The first date went well enough. You met for coffee, or lunch, or cocktails. The conversation was relatively steady, if not sparkling. Perhaps you even discovered a few shared interests, like an obsession with NPR or a favorite secret hiking trail. But did you feel the spark?
Ah, that elusive spark. That I just knew feeling that some might even call love at first sight. But does everyone “just know” right away? If so, that seems like a pretty high-stakes first impression.
Giving the Spark Time to Ignite
In my (possibly unpopular) opinion, “sparks” are overrated. They’re exciting, they’re encouraging…but they’re not everything. Think about how nervous you typically are on a first date—or, if you’re that rare unicorn that is always perfectly composed, imagine your most high-strung friend. Now consider that your potential partner probably feels equally anxious. Does one meeting really give you enough time to write someone off?
(Likely not, as a survey of 1,000+ people found that it took married couples an average of six months to fall in love when it wasn’t a case of love at first sight.)
While there are always extreme cases and gut instincts to consider, a second date is often worth a shot if a first date was benign enough. It’s important to move through the niceties of getting to know someone before you can truly get to know them. That conversation about your dogs that you could have had with an overly friendly cashier without much alteration? Not enough to determine your prospects one way or another.
Chemistry does not always translate to a long-term, successful relationship. Sparks don’t get you through thick and thin. Attraction won’t save you from principled differences. However, chemistry, sparks, and attraction can all grow in the right environment. In fact, take a minute to read up on the mere-exposure effect. Research confirms that increased familiarity with something or someone deemed tolerable enough results in more positive feelings over time.
(Anyone else hear Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy in the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice saying, “That was only when I first saw her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.” No? Just me?)
Building a Lasting Foundation
Genuine compatibility relies on more than initial reactions. It’s about how you get along when the nerves and excitement of the first date have faded—when you can relax a little and be more authentic. Third or fourth dates reveal a better sense of someone’s personality and how they function day-to-day. This starts to provide a sense of how you might operate as a couple. Will this person sit through six hours of Pride and Prejudice with you?
Direction, or long-term trajectory, is one of the most telling elements of compatibility, and it might not come up on the first date. Sure, career ambitions might be discussed, but a comprehensive picture of your ideal life path probably isn’t what you lead with right away.
Principles, unlike sparks, are a make-or-break factor. There are some things you cannot compromise on, and it’s important to know what they are. These core values are often very personal and may require vulnerability to share; they don’t always make for light, Saturday-morning-coffee discussion. It will take a bit of time for both of you to open up, and that’s okay.
Shared principles and similar long-term goals can make for a great foundation, but they’re often a lot less readily apparent than the sought-after spark. After all, revealing these values and goals on the first date can be scary. Being rejected after being that vulnerable can make it feel like they’re rejecting you at your core. Not only are sparks easier to distinguish on your side of things, but in many ways, they feel like a safer metric.
However, sparks mean neither certain doom nor certain success. They’re not a cosmic barometer for ultimate happiness (which is an awful lot of pressure to put on them!).
If mindful dating is about being intentional, then let’s be intentional about new relationships. Be open to taking the time to get to know someone, and then determine your potential beyond that initial spark (or lack thereof). Every experience is knowledge gained, and even apparent losses move you one step forward.
We’d love to hear about your experiences of “the spark!” Have you ever felt love at first sight? Did it lead to a fulfilling relationship? On what do you base compatibility with a potential partner? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!