Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dealing with First Date Worries

Reader Snowdrop left a comment on my last post that, in my mind, brought up how there are limitations to using the NVC process on initial dates. Here is part of his comment, followed by my response.

For me, when someone is late, I spiral through all sorts of feelings and thoughts, from "I've been stood up" to "something terrible has happened to her!" It's quite hard for me to hold onto any particular emotion (such as, anger at being stood up/kept waiting) when I have so many theories. But it does add up very much to "turbulent emotions".

The "dealing with a pattern" example, I feel a little conflicted by. While being non-confrontational is important, to me it feels like your example doesn't actually set out what's needed to fix the issue.

The statement part seems to allow the response, "Well, there's no need to worry, so just relax about it." That answer doesn't have to be disrespectful or dismissive in intent or attitude, it is just that that person's character says that relaxing and going with the flow is the obvious answer to them. But to a worrier (like me!) it's no help at all. (I think a worrier and a relaxer can get on well together without having to stop being themselves, but by making room for the other - maybe the rest of the evening can be "relaxer-friendly" as long as the time for meeting is fixed, for example.)

Well, in terms of dating, I think the NVC process is a lot more applicable when there's already a relationship established. The "can we talk about it" sentiment then has behind it pattern considerations, as well as some minimum requirements (or requests) that have developed as a consequence of being in a relationship with each other.

With a first or second date, you don't know if something like being late is a pattern or not, so what do you do?

I guess after all these years of going on dates, one thing I have learned is to practice dropping whatever stories are coming up in my mind about what's happening. If she's late, I practice letting go of "being stood up" or "she's been in an accident" or "she isn't really interested," because I have no idea at that point. And the same goes for anything else that happens during those early dates.

At the same time, I take note if she's late. Or if she says something that really runs counter to my values. Or if she does something - like bitch about the waitstaff at a busy restaurant - I take notice. So that, if this kind of stuff continues, I can have more clarity and know how to respond later. Or, of course, if there is a lot of that kind of stuff, I can decide not to see her again.

In other words, I'm not in a rush to "hold someone accountable" on early dates, unless they do something that really crosses my boundaries or is highly disrespectful. Like making racist comments, to give an example.

One of the reasons I chose the "late" example is that it's an old trigger for me, having had a girlfriend in the past who was frequently late. And I have found that if a date is late, it can bring up memories from that past relationship, which have nothing to do with the date. Her being 15 minutes late could be a one time thing due to traffic, but if I'm raising an issue with her lateness right away - coming from that old relationship baggage - it's likely to come off poorly.

A lot this really keeps coming back to timing to me. Even if something causes me worry (I'm definitely not immune from worrying) on a first or second date, like tardiness, I err on the side of dealing with it internally as best as possible. Sometimes, I do choose to say something like you said above in relation to lateness, for example, but not at the beginning of a date. Especially the first date.

What do you all think?


  1. I think you're right. Best to be sure to process whatever you're reacting to and make sure you're not bringing in some baggage to a brand new deal.

    Heck, I find I do this on first dates and on one-hundredth dates.

  2. Yeah, I was making two separate points in a single comment, in the other post. First the "How I react" thing, and then separate from that, I was responding to your suggestion for a situation once a pattern had developed within a relationship.

    There's a similar thing here, with two different points: first about "dealing with reactions" and then about "dealing with issues".

    So, dealing with the reaction, I know that I am very bad at "dropping whatever stories are coming up in my mind". I just need to remind myself that there are many more probable explanations - on a first date, these could be "she doesn't know the area and needs directions" (which has been the most common reason, ime), "traffic delays", or even, "last minute nerves" (which is quite fair, after all!) My usual thing comes into play: I know I'm going to worry, so I try not to worry about worrying.

    On "dealing with issues", I think I am quite high on accountability, and on being able to be clear early on about boundaries. Obviously, not at the start or necessarily even the end of a first date, but if it feels like there will be more dates then I think it's important to be clear if there's something that you find particularly unsettling. I don't think I have a lot of baggage from past relationships, but there are issues from life experience, and try as I might I can't find a way to wish them away: even if it isn't "fair", the negative feelings invoked will still appear somewhere. I don't know any way to deal with that except out in the open, and as soon as the trust levels are there to make it possible. Otherwise it seems like it's just going to build up bad feeling (even though it's acknowledged that it's not useful or properly relevant).

  3. I totally agree, Snowdrops, about not letting things build up or doing something like stuffing just to avoid conflict. If something becomes a pattern, and I'm feeling uncomfortable or upset about that pattern, I've learned to figure out ways to address it with the other person. And to not let things go on and on in the same direction for weeks and months after having conversations about it.

    For example, I've had a few short term relationships over the past three years or so with women who were entirely too busy, and partly so to avoid dealing with issues from past relationships. In both of those cases, I saw the pattern over a period of three or four weeks - the cancelled dates, constantly shifting boundaries, emotional instability, frequent mentions of the Ex, etc. - and then addressed how I was experiencing all that. In both cases, we came to an agreement that seemed like a fair compromise, where it seemed like both our needs might be met - but then the pattern just continued as it was. With the first woman, she grew exhausted with trying to bounce between her past and being with me, and broke up with me after about two months. With the second, having gone through that first experience, I was more in-tune to those kinds of signs, and when another few weeks went by, and things had actually gotten worse in my opinion, I broke it off.

    Perhaps I'm slower to address issues than you or others might be, but I also think that even in both of the above cases, I needed three or four weeks to determine if something was a pattern or not. And then, once it became clearer, I was more able to address what I needed, and make decisions accordingly.