Whether you know it or not, first dates are filled with unspoken tests. You're trying to figure certain things out — like, do we laugh at the same things? Can we keep a conversation going? And last but certainly not least, am I attracted to this person? Many people would agree that there needs to be some degree of physical chemistry for a relationship to be mutually fulfilling in the long run — but it’s hard to know when that spark is supposed to set in. So, if you didn’t feel a physical attraction on a first date, should you go on a second, or walk away?
Physical attraction is a complicated matter, to say the least. Sometimes, it strikes like a lightning bolt — like when you spot a particularly swoon-worthy individual across the subway car. Other times, it’s more of a slow burn. Speaking from personal experience, I wasn’t instantly attracted to my last boyfriend, who I dated for two years. His personality was what initially drew me to him: He was laid-back, incredibly patient, and funny in an endearing, self-deprecating way. Over time, as I grew to appreciate all of his qualities and his character, the physical attraction grew — it was as if I was seeing him through new eyes. Maria Avgitidis, CEO of matchmaking service Agape Match, had a similar experience. She admits that she didn’t actually feel physically attracted to her husband the moment she met him, but that all changed once they had some time to form a deeper connection (and he did a heavy wardrobe update).
“Sometimes it does take getting to know someone better to develop a physical attraction to them,” says Maria Sullivan, dating expert and vice president of Dating.com.
Here’s the thing about first dates: They can be intimidating AF. In fact, Avgitidis and Sullivan both compare them to job interviews, which can feel formal, stiff, and loaded with pressure. The anxiety that often comes with trying to make a solid first impression can make it very difficult for both people to relax and be themselves, which in turn can hinder any potential connection you might feel. If your date seems a little closed off, distracted, or awkward, that may make them less attractive in your eyes. But the reality is, first date jitters may be preventing them from being their authentic selves. That’s just one reason why experts recommend giving your date a second chance if you didn’t feel an instant physical connection — provided, of course, that you had a good time.
There’s another factor to consider, too. According to Avgitidis, some people become mentally fixated on a hyper-specific image of what's physically attractive, which can cause them to write dates off too hastily. "Sometimes we're attracted to things we've been socially engineered to like — which may not be attainable or even what we're really looking for,” she explains.
In other words, convincing yourself that you have a particular physical “type,” can be limiting in your search for love. While feeling physically attracted to your partner is important, it’s not always easy to tell on a first date if there’s potential for that because you’re subconsciously measuring them against certain standards. For example, if your date looks nothing like the last three people you dated, you might be convinced they’re not right for you. That’s why Avgitidis asserts that it’s worth attempting to let your brain “catch up” and feel that physical attraction by going on another date.
So, if you enjoyed your time with your date but weren’t feeling that physical spark, Avgitidis advises going on three dates to feel the situation out.
“If you still don't feel any chemistry, that's OK,” she says. “At least you'll know you tried.”
Of course, if you didn’t feel a connection intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise, then you may decide to cut your losses and move on. However, if you genuinely enjoyed your date’s company, you definitely don’t want to be left wondering “what if?” when you write them off just because you didn’t feel like tearing their clothes off by the end of the night. Besides, just how important is physical attraction, anyway? Certainly, it comes into play in regards to sex, which may or may not play an important role in your relationship. On the whole, however, Avgitidis says people often overestimate just how much weight it bears on a couple’s bond.
"When you're in the thick of things in a relationship — say, in labor — you're not thinking about whether someone's tall enough or has a thick head of hair,” she adds. “You're thinking about whether they're reliable and have integrity. Do you really want to dismiss someone great just because they don't fulfill a standard that's been set?”
On a first date, people have a tendency to feel more guarded, and the inherent lack of comfortability can crush any potential for a spark. Fortunately, Avgitidis has a handy tip for exploring and testing your physical connection: Rather than sitting across from your date, try sitting next to them instead. “This can spark a greater sense of chemistry,” she tells Elite Daily.
Not only that, but sitting perpendicular to each other offers up more opportunities to break the touch barrier, such as touching your date’s arm or leg when they say something hilarious.
Only you know whether or not someone is worth seeing a second time, so as with all dating dilemmas, trust your gut. Rather than focusing on what you were lacking (the physical attraction), consider thinking about any positive things you did experience or witness on that first date in order to determine how you should proceed. And if you’re still struggling to decide whether or not to plan that second date, you can always fall back on Avgitidis’ motto: “When in doubt, go back out.”
Maria Avgitidis, matchmaker
Maria Sullivan, dating expert