I was talking with a young reporter the other day about dating. She asked how people could quell their anxiety before a first date. As a cognitive behavior therapist, I understand that anxiety is influenced by one's thinking. For example, you will probably feel incredible pressure if you think, "I have to look/sound/behave perfectly because otherwise my date, who might be destined to be the love of my life, will judge me negatively." Perfection, of course, is impossible. And striving for perfection just increases anxiety, which may lead you to behave in more imperfect ways.
For example, if you think you need to look perfect, you may focus on and be overly self-conscious about your appearance. Self-consciousness interferes with spontaneity, fun and your ability to focus on your date.
It's the same with conversation. If you try too hard to say the perfect thing, you'll probably come across as unnatural and stilted. And besides, there will always be factors that are out of your control; for example, you just don't have much influence over the degree to which you and your date both experience the natural "chemistry" that arises between two people.
So what if you had a different goal for a first date? What if your goal was just to try to connect with the other person and enjoy yourself? What if you told yourself, "It's actually okay to be me, as I am, in my natural (perhaps slightly improved) state?" I don't have to (overly) impress my date. I just need to show an interest in him/her and talk about myself and things that interest me. Just like I do when I'm out with a friend."
The reporter who was interviewing me seemed a little nonplussed. Apparently, this advice is different from what she had been reading in magazines. "But what if you don't look your best and your date therefore doesn't want to see you again?" she asked. "Maybe you don't want to date -- and potentially end up with -- someone so highly judgmental with such perfectionistic standards," I replied.
I tried to convey to this young reporter that it probably isn't a good idea to view every first date as a potential path to marriage. Nor is it a good idea to believe that there's just one soul mate in life for you. (That's just a Hollywood notion.) The person you date comes as a whole package, just as you do, with strengths and weaknesses.
If your goal is make a good (not perfect) impression, you might just establish a human connection that will make the evening enjoyable. And if it doesn't work out with this date, maybe he or she has a friend, with whom it will.