'I keep going on bad first dates. So I asked an expert for help.'

If you're anything like me, you've probably read all the dating tips

You know politics and religion do not make for polite dinner conversation. You're aware that exes are a no-go. Don't over-drink. Don't underdress. Be smart but not cocky. Be witty but not cruel. Mysterious but certainly not evasive.

I could write a list that goes on for days.

The point is that I've been learning all the rules since... forever. I'm the oldest of one too many sisters, but the youngest girl in a looong line of female cousins who have sung the songs and danced the dances — all while I was still in pull-ups.

So I thought I was prepared when I started dating seriously a few years ago. I'd done so much research. Watched so many movies. Asked for all the advice.

But dear reader, I was not prepared. At all.

Watch: Relationship red flags. Post continues below. 

Video via Mamamia.

Sure, I've had some good dates — great dates, even. There have been more than a few that have led to second and third dates. But this story isn't about how to land a partner (which I'm also unsure about, FYI) — it's about actually enjoying our lives while we're on these dates.


About looking forward to meeting a stranger and about ensuring that we're our best selves. 

Because, if I'm being completely honest, I really suck at first dates.

Most times, I feel emotionally depleted afterwards, like my brain has been in overdrive and my nerves have been frazzled, to the point where, as soon as I walk through my front door, I need to have a shower and lie in a cold, dark room. I don't have an anxiety disorder. I don't struggle to make friends or hold conversations but somehow, I rarely ever seem to enjoy myself.

I used to think it was normal until I noticed that all of my friends seemed to love going on dates. They'd come home refreshed, maybe a little wine-drunk, but genuinely pleased. Even if they never saw their date again, it didn't matter. Finding love wasn't always the point; sometimes they just wanted to have fun.

For some reason, I couldn't channel the same energy. For me, dating has always been a pressure and something I've had to do (not all the time, but sometimes). And if I'm being honest, I really don't want this to be the case anymore.

So I spoke to Phoebe Rogers, clinical psychologist and principal psychologist of At Home Psychology, on how to be better at dating. I wanted to know how to not suck.

To have great first dates, Rogers shared her top three tips, which I put to the test myself.

1. Connect. Build. Pursue. 

If you've ever pondered on how to make sure a date is successful, Rogers explains that knowing that you and the person you're seeing connect on more than just a physical level is key.


"It starts with showing up to build connection, pursue love, or know oneself more. A fulfilling date happens when you show up with genuine interest and curiosity, asking open questions, and also a spirit of warmth and appreciation," she tells us, along with, "gratitude to the both of you for showing up and giving your time in this way.

"I think dates can also feel more valuable and fulfilling if you've had a pre-date chat or phone call, and so you have some sense that this is a person you want to get to know more because your values are aligned."

2. Know what you want. 

Considering what it is exactly that you're searching for is crucial, says Rogers, especially if you're hoping to turn a first date into more. Why? Sometimes we think we want a relationship when really we are just bored, she explains. Other times we're seeking validation.

"Start by getting clear on the type of relationship you are seeking, your relationship values and needs, and what you value in a potential partner," she says — adding that you might also try introducing some kind of self-talk to help you stay positive while navigating the tumultuous world of dating.

"It's important to develop some kind and nurturing self-talk to help you ride the bumps of dating, and help you keep your hope. And really take your time to get to know someone [and] observe their behaviour, as they will show you who they are. 

"Empathy and emotional maturity really matter if you're looking for a life partner. And it's a learning process, so be kind to yourself."


3. Normalise rejection.

One of the things that can suck most about a first date is when it doesn't turn into a second. It can be hard to put one foot in front of the other when a potential love interest has brought you back down to reality and let you know they don't see any future with you. But Rogers says this experience is simply part of the dating process.

"If you're not getting a second date with a person, sit back and have an honest self-reflection," she suggests, adding that there are some questions we should ask ourselves — and answer honestly!

  • How did I feel on the date in their presence?
  • How did I show up? Was I open or guarded?
  • Are we too different?
  • Are we matched in emotional maturity?

"Assess your relationship values, dating and potential match preferences, and what you're prioritising in a partner," she says. 

"And then sometimes, as hard as it is, we need to look inwards, and ask, am I willing to be vulnerable? Have I worked through any past hurts or relationship baggage? Am I showing up as authentic and secure in myself, as if I am relationship-ready and have something to offer a partner?

"Sometimes we can come across as too needy, or overly invested too soon, and that can overwhelm a potential match. Sometimes we're too guarded and hold back, and that can come across as disinterest. Knowing who you are and what you need is important."

The verdict.

After getting this advice from Rogers, I took some real time to reflect on all the dates I've been on over the last 12 months. The best ones have been the dates where I didn't care if there was a second meeting or not, as I felt less pressure to 'perform'.

After some of the honest self-reflection the expert advised, I realised that I'm not looking for a relationship — but it doesn't hurt putting myself out there and seeing what it could lead to.


So, I went to dinner with a guy.

This first date wasn't earth-shattering. I didn't lower my expectations, but by taking on Rogers' advice, I did take a few moments afterwards to consider what I thought of the person I saw. 

He was kind and thoughtful. Perceptive and honest. We didn't exactly gel romantically though, plus he plans to move to another state soon and despite his interest in wanting to see where it led, I knew I didn't want to continue any further.

During my date, I tried to be more honest with myself. I drank a few glasses of wine (we were at a bar that serves food as well), sat back and let him talk. I didn't worry about how I was being perceived and I did make a conscious effort to be polite and inquisitive.

When I got home, I mulled it over for a few hours before sending a text message that told him I genuinely wanted to be friends because I thought he was wonderful, but I did not see a connection there. His reaction made me believe we were both exactly what each other needed that night: 

"I think we had a lovely date and I agree on being just friends. It was nice to meet someone and just put myself out there."

Couldn't agree more, bud.

For more from Shannen Findlay, follow her on Instagram @shannenfindlay.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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