Why Do You Click With Some People But Not Others On First Dates? A Psychologist Explains
I’ve been there. You’ve been there. Unfortunately, we’ve all been there — and it can be not only disappointing but downright excruciating. You’re in the middle of what has the potential to be a stellar date, but for whatever reason, the conversation is — well, less than stellar. It’s one of the great remaining dating mysteries: Why do you click with some people but not others? Is it merely an issue of incompatibility, or is it more complex than that?
According to Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, licensed clinical psychotherapist, relationship expert, and author of Training Your Love Intuition, there are several factors at play in these situations. The first, unsurprisingly, is nerves — particularly on a first date.
“First dates are often the scariest dates of all — perhaps with the exception of you and your partner meeting each other's families,” says Dr. Wish. “But the reason that first dates and family meet-ups are so scary is the same: We give them such high emotional importance. Maybe you are lonely, haven't dated in a while, or feel burned from your previous relationships. Those circumstances will make you more guarded — which then prompts your date to become silent.”
There’s a lot of emphasis on first dates to put your best foot forward, and so it’s no surprise when all that pressure causes you to clam up. But that’s not the only potential reason for this phenomenon: Dr. Wish notes that the more excited you are about your date and the higher your hopes for things working out, the more likely you are to feel anxious about it — which can negatively impact your ability to be yourself and be present in the conversation.
“If you’re looking for ‘The One,’ your anxiety goes way up on that first date,” adds Dr. Wish. “You worry that you'll talk too much, say the wrong thing, spill something, get food caught in your teeth or that your date won’t be attracted to you. The greater your emotional investment, the higher the anxiety.”
According to Dr. Wish, if you have less of an investment in the date, you may find that the conversation flows more naturally. For example, if your friend sets you up with someone who you have no preconceived notions about, you’ll likely go into the date more relaxed than if you’ve already scoped their photos on an app and exchanged flirty messages. When the stakes are higher, your nerves may get in the way of your verbal connection.
Fortunately, there are several effective strategies you can try to reduce your anxiety on a date, thus allowing you to engage in deeper conversation as your most authentic self. Rather than doing the traditional dinner or drinks date, which can feel somewhat formal and put a lot of pressure on the conversation, Dr. Wish suggests going on an unconventional “non-date.” What’s that, you ask? It’s a carefree meet-up that involves casual, perhaps even mundane tasks, like running errands together, swinging by a farmers' market, grabbing coffee or a pastry, or walking your dog.
“Make your dates resemble real life,” says Dr. Wish. “Most of life as a couple consists of spending time doing ordinary things. So, make your dates ordinary events so you can get a feel for life with him or her. The goal is to reduce your first date jitters — which most often bring out the worst in both of you. When you lower the importance of the activity, your guard goes down and you each can see a more accurate view of each other.”
Another option is to attend an event together, whether a boat show, an art exhibit, or a flea market. While walking around, you’ll have no shortage of conversation starters all around you. Plus, Dr. Wish points out that the atmosphere at these kinds of events can be a bit more relaxing than a trendy restaurant or bar.
When the conversation starts to fall flat, Dr. Wish’s top advice is to ask thought-provoking questions that inspire some fun storytelling. For example, you might ask, “What was your worst date?” “If you had a month to do whatever you wanted, what would you do?” or “If you had a career do-over, what other job would you choose?” These kinds of engaging questions are not only sure to get your date talking, but they offer them an opportunity to reveal different sides of themselves.
If you’ve gone on several dates with someone and the conversation still doesn’t feel effortless, there’s a chance that it’s a compatibility issue. Once you’ve ruled out nerves and both of you have had a chance to lower your guards a bit, you’ll have an easier time determining if your lackluster discussions are shedding light on how little you have in common.
But unless you’re pretty certain that you and your date just aren’t going to click, Dr. Wish recommends giving them the benefit of the doubt. If you weren’t connecting much over the conversation on the first date, consider attempting a re-do. Remember: You never know what your date was dealing with before you linked up — if they were feeling nervous to meet you, stressed about meeting a work deadline, or anxious about whether you’d reciprocate their feelings, all of those factors can definitely take a toll on their communication skills.
Certainly, you deserve to be with someone who stimulates you on an intellectual level, who makes you feel at ease, and expresses interest in your thoughts and ideas. But keep in mind that just because someone isn’t a grade-A conversation partner right off the bat doesn’t mean they won’t open up eventually. Besides, if you both can survive the initial awkwardness, you’ll have something to LOL about later on.