The Only Question You Should Be Asking On A First Date

It has never been easier to get a date these days. Online apps give people the opportunity to contact vast amounts of people sooner than you can swipe the screen. In years past before technology took over, it was mostly down to awkward moments in clubs and pubs, getting to know someone with the constant thought of rejection coming to mind. We may have become insensitised to rejection with the thought that there is always the next available profile waiting around the corner.

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Contact is not really the issue but what happens next often leaves people frustrated. The first meeting is often a let-down as the person who appears is often very different to the one chatted to for some time beforehand, sometimes even physically. Online dating is often reported to me, as a therapist as a playground for narcissists, liars and sex addicts. While I don’t think it is as extreme as that in reality if you look in general terms, it is certainly disappointing for most who get to that first date. Most complain of being subjected to a monologue “talking about themselves or their ex, how much money they have or why sex should happen on the first date”. Due to the “quick” nature of online dating, there often appears to be a rush to “seal the deal or move on”.

While there is often an emphasis on previous relationships, especially as the relationship advances, potential matches sometimes spend too long “selling themselves, their personality, achievements and their greatness” (as one woman described about a number of dates she went on) and miss the very thing that could point o compatibility and relationship health. Just how many people ask “What is your relationship with yourself”?

It brings into question the old saying that unless you love yourself, you cannot love another. While I agree to a certain extent, I would like to adapt that saying. I dont believe you can realistically love unless you are realistic about yourself (or the other person). I also believe that unconditional love is not a healthy concept. We should not put ourselves in a position where we forgive everything in the name of love. Many of us go into a new relationship ignoring so-called “red flags”, preferring to sweep them under the carpet because we have convinced ourselves we have found “the one”.

Only a mentally healthy person can enjoy a healthy relationship. Let that sink in for a while. “Love will not conquer all”, even if we can truly define what “love” is. Things “will not be alright if we just stay together”. So what is needed? The answer to that lies in the fundemental question in codependent recovery. How do you draw a balance between looking after the relationship and meeting your own needs?

It is indeed a fine balance and many people lose themselves in relationships, giving up individual pursuits, friends and interests in order to “fit in”. Amazingly, some even seem to disregard anything about themselves and almost morph into the other person, adopting their interests and opinions.

So let’s go back to that first date. Asking that question is essential but what does it mean to have a relationship with yourself? It means that you place as much importance on delivering for “self” as for the relationship (in a healthy sense). That means values (if known!) are upheld, boundaries are known and maintained and the need for individuality is practiced. The opposite is enmeshment and a loss of identity (something many codependents experience). When this happens, enabling of bad and abusive behaviour is tolerated. It means that you have made a choice to be in the relationship as a part of your life but it isn`t your life. Those who make it their life find breakups especially hard.

It means that you see the importance of self-care, self-discipline, living authentically and living honestly. You see the value of being genuine in your dealings with others. It means you are commited to personal growth and see your relationship as a healthy part of that. It also means that you are prepared to walk away from a relationship that restricts this.

All sounds very “self-helpy” and maybe looks at an ideal world. However, as a therapist, I often deal with the consequences of unhealthy attachments and the denial that comes from not wanting to face a new life without “the one”, who has turned into anything but that. What it takes is time and the acknowledgment that the early parts of a relationship are not defining for the future. After the honeymoon period, a new person will emerge. That is the person who could turn out to be “the one” or not. You certainly won’t know when the relationship is young but asking the right questions will certainly give an indication.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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