Five Questions To Ask Yourself After A Bad First Date
A Dating Coach’s Bad Date
Two weeks ago I had a “bad” first date. Here’s what I journaled right after it ended:
Friends, I’m gonna level with you. This last date I went on had me feeling pretty bummed.
I go out with someone, and after spending 2.5 hours together, I see something on her phone and I realize she has been lying to me. My stomach drops. I feel really uncomfortable, and kind of unsafe. If she was lying about that, what else was she lying about? So I say something, and it’s awkward. It’s upsetting. I explain to her that I have very little expectations on dates, just that someone treats me with transparency, generosity, and kindness. To which she replies, “Well, you should’ve put that on your profile.” (Funnily enough, this is exactly what I tell clients to do. *face palm*)
She confesses that that she wondered what it would be like to sabotage a date with a dating coach. (Shocking, right?!?) So I explain to her the magic I see in dating. Why it is that I love dating so much.
Dating is an opportunity to spend a night with someone you don’t know. It’s a chance for us to have a break from moving through the world and having strangers just be strangers. I love dating because I want to bring back important, momentary connections. It’s like adult play time, and how we treat each other during that play is serious business. It’s really fun to do the dance of connection with someone new. It’s fun to negotiate who’s picking the place. It’s fun to figure out who is paying. It’s fun to recognize the little ways in which we can take care of each other even without knowing each other at all.
Ultimately, I love dating because I don’t take for granted how impactful a brief moment can be on my life.
She clarifies, “Oh. You really just wanted to have a fun night out with a stranger?” Ummmmm, yes???? I’m in New Orleans for one night! What else would I be doing here??? (I didn’t say it like that to be clear.)
I tell her I’m hurt, “I was trying to treat sensitive information you were sharing with me tonight really delicately, in a way that made me really feel vulnerable and like we were connecting. So it makes me feel really uncomfortable to find out that you weren’t being totally honest, and I’m having trouble understanding what was true and what wasn’t.” And when she realizes how she affected me, she apologizes profusely. Like, a lot. And it reminds me that adults aren’t used to hearing people express their feelings and their hurts with clarity. I realize she wants me to absolve her of her guilt. But I’m not interested in saying, “it’s okay” when it isn’t. I take a page from Brene Brown and gently, kindly, say, “thank you” instead.
And when I see this person drop her act after being found out, it’s clear to me that this fucked up joke she was pulling was born from her own depression. From her own desperation to have a momentary high, unfortunately, at my expense.
Yet, I really am disappointed. I am frustrated that I showed up with such care and vulnerability and it wasn’t returned. It feels scary and upsetting to be lied to. So I really understand when it’s moments like these make you not want to go on a date again, or not trust strangers.
But falling into that trap will only hurt us in the long run. It gives those people the power, instead of continuing to set an example for what we know dating can be: a place where we can learn from each other and learn about ourselves and have a good time along the way.
So what to do? I take a deep breath and allow myself to be as disappointed as I am. I won’t judge this one person as the whole. I won’t give them that power. I’ll continue to love my favorite hobby. I’ll continue to spread good connections.
As we awkwardly walk back to her car, we pass live music on the street. She asks if I want to stay. I do, but I tell her I need to go home and write a paper (which is also true). We arrive at her car, say a cold, “goodnight,” and I leave. And as I metabolize these thoughts, as I deal with a disappointment, I walk back to the live music we passed and enjoy it with company that is fully deserving of my time and attention: me.
Do “Bad” First Dates Exist?
Have you ever heard the saying, “There are no small parts, only small actors”? I’m of a similar mindset, “There are no bad first dates, only bad expectations.” Granted, I don’t believe this 100%. There are most certainly bad first dates (also there are definitely small parts, but you didn’t hear that from me!) But my theory is that there are not as many bad dates as we think. The work is really in examining what we’re defining as “bad.”
Most often when clients come to me saying they had a bad first date, they mean that there wasn’t a connection between them and the person they went out with. But friends, you’ve worked on yourself. You know the gifts you bring to the table. You are in touch with what you’re looking for. Chances are, it’s going to take someone pretty freakin’ amazing in order for you to feel connected with them!
