First dates are stressful enough; but when you are an introvert, they can be panic-inducing. You already don’t do well with meeting new people, but meeting someone you know will be “sizing you up” is definitely shallow breathing time. So, as you think about the upcoming event, you start re-living all of the past disastrous first dates you have had—your short, curt responses to questions asked, your inability to keep a flow of conversation going, those awkward “good nights.” And the shallow breaths are now accompanied by that grinding in the pit of your stomach.

While no magic wand can take your introversion away, there are some things you can do to master the art of the first date.

The Preparation

1. No Drastic Changes

Should you decide that you want some new shoes or even a new outfit for your date, go for it. But don’t make big changes. Don’t buy a pair of shoes or an outfit that isn’t “you.” And don’t get a brand new haircut.

Here’s the thing about such changes: You will spend the date being very self-conscious because you are not comfortable with such a change. You haven’t had your own time to get used to it, and now here you are on a date. Yikes. The goal is to increase your comfort level, and dressing as you always do will help that.

2. Pick a Dating Event That’s Short

Meeting for a drink or coffee or attending some short event is usually the best for an introvert. There is comfort in knowing that it will be short up front, and you will have far less dread or stress. And, if thing goes well, that short chunk of time can always be extended into dinner or something else.

It’s much easier to approach the date this way than to plan a long evening, then try to cut it short. Actually, this is good advice for all first dates with strangers, so don’t feel that you are somehow different.

3. Choose a Place or Event You Know

Going someplace new can add to your discomfort—you won’t know your way around and you’ll be distracted trying to familiarize yourself with the place. If this is the short first date, choose a coffee shop, simple restaurant, or a small bar you already know. You will be familiar with the table arrangements, the location and parking, the menu, and the people who will be waiting on you. All of these things will let you focus on the person you are with.

4. Pick an Activity You Enjoy

If sitting across from a stranger and making conversation is awkward for you, why not choose a date in which you will be actively doing something? Weather permitting, you could go to the zoo or botanical garden; you could go to a wine or food tasting event or a street fest; how about a bar that has air hockey if you’re good at it? Being involved in an activity gives you more to talk about, and it allows you to “be you.”

5. Practice a Bit

When job candidates go for interviews, they often practice answering the likely questions with a friend. A first date is a bit like an interview, let’s face it. Get a friend to sit down with you and ask you some likely questions. Practice both your verbal and non-verbal responses, including facial expressions and other gestures until they seem natural. Then, turn the tables. You come up with questions to ask your date, then practice being an active good listener as well.

The Date

6. Ask Open-Ended Questions

If you have practiced with that friend, you have questions to which there are longer answers than just “yes” or “no.” Ask them, and practice those listening skills with eye contact, head nods, and small smiles (and laughs if they are genuinely funny). You want that individual to know you have a genuine interest in others and in him/her specifically. Plus, how else do you get to know someone if you don’t ask questions that allow them to open up and show you who they are?

Instead of asking them what they do for a living, ask them what they like best and least about their job. Just don’t keep firing those questions out of nervousness. You won’t your date to feel like it is an interrogation. And if you have practiced the likely questions you will be asked, you will know what to share or not. Oversharing on a first date can be a bit awkward for the other person. Giving all of the details of your last breakup is oversharing—save it.

7. You Don’t Need to Hide Your Introversion

You may be able to “fake” an outgoingness for a short period of time—especially if you have practiced this before—but you are really only doing that to make what you think will be a good first impression. If this first date turns into a second one, however, and s/he wants to take you to a large social event, your secret will be out. You don’t have to blurt out that you are an introvert, but as you talk about your interests and hobbies, it is likely that that aspect of your personality will come out.

8. Plan Your “Escape” in Advance

If you’re seeing all sort of red flags, take note. Here are just a couple:

  • Your date’s talk is all negative about other people—last relationship, boss, co-workers, etc. This is not a good sign.
  • Your date treats a waiter or waitress badly and/or loses his/her temper when something isn’t cooked just right—this isn’t a kind person.
  • Your date is a narcissist and can only talk about him/herself, never asking you a question.

An extrovert in this situation might very well be a bit confrontational and announce that the date is over. Introverts tend to bite their tongues and endure the pain for the duration. You don’t have to do this. Set up your excuses ahead of time. Have a friend text you about an hour in and have a signal to text back. Then the phone call can come that presents a situation that requires your immediate attention. Or start feeling poorly and go to the restroom. When you return, explain that you are ill and really need to go.

A fake excuse, mind you, should be used as a last resort; if and whenever possible, it’s best to be honest about things. You can bow out of the date with a simple “I’m sorry to do this, I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed with things and would prefer to go home.” In preparation for this moment, it’s a good idea to drive separately to your date, as well. No need for an awkward car ride home.

And Afterward

9. Don’t Ruminate

Introverts have amazing memories—detailed memories—because they take everything in. This is both a blessing and a curse. At work, it is often a blessing because introverts observe and listen before drawing conclusions and often come up with good creative solutions.

After a date, it can be a curse. Introverts tend to re-live every single moment, kicking themselves because they said something stupid or because their awkwardness/anxiety was showing. Give yourself a break. You are exaggerating and focusing on your perceived “bad” rather than on the many good things that probably happened. Focus on the positives of the date and what went well instead. This gives you confidence for a second date or to move onto someone else.