If you ask me as a highly nonprofessional medical authority, I had two small strokes en route to a date last week. This probably isn’t true, but that’s how I felt. As I told a friend of mine who found this fact hilarious, I didn’t get a public speaking fear, or a fear of heights, so somebody up there said: “Make her terrified to date! Really make it tough!”

In truth, it may not actually be a fear. I don’t date often, so most of my trepidation is likely a lack of exposure. But, as importantly, a great deal of the early dating experience runs counter to the honored tenets of introversion- deep conversation, time to process thoughts, and energizing scenarios. First dates, unless truly outstanding or designed accordingly, don’t have much of that. They’re hotbeds of fumbling small talk, stating of benign opinions, and generally one-on-one (not in and of itself problematic, but tougher with people we don’t really know). For those who can find energy in the process of meeting new people, this can be a hard space to operate in. But I’m starting to learn what I need to operate in this space, and offer a few tips to those that may find themselves similarly ill at ease when dating.

Friend-approved can help. If I had to pick a way to fall in love, it would be with someone who I was friends with first, and then the relationship gradually evolved into a romantic one. I’ve picked apart why this strategy is preferable, and recognized that the energy expended to get to know someone is subject to a kind of sunk-cost bias. I value the relationships that don’t force additional valuable energy, and so these types of relationships are literally easier to enter into.  Similarly, I find that I treat dates that are with “friend-approved” individuals to be far less stressful to enter into. Someone I already know and trust likes you? I can rest a little easier. With that said, these situations are only eased if the company you keep is high-quality. So, y’know, watch out for that 🙂

Seek home-court advantage. If after all the fumbling of “where do you want to go? don’t know, where do you want to go?” you get to pick the site of the first encounter, it can be a tremendous point in your favor. Being somewhere that you’re comfortable, or at least have been before and can minimize the stress points (What will I eat? Where are the bathrooms? In extreme cases, where are the quick exits?) that are already accompanying a highly stimulating time.With that said, this does not mean a place where you’re a “regular.” That can create a power differential for one person that could make the other person [more] uncomfortable. It can be a welcome bonus if you’re dating a fellow introvert and its somewhere you’ve both already been.

Create small goals for success. I come off as incredibly guarded on dates, especially early on. Fearing talking too much, I spend a lot of time listening (a natural strength), and less time reciprocating in kind when questions are turned back toward me. But I recognize that this tendency (a) isn’t unique to me, and (b) isn’t particularly helpful in an arena where the goal is to get to know someone. So I try to pick a few stories that I’m comfortable with- ones that are a little memorable, or funny, or unique, and work them in. I don’t have to dominate the conversation, and my whole life story isn’t out there, but I’ve shared what I can and done my best. Just as with networking, I don’t have to meet everyone in the room; a few people is okay. And whoever I’m seeing doesn’t have to know all of me at the initial encounters, but he does need to know enough about me to decide whether or not it’s a worthwhile enterprise to continue. Which reminds me…

Don’t stress the follow-up. This is the hardest part, without question, but stick with me! My next invention (or comedy sketch about an invention) will address the time and stress we as humans place on when you can text people back. How soon is too soon? What do I say? Will they think I like them? Off the bat, with that first one- you liking them, and them knowing it, is the point. So don’t worry about it 🙂 As for timing…I start with a gracious thanks when I get home from the outing, and then maybe something a day or two later as something in my day reminds me of them. But other than that, the rule I’m working to adopt- if you want to talk to someone, just do. No game play, no calculating, just do it. And if the response time on their end is getting you down? Might I suggest the introvert bestie function- game or airplane mode. Your phone’s on, but you can go about your day without waiting for a message to come through. It can be particularly helpful when you’re trying to focus on getting something else done 🙂

I’m far from perfect at this, and there are likely many more stroke scares in my future. But as I learn more about how I operate in this relatively new-to-me arena, and honor who I am and how I work, I have to trust that it’ll get easier.

What tips do you have for dating as an introvert?

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