‘I Hated Going on First Dates Until I Started Dating Friends — It Was a Game-Changer’

I’ve always loved the idea of going on dates, but never the reality of them.

I remember the first proper date I got asked on, by a real adult man. I’d just finished year 12, and my friend and I were shopping for clothes to wear on our upcoming trip to Malaysia. We were in American Apparel, which was very of the time.

Anyone that ever frequented the American Apparel stores in their teen years like me, would remember that the staff were always super attractive. They were kinda like American Apparel models themselves.

So I’m trying on my platform jelly sandals and the rudely attractive shop assistant called Marco, who literally looked like he’d walked straight out of a Hugo Boss catalogue, asked me out.

“So, what are you doing tonight?” he asked, while sliding my foot into a sparkly jelly sandal.

“No plans yet.” I replied, genuinely confused by why he’d care.

“You’re coming to dinner with me, I think.”

He winked at me. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t possibly say no, right? I’d been dreaming of this exact moment for years — when an exquisitely handsome man would perfectly ask me on a date — and here he was.

“Okay!” I managed.

My friend rolled her eyes, as if to say “come on Laura, he’s just a hot flirt”, but it was too late, I’d already agreed.

Marco picked me up in a cute little Italian car and took me to a pizza restaurant that had carafes of wine on every table and a live jazz band in the courtyard. He was tall and handsome, he smelt good, he had proper manly hands and the most beautiful smooth olive skin.

It was the perfect date. It was too perfect.

No, really. Sitting across from him at our perfect little candlelit table, I felt as though I was being interviewed to be his girlfriend. He was asking me questions about myself, and although the questions themselves were thoughtful, it was as though he’d said them all before. I felt like I was in a film and he was reading off a script, or just asking all the questions he thought a girl wanted to be asked on a first date.

I couldn’t tell if he cared about my answers, or if he was nervous, or if this had just worked for him before, but something about it felt corny and uncomfortable and kind of too good to be true. I felt confused about how I felt about it.

After dinner, we went for a walk and ended up in a city garden, sitting on a bench under fairy lights. Of course. He was still asking questions and I knew he wanted to kiss me because his face kept inching closer to mine. All I had to do was move my head slightly and our mouths would be touching.

It was not how I expected to feel. The date was everything I’d dreamed of, but at the same time, I think I’d wanted it to surprise me. It was so predictable, everything seemed to rehearsed, so not special, that I felt a bit disappointed. By the end of the date, I wasn’t attracted Marco and I didn’t want to kiss him but kind of felt like I had to so that I didn’t ruin his perfectly executed night.

I went home that night feeling genuinely stressed that I actually wasn’t a romantic and that not even the most handsome guy I’d probably ever seen was able to make me feel fireworks.

Since that moment, I’ve had some great first dates. But the first dates that I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed, haven’t really been first dates.

Let me explain.

When I moved to Melbourne from Adelaide I went on lots of first dates. Some of them Tinder dates, some of them people I met out and about. I had a list of restaurants and bars I wanted to try, I felt more adventurous with dating and I also wanted to meet new people.

But I find online dating to be so stressful. Those first dates, you have basically no idea of whether or not you’re going to be attracted to the person irl. Maybe it’s just me, but the make or break factor is someone’s presence, which you can’t really tell from photos.

First, there’s that initial locating the person in a restaurant or bar. There’s always the fear that you’re not going to recognise them, or that they’ll be sitting at the bar and the bartender will realise you’re on a first date and that feels like pressure. I used to be a bartender, so I really do know just how much bartenders love to eavesdrop and knowing that is happening is seriously distracting.

Then, there’s the obligatory small talk. Some people suck at small talk, and that’s just a fact. It’s totally okay to be nervous and awkward but I guess my go-to is to just talk a lot and I’m pretty damn good at it, but it can be so uncomfortable if you’re the only one talking.

You’re also aware that the entire time you’re on the date, that the other person is trying to work out if they find you attractive. That level of criticism and pressure is just, quite frankly, nuts.

But I think overall, it’s the whole layout of a first date that really irks me. First you have a drink, or a coffee, or a bite to eat. Then you maybe go for another drink after. Then at some point, you go for a walk, which is when you know that a kiss may or may not happen which can sometimes feel really unnatural but also necessary for the sake of keeping the peace. Which now that I think about it, totally sucks.

First dates just feel so forced, so much of the time. I’m not cynical enough to say they’re all like that, because sometimes you strike gold with conversation and it feels like you’ve known each other for years… but that is so rare.

I used to get myself worked up multiple times a week to go on first dates. I really wanted to get better at them, to feel more at ease and to be more comfortable with the corny one liners and that cringe-y “I want to kiss you” look. I used to feel so guilty for cringing, you know?

But then I started dating my friends. Game-changer.

I’d invite them over for dinner and cook something home-y like lasagne. Or we’d all be out in a group and I’d drag one of them to the bathroom with me for a snog-fest and we’d go back all smirky and smug.

I felt way more at home kissing people I knew, without the pressure of deciding if they were going to be my boyfriend or girlfriend after that one intensified and highly romanticised night out.

I think I just like getting to know people as themselves, before I go on a date with them. On first dates, it’s really hard to be truly yourself because you can’t ever full relax and escape from what you think is expected of you.

Everyone feels differently about dating and what works for them, and makes them feel the most comfortable. But there’s just something about skipping all of that tense I-don’t-know-you energy and just being friends with someone first.

My advice: if you have a crush on someone, make an effort to become their friend. Hang out with them in groups and one-on-one, do things like go to the market and the movies, or even just an afternoon walk to get a coffee.

If the crush is real, it will only get stronger, and you won’t need to force a romantic scenario which often prematurely catapults us a few too many steps into a serious relationship when we actually don’t even really know the person we’re committing to.

There’s no rush. I think we all forget that. Love is amazing and wonderful and important and it’s completely understandable to want to give and receive love, but it doesn’t need to define us.

If you’re going on first dates because you feel like you should be, but you also kinda hate them, you’re not alone.

Moral of the story: kiss your friends.

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