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First date advice from Serena Kerrigan, for anyone who’s nervous about dating after lockdown

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Feeling nervous about dating again after spending so much time at home? Serena Kerrigan has been on 50 virtual first dates over the past year and she has learnt a lot about the best ways to approach dating in this new Covid climate. Here, she shares her advice. 

Welcome to The Curiosity Academy, Stylist’s new learning hub where you can access workshops, how-to guides, new research and learn the most up-to-date skills from the UK’s most in-the-know people.

First dates are something many of us fear – the anticipation, the awkwardness, the pressure to impress. And coronavirus has only exacerbated that as various lockdown restrictions have meant that you have either been unable to meet new people or, if you can, you have to navigate various restrictions that deny any opportunities to meet indoors, see the bottom half of each other’s faces, or even touch.

Serena Kerrigan found herself single at the start of the pandemic and was facing all the difficulties that came with it when it comes to dating, so she found a solution – she started Instagram’s first-ever reality TV show and the format meant going on virtual blind dates every single week (the only catch was, they were broadcast live on Instagram).

“First dates are hard,” she says. “First dates in front of 1000 people and your parents? It’s a whole debacle.”

Now, having just finished series three of her show, Let’s Fucking Date, she has dated over 50 men virtually and, as Covid-19 restrictions begin to lift all over the world, she is going back into the world having learnt more than she could have ever imagined about how to nail a first date. Naturally, she gets asked for a lot of advice from her followers. “How did I become Carrie Bradshaw?” she says. “Because I really am Samantha Jones.”

If you’re finding the prospect of going on what might be the first IRL date you have been on in over a year daunting, you’re in luck as Serena has shared her best tips for nailing a first date with The Curiosity Academy.

Date yourself first

Serena explains that the most important way to prepare for a first date is to ensure that you feel confident in yourself. “Even though I was dating on IG live all year, I dated myself too,” she says. “I got to a place in my life where I was genuinely happy.”

“We need to normalise being alone vs being lonely,” Serena continues, adding that if you feel bad about yourself and about being single, your date will be able to recognise that and you may also be willing to accept less than you deserve.

Serena recommends really spending time with yourself to ensure you’re happy enough with your alone time that you only make time for the people who really deserve it. She calls this dating yourself, something she is constantly doing. “I masturbate, I read, I go on TikTok, I work out, I call my friends.”

Hype yourself up right before a date

If you’re feeling nervous before your date, Serena recommends talking to yourself in the mirror to big yourself up. “When you look in the mirror, you’re your best friend,” she says.

You can talk yourself through the plan for the date – try to be positive about it but you can also reassure yourself that if you’re not enjoying it, you can go home. This will also help you feel more confident in yourself, which will reflect well to your date. “If you’re dating a guy and he sees that you’re so mean to your best friend, why would he want to date you?” Serena says, explaining that the same is true when you talk badly about yourself. 

Reframe the narrative about what you might get out of a first date

“Women are afraid to go on dates because if it doesn’t go well, it reconfirms this narrative that they’ve created, that they’re not good enough and they’re not going to find their person,” Serena says, stressing the importance of putting less pressure on first dates.

“Ultimately, women go into dates asking, is he going to choose me? But, [instead, ask yourself], are you going to choose him?”

Dates are just conversations and processes of getting to know someone and you don’t need to put pressure on them to be anything more than that, Serena explains. “You might just get a good meal or a good drink or you have a great story or you learn something about yourself and what you want or what you don’t want. So I personally think there’s no loss.”

Go on a virtual date first

Serena has found the experience of virtual dating to be really valuable and she now wouldn’t go on a ‘real life’ date without speaking to the person she is planning on meeting over video call first. A five minute FaceTime will do, she says, but this will help you ensure the person you’re planning on dating is worth your time as well as taking the pressure off the date.

“The average single girl is probably swiping and matching with a lot of people – they have to pick one person, maybe for the week, to go on a date with,” Serena explains. “Think about how much pressure all of a sudden that that date is because you picked him from all of the choices.”

“All you want is for it to go well and the issue with that is you’re not likely to be yourself,” continues Serena, explaining that wanting the date to go well to such an extent will lead you to stop acting like yourself.

Serena does recommend going on an in-person date if you still like the person after FaceTiming, but knowing that you do have some chemistry (or that the person really looks like their photo on Hinge) will lead to less disappointment. Serena also suggests bringing up politics on this call, if that’s something that’s important to you, so you can ensure you and your date are politically aligned. 

