Oh, you lovely independent woman, you. Since you are one, I imagine that you already know one of your worst nightmares in dating is being vulnerable. You probably do a lot of calculating about when the right time to be vulnerable is. And you probably avoid it like hell in the early dates.
Here’s the thing. You go on dates to find connection. And the things you do, especially in the early stages, to avoid being vulnerable end up creating disconnection. So even if there’s an amazing guy in front of your face, if you’re avoiding saying the thing that feels vulnerable, the connection between the two of you will be off.
A few days ago I taught a dating workshop. During the workshop, a pretty specific question came up about who pays on a first date. I will go on record saying I do not give a shit who pays. It doesn’t matter. What matters is in the dance leading up to the moment of paying the check, the stories that pop up in our minds and how they inform our decisions and what we share with our date (or not).
How this looks in real life
Let’s look at one scenario and a few possible outcomes to see how avoiding the real thing creates problems. And then we’ll look at how you being vulnerable could actually help the situation.
Via text or phone, a man suggests that he would like to take you to a fancy restaurant on your first date. You’d love to go to this restaurant, but you aren’t sure if he’s paying and you know you can’t afford it. You’ve also had the experience of men thinking that when they pay, you owe them something in return (usually in the physical realm.)
How it plays out:
1. You suggest a different, less expensive restaurant. He agrees, but feels a little defeated. His confidence in whether he can plan a date that pleases you is a bit shaken. And he doesn’t understand why someone claiming to be a foodie in their online dating profile would decline going to the restaurant he suggested. He’s confused and wonders if you aren’t as excited about him as he is about you.
2. You agree, but when you get there, you order a side salad. There are awkward moments every time the waiter approaches your table because clearly your date wants you to enjoy yourself, but you decline wine and dessert. His takeaway is that you are awkward and have the appetite of a small bird. He’s not sure he wants to see you again – as dating someone who doesn’t just want to enjoy life to the fullest isn’t really his cup of tea.
3. You agree to the restaurant, hoping he’ll pay. You try to relax and enjoy yourself, but are kind of dreading the moment when the check arrives. The check comes, and you decide it’s good timing to sneak off to the bathroom, giving him plenty of distraction-free time to take care of it. His takeaway is that you “expect” to be treated and he doesn’t feel appreciated. He was planning to pay, but he doesn’t want to date someone that doesn’t appreciate him or his gestures.
There are now three different takeaways (that aren’t true) based upon you not wanting to say that you can’t afford the restaurant. In each of these situations, your date is forming thoughts based on your actions that will help him decide whether you have a good connection and whether he wants to see you again. How frustrating that he’s making those choices based on things that aren’t true!
Stop avoiding being vulnerable and do this instead.
Upon his initial invitation, you just tell the truth:
“I would love to go to that restaurant – I’ve heard amazing things about it!”
And then express what has you feel hesitant:
“I notice there are a couple of things that have me feeling hesitant to say yes. One is that the restaurant feels like more money than I can/want to spend on a first date right now. If you’re treating, I’d be happy to go, or we can chose a different spot.”
Let’s say he decides to treat you. Then move on to your next hesitation:
“In the past, when men have taken me out to fancy dinners and picked up the check, my experience has been that they expect something in return from me for that. I’m clear that I don’t want to create that type of expectation.”
What your vulnerability sets the stage for
In the examples above, you’ve done a couple of things. You’ve spoken up for yourself. You’ve shown you can initiate difficult conversations, and that you aren’t afraid to talk about things that don’t usually get talked about. You’ve also shown that you are more concerned with how you feel than how smooth or casual you come across. Lastly, you’ve given him CHOICE in the situation. When he knows where you stand, he has a choice to opt-in or opt-out. (I know for a fact that men in particular hate being tricked or manipulated into any situation. You will always been seen as a class act when you give them the information that they need to make a choice they can feel good about.)
Whatever agreement you come to, you both now know exactly what’s what, so guess what? You can just relax and enjoy each other’s company – getting to know one another without the hidden layers of strategy or hiding or pretending.
Try it for yourself, and let me know how it goes! Below in the comments, share one thing that you avoid saying in the early stages of dating that could make a difference in how your dates go!