A couple of friends recommended watching First Dates, a television series that films real first dates in a London restaurant. I’ve since watched the entire first season and it’s totally addictive.
As I binge on this hilarious reality TV show, I laugh a lot. But I also shed a few tears.
I can see the beauty in every single singleton. The daters differ in appearance, creed, age, personality and life experiences. But they’re so similar too.
They’re all self-conscious. They all have fears and insecurities. They’ve all lived through hardship, be it heartbreak, illness, loss or rejection.
And they’re all holding on to hope. Hope that they’ll finally find connection, affection, partnership and love. They all want to share their lives with that special someone.
One man, who’s been single since his diagnosis with HIV five years ago, admits: “I just want to be loved.”
This heartwarming show highlights how quick we are to judge our potential partners. I don’t like his receding hairline. I prefer women with smaller bums.
Interestingly, we’re also quick to judge ourselves. I’ll lie about my job because I don’t want to put him off. She’ll never agree to a date because of my height. I’m punching above my weight with her. I’m not as skinny as the other girls.
I believe that when we stop judging ourselves, we cease judging everybody else. When we love and accept ourselves, we become free to love and accept others.
I also believe that we get what we give. So when we give love, we receive it.
I have a friend who loves her dogs more than anything. Recently, I spent an evening at her home. One of her dogs burrowed his way into my arms. Later, he lay on my friend’s lap, his body splayed open, as my friend hugged and kissed him.
It struck me that this dog is full of love. He’s open and trusting and loving. And it’s such a good feeling to have him in your arms.
And my dog-loving friend is perfectly at ease with herself. She’s open and happy and loving. And when I’m around her, I am too.
It’s so easy to give love to a person who’s open to receiving it. And when someone gives love with unconditional abundance, being a recipient of that love feels effortless and unselfconscious.
It’s when the fear takes hold and the thinking starts and the barriers come up, that we block the love. We’re afraid to give love in case it’s thrown back in our faces.
But my advice now is to give love. Give love to yourself. To your friends and family. To your pets and your plants. To everyone you encounter.
Be yourself. Be open. Be present.
Laugh. Flirt. Have fun.
Give love. Accept love. Be love. And I guarantee that you’ll experience love.
So I’ve rejoined Tinder. Again.
P.S. When searching for an image for this article, I browsed the internet. Suddenly, I realised that I’d forgotten to type “Love” in the search bar. “Have I put love in?” I asked aloud.
Her arms are crossed tight over her chest. Her eyes flash. He takes a step back. His eyes dart from side to side. Her lip is curled back so her teeth are bared. I take a step back too even though I know she can’t see me.
The wind takes up her hair before whipping it back into her face. She brushes it away with her knuckles. He tries to speak but his mouth remains a perfect O as she raises her hand and smacks him across the face. He watches the ground. He doesn’t turn the other cheek. A single tear spills. I want to hold him, to tell him I love him, that everything will be okay, that it couldn’t be helped, that we never intended to hurt her. But I shouldn’t be here so I watch on in silence.
Her hands fly up to her mouth and she begins to shake and sob. He moves towards her. She utters one word, which freezes him in place. Finally, she allows him to speak. He talks and talks, streams of words I wish I could hear. She sinks down on the step and lowers her face to her hands. He looks around before gently sitting beside her. She doesn’t look up. Is she crying? I can’t tell.
He edges slightly closer. Soon, his thigh is pressing against hers and he puts his arm around her. Her head falls onto his chest. Her whole body shakes. Her face is wet and red and all scrunched up. I feel upset for her, at what we’ve done, at the line we’ve dared to cross. But it will all work out for the best. You can’t help who you fall in love with.
My eyes are drawn to his fingers as he moves them towards her face. He tilts up her chin with his big hand. He says something. She won’t look at him. He says something else. There is an urgency in the set of his face, in his eyes, his eyebrows, his mouth. She looks up slowly, then his face is on hers. Their mouths clash and push open. Their hands are in each other’s hair, on each other’s faces, in each other’s clothes.
It ends as suddenly as it’s begun. She pushes him, gets up and runs. This time, it is he who puts his face in his hands. I don’t move towards him. I cannot embrace him now. I walk away.
