6 therapist-approved tips to avoid awkward 'hot vax summer' dating encounters
- As pandemic restrictions lift, singles are excited to meet each other in public, rather than on
- Striking up conversation with a stranger can be scary, so be gentle on yourself.
- Use eye contact, give a compliment, ask for advice, and be curious, a therapist told Insider.
With more than a year of isolation nearing its end, singles are preparing for a summer of socialization.
But many people are worried that their communication skills withered during the pandemic and are unsure how to initiate chance encounters at bars and restaurants.
It's normal to feel that way, psychologist and founder of The Relationship Place Dana McNeil told Insider.
"The anxiety and stress of being out of the world for so long has made many of us more withdrawn, more likely to turn inward, and have lengthy internal dialogues and be uncomfortable in social situations," McNeil said.
Still, there are ways you can prepare to meet other singles in the wild, as opposed to on dating apps, and walk away from conversations with confidence.
Learn to give yourself grace before venturing out
Before heading out onto the post-vaccine bar scene, it's important you give yourself a pep talk.
According to McNeil, your first few outings may involve awkward silences and unwanted rejections, and you shouldn't put too much weight on those hiccups.
"Please be kind to yourself if you find it difficult to connect with people in meaningful ways, and don't assume you aren't interesting or worthy of being in a meaningful
Instead of worrying how conversations could go, tell yourself you're worthy of love and joy, and that you have everything you need within yourself.
"Social connections require some bravery, some sense of self-worth, and a whole lot of humor and patience. You are doing your best and you will have a better chance of meeting your new partner by daring to do something a little outside of your comfort zone," said McNeil.
Make eye contact before approaching a stranger
Striking up conversation with a complete stranger can feel unnatural, so McNeil suggested making eye contact with someone you find interesting or attractive first.
Once you make eye contact, flash a smile and see if they reciprocate.
If they don't return the smile, or turn away, it could mean they're not interested, according to McNeil.
But if they do, it could mean they're open to chatting.
Start with a compliment, or ask for advice
Once you've made non-verbal contact, it's time to initiate an actual conversation.
Instead of using a cheesy pick-up line or asking which vaccine your date got, try a compliment, ask for advice, or offer both, said McNeil.
She gave the example of seeing a cute stranger at a clothing store, or even the bar. You could approach him, say you like how his shirt looks on him, and then ask where he got it from, with the intention of buying it for your friend or brother.
This way, you're not only complimenting their appearance, but also hinting at your single status, according to McNeil.
Ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation flowing
If they reciprocate your advance with more banter, McNeil said to keep the conversation flowing.
You may start to encounter awkward silences at this point, but don't ignore them. Instead, call out how weird the encounter feels, said McNeil.
"Acknowledging the awkwardness shows you are a real person and that you're perceptive to their experience of discomfort. All of us want to be loved, but more than that we want to be understood," so showing understanding and care from the start are likely to make you more attractive to a stranger, she said.
You can ask open-ended questions to avoid too many lulls, according to McNeil, like "Why did you decide to study that?" or, "What was it like moving so far from your family?" once you get past the basics.
Focus on asking genuine questions that you truly want the answers to, said McNeil.
"It means you take the time to recognize how this person makes you feel in their presence and find something to notice that others may not take the time to appreciate," she said.
Know when, and how, to end the conversation if you're not interested
At a certain point, you might be ready to end the conversation or sense the person you're talking to is losing interest or has to leave.
But before you exit to find where your friends escaped to, consider next steps.
If this is a person you don't want to see again, tell them you have to head out to make an appointment or catch up with friends and that it was nice to meet. In the case they ask for your contact information, McNeil suggested saying, "It's so flattering you'd ask that, but I'm not open to going out right now."
"That way you aren't lying. You're letting them know that setting up another meeting with them isn't an option," she said.
Suggest plans if you want to keep in touch
If, however, you want to stay in touch, ask if they're open to meet for drinks or coffee soon.
"I know this might feel scary in the moment, but when you consider you may never see this person again if you don't take action, then you'll really kick yourself in the butt if you don't at least try," said McNeil.
If you're really nervous, she suggested thinking of the worst-case scenario: "On the flip side, if it doesn't go well or they reject you, then you will never see them again. So what does it really matter in the scope of the big picture?"
At this point, they might reject you and you'll have to respect their wishes. If that happens, it's a great time to engage in more positive self-talk, said McNeil.
"They're not rejecting you personally if they say no. They don't know you, so they can't be rejecting you," she said.
"It's generally gentler on our ego to remind ourselves of how brave we have been, and what it shows about our own willingness to put ourselves out on a limb than it is to beat ourselves up for someone else's responses."
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