When you finally meet someone you connect with, that first date feels like magic. The conversation flows smoothly, the chemistry is electric, and you wish that the night would never end. Which is why you’re so surprised when on the second date, you feel like you’re out with a totally different person. Between all the awkward pauses, you’re wondering what you saw in this guy. Or maybe he’s just as magical as last time, but it’s you that’s off this time. Even though you can usually hold up your end of a sparkling conversation with a brick wall, your mind is suddenly blank and you have nothing to say. Reaching for something, anything, you offer, “The fish tank behind the bar is so … watery!” wishing you could jump into it and swim far, far away.
You’ve just hit the second date slump. First dates may be nerve-racking, but they’re a piece of cake compared to what comes after. On a date number one, it’s all about first impressions and putting your best foot forward. Since you don’t know this person and aren’t emotionally invested yet, there’s very little at stake. It’s easy to be light and breezy when you’re talking about standard getting-to-know-you topics. Any commonalities feel like they signify relationship potential and are a cause for celebration. First dates are also about romance—a nice dinner at the perfect restaurant, a moonlit stroll around the block, that first kiss—and everything feels exciting and new.
On the second date, reality starts to creep in. As you take a step closer towards getting to know someone (and letting them get to know you), the stakes are raised. While you might be a pro at first impressions, you could find yourself shutting down and checking out on the second date as the possibility of intimacy becomes more real. Just like the helicopter-flown dates to private concerts on tropical islands on “The Bachelor” are not realistic or sustainable, the magic and romance of a first date can’t last forever either. If you compare your second date to the first, you’ll often be disappointed. Wondering why it isn’t measuring up, why there are boring stretches and awkward pauses and all the excitement is gone, you could feel like this guy is all wrong for you and be ready to send him home without a rose.
But if you can hang in there and survive the second date slump, you are that much closer to true intimacy and a fulfilling relationship that outshines even the alluring luster of a magical first date. Here are some tips to get you over the hump:
1. Plan a low-pressure date. Your first date was at the best table at the best restaurant in town, followed by drinks in a cozy corner of a romantic wine bar, topped off with a kiss so passionate it set off fireworks. Don’t even try to beat that! To take the pressure off, do something so different and low-key that you won’t be tempted to compare it to your all-the-planets-aligned first date. If you got decked out for date number one, try going on a casual dressed-down date to a pizza place known for its brick-oven pies, or that dive bar that has the best wings, cheap pitchers of beer, and a killer jukebox. Anyplace you might go for a fun night out with your friends where you feel comfortable and relaxed is good, and will remind you that the real magic comes from getting to know someone, and not a tasting menu or sommelier.
2. Check your expectations at the door. After a great first date, it’s hard not to hop on the express train to Fantasy Land. Whether you realize it or not, immediately having high expectations will put undue pressure on the second date, the guy, and yourself to live up to them. Bring awareness to any unconscious expectations floating around in your mind and ferret them out. Are you already feeling like he’s your boyfriend? Husband? Soul mate? Do you think of him as your summer traveling companion? Date to your best friend’s wedding? Facebook relationship status update? See what’s going on in the wild world of your mind, and if you’ve jumped ahead a step, or two, or five hundred, gently remind yourself to drop your expectations and take things one step at a time.
3. Get present. Regardless of whether you’re thinking back to your first date, figuring out what you’re going to say next, or deciding who you want to do your hair and makeup for your wedding, not being present is one of the biggest traps for getting stuck in a slump. Hanging out anywhere in your head—past or future—will only prevent you from getting to know the person sitting across from you right now. It helps to take a moment before you walk in to meet your date to ground yourself. Look around, notice the details of your surroundings, and focus on your inhales and exhales to bring yourself back to the present. When you feel centered and ready to go inside, keep it simple; instead of getting lost in your mind and trying to make your date into the person you want him to be, just be curious about who he is really is and listen to what he’s actually saying.
4. Be yourself. In your efforts to make a strong first impression, you might have found yourself launching into a performance on your first date and expending a lot of energy trying to be “on.” On your second date, you can drop this exhausting act and practice being authentic. If this guy was totally captivated by the dazzling version of yourself, it’s scary to let it go and see if he likes the regular you. But you ultimately want to date someone who likes all sides of you. There’s only one way to know if you can truly be yourself with him and be appreciated for who you really are—and now’s as good a time as any to find out.
5. Tolerate discomfort and imperfection. It’s a myth that everything has to flow smoothly on date, and if it doesn’t, then this isn’t the right person for you and it’s not worth going out with him again. Awkward pauses and uncomfortable silences aren’t necessarily signs that this isn’t working out—they’re signs that you’re getting to know someone in real life, where things can be awkward and uncomfortable, unlike in fantasy where everyone always says and does exactly the right thing. There are certain red flags that absolutely should not be tolerated—like unavailability, active addictions, or abusive behavior—but if this guy tells a few boring stories or lame jokes, cut him some slack. The most important qualities to look for in a potential dating partner aside from compatibility are kindness, availability, and someone who takes initiative to spend time with you and treats you well, so give that nice guy with a corny sense of humor another chance—and a third date.
6. Don’t beat yourself up. OK, so you snorted water through your nose when you laughed, told him all about your dysfunctional family, and made about a million other mistakes on the date, and now you’re freaking out that he’ll never call you again. It’s so tempting to rehash everything you did wrong and think that if you were just a little more, well, perfect, you’d already have a third date scheduled, and a boyfriend for that matter. But no, instead you’re a flawed human being, destined to be alone forever with your 15 cats, snorting water up your nose for all eternity. Just like you want to cut your date some slack for being imperfect, extend the same compassion to yourself. It’s torturous—and a waste of time and energy—to ruminate about everything you could have done better. A friend recently shared this piece of wisdom with me: If it’s meant to be, there’s nothing you can do to mess it up. And if it’s not meant to be, there’s nothing you can do to make it work. What it relief—it’s not dependent on you being 100 percent perfect and doing the absolute right thing all the time! If this is a guy you have a future with, he’s not going to judge you as harshly as you’re judging yourself because he likes you and wants to get to know you better. And if it’s meant to work out between the two of you, it’s going to work out, water-snorting, dysfunctional family, and all!
7. Go back to your life. After the second date is over, whether it was full of fireworks or a complete disaster, let it go and put the focus back on your life. Don’t sit around obsessing about the date, waiting for the guy to call, or keeping next Saturday night open just in case. Do the things you love doing and fill up your schedule with your own fun plans. If he winds up being a part of them, great, but if not, you’ve still got a lot going on. The goal of surviving the second date slump isn’t to secure a third date no matter what; it’s to get you past sabotaging patterns that could be standing in the way of a healthy relationship—like unrealistic expectations and intolerance of imperfection—and keep you firmly rooted in your own full life where a third, fourth, or fifth date is just the icing on the cake.