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Between rummaging through my closet for the perfect outfit and rehearsing conversation starters in my head, getting ready for a first date can be pretty nerve-racking. I always plan to play it cool, but as I sit across the table from my date, my nerves seem to get more focus than the conversation.

I know it shouldn’t be this way, but too often, making a good impression can seem more crucial than getting to know my date. Throughout the date I’m worried about what he thinks of me: “Is he into it? Should I have said that?

The anxiety that creeps in before the date lingers on after it ends, too. I obsess over what I may have done or said wrong. The truth is, I place so much pressure on myself that I forget to reflect on anything more than the impression I made. And yet, wanting someone to be interested in me, I would hardly think about my own level of interest.

My poor friends often have to suffer through my perseverating over whether date number two will happen and if I could have done anything differently to improve my chances. The worst part of all this self-conscious obsessing is that I forget to ask myself: “Am I into him? Is he actually a good fit for me?

Luckily I have friends who will give it to me straight.

“I feel like you’re down on yourself,” my friend Lucy once observed when I vented to her after a night out. She said, “One piece of advice I can offer, from experience, is this: Focus on the conversation and how you are making him feel. If you do this, dating will be a much more pleasant experience.”

A bit hesitant at first, I made up my mind to take Lucy’s advice next time I went out. I vowed to not worry about how I might come across. After all, getting to know a guy should not mean saying all of the right things to impress him. And you know what? I had fun just getting to know the guy.

I know as well as anyone that it’s hard to not overanalyze situations. But when I started replaying our conversation as per usual—mulling over whether I came across as too quirky, too giddy, too dorky, the list goes on—I decided to let it go. Why fret over something out of my control, anyway? After telling him goodbye, there was nothing more I could do to revise my words or spark his interest, and that realization actually dispelled a lot of pressure. So, I shifted my thoughts to consider what he said. Did we connect? Would I want to get to know him better? My answer seemed clear. And to my surprise, he wanted to get together again, too.

This experience helped me realize how detrimental the self-conscious mindset really is to dating relationships. Worrying about whether he’s interested not only places unnecessary pressure on the situation but also detracts from my own discernment process.

Of course, our date needs to like us for a relationship to take off, but pushing ourselves to make a perfect impression isn’t the answer. Sure, we can worry about embodying the qualities that would attract him or speaking the very words that might intrigue our date. But do we let ourselves honestly consider compatibility? Do we acknowledge his good qualities as much as we worry about him seeing ours?

I know I’m not the only woman who acts as though finding love hinges on her efforts to make that perfect first (or fifth) impression. But when we make it all about his interest in us, we risk thinking that being loved is about being “good enough.” That’s not how love works at all. And although I know very little about love and relationships, I know that these things require more than a one-person effort.

Finding love isn’t all about us, after all. Relationships and dating are matters of circumstance and compatibility. As much as I stress about being the one to make or break a date, I know that one person can’t forge a relationship or even that initial spark. Sure, it’s natural to get upset when our expectations for romance fail to match up with reality. But in reality, not everyone I go on a date with will be a good fit for me, just as I won’t always be a good fit for him. And that’s OK. We can’t blame others or ourselves when the stars don’t align.

As I strive to put self-conscious behavior on dates to an end, I have learned to be myself when getting to know someone, embracing my quirks and all. “Feel better about yourself because you did something that you’re typically scared of! You should feel proud,” Lucy assured me that day. She had a point. I still recall her words after awkward (or even ordinary) interactions with guys. Making efforts, including the failed ones, and putting ourselves out there should make us feel good about ourselves—not miserable or self-critical.

Try giving yourself a break from the nit-picking—because the right guy will like you for you. Focus on what he has to say rather than recounting your own words; you can discern whether your date is actually a good fit for you. In the end, there’s much more to finding love than impressing another person—it’s about making him feel comfortable, uncovering who he is, understanding where he’s coming from, and being more concerned with his words than your own.

Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography