Sometimes the best dates are among friends

Cake on my dress. Kids running around. Friends asking me how it’s going. Despite—or really, because of—all these things, it was one of my favorite first dates.

Without doubt, it’s one of the best set ups I’ve ever had, even though we didn’t end up dating. Allow me to set the scene.

Multiple friends had recommended I meet this man, who we’ll call Andrew. He lived in a town just a short drive my home. We had many mutual friends in his town, making my visit a win-win from my perspective—time with friends and an opportunity to meet a potential romantic interest.

Our friends, all married couples, aimed to take the pressure off. So, they planned pizza and wine on a Friday night, with at least half a dozen kids running around the house. While our friends joked in hindsight the setting might scare us away from marriage, save a brief discussion about engagement stories, the night was more illuminating and less awkward than your typical first date.

First dates can be known to often feel like interviews, with a barrage of questions spewed across a table, all eyes on each other, no distractions to break up any awkwardness or nerves. When it’s a blind date, the anxiety can be heightened due to the fact you’ve never met this person before. But on this blind date, we benefited from the dynamics of a group, hiding some of the normal awkwardness that accompanies meeting a new potential love interest.

The group of us talked about the news, politics, and religion. We laughed at cute things the kids said and did. We even celebrated one of the children’s first birthday.

When the group naturally split into smaller, side conversations, Andrew and I exchanged flirtatious comments as we talked about our tastes in music, movies, our families, and our jobs—all while a toddler sat on my lap, attempting to eat birthday cake.

As you might imagine, more of the cake ended up on my dress or the floor than in the toddler’s mouth, and the child occasionally interrupted us to ask a question or share comments. Both were welcome distractions that gave our dating minds a minute to pause and think about what we wanted to say to each other next. I’d like to think the presence of this precocious child lowered our inhibitions, too, making it a bit easier to hold that flirty glance and smile just a little longer as we chatted.

By the time the night had ended, we had learned a lot about each other for a first meeting. In addition to learning the basics one often covers on a first date—job, friends, hobbies, and family—we also gained insight into how the other socialized. We saw what made the other laugh, and what news stories or political issues sparked impassioned discussion for the other.

We also had the benefit of having a friend or two there, to flash an encouraging smile or a warm, whispered, “How’s it going?” The first few dates are always especially vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there to another person who for myriad reasons might not mesh well with you. Because we’d never met each other, I think having our first meeting in the presence of friends who accepted each of us set some of those nerves of “will he like me” and “will I like him” to rest. The presence of our friends communicated a clear message to each of us, “I’m likeable.”

Of course, proper one-on-one dates occurred after this meeting, and they felt a bit easier because the initial ice had been broken. While we didn’t date for more than a few dates, the set up wasn’t a waste in my opinion. In fact, that casual Friday night remains a cherished memory in my dating file. Maybe it’s because that night could have been a scene in a rom-com. Or maybe it’s the fact that I just had fun with my friends. But even more than that, I came away with this truth: dating can be fun when you remember you’re not alone in it.