression. You can sit there “reading” even if you’re totally having a meltdown internally. Nobody will know, which brings me to my next point:
9) Fake it til you make it.
I’m serious. This has saved me in endless situations. Ya feel like vomiting? Afraid you might have a panic attack? Sweating profusely from every orifice of your body? That’s cool..nobody has to know unless you want them to. There’s something called the Spotlight Effect: we all feel like there’s a spotlight on us at all times. Of COURSE everyone will know our ass-crack looks like a swamp right now. Of COURSE everyone will notice how much I’m blushing. But you know what? We’re all too busy worrying about ourselves to pay that close of attention to other people. Seriously. So take a deep breath, fake laugh if you need to, and keep faking your way to an awkwardly pleasant conversation. Sometimes just the act of smiling can make you suddenly feel happier.
10) Chew gum.
This seems like a totally lame tip, but if you’re a fidgeter like me, it can save you. Some people have smoking. I envy them. I always say if I wasn’t so anxious about cancer and toxins and death I would be the biggest chain-smoker in the world. So gum it is!
No matter what, remember your autonomy like a cat remembers it doesn’t give a shit if you “want it to learn a new trick.” You always have the freedom to leave a situation that makes you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or that triggers unmanageable anxiety. Never EVER (are you listening?) stay in a moment because you’re worried someone will get mad at you for leaving.
But as you move towards growth and conquering the dating world, push yourself towards bold new steps. You got this.