Sometime later – it could be an hour or a quarter of a day – he lets himself into my apartment. I hear him trudging up the hallway. My breath locks. He enters the living room, eyes downcast. “How did it go,” I can’t help asking. “It was hard but it’ll be okay. She’ll get over it.”
I stare into his face. I look at his lips – the ones that have kissed hers and mine and hers again. His left cheek is redder than his right. I stare and stare. I have nothing more to say to him.
Last night, I hardly slept. At 3 am, I resigned myself to my sleepless fate, put on the kettle, and read the guts of Lullabies for Little Criminals. As I turned page after page, I thought defiantly: Who said I had to sleep at this hour anyway? I don’t have to be tired in the morning. I could stay in bed until midday.
By nine am, I was awoken by the sound of the car park coming to life. I shoved earplugs into my ears and waited to be sucked into a silent slumber. It didn’t happen. The challenging inner voice piped up: Who said I needed eight hours sleep in order to function? And I can go for a nap later, if needed.
I logged onto the laptop to peruse the papers online and I came across this article in The Guardian. Interestingly, it was all about sleep and how most of us don’t really understand it. The author questioned if we really need a solid eight-hour block of slumber. He suggested we sleep in stints, like we apparently used to do in the good ol’ days. I closed the laptop in satisfaction. Just because I’d only had a couple hours’ sleep, didn’t mean I should choose to be exhausted for the day.
All this made me wonder what other things I was feeling just because some unquestioned “fact” told me I should. When I felt ugly or beautiful, was it really me or the media and fashion industry’s guidelines I’d gullibly swallowed? When I felt worthwhile or useless, whose opinion was taking precedence over my own?
Who had decided the “right” way for us to look, to work, to live our lives, and to conduct our relationships? And what constituted “success” in this society? A house, a family, and a pensionable career? What about the other, intangible, aspects of life? Fun? Connection? Peace of mind?
I walked by the river and smiled at strangers, then sauntered into a café and ordered an espresso, even though all the “healthy” people tell me that coffee is hard on the stomach, introduces too much heat into the body, and that the caffeine high swiftly switches to a sorry slump. “You’d do better with a herbal tea,” they’d advise, smiling their white smiles.
I took a few gulps as I jotted down my thoughts. My stomach’s fine. I’m not too hot. And I’m simply not tired. Okay, I had to admit that it was a little hard on the stomach. I suppose there’s a difference between doing things because I want to and doing things to prove the point that I refuse to be told what to do. That, in its own pathetic way, was another manner of being controlled – by my ego. If I’d listened to my body, I would have ordered a tea. A black one, mind you, with caffeine and tannins. There I go again…
I realise that it takes a while to banish old belief systems and strip away the ego before you can even catch a glimpse of the perfection of your unshakeable core. Paradoxically, the key is not to even try. Just be the witness. And enjoy the show.
A few days ago, I came across a new blog. It looked professional and well laid out. But I didn’t persist past the first page as it was just too perfect. The writer advised his readers to keep fit, eat superfoods, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, oxygen (okay, I’m exaggerating but it was pretty over-the-top).
As children, the adults we trust to be infallible give us a message that is extremely difficult to shake in later life – that we need to be perfect. Our parents try to make sure that we always look and do our best. Our teachers return our copy books, covered in the red pen that highlights all our mistakes. Could do better. Everything we do is graded and marked out of ten.
They honestly think they’re doing us a favour. But it leads us to believe that anything that falls short of perfect is simply not good enough. No wonder we shy away from fulfilling our true potential when we’ve set such impossible standards.
All my life, I’ve strived for perfection. Even writing this, I’m wondering if the past participle of “strive” is “striven” and if I could possibly publish the post without checking. But to prove my point, I’m going to.
I’ve always put myself under an inordinate amount of pressure. Eventually, and understandably, I cracked beneath the weight of it all. From someone who’s been there, I am telling you that it simply isn’t worth it. I’d rather have energy and enjoyment, than pushing and perfection. I won’t lie – it’s still a battle, as the childhood message is so deeply ingrained, but I am gradually letting go.
