Trusting My Gut: What I’ve Learned About Mindful Dating From Bad Dates

Last winter, I went on the worst first date of my life—and I swore it would be my last bad date. I connected with a guy on a dating app and we seemed to really hit it off—we spent hours and hours chatting, both on the phone and via text. We made plans to meet at a restaurant—and the vibe was totally different in-person.

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Before we could even order food, we both could feel how awkward things were. The conversation that seemed to flow virtually hit a dead stop in-person—we’d already talked about so much, it felt like there was nothing left to cover. Not to mention, the music was loud and it was hard to even hear each other when we did speak. I tried to lighten the mood by making fun of the situation—and he just wasn’t having it. Within 15 minutes, I made an excuse, so did he—and we both left. It was painful and incredibly awkward.

The most challenging part about dating is often the expectations—both the ones I have ahead of meeting someone, and the expectations of the people around me. Since I’ve been single for a good chunk of my adult life, I’ve (unfortunately) been on my fair share of awful dates. From the time we accidentally chose an extremely sad movie to watch to the time I accidentally ordered a way too spicy dish and had to leave because my mouth was on fire, I’ve learned my lessons the hard way.

Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned from bad dates:

Make my own choices

This may sound silly—but I can’t begin to explain how many times I’ve been peer pressured into dates, through friends or a setup from family. Even if I meet the guy on my own, once I tell anyone about the potential new love interest, the pressure immediately follows: When are you going to meet him? How’s it going with that guy? 

So now, when I hear my friends and family start to weigh in, I remind myself that I am ultimately the one who decides what I do. After all, I’m the one who has to go on the date—so it’s been a much more positive experience to take peer pressure out of it. If I want to go, I go. If I don’t, I don’t. It’s that simple—and I feel way more excited when I do decide to go on a date!

Pay attention to my feelings

I’ve saved myself from so much heartache and time wasted by paying attention to how I’m feeling about a potential date. If I sense something is off or I just feel really uncomfortable, I don’t dismiss those feelings. I’ve found there’s a big difference between the typical first date jitters and following my gut when I just know something isn’t right—and my instincts are trying to tell me that. If I honor my feelings and decline the date, it usually proves within time to be the best choice, especially when I either meet another guy who is a better fit, or I see something on social media from the date I turned down that makes me happy I said no in the first place. 

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For instance, after the bad date at the loud restaurant, I learned not to spend so much time texting with a potential date before we meet, because there’s a big difference between screen chemistry and witty texting versus real, in-person attraction.

Be mindful with my time

This rule of thumb has been super important! By being intentional about who I spend my time with (and not just saying yes because I feel pressured), I’ve had better experiences on dates because I actually want to be there, purely based on my own choice. I’ve connected with some great guys, made friends, and entered short-term and long-term relationships this way, and it’s made the process so much more fun. For example, the last guy I dated ended up becoming a great friend. Even though we didn’t have romantic chemistry, we did get along, and I’m so glad I took the time to get to know him.

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