EVERYBODY knows the pressure of a first date: Searching for that perfect outfit. Hunting for ways to be engaging. Dissecting each detail when it's over to check for mistakes. Dating can make even the most confident person lose his cool. "I have talked to guys who are really worried about first impressions," says Julia Boyd, a Seattle clinical psychotherapist. "I think there's a lot of pressure on them to be perfect in some way. A friend I was talking to told me he dreaded first dates. `I always think I'll do something stupid or say the wrong thing,' he said. Sometimes, we assume it's just women who worry about how they appear on dates, but so do men."
Experts say the heart of care-free dating lies in changing your perspective. Instead of considering this one encounter a deal-breaking moment, relax and have fun.
"Consider this the beginning of a friendship," says Boyd, author of Embracing the Fire: Sisters Talk About Sex and Relationships. "That will take some of the pressure off so you're not worrying about what your date thinks of you. Act the same way you would with someone you hope to call your friend."
That's just one tip. To help you master the dating game, relationship counselors and therapists offer 10 others. The following are the top things Brothers and Sisters should avoid when meeting someone new:
1. Discussing past relationships
Stop! Before you even begin sharing your story of how he did me wrong or how she played me, just stop yourself and think. If you bad-mouth a former lover, won't a new friend wonder what you'd say when he or she is gone? Even if you think your last mate was wonderful, be judicious with what you share.
Unknowingly, you could create a situation where your date feels pressured to live up to the model of your perfect love. Dredging up past lovers with new friends is the No. 1 no-no in dating.
"You shouldn't talk about previous relationships or previous lovers," says Dr. Darlene Powell Hopson, author with her husband, Dr. Derek S. Hopson, of Friends, Lovers and Soul Mates: A Guide to Better Relationships Between Black Men and Women. "You want to try to be positive and show that it is a part of your character to be loyal. And you demonstrate that through your relationships with other people, not just the person you are dating."
If your date asks you about a former love, be friendly, but brief and general.
Don't give too many specifics or details too soon. If the person presses you, politely explain you'd rather keep some things to yourself.
"I would say, `I'm not comfortable talking about that right now,'" says Boyd.
2. Sharing your drama
Everyone has a story of personal struggle. That doesn't mean everyone wants to hear yours. Until your suitor becomes your friend, save the drama for Oprah or Montel. A date is no place for confessions. "You really don't know that person," says Dr. Patricia Fisher, a Washington, D.C., psychologist. "In the beginning, you are just starting to get a sense of who he or she is."
Instead of sharing every challenge you're facing or have overcome, begin with the simple things. Where are you from? What are your dreams? What are your passions? Relationship counselors say it's unbelievable how many people share deep secrets before even telling the basics.
"You can share things," Dr. Fisher says, "but do it in gradations. When you first begin dating, be more general and nonspecific. As you begin to know more about this person and feel he or she is trustworthy or mature, you can share more. But it should be reciprocal. Each person should gradually reveal more of their personal self to the other."
Dr. Ronn Elmore, a California psychotherapist and author of companion books How to Love a Black Woman and How to Love a Black Man, says when you feel secure enough to divulge secrets, check with the other person to make sure they're at the same place.
"It's always prudent when one person is ready to share and is not sure if someone else is ready to listen to say, `There is something that when you're ready for it, I'd like to share with you,'" he says. "`If you re ready now, I'd love to tell you. But I'll be fine if we leave it for another discussion.'"
As you get to know your date and begin to share more, also ask questions. You may be surprised at what you learn. People with heavy issues to discuss, such as sexual disease or histories of addiction, should match their disclosure to the relationship level.
"Some things don't have to be shared right away," says Dr. Fisher. "For example, if someone has herpes and it's still in the early phases of ,the relationship and there has been no sexual contact, I don t think you have to reveal everything at once. But if it does appear that the relationship is moving to the next level--in this case a sexual one--the person does have an obligation to inform their mate about their condition."
3. Listening or talking too much
Time is the main consideration when revealing sensitive facts about your life. "If someone is not open about their problem [such as a history of alcoholism or drug abuse] after a few dates, I might wonder what's going on," says Dr. Fisher. "It would be a warning sign."
"We've all been there--on one side or the other. Either we're chattering non-stop or we're just soaking it all in, forgetting to add something to the exchange. The trick to a good date is finding a medium ground.
"Don t do all the talking or the listening," says Dr. Elmore. "Even if it means having to prepare some possible topics of discussion before the date, get out of your comfort zone. Those who tend to do all the talking, ask questions to engage the less articulate one. But remember not to interrogate someone like they're on the witness stand by asking 20 questions."
4. Breaking promises
"I'll call you tomorrow." "We'll check out that new restaurant next week." "I'm planning a ski trip for your birthday." You might have had the best intentions, but keep the vows to yourself if you re unsure or unwilling to come through. Promises without results affect your integrity.
"Don't make promises you cannot keep or commit yourself because you feel obligated to do something," says Dr. Powell Hopson. "Don't say things like, `I'II keep in touch' when you don't mean it." It's better not to say anything, relationship experts say. That way there are no expectations or feelings of being misled. If you give your word on something, stick to it. Following promises with action is a wonderful expression of your character.
5. Being needy and desperate
The rage on the radio might be finding a mate to pay your bills, but when it comes to dating, that's a bad opening note. Men and women look for independent companions who can handle their own affairs. If you constantly need money or words of affirmation from a lover, you probably don't need to be dating. Instead, spend some time alone and get yourself together.
Another mistake is always being available. Sometimes say no to invitations or cut the phone marathons short. Don t worry, if the person is interested, he or she won t disappear, experts say. It's not about playing "games" but about having a life. You can get so entranced by a new friend that you stop nurturing yourself. The same pastimes and passions that made you interesting to your date will keep the person around to discover more.
"People shy away from others who constantly need to be validated or need to be taken care of," says Dr. Fisher. "You have to give your date breathing roam and you need some of your own."
6. Making assumptions
You pick the restaurant. You take the menu and place your date's order. You choose the play you see after dinner. "Don't make assumptions about what the other person wants or is thinking or feeling," says one expert. "Check it out. Then verify."
Some people might appreciate that you take charge, but others may resent it. Until you know, err on the side of balance.
"Don't make decisions for the both of you," Boyd says. "Have a dialogue about what you d like to do. Be open to suggestions and willing to take feedback.
Dr. Powell Hopson says she had a client who frequently ordered for her male friend. When he stopped calling, she wondered what went wrong. "At first she thought it was no big deal," says Dr. Powell Hopson, "but in subsequent sessions, she realized it offended him."
Boyd says that women shouldn't assume the man will pick up the check. The same goes for Brothers who plan to stick a Sister with the tab.
"If the person offers, that's fine," she says. "But it's nice not to have the pressure of assuming someone else will take care of things. Instead of worrying about the bill, it gives us the freedom to really enjoy ourselves.
7. Wearing blinders
If someone gives you the number to his or her cellular phone or beeper or insists on only calling you ... Hello! Is anybody listening? You should be hearing sirens. Unfortunately, many people overlook flags more serious than a game of telephone shuffle.