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The Secret to Dating With Less Stress

If you try it, dating can be much more fun.

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I remember sitting at a bar, on a first date, and thinking, I like this guy. It was surprising because we almost never met in person. But once we sat down and started talking about our lives, what we wanted and how we saw the world, the date continued for hours. Hours, y’all. And after the evening sky had darkened, and he wrapped his arms around me to say goodbye, I actually skipped for a few seconds on the way home. (I almost can’t believe it myself.) The date was, in a word, fantastic.

Here’s the thing, though. Even if I never saw him again, I was content. I had no expectations of what would happen next. I just appreciated that brief but strong connection … and the feeling of awakening excitement.

In talking to people around me, and reading advice columns, I’ve realized not everyone dates this way. Some of my friends have agonized about what it means if a person they like doesn’t text or call. Or they’ve wondered if they should ask him out if he hasn’t asked. These days, I usually suggest not worrying. Because, as I’ve discovered, if a person wants to see you, they will. Full stop. And if they don’t, that’s okay. They weren’t for you.

A few years ago, I used to care more if someone didn’t quickly respond to a text. Or I’d longingly wonder what had happened if a dude vanished after a first date that seemed great. You see, I’d been with the same man for a while, and when we parted ways, I had to figure out how to date. Color me green — for my innocence at the time. But I soon saw why my friends were frustrated. New dates often weren’t good matches, and game-playing wasn’t just for kids. For instance, after guys I thought had potential turned out to mainly want sexy times (surprise), and disappeared after I declined, I felt upset for a bit. But those learning experiences, and outings with other not-for-me-dates, showed me I needed to change. That I shouldn’t imagine new beginnings with people new to me. That I needed to chill out.

Now, each new date is just an experience. Maybe we’ll connect. Maybe we won’t. I do try to get to know people. But I don’t need to quiz a date about his entire life in the first hour. (Imagine if someone treated you like a quiz show contestant. Yeah, not sexy.) I date without expectations, but I’m open to the possibilities. And that, I believe, is the key.

Think about how we act when we meet a new, potential friend. We might smile and exchange numbers. Compliment her cute dress (yesss) and say we’ll get together. But we don’t stress if Stephanie doesn’t send a good night text after dinner. And we don’t flip out if we haven’t heard from Felicia for a few days. We go with the flow. See if we want to stay in touch. But keep living our own lives, too.

That’s how we can treat our dates, at least in the beginning before making things official. They’re just people to meet. Maybe they’re just dropping in for a conversation or lesson. Maybe they’re reminders of what it’s like to be kissed — and kissed well — so we don’t give up. Or maybe they’re more. The truth is, we don’t know.

So what if, early on, you date without expectations? Forget your internal clock — that alarm is way too loud sometimes — and forget what you think you should be doing at this age. Meet for coffee. Lean back. Don’t overinvest. Treat your next date with the same level of calm that you’d give a new friend.

For me, appreciating the present, and releasing the illusion of control over outcomes, has made dates more fun. I know my person is out there, and we’ll eventually connect. So I can savor a surprisingly good farewell kiss when it happens. And say yes when someone I like, like Mr. Fantastic from the start of this story, wants date number two. And then three.

I don’t get too far ahead of myself, but I do venture out. Because these moments, early on, are enough.