So, no, I don’t equate *no spark dates* with bad first dates. I view them as learning. I view them as an experience. As a night on the town with a new human. I view them as an opportunity to make one less stranger in the world, or an opportunity to refine the pre-date vetting process.
I reserve the label of “bad” for a very specific category of first dates: where you feel violated, hurt, or like you’re not safe. The reason for this is that if we start to label every mediocre or “eh” date as bad, the list of bad dates becomes longer and longer, reinforcing a belief that dating sucks, which then has the danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Because when a date really is Bad with a capital “b”, we really need to take care of ourselves. We need to practice self compassion. We might need to seek out support to help us process the experience.
Now, two weeks later, even though I was really upset after the date and I did feel unsafe, I have trouble labeling this experience as a “bad date”. This is not to minimize dates and experiences that are bad, it’s just to say that after metabolizing the date the way I do, it’s hard to cling to its “badness”. Because although it was hurtful, I learned a lot.
Metabolizing Meh to Bad Dates: Five Questions
Here’s my advice to you on metabolizing disappointing dates.
1. “How am I feeling?
Recognize what you’re feeling. Practice self compassion and validate those feelings.
My go to for feeling validation is to notice what’s coming up in my body, and not judge it. Instead I usually say to myself, “It makes sense you are feeling that way.” (I also say that even if I don’t totally understand why I’m having the reaction I’m having.)
A friend also recently got me hooked on the phrase, “I’m noticing ____” as it relates to feelings. Ex- “I’m noticing sadness.” This allows us to take on the role of kind observer. It allows us to be super self-compassionate.
My answers: I felt disappointed and hurt!
2. “How can I take care of myself after this experience? What support do I need?”
If something traumatic happens, please seek out the support of a licensed mental health professional. This list of journaling probably won’t cover what you need.
Support can also be furiously journaling, calling friends, chosen family, or anyone else you feel connected to. It can be doing something you love that makes you feel connected to yourself. It can also be seeking out reddit threads of similar experiences, or deciding to distract yourself with funny tik toks.
My answers: I went back to listen to the music! I also had phone calls with close friends the next day and continue to tell the story. It feels good to have other folks validate that I felt hurt.
3. “What have I learned here?”
Sometimes when we think of lessons, our brain wants to have a little temper tantrum and jump to a “lesson” like, “DON’T TRUST PEOPLE!!” or “NEVER DATE AGAIN!”
If you find yourself stuck with a “lessons” like those, you can take a break and metabolize it later, or you can work with the tantrum. You can have a dialogue with yourself. And ask questions like, “How might I be able to tell who is and isn’t worthy of my trust in the future?”
Ultimately, these lessons should be phrased in positive actions, not with “don’t.” Make these compassionate, genuine lessons.
My answers: I learned on this date that even though I love dating, and I believe I have the capacity to make any date fun, not everyone deserves to be on a fun date with me in the first place, so I’ll be transparent about my values on my dating profile so people can treat me the way I want to be treated.
4. “What can I be grateful for?” (Sometimes this question needs to be asked after time passes.)
Is there anything you can recognize as positive from the evening? Anything you’re glad you learned about yourself?
This helps us keep that “bad date” category appropriately sized, instead of it getting bigger and bigger in our heads.
My answers: I had someone to walk around New Orleans with at night, which felt safer than walking alone as a solo traveler, someone paid for my dinner, I have a very interesting (largely redacted for this blog post) story about the night, and I’m grateful for the lessons and how I’ll adjust dating going forward.
5. “What was that date really?”
Instead of labeling all dates that are disappointing as “bad”, I encourage you to get specific. Was it lame? Was it boring? Or was it actually bad?
When we can define experiences with more specificity, we can troubleshoot how to make things different in the future.
My answers: This date was surprising, hurtful, shocking, at times funny, wild, upsetting.
Know that you won’t feel connected to everyone you spend time with, and that doesn’t mean you’re not lovable, it means that you that you have values. That you’re in touch with what you need.
Metabolizing dates in this way allows these experiences to move through our body instead of getting stuck somewhere. I encourage you to take what is helpful from these experiences, and, with time, let the rest go. Because when we understand that, even among bad dates, dating is not bad, we invite in more good experiences, connections, and, yes, good, good dates.