Heading on a first date? Here's why you should forget about 'the spark'
I don’t get to say this often, but I realised over the weekend that I had something in common with the model Nadia Forde.
On meeting her boyfriend Dominic Day, Nadia — while very loved up now — didn’t quite feel the thunderbolt.
“The first night I met him, I didn’t realise he was going to be this great guy,” she told a Sunday newspaper. “I didn’t really grasp that he was going to be this huge force in my life. He was really shy when we first met. Just before the end of dinner, he asked could he take me for dinner again. (I remember thinking), ‘We’re never going to go for dinner together.’ We did actually meet for dinner, and that was kind of it.”
There’s no real word for it, but I suspect the Germans may have a single word for the delicious, slow burn that comes from the faintest of sparks. One that is totally unexpected and, in time, erupts into a full-blown emotional bushfire.
Much like Nadia, I remember being slightly unmoved on my first date with my now boyfriend. This had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with me. I’d been scorched so many times by dimwits, commitment-phobes and baby-men, that I assumed anxiety to be the baseline emotion of the first date.
You become addicted to that anxiety and stress, turning it over in your mouth until it starts to taste like passion or drama. And my ego was so fragile that at the mere whiff of disinterest, I would obsess and fixate on guys like a Pavlovian dog. A truly exquisite form of torture: mooning over those that can’t or won’t make room for you in their lives.
Then, someone came along — someone so open, honest, interesting and interested — that I didn’t quite know what to make of it all.
On our first date, we laughed, we found we had stuff in common, we paid equally for drinks. Still, he was most unlike most men I had dated. There wasn’t the roguish glint in the eye, the swashbuckling swarthiness, the one foot out the door. He was bewilderingly… normal.
It was a perfectly nice evening, and I cycled off into the night without feeling those familiar pangs of stress or apprehension… which must mean I was feeling nothing, right?
On our second date, the guy was so bright-eyed and enthusiastic that I had a sinking feeling that we’d barely last the evening, much less go the distance. I wasn’t used to this, and took it as a bad sign. But then, something shifted. Our main courses arrived, and he immediately lopped off a forkful of his dish and passed it onto mine. A small, generous gesture, but not one often pulled out by the baby-men.
By the end of the evening, we had a running ‘joke’. I decided to leave the idea of the friend-zone on ice. And I’m very glad I did, because further down the line, the thunderbolt happened. Although it felt less like a thunderbolt and more like being pushed gently towards a nice cosy fire.
I think this is where I, and countless others before me, have gone wrong in dating. Just as I have, my pals return home from dates where they feel as though they’ve had a lovely time, but they’re not feeling ‘the spark’.
“I wasn’t really swept off my feet,” they sigh, as if this is the foremost prerequisite.
I’m starting to think this ‘spark’ is a myth. What they didn’t feel on their dates is the unease, the prelude to an ego pummel that we’ve come to expect.
We’ve been sold a pup on the spark front, anyway: we want to be blind sided by lust and passion, and then have that turn into an emotionally fulfilling and lasting romance based on friendship.
‘Chemistry’ is a Hollywood confection. Unless you’re lottery-win lucky, this very rarely happens. If you’ve been swept off your feet on a first date, it’s likely you’ve been bamboozled by a serial dater who makes the charm offensive his ‘thing’.
I’ve been there; taking taxis home from dates, woozy after being so thoroughly romanced, texting my friends that I’ve finally met a guy worth knowing. One man kissed me in a full Hollywood dip one evening, before sending a ‘Uh, I won’t be around much’ text in the cold light of day.
A year or so ago, someone gave me the best advice: stop focusing on the things you want in a potential partner, and more on the things you don’t. This is how things like kindness and being a good and considerate person loom into view, while other things like ‘a good job’ and ‘a great apartment’ fade into the background. It’s where friendship comes first and compatibility reveals itself later.
I’m loathe to say that I’ve found a ‘happy ever after’ — the man is a hero in my eyes, but that doesn’t mean that relationships don’t hit their road bumps. He could leave me next week for all I know. Rather, it’s a happy beginning.
A man worth knowing won’t have an agenda, or a game plan. He won’t ramp up the charisma until you’re enveloped in a thick fog of ‘chemistry’. He’s just waiting to see what happens, like you are. And so, you tentatively move forward step by step until and you find yourself in the most surprising place of all: a happy one.