My Ideal First Date was the one I sent my characters on in the young adult novel I’m writing: a beautiful dinner at a fancy Manhattan restaurant, a carriage ride through Central Park, a midnight first kiss on top of the Empire State Building — all secluded and quiet and private.
And by “first date,” I didn’t mean, “first date with this particular boy.” I meant “first date with any boy.”
Because up until a couple of weeks ago, I was a 23-year-old who had never been on a date.
I met him on Tinder. It was kind of adorable. He wrote me in October, during one of my app-deleting phases (I often get rid of Tinder, so I can pretend I’ll have a cuter meet-cute than one facilitated by the quintessential hook-up organizer), asking for my number.
I responded in March, with a simple text: “[Phone number]. Too late?” I then patted myself on the back for being so clever and adorable.
It wasn’t too late, and he asked if I wanted to meet up for a drink. For a drink? Really? That’s not the Ideal First Date that I had planned in my head. Ideal First Date involved romance, starlight, a story worthy of a Sarah Dessen or Jojo Moyes novel! Ideal First Date ended, a few months or years later, with a ring on my finger, a shapely white dress, my dad tearing up as he “gave me away.”
Ideal First Date was not a drink at a bar.
And yet, as much of a romantic as I am, I’m also infuriatingly pragmatic and practical. I’m a pessimistic, realistic idealist. It’s weird, I know.
So when I got the message — the one asking me out — of course, I wanted to scream, no, you fool, that is not how Ideal First Date goes! But the other part of me said — just get it over with. Go on the damn date, maybe have a first kiss, get it over with so you’ll be less nervous when Ideal First Boyfriend comes along and asks you out.
With my coworkers’ urging, I accepted the offer. We decided to meet up at a bar — incidentally, the same one from whence I had sent my phone number a month earlier — after I got off work.
My two coworkers egged me on during the whole shift. Planning my makeup, hair, outfit. Strategizing how they were going to tag along and observe (because, yeah, I’m that person who needs her friends to pop in on the date). Yelling at me to move faster after we closed and my heart was skittering, and I was trying to delay the inevitable.
I wasn’t super nervous, though; that was unexpected. In all my fantasizing about Ideal First Date, I was a mess of nerves. But for this date? I didn’t know him; I didn’t need to impress him. I just needed to meet him.
And that’s probably the best thing that could have happened because it made me so calm. The entire time we were at the bar, I had a weird out-of-body sort of experience. I was composed, put-together, and most importantly, funny.
I know I was funny because of how much he laughed. Laughter, to me, is catnip. The more you give it, the funnier, the crazier, the more delightful I become. Things were going well, I knew, not only because he offered to pay for my drink, but also because he didn’t signal, “date’s over, let’s bounce,” as we left the bar.
Instead, we walked to a park, sat on a bench, and talked some more. And I know he thought things were going well because he then turned to me and said, “Do you wanna make out now?”
*Insert pots clanging and chalkboard-nail-screeching and car crash sounds to signal the immediate end of my attraction to him*
Alright, here’s where I give you my takeaway from the first date: as much as possible, don’t have expectations. I don’t know if my lack of expectations came from not knowing my date or having this intense desire to impress or from some other strange place. But, the truth is, I had a much better time because I set aside my Ideal First Date thoughts and just let it be what it was.
I let myself have fun in a distinctly quotidian setting. Getting a drink at a bar is the adult equivalent of dinner and a movie, you know? It’s just kind of traditional, kind of staid, kind of…boring? Great for getting to know someone; not so great for telling a story later on.
But it releases the pressure. Expectations are low in this setting, for both participants.
If we’d gone on Ideal First Date, I would have felt like I owed him my attraction, my love, my desire for romance.
I would have felt like I had to go on a second, third, fourth date, have a relationship, be boyfriend-and-girlfriend.
Ideal First Date is a lovely idea. But the truth is, first dates aren’t “the first step in the rest of your lives together,” as many dating books (especially the Christian ones I grew up reading) would have you believe. They’re what they are: a first date. A get-to-know-you. If you don’t know the person at all, they’re a way to explore whether you even enjoy each other’s company. If you do know the person, they’re a way to test out whether you have connection and chemistry.
And if you don’t? No hard feelings, there’s just no second date.
But Ideal First Date is definitely not the first step to marriage. That’s an unrealistic amount of pressure to put on a person.
My first date wasn’t the “ideal” one. I had fun; I laughed and enjoyed making someone else laugh, as well. I would have kissed him if he’d asked in literally any other way, a way that made it seem like he wanted to kiss me, not just have a sexual encounter.
If I’d gone into the date expecting Ideal First Date, I would have been horrified by his question. Probably offended. Secretly sobbing.
Instead, I’ve been laughing about it for days. Because come on — that’s the least romantic way to start kissing someone. Are you kidding? Come on.
But I don’t care. Because I didn’t have my hopes up, my expectations high. He was just a dude from Tinder, and as much as I enjoyed his company and would have liked to continue getting to know him, he didn’t break my heart.
And the best part? Now I don’t have to keep worrying about Ideal First Date.
It’s over; it happened, I can date other guys and the pressure of having that perfect, storybook first date…it’s over.
Now I’m free. Thanks, Tinder. Who knew you’d be good for something other than a hook-up?