Have you ever noticed that bartenders are always doing something? It’s true. They keep busy by polishing glasses, mixing cocktails, taking orders or refilling the snack mix. And there is a surprising reason for it.
Bartenders aren’t trying to look busy in case the owner shows up for an unannounced inspection. The real reason is that it makes the guests feel more comfortable. If a bartender just stood around and looked bored, it would simply weird out the guests.
I’m telling you this because there is a lesson to be learned for dating as well: In a conversation, people feel more comfortable when you actively do something while talking to them.
Of course, when I say “actively do something” I don’t mean activities that distract you from the conversation. Rather go for something that doesn’t require any thinking, something you can do on autopilot. Some examples:
- Having a drink
- Doing a sport like cycling or hiking
- Going for a walk
- Throwing stones into water
- Smoking / rolling a cigarette
- Playing bar games like pool or darts
Ok, so we know now that a little thing like tossing a few stones can be instrumental in making your date (and yourself) more comfortable. But why?
The main reason is because it changes your focus from the inside to the outside. Actively doing something gets you out of self-consciousness, i.e. the silent monolog, anxious people are often having with themselves, and forces you to be in the present.
When you just sit there and the conversation isn’t flowing well, thoughts like these can show up easily:
- “Does she like me?”
- “Should I kiss her?”
- “Do I have something between my teeth?”
- “Does she think I’m boring?”
But as soon as the two of you do something, suddenly you don’t have to fill out every minute of the date with conversation, anymore, just to avoid awkward silence.
As you can see in the graphic, when you just sit there and talk at a date, all conversation breaks will turn into awkward silence. But when you, e.g., participate in a pub quiz with your date, every break in the conversation just turns into focus on answering the quiz questions.
What’s more, activities also support the flow of the conversation. It gives you additional material to talk about.
Applied to our pub quiz example, that could mean you can always tell her something like, “By the way, thanks for saving me with the Pokemon question. I had heard Glumanda before, but I hadn’t known in a million years what edition it first appeared in. How did you know that? [in a playful way] Please don’t tell me you are one of those crazy people who storm police departments to catch rare Pokemons.”
Avoiding nervous obsessive behavior
Any of the activities we talked about here can turn into your worst enemy if you overdo it. Stirring your drink slowly puts others at easy, but stirring it like you want to create a vortex in your glass isn’t exactly a panty dropper. Moderation is key here!
In case you notice that you overdid it a bit – don’t worry, it happens to all of us – just tell her: “The way I draw on my cigarettes tonight, you must think I’m a chain smoker. Actually, I don’t usually smoke much at all. But being here with you and seeing how beautiful you are and everything just makes me so fucking nervous.”
As often in dating, love, and really most interpersonal situations, complete honesty is the miraculous cure.
Other ways to keep the date fresh and stay in the moment
The doing stuff trick works 100% of the time, but from experience, I know that in the heat of the moment it can sometimes be hard to find an activity that suits the situation.
So are there other tricks that force you to be in the moment and stop self-consciousness? Yes, there are. More specifically, I have used the following two often at dates and other nervousness-inducing situations and they have proven effective in reducing my nervousness and anxiety.
Approving any awkward silence between the two of you
A good way to mitigate the shitty feeling you get from exposure to awkward silence is telling the other person that it’s totally ok to not talk all the time. This works especially well when you are a naturally introverted person and you have a hunch that your date is as well. It is also a perfect way to build rapport, i.e. an emotional connection.
[at a date after the awkward silence has struck repeatedly]
“I really like about you that you are one of these people who don’t have to fill every moment of silence with chatter. I think people underestimate silence. When you aren’t occupied by a conversation you often see details that you would have missed otherwise.”
Mentioning what you see
Being able to mention interesting scenes and objects requires you to focus on what’s happening around you.
And we can use that.
Our brain sucks at scanning ourselves and our surrounding simultaneously. Therefore, we can use this trick to alleviate self-consciousness on command.
[During a daytime date you walk with your date from one location to the next]
“Wow, look at all these beautiful flowers. I wonder how they keep em so healthy. My balcony flowers usually look like they are fighting for their lives from day one.”
Changing the location
A location change is yet another activity that can revive the date in case you are noticing it’s getting stale. It acts like a reset button.
2 hours in Location A, then 1 hour in Location B and 1 hour in Location C just feels much more effortless than staying in the same venue for 4 hours straight.
But as you might have experienced already, going from one place to the next can be a tricky timeframe, especially if you drive in your car or take a cab.
To keep the energy high and not let any self-consciousness creep in whatsoever during a location change, it’s a good idea to make her feel more comfortable by using humor. Don’t worry, you don’t have to tell any jokes or prepare a standup monolog. You don’t even have to be funny!
All you’ve got to do is make fun of yourself. There is a number of ways to do that:
- Tell an embarrassing story about yourself
- Do a dance that looks ridiculous (especially effective when a lot of strangers can see you)
- Prove to her that you can’t sing
- Ask her a ridiculous but funny question like, “Can you touch your nose with your tongue?” Then show your attempt (that should fail miserably) to her before she can try it.
Basically, everything that would make a 3-year-old laugh is appropriate.
Here is an interesting example of a location change from the movie Spread. The relevant scene starts at 1:45, but the rest is instructional as well.
All good things have to come to an end, and so does this (hopefully helpful) article. But before I wrap this up and go outside because it’s a beautiful day here, a quick summary:
- The more you make yourself and others think, the more anxious you and they’ll be.
- Doing things that doesn’t require much attention while having a conversation reduces self-consciousness and puts both of you at ease.
- In case you can’t seem to find a suitable activity, you can always: approve the awkward silence, focus on your surrounding and mention something that might be interesting, or if the date has been cooling off you can change the location and use some self-deprecating humor to make her more comfortable.
Now over to you, which techniques do you use to stop self-consciousness? Share your thoughts in the comments.