Wear something you feel comfortable in

“Wear something that makes you feel confident,” Serena advises, adding that she used to wear really sexy outfits but they weren’t actually what made her feel good about herself.

In line with her other advice, she thinks the most important thing to think about is what will make you feel good, rather than the person you’re going on a date with, as confidence is attractive. 

Don’t overcomplicate what you plan to do for a first date

Especially with the complications brought on with Covid-19, it can be easy to plan an extravagant date doing something really unusual but Serena believes that this can actually distract from getting to know the person.

“I think that for a first date, it should just be the most basic – so, a drink, a meal,” she says, adding that, “I prefer a drink because it’s easy in or out.”

Remember, it’s not a job interview

There’s bound to be awkward silences at the start of a first date and it can be tempting to fill them with questions about work, future plans or even past relationships. But Serena says it’s best to keep your questions fairly light-hearted at first.

She’s created a card game for this very purpose, made up of questions you can ask on a first date. You could take a game like this one with you to break the ice or prepare some easygoing, but thought-provoking, questions in advance. Serena suggests the following questions, taken from her card game:

  • Who is someone you’ve never met but has impacted your life significantly?
  • What would you call a reality show about your life?
  • What soup would you be?

If the conversation isn’t flowing, you don’t have to force it

“You know very quickly if you like someone and if they like you,” Serena says, adding that usually the conversation will flow or it won’t, except from in rare cases with very introverted people who need time to warm up.

“Don’t force it,” she says, adding that you can leave whenever you want. “[Women] feel so forced into staying when we’re not happy. But you’re not obliged to stay - you can get up and leave.”

Serena advises telling a white lie, if you want to leave, for example, that you have to get up for work the next day or you’re meeting a friend. You don’t owe the person you are dating anything at this point and saying outright that you don’t like them would probably only serve to hurt their feelings, she explains. “It doesn’t matter,” she says, referring to the excuse you use. “They’re not gonna think about it that much.”

There’s nothing wrong with sex on the first date but don’t let it blur your perceptions

Women have heard so many rules about sex on the first date (or not having sex on the first date), mostly from shows like Sex And The City. These rules are mostly grounded in patriarchal beliefs and based on women feeling judged by men and are therefore almost totally redundant. Serena, however, personally, opts not to sleep with people on the first date for a different reason.

“I think the thing about not having sex with [people on the first date] is less about [getting their] approval and more about staying very grounded,” Serena says, so you can rationally ask yourself questions like, “Do I really like this person? Or do I like the attention? Or is it just attachment?” Having sex with someone might mean you are less able to view them clearly for who they truly are, which isn’t always a good thing, especially at the start of a relationship.

This is obviously a personal choice but Serena says it is something to keep in mind if you are looking for a long-term relationship and you do think having sex with someone could change how you view them.

Be straightforward with post-date etiquette

The politics of how to interact with someone after a date, whether you want to see them or again or not, can be difficult and complicated, so Serena suggests keeping it as straightforward as possible.

Often after a first date, it can be clear that there was no chemistry, so communication afterwards isn’t necessary, Serena explains, but if they do get in contact with you and you’re no longer interested in them she says that the best thing to do is send a simple text like, “thanks so much but I’m not really looking for anything right now”.

If you’re in a position where you feel confused after the date, Serena says this is probably a sign that you shouldn’t see each other again. “And not if he didn’t kiss me,” Serena adds, citing the popular idea that a date is only successful if it ends with an end-of-the-night-snog. “There’s a global pandemic so I completely understand [kissing] not being a thing.”

But if there is no communication after the date, don’t push it, Serena advises - it’s not a good way to start a healthy, equally-weighted relationship. 

A successful date is not necessarily one that leads to another

Serena explains that the main criticism her dating show received was that she never ended up with anyone, “But why does that mean success?” she asks. “Look at all these other things I got from dating.”

Even if you don’t find a romantic partner from a date, you’ll almost always be able to take something from it. “You make a friend, maybe you get a job from it,” Serena says. “Or you fall in love! Or you learn something about yourself, about what you do like, what you don’t like.”

“The media - even shows like Sex and The City, which I love - they made the dating narrative look so hard,” Serena says. “Why? Dating’s fun. You’re literally just getting to know someone.”

  • Serena Kerrigan, influencer and creator of Let's Fucking Date

    Serena Kerrigan headshot

    Serena Kerrigan is an influencer and the creator and host of Instagram’s first ever live reality show, Let’s Fucking Date. Serena founded the show at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 when she realized how difficult dating had become for single people and she has now been on over 50 virtual first dates in front of hundreds of thousands of people.

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