Esther Perel is a sex and relationships therapist, the best-selling author of mating in captivity, and host of the audio series "Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel" on Audible. Her TED talks on desire and infidelity have been viewed more than 17 million times.
Going straight from a hectic workday to a date can be a challenge, to say the least. That’s because you’re moving between two radically different mind-sets. At your job, you’re thinking in a way that prioritizes goals, productivity, structure, and organization. On a date, you’re prioritizing relatedness, play, imagination, and surprise.
If you don’t take a moment to pause and reset in between these two situations, it can be easy to get stuck in checklist mode, treating your date the same as you do your to-do list.
You’ll show up with your evaluation chart and analyze the person’s looks, profession, college degree, family background, etc., and determine if they fulfill your expectations. That’s not going to be a good date for either of you. As tempting as it may be, you simply can’t apply office efficiency to the ways of the heart.
Instead, meeting someone should be a discovery — of yourself, the person, and the encounter. You want to arrive feeling curious, emotionally open, and in an experiential mode. This way, you and your date will have much better odds of having a great time, and you’ll be able to tell if this is really someone with whom you might have a future. Here’s how you can make the mental switch.
Wash Away Tension
Avoid heading straight from your desk to the bar. If you can, make a stop at home first so you can take a quick shower. It will allow you a moment of self-care, which can help you relax and ease into a very different mentality. You’re literally washing away the stress of the past several hours so you can emerge feeling happier, refreshed, and more open to having a good time.
No way you can swing by your house or apartment? At least do something en route to the date that hits the pause button and makes you feel good. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite podcast as you drive or reading a juicy book on the train (instead of just absentmindedly scrolling through Instagram). Giving your brain a hit of amusement will help create some downtime between the demanding scene you just left and the romantic place where you’re heading.
Luxuriate the Prep
You may not realize it, but the rituals of getting dressed up or putting on makeup (even if it’s just feverishly swiping on some lipstick) for your night ahead are crucial to bridging the stress-to-fun transition. Getting date-ready is a nurturing process for you, and the mere act of putting on heels or changing your hairstyle puts you in a mood to seduce and attract. (French women, in particular, have understood the pleasure and value of these experiences for generations.) Such physical switch-ups also send a subtle signal to your mind that you’re about to enter into a new phase of your day.
Bury the Drama
Tech tension is real. When your phone is out and visible — even if it’s just peeking out of the top of your purse — you’re liable to be distracted. The problem you tried solving with your coworker will keep replaying in your head, causing you to steal glances at the screen, waiting for phantom alerts or messages to pop up. Instead, completely hide your cell in your bag, where it’s truly out of sight and out of mind. You’ll be much more present and attentive to the person you’re with. That makes for a better night for both of you (and it’s also just good date manners!).
Avoid Shop Talk
Even if a date is going well, it can be natural for your thoughts to drift back to that bothersome comment your boss made to you just as you were heading out the door ... and make you want to talk about it — right now. Rather than fill the flirty air with a dull discussion of the reports you’re responsible for or the cranky customers you wait on every day, make a point of shifting the focus onto your suitor instead. Ask him or her an interesting question, like his most embarrassing moment or how she thinks her most recent ex would describe her (the response to this question is always telling!).
Listening to the answers will force your brain back into the present, resulting in a more engaging, fertile conversation ... and hopefully, more than a few laughs. You’ll be able to relax, learn more about who’s sitting across from you (as opposed to just what you both do for a living), and have a better chance at making a strong, passionate connection.
Love Quiz: Is Your Job a Third Wheel?
1. During a first date, do you go to the restroom more than twice — mostly just so you can check your phone and reply to emails?
2. Would you follow up a story about his mom’s garden with complaints that your boss makes you water her office plants?
3. Is your convo sounding more job interview than “can I imagine him as my boyfriend”?
IF YOU ANSWERED YES TO TWO OR MORE, you’ve got a romance-crasher on your hands. Be honest with your date and apologize up front that your work woes are going to have a heavy presence — they’ll prefer that over your tuning them out.
IF YOU ANSWERED NO TO TWO OR MORE, there’s clearly no room for your 9-to-5 to butt in here. Keep it up — and make sure your date gives you the same courtesy. You deserve it!
This article was originally published as "Dating & Mating" in the September 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan. Click here to subscribe to the digital edition.
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