Reasons why the first date may not have worked out:
Attractiveness: The date is unattractive. Whether or not someone is physically attractive to someone else tends to be idiosyncratic. Someone who may have been described as very attractive, turns out on the first date not to be appealing at all. Within broad limits, attractiveness is a matter of taste. If I press a patient to explain to me why someone was not attractive, I do not get very clear answers. Sometimes someone says, “She’s very overweight” or “He’s bald,” but more often I get a shrug. A man may have represented himself to be taller than he really was. A woman may be older. This is a matter not of inherent unattractiveness, but of disappointed expectations.
One element of attractiveness is dress and grooming. Again, what is likely to appeal to one person is likely to have the opposite effect on someone else. Some people will feel at home meeting a person who wears jeans and is informal. Others will be turned off, even offended. Some women feel more comfortable with a man who is dressed meticulously. Similarly, how much makeup a woman wears will affect different men differently.
There is no arguing about such matters. People are entitled to make their own judgments.
Extreme differences in personality or point of view: Someone may talk throughout the entire date. Another person may be entirely silent. Someone else may make silly jokes, or may not laugh at the other person’s jokes. One person is interested in talking about politics, the other in sports. Someone may seem too gruff and macho. Someone else may be too easily offended. It is not uncommon for men and women dating for the first time to be preoccupied still with their last relationship. Such a person may seem to be self-centered. And so on. The peculiarities of personality are myriad; and two people do not often fit together exactly.
Differences in cultural background: Some people are very conservative, others very liberal. There may be differences between level of education that seem unsurmountable. A woman with a graduate degree is likely to back away from a man who has much less education. And vice versa. Neither will seem interesting to the other. There are differences in national background that might matter. Often they reflect a host of differences in attitude towards family, towards sex, and toward religion. Even people of the same religion may feel very differently about the strictures of that religion. Catholics vary widely in their adherence to the rules of their faith. An Orthodox Jew has priorities very different from those of a secular Jew. Differences of this sort become palpable often on the first date.
Someone may feel uncomfortable and embarrassed if asked to dance. Ideas about entertainment may differ widely, ranging from ballet, to stand-up comedy, to rock concerts. Sometimes those tastes are so opposed that one person has the sense of being very different from the other. In that case, the other person may seem unlikable. It is possible to be turned off by another person’s taste in music, or attitude toward food, believe it or not.
Rude behavior: There are standards of behavior that determine how someone is supposed to behave on the first date. These may be violated. A date may become abusive or rude, or even threatening. These matters may be worsened if too much alcohol is involved. Petty arguments about money can arise. One person may exhibit bad table manners. Another texts throughout a meal. It is okay not to be excited by a date, but it is rude to appear obviously to be bored. Some people are condescending. Some people are racist. Some people are just plain unpleasant.
The circumstances of the first date can get in the way: If the first date is at a bar or at a sports event, there may be too much noise for a couple to hear each other. Sometimes at a party there are other people that intervene and get in the way. A too formal occasion may stilt conversation. It becomes impossible then to get to know each other. If the first date is a double date, the other couple may dominate the conversation. Obviously, if the first date implies standing on the other end of a tennis court, the impression a couple makes on each other is limited to an appreciation of their tennis game. Not hitting it off on the first date is likely to lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction.
But, assuming the opportunity arises, are there reasons under any of these circumstances to date the same person a second time? I pose this question because of a number of different accounts my patients have given me from time to time of their dating experiences. For instance, I ask everyone who has been married what they liked initially about their spouse (or ex-spouse), and a minority—about one in seven or eight—have told me they did not like that person at all! Their initial reaction, as they remember it, was that their partner was unattractive or off-putting in some other way. He or she might have seemed too egotistical or too “childish” or too affected.
In particular, if they met for the first time in a bar, their future spouse may have seemed to behave very differently at first than they did later on on a second date. Bars seem to bring out the worst in people—preening, boastful behavior on the part of the men, and defensive holding back on the part of the women. Often these men and women seem very different when later on they can be themselves.
Also, I have been astonished when every once in a great while patients tell me of falling in love with someone they found distasteful or even loathsome! I cannot predict how patients will feel in the future about a particular person they know now based on what I am told. I think they, too, would be well-advised not to be sure of how they will feel—although apparently it is part of the human condition to be sure of such things, until circumstances prove them wrong.
Anyone who reads the newspapers will read of happy couples that seemed to have overcome extraordinary differences of every sort: religion, age, and every other aspect of background. There is a couple that appears often on television and that seems to be happily married despite her being a Republican political operative and his serving in the same capacity for the Democrats. This difference would have doomed other relationships that I have known. There is no single difference that automatically implies an unsuccessful relationship.
So, a reason to date someone after an unsatisfactory first date is that people’s behavior and feelings can change, and a relationship can develop. But, still, does it make sense to persist when chances are the second date will end up much like the first one? That depends on a number of things:
- Was there an interesting or redeeming quality in that otherwise unappealing person? Sometimes a date can turn into a friend, even if there is no possibility of a romantic relationship. Also, it is possible to have a good time on a date if it takes place in an interesting setting—watching a play, for instance—even though the date himself/herself is no more appealing the second time around.
- Was there something in the milieu in which the other person operates that might make going out with him or her advantageous? Some people, frankly, are useful to know because of whom they know. I don’t think dating under these circumstances is cynical. We all want to move in certain directions in terms of work and friends and knowing some people is a help. Of course, it is still necessary under these circumstances to act as a proper date.
- Does the person considering a second date with someone who has so far seemed unsatisfactory have something better to do? Someone who feels lukewarm about a second date might very well consider it if the alternative is sitting home alone watching television.
Another consideration that is always of concern to me is whether someone who repeatedly has unsatisfactory first dates is simply withdrawing over and over again because of fears of one sort or another. Is that person turned off by everyone? If that is the case, he or she should make an effort to date a second time. Confronting any fear is likely to lessen it. The alternative may be not dating at all.
There are some people who have had such a miserable time dating someone that I would not recommend they put themselves through a second, similar experience. But, much of the time I think there is little to be lost dating someone a second time even when expectations for having a good time are low. In general, I think there should be a low threshold in trying anything, even twice. Of course, that is not an argument in favor of putting oneself through the same unpleasant experience over and over again.
(c) Fredric Neuman Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ or ask advice at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ask-dr-neuman-advice column/