Let's go back in time, sweet kittens, to when 28-year-old Zara had just moved back to the big, bad island of Manhattan and was super single and ready to mingle. And to when she learned about the epic third date shift.
I had recently moved back to glittering New York from humid, flat AF Florida, where I had been relatively dateless (and sexless) for the better part of a year. Truth be told, it was probably even longer, but I'm not trying to remember how long that depressing bout of celibacy was.
I hadn't dated in so long, I had forgotten how the whole dating charade even worked. I had gotten used to exclusively dating myself (and my rose gold vibrator).
I was quickly becoming one of those old Upper East Side prototypes who sits by herself at elderly Park Avenue lady restaurants and nurses her $14 glass of sauvignon blanc for two hours, whilst devouring a W magazine in a slutty sheer dress. That was my life for a minute, and it was fun while it lasted. But I was finally back in the glorious city that made me and girl; I was ready to get down and dirty with the fierce New York City lesbians.
I got on Tinder, because I enjoyed the low-pressure frivolity and superficiality of it. I got on OkCupid, because I'm an older millennial like that. I might have even had a brief stint on Bumble (but quickly got off because all those girls were way too sorority "Alpha Beta Whatever" for me). Maybe I even went on Hinge for a second or two, because I like the occasional Ivy League lesbian. I'm pretty sure I met the first girl on Tinder, because I'm a pretty talented Tinder slayer after a few personality drinks are consumed.
We met at a cool Downtown speakeasy-style bar that had glittery cocktail tables and beautiful model-esque waitresses and $32 appetizers about the size of three whole almonds. I wore a backless black leotard and lace stockings and a short tulle skirt, because I like my women to know that I'm a shameless freak right off the bat (I was also in a big Black Swan fashion phase). The girl in question had blue eyes and a direct gaze and a stylish haircut. She smelled expensive. I smelled expensive.
And that's about as far as I got. Because that's the thing with first dates. You can hardly focus on a first date because all you're doing is thinking about yourself. Let me break it down for you:
Date 1: It's all about ME.
As a woman with massive cleavage and big chandelier earrings brought me over my date's table, I kept thinking, "SHIT, do I hug her? Do I shake her hand? What do I DO to greet her? OMG, I HAVEN'T DONE THIS IS SO LONG."
Can you see a theme here? You can, can't you? For those of you who can't, it's all about ME.
There is no "I" in team, so it was impossible for me to gauge my chemistry levels with her because I was so self-conscious and obsessed with myself throughout all of date one. I was sick with a classic case of first-date narcissism.
Is MY outfit OK? Did I reveal too much when she asked me about MY childhood? Is she attracted to ME? I wonder how she feels about ME? Is MY lipstick OK? Did I answer that question clever or weird? How is MY hair? I wonder if she's Googled ME and read MY most recent article about being hopelessly SAD?
The entirety of the first date was one massive, rapid-fire list of questions directed toward myself. After the date I hopped into the taxi and as I gazed at the snow falling onto the sidewalks, I felt my phone vibrate.
"Zara, how was your DATE?" my darling mother purred, sounding slightly sloshed. She was at an uptown restaurant catching up with one of her "mates" from her wild London youth and I sensed that they were feeling once again young and wild by her slurred words.
How was my date? I didn't know. "Why didn't you know, Zara?" Because I was stuck in the vortex of the first date self-obsession. I hadn't even paid attention to her, I was so sorely shy and massively self-conscious.
Date 2: It's all about HER.
So I agreed to a second date. I did like staring into this girl's shiny bright blue eyes and she had style and seemed to have a little smattering of substance somewhere beneath her vegan leather bomber jacket. So the next date we went to dinner at my favorite restaurant on Park Ave South, a gorgeous place with double high ceilings called Barbounia.
For the second date, I was far less fixated on myself, because I wanted to see if I liked this girl. And I fell into the rabbit hole of fascination with this mystical creature. I did what every nice young Jewish lesbian does on a second date and I grilled her with a gazillion and then some personal questions.
"Where are YOU from? What the hell do YOU do? What's YOUR favorite thing to eat? When did YOUR parents get a divorce? How fucked up are YOU?"
And I deeply listened to her answers as if her words carried the key to the great mysteries of the world. I learned that she hailed from glam Long Island, her parents divorced when she was sixteen and her screwed-up phase was when she was 17 when she had a brief flirtation with an eating disorder (OMG, me too! But let me hear YOUR story 'cause tonight ain't about me, honey). All I did was laser focus my energy on HER.
The date ended. She paid the bill. I felt like a therapist who was being paid in shellfish.
As I walked four miles back uptown to my little six-story walk-up apartment I thought about HER. But I still couldn't grasp if I liked her or not. Because I was so curious in figuring out who she was, I hadn't let myself feel any chemistry.
Date 3: The epic third date shift
"Oh you're going on the third date?" my co-worker asked me during a lipstick bathroom break. She painted her pout with bright red lacquer and blankly gazed at her own reflection with big hazel eyes.
"That's when the great shift happens," she said, clicking on her heels like Dorothy in the "Wizard Of Oz" and strutting out of there before I could even ask what the hell she meant by "third date shift."
But I went on the third date. This time I met her right after work and was in a very tame costume -- a black cut-out onesie and violet lipstick. I wasn't as goddamn anxious as I had been before. I was ready to chat. I was ready to let myself feel. I was ready for the butterflies to penetrate my body.
We met at an underground cocktail bar, the kind of pretentious place that refers to bartenders as "mixologists" and pours egg whites into alcoholic drinks. And suddenly I knew what my co-worker meant by the "third date shift."
I wasn't teeming with social anxiety because I already had spent one date doing that and I had spent another date listening to her story. I felt my normally tense shoulders drop. I was able to be present with the blue-eyed babe, able to get lost in the heat of the moment. I realized at the end of dinner, when she went in for the kiss kill that I liked her but I didn't feel wildly compelled to graze her lips against mine.
And now I've realized in every person I've dated since, there is always a drastic shift on the third date. The third date is when you stop projecting your own shit onto the other person and get a little more, dare I say, real. It's when you decide -- if you want a fourth date, if you want to be friends, if you're frighteningly into him or her or if you just want to grab your bag, run for the Hollywood Hills and never see their twisted faces again.
So the moral of the story is this: Give it three dates. Because the first date is all about you, the second date is all about them and the third date is when you feel the great shift in energy. You will know if you want a fourth date and when you venture into the fourth date, you're blazing into new, unchartered territory.
Because when you go on the fourth date, that's when you're kinda "dating." I know it's scary stuff for me too, but four dates deep is something. You're no longer strangers. Oh and you should totally have sex on date four. But we will save that theory for another article.