We all try to do (and be) our best. We boast about our goals and achievements to anyone who’ll listen. Because we’re all looking for some reason to feel superior (or at least equal) to everybody else. We present the most attractive version of ourselves to the outside world, then live in fear at the possibility of someone peeking beneath our carefully constructed masks. The reason we keep up this universal facade is because everyone’s doing it. And even though we know we’re bullshitting, we fail to realise that everybody else is too.
It’s normal to feel lousy on occasion; to prefer to stay indoors in the winter instead of jogging in the rain; to switch off after a hard day by switching on crap TV; to enjoy a pint or an espresso or a banana split.
Nobody looks for a best friend or partner who refuses to eat carbs or set foot inside a pub, who wakes before dawn to hit the gym, and can list all the reasons why one shouldn’t drink coffee or stay in bed past 7 am. Such a “perfect” human being might look good and appear healthy. But they’re hard to relate to and they make us feel bad about ourselves.
If I don’t want a perfect partner or flawless friend, and I can’t even stand to read a meticulous blog, then why the hell do I want to be perfect?
So, why don’t we stick it to society and rejoice in our imperfections? Let’s admit to our flaws and laugh about our mistakes.
Now, how about a little experiment? Do something today that proves that you’re not perfect. How does it feel? Liberating? Thought so.
First dates are nerve-racking exercises. You’re meeting up with someone you hardly know (or may not have even met yet) with the purpose of deciding whether the two of you may be suited as a couple. Talk about pressure! Questions and concerns swirl around your frazzled head: What if I don’t fancy this person? What if I make a fool of myself? They might not like my style. They could be an axe murderer.
I’ve often wished that I’d never agreed to go on a date in the first place. I’d prefer to curl up with a book in the safety of my own home and live vicariously through fictional heroines playing out their lustful encounters. But you’ve already promised to meet this possible stalker/love of your life. Here are some tips for surviving that anxiety-inducing first date.
1) Do it
This tip may be stating the obvious but some people get cold feet and cancel, or even worse, stand up their dates at the last minute. It’s not the title of a best-selling book for nothing so “feel the fear and do it anyway”. What we stress about is rarely as bad as we’d forecast. You may even enjoy yourself, meet someone new and interesting, and possibly fall in love. You’ll wonder why you worried your little head in the first place.
2) Have a metaphorical ejector seat ready
If you’re really unsure of your date’s character or whether or not you’ll die of boredom/fear, have a back-up plan arranged before you go for that drink. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and always rendezvous in a public place. We’ve all watched enough CSI, Cold Case, and Criminal Minds to entertain the possibility of rape and/or murder. If the date is going pear-shaped, send a sneaky text to a sibling or best friend, and when they call you, gasp in appropriate amounts of horror and concern. Then, give your unsuspecting date your “sincere” apologies for having to rush to the hospital/vet/police station.
I went on a date with a German guy a few years back. We strolled through the Englischer Garten on a balmy Friday evening. How romantic, I thought. This shows that he’s different. And different he was. He spent the whole time pontificating about God, sociology and literature, and how he doesn’t drink alcohol or believe in true love. The guy didn’t even like sunshine for crying out loud, instead preferring to spend his summers sweating over encyclopedias in Munich’s library. It was time for the ejector seat text. Five minutes later, I hopped on the U-Bahn, smiling with relief as I sped off to an imaginary flooding in my student digs.
3) Ask questions
Most people love talking about themselves. So, feed into this by asking lots of questions. It’ll also give you a chance to take a few deep breaths and settle your nerves as you allow them to waffle on. And how else are you going to find out if you share the same passion for The Cure and scuba diving? Show an interest in the person and in their job and hobbies. But if your eyes are glazing over and you’re swimming in and out of consciousness as they drone on and on about bondholders or fly fishing, change the subject. There’s no point in feigning interest in a subject that makes you want to rip your eyelashes out. Maybe you’re just not suited as a couple but your date won’t realise this if you make like a nodding dog throughout the whole conversation.
Don’t make the mistake of acting like the next Vincent Browne. Too many questions may make your date feel like they’re being interrogated. Recently, I had a date with a shy younger man. I felt the need to fill the awkward silences by asking question after question after question. I knew I was doing it but I just couldn’t help myself. I never saw the terrified crater again.
