How To Relax & Be Yourself On A Date, So You Don’t Let Nerves Take Over

Confession time: I'm a super-nervous dater. Although I may come off as a gregarious extrovert, it's all a carefully crafted web of social skill lies. Under the witty banter, I'm secretly in a cold sweat, because I'm terrified that at any moment, there will be an awkward silence and I'll be outed as the closet introvert I truly am. So, when experts offer up advice on how to relax and be yourself on a date, I, for one, am all ears. Not only because I'd like to lower my pre-date blood pressure, but because I know that when I'm nervous and putting on this front, I'm not actually letting my date get to know the real me. Which kind of defeats the purpose of going on a date in the first place, right?

Normally when I'm nervous, I live by the mantra of "fake it until you make it." While that attitude definitely has its place, it's not actually great advice for a first date, where you want to be as authentic and real as possible. If you're ready to get real and maybe even (gasp!) enjoy a first date or two, it might be wise to learn some tricks and tools to help you shake off the nerves. To help with that, I reached out to relationship and dating experts. Here's what they had to say about relaxing and just being yourself on a first date.

1Lower the stakes.

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First dates are intimidating enough on their own without you piling on the pressure by thinking it's make-or-break, which is why Joanna Townsend, a DC-based psychotherapist and Blush life coach, says to lower the stakes for yourself. “The most effective way to relax is to first remember that this isn’t the end-all-be-all,” she says, adding, “It takes a while to build a relationship and to get to know somebody.” Instead of worrying about what happens next, just focus being in the moment. “Think of a first date just as a feel for energy and connection. And connections should be natural and organic, so if you’re pressuring yourself or trying to force something, then that energy will be received,” says Townsend. “Don’t think of it as a spark because that’s just not always realistic.”

2Create a pre-date ritual to relax.

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If you want to be calm on the first date and be yourself, then ask yourself when you feel the most relaxed. Damona Hoffman, relationship expert and host of the Dates & Mates Podcast, says to turn that into a pre-date ritual that will help get your mind right from the beginning. “Figure out what makes you feel your best. Maybe it's music, a long walk, meditation or something else," she says. “Create a block of time before every date to decompress after work with your pre-date ritual so you can enter the date with your energy high.”

3Create a mental safe word.

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If you feel your nerves getting the better of you once you're actually on the date, Hoffman says it’s a good idea to create a mental safe word or phrase to help remind you to relax. “Nervousness comes when we have racing thoughts about our expectations, how our date might be judging us, how well we think it's going and more,” Hoffman explains. “Negative thoughts tend to snowball, so create a mental catch phrase that gets you out of your psychological spin and back into the moment as soon as you realize you're moving into an anxious place.”

It doesn’t have to be complex, just anything that will help remind you to take a breath and calm down. “Many of my clients have used something as simple as the word, 'right now' or the phrase 'be here,' to pull them back into the moment on a date,” says Hoffman.

4Emphasize being a good listener.

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One of the reasons I get so nervous on first dates is that I tend to focus on being entertaining. If there is a lull in the conversation, I panic. That adds a ton of unnecessary pressure to an already daunting experience. Which is why Hoffman says to instead put that energy into being a really good listener.

“We get nervous when we are trying to impress the other person or manipulate their impression of us, however, you have to remember you have no control over their perception," she explains. "Rather than focusing on trying to sell yourself and all of your amazing qualities, do your best to listen and respond honestly to what is being said and you'll be less nervous and make a more meaningful connection.” So, not only does this technique help you tackle your nerves, but it also just makes you a better date, period. Win-win.

5Focus on your commonalities.

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Another reason I freak out on a date is that I am very... let's call it small-talk challenged. I sometimes find it hard to know what to talk about, but Townsend says it's simple: Focus on what you have in common. “Try and find something in common — interesting things that you will feel excited to share and that will reflect your passions and values,” she advises. This way the conversation will just flow naturally and it should ease any tension you’re feeling.

6Don't worry about the outcome of the date.

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This last one can be tricky, especially if you really like your date, but Townsend suggests letting go of what happens next. “The most important advice is to be non-attached to the outcome of the date,” she says. “The thoughts we have about the date, matter. So don’t think of it as being a test or have expectations for what it could turn into.” As she explains, if you begin attaching to them on the date and focusing on the desire for a partner “we are clinging to circumstances, and no longer being our authentic selves.” While it can feel counterproductive in the moment, by letting go of what the date “means” and just enjoying it for what it is, you’ll actually get more out of the date, and increase your chances of getting a second one by letting your true amazing self shine through.

Ultimately, isn’t that the whole point? It’s so easy for us to get lost in all the nervousness and anticipation. The point of a first date is just to meet someone and see what happens, not to get too far ahead of ourselves. But sometimes you just can't help it, and in that case, Townsend leaves us with one last bit of advice. “It’s OK to be nervous!" she says. "Validate your uneasy feelings to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The more you acknowledge your emotions around dating, the more present and relaxed you will be.”

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