They say the first impression is the most important, so when Sunna von Christierson over-sold herself on a first date, she almost missed a lifetime of love.
We all know that we should put our best selves forward when we go on a date. We want to look our best, act our best, tell our best stories. However, I can tell you from experience that sometimes your best isn’t really your best. My now-husband can tell you that I put too much of my best forward on our first date, and if it wasn’t for my car, he may not have asked me out again.
There is a line in the Coldplay song “Warning Sign” that I always thought of when a first date was just so-so.
“I realized that you were an island and I passed you by… you were an island to discover.”
A first date is like spotting a new island on the horizon: you get a general idea of shape and content, but you don’t get an idea of the intricacies and depth of that island. I think about this analogy a lot since my husband and I almost passed each other by. We almost sailed right past each other’s island, completely unaware that our islands were awesome places to build a home.
We went out for dinner a few weeks later. I gave my usual verbal spiel of who I was. I told him about my family, my background, things I like to do, all the usual details. The conversation flowed easily between us and and we got along really well.
After dinner, he walked me to my car but when we got there, he froze. He stuttered through a form of ‘I had a great time,’ we hugged clumsily, and I got in my car. This all seemed normal to me; saying goodbye on a first date is rarely a slick thing.
Little did I know that by the time dinner ended, he had decided we probably weren’t going to work out. Why? Because when I described myself and my family, he saw me as out of his league. When I described my past and my career, he decided he couldn’t give me what I wanted in life. But, when he saw my car, every assumption he had about me was called into question.
I drive an adorable, “little old lady” of a Honda Civic. She runs like a dream, but, sure, she’s lost her looks. My crappy car showed him I was someone different than I had described, it showed him a different side of my island. It’s important to note that his assumptions were based on what I chose to highlight about myself and apparently I described someone who would never drive a Civic. He was thrown for such a loop that he was speechless, hence the awkward goodbye.
Since then, a lot has happened between us. Needless to say, we went out again because two years later we got married while two hawks circled and screeched above us in a September sky (I couldn’t make that up either).
Eventually, my husband told me about my car’s impact and I was surprised. This revelation was significant–not just in how I present myself when dating, but also in how I present myself to the world. I had never truly thought about the person I presented to the world. For the first time, I looked at how I described myself, and while all those things are true, they aren’t necessarily who I am.
This lesson goes to everyone. Think through the pieces of yourself that you choose to highlight to a first date and, even bigger, to the world. Are these representative of who you are? Do they encapsulate your true self? Be aware of how you present yourself because your presentation is something you choose. It’s also something you control, so present you and not someone else.
Ask yourself incredibly cliche questions like: Who are you? Where have you been? Where are you going? What do you want? These are things you should probably know about yourself anyways, so I promise it will be an eye-opening exercise.
The other side of the coin is also important: your assumptions of another person are based not only on how they present themselves, but also on your tendencies to judge certain traits. My husband, for instance, listened to me describe myself, added me up, and formed a story. It makes me think about all the times I judged someone else, how many people I passed by because I put them in a box that fit my world view.
My advice for first dates is to put your best self forward, but make sure that person is really you. Keep in mind that the person sitting across from you is just as nervous as you are, so the person they present probably doesn’t represent their full selves.
First impressions are just that: impressions. While important, they aren’t always accurate. Maybe they put too much of their best forward, or maybe they didn’t put enough. Maybe you put a different person forward, or maybe you incorrectly judged who they presented. Obviously, compatibility is necessary, but sometimes it takes more than one date for compatibility to show itself.
There are so many fascinating islands out there to explore and I think it’s a shame that so many are passed by based on one date. How many islands have you passed by? How many have passed by you? And how many passed by because you showed them someone other than yourself?
I say, slow down, get off the boat, and explore a little closer. Coming from someone now living on a beautiful island I’m creating with my husband, it’s worth the effort.
[image: via Helmuts Guigo on flickr]
About the Author
Sunna von Christierson is a writer and photographer living in the Denver area. She has a blog called Things They Forgot to Mention where she writes about all the stuff they forgot to mention at the orientation for real life. She writes about the big things, the little things, and all the big things in the little things. She can also be found on Instagram (@sunnavonc) and Twitter (@sunnavonc) and whatever else the kids are on these days.