4) Be open
Tell your date you’re nervous. It’s more than likely that he/she is too and this will help break the ice, and show the person that you’re only human. If you want to go home after just one drink, tell your date this. There’s no point in dragging out the night for the sake of being polite. You’ll only spend more money, drink more than you’d planned, and lead on the person you’re squirming beside.
5) Don’t get drunk
This is very tempting and easy to do on a first date. You’re shaking with the nerves and there’s nothing you’d like to do more than down five pints of cider. But with this mass consumption of alchohol come the not so helpful beer goggles. This strategy will leave you in the exact same predicament as you were in before the date. Do you actually like/fancy the person or did the booze make you do it? If you want to get to know a person without the booze-fogged spectacles, or you can’t trust yourself not to do shots with this almost stranger, how about going for coffee instead?
6) You can’t hurry love
Don’t expect to feel that lightning bolt of lust and romance straight away. It takes time to get to know a person. Enjoy the process. Also, don’t jump into bed with each other. There’s something magical about that in-between stage so why not bask in it? Employ the delayed gratification approach. Court each other and go on dates. Some schools of thought insist that men are like hunters who love the chase. And if a woman gives it up too easily, they’ll lose interest. This may be the case for some men but if they’re any way more advanced than their primal ancestors, this shouldn’t be a problem. I know of couples who are still together and madly in love years after their “one-night stand”. However, it’s nice to have something to look forward to. And it’s not a bad idea to decide if you can stand the person before you have a one-night stand.
7) Don’t oversell a version of yourself that doesn’t actually exist
Yes, put on your war paint/lucky knickers/favourite shirt/Lynx aftershave. You’re dressing to impress after all. But don’t play games or present an image of the person you think your date wants to be with. This will only lead to disappointment, resentment, and a hell of a lot of work to keep up the façade. If the thought of wearing stilettos and a tight dress brings you out in a rash, don’t force yourself into them on a first date. You’ll only be uncomfortable for the night and you’ll be pretending to be someone you’re not.
8. Break the ice
Do something different. A fun activity will zap the nerves. Even if you don’t fancy each other, at least you’ll enjoy yourselves. Go ice skating, laugh it up at a comedy club, try go-karting, go to a gig. I’d vote against going to the cinema on a first date. You won’t get to chat and you probably won’t be able to concentrate on the film anyway because you’ll be too busy debating whether or not to throw the arm around.
9) White lies and honesty
White lies were invented to get us out of cringeworthy situations without hurting the other’s feelings. There’s nothing wrong with making up an excuse to make life easier for both parties. Once, I went on a date with a guy I’d gotten to know over the internet. The moment I walked into the bar, I knew he wasn’t for me. We had absolutely nothing in common, and the thought of kissing him made me throw up a little in my mouth (true story). So when, after two glasses of Guinness, he asked if I wanted another drink “for the road”, I told him I was a light weight and simply couldn’t handle another. When he tried to take my hand as we walked out of the pub, I busied myself with putting on gloves, a hat, a scarf, and buttoning up my coat. He offered to drive me home. I told him I was meeting a friend. When he still wasn’t getting the hint after all those subtle attempts to let him down easy, I told him I wasn’t over my ex and therefore, was not ready for a new relationship. Then, I ran. This didn’t stop him from begging for reasons by text and by email. “Do I look different from my pictures?”, “What did I do wrong?”, “Did I waste your time?” Actually, maybe lying wasn’t such a good idea after all. If all the lying isn’t getting you anywhere (like in the case above), tell the truth. Honesty rarely lets you down. So, I told him we just had nothing in common. And I haven’t heard from him since. Check out this short film about being completely honest on a first date.
10) Keep your options open
Don’t settle for the first half-decent person who shows an interest in you. Just because you’ve gone on one date, doesn’t mean you’ve lost your single status. Think of yourself as a soon-to-be bride sampling lots of wedding cakes before deciding on “the one” for her wedding day. How can you find out which is most suitable/tastiest if you don’t try out a number of them? This can be a fun process. So, get out there and enjoy whittling down your options.
Finally, enjoy the date. You’re lucky enough to be in demand. Think of all the bored folk sat at home with only their remote controls for company. The nerves will soon dissipate. Just get out there and have fun.
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