How to Manage Post-Date Expectations & Approach Dating From a Place of Empowerment

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

So you agreed to go on yet another first date. You spent more than your usual amount of time primping, poking, prodding; you hoped that this time would be different, that they wouldn’t be emotionally unavailable or solely in the pursuit of sex (unless that’s what you’re after, in which case more power to you!), and it was! You felt the anticipatory butterflies and a tingling where their hand was or would soon be. You even let them kiss you at the end of the night. But what now?

In the indefinite silence that follows “we should do this again sometime,” you’re reminded of the deeply repressed first-date horror stories reserved for alcohol-induced comedic relief and the “don’t worry, we’ve all been there” talks that every friend needs from time to time. Not this again. Please. No. As you play over the events of the date in your mind, you reassure yourself. You were a lovely (insert date activity) companion; they have to call… right?

If you aren’t careful, you could slip into the “what’s wrong with me?” mentality, which is unproductive at best, and at worst, detrimental. It’s time to break the cycle, to manage post-date expectations and approach dating from a place of empowerment. A paradigm shift, if you will.

Why this person? Why now? 

Last week, I went on a date with a great guy, like, really great. We laughed for hours and he was respectful of my physical boundaries. (Of course, respecting boundaries should be the norm, but this was particularly significant to me since I’m just getting back into the dating game.)

Even with how great it had gone, when he asked me to get dinner the following night, I declined. I wasn’t that into him. 

Days later, after receiving a particularly difficult job rejection, I invited him over. I told him I made a mistake, that I was nervous and that’s why I turned him down the first time. He put his arm around me and leaned in for a kiss — I ducked under his arm, rolled off of the couch, and asked him to leave; it wasn’t him that I wanted, but the reassurance that I was in some way desirable.

This is less of an example of post-date expectations deflated as it is of ulterior motives — the presence of which makes one more susceptible to feelings of disempowerment. If you seek a romantic partner to fill an emotional void, you risk placing too great an emphasis on the external gaze. The absence of romantic love (or lust) does not make you unattractive, undesirable, or unworthy, but when such meaning is ascribed to the former, the failure to obtain it can feel like a failing of character. 

Related: Confessions of a Woman Online Dating in the Coronavirus Era

A subtle reframe

My father — a wise man with an extensive dating history and an enduring marriage to my mother —  once said, “Relationships are personal; they hurt because they’re personal.” 

The first time I was given this advice, I had just ended a 14-month relationship with my college boyfriend. Though it was mutual, I was heartbroken. I took his repetition of “it’s personal” to mean that the relationship’s termination was my fault. I was too much of a burden. I asked too much of him. I know now that this is not what my father intended. He meant to say that my feelings of rejection and loss were justified by the nature of the “thing.”

I now remind myself of his words after every first date. Relationships are personal. People may not reciprocate your feelings for them, but you will inevitably not reciprocate someone else’s. The “personal” nature of it all works both ways, remember that.

Text-pectations

Let’s face it: the unwritten rules of post-date communication are antiquated, obsolete. If you want to text them, text them! If you never want to speak to them again, that’s fine too! But please, stop gauging your actions by what you believe they say about you, and for the love of God do not sit by the phone. Each time your screen lights up and the sender isn’t that special someone, it will hurt. Trust me. Life is hard enough without the added let down.

Though societal messaging will try and tell you otherwise, there is nothing wrong with being straightforward. Text them first, on your timeline. Try, “Hey, I had a great time the other night, would love to do it again,” or, “Are you free for [insert activity of your choosing] next week?” 

Once you press send it’s out of your hands. If they don’t respond favorably to your message, or if they don’t respond at all, that’s it. No more. You gave it your best shot – you were authentically yourself, and though it may be disheartening in the moment, the relationship just wasn’t meant to be. 

Related: Mixed Signals in a New Relationship? Here’s How to Deal According to a Dating Expert

Remember to rightsize

The chance that this relationship is your endgame is slim (to none, really). So while the butterflies dizzy themselves in the pit of your stomach and the sun seems to rise and set with this person, remind yourself of your worth, of the life you live and have yet to live, and of how lucky they would be to share in your light (but without them, your light still shines). You will meet someone whose light shines as bright as yours, whose brightness intensifies your own; someone who will be communicative, who won’t wait an oddly specific and completely arbitrary amount of time between reading your message and responding to it; someone who wouldn’t think to play such games. 

I choose to believe this because I have had my heart broken; because I have had a number of adverse dating experiences that I laugh at as an alternative to crying; because I have sat by the phone and felt my heart sink deeper into my chest when yet another message wasn’t from them. And as many times as my heart has been broken, I have broken someone else’s. I have rejected perfectly good men for trivial (and non-trivial) reasons, and I will again. There is a reciprocity in dating, a mutually-assured “personal-ness” that ensures a leveling of scores in that way. I find great comfort in that, not the knowledge that I have hurt others and that others have hurt me, but that it is a shared pain, a common, constructive pain. Every relationship can’t work out so, in time, the right one can.