Is It Nerves or Your Subconscious Telling You to Cancel a Date?
You're getting ready for a first date and you're a mess. Your heart is racing. Your stomach is doing summersaults. No matter how much deodorant you put on, you can't stop sweating.
Are these butterflies of excitement because your Hinge date looks a bit like Zac Efron when you squint?
Or is this your subconscious telling you to cancel the date, because deep down you think his lack of photos and social media presence could be a sign he's actually a catfish?
Subconscious signs you should never ignore
A 2022 study suggested we make about 95 percent to 98 percent of our daily decisions with our subconscious, including choices in our love lives. This is why it's key to recognize when feeling anxious before a date is your subconscious trying to protect you from a potentially dangerous situation, according to Bernhard Tewes, a hypnotherapist in Berlin.
"It's normal to feel excitement and curiosity before meeting someone. But it's vital to differentiate between natural positive excitement and a gut instinct telling you something isn't right," Tewes said, adding that if texting with a potential partner makes you feel uneasy, this could be a sign something is wrong.
As you date, you know there's a difference between excited nerves and your subconscious softly screaming danger—the first fades and the latter lingers.
Another bad sign is if you feel "unworthy of this person." If so, dating them might only hurt your confidence and self-perception.
Other warning signs include experiencing "somatic symptoms," including:
- Abdominal and/or chest pain
- Irregular heart rate
- Shaky hands
- Sweaty palms
"Feeling nervous before a date is common, especially if you're genuinely interested in meeting that person," Tewes said. "But pause and reflect when your gut instinct causes you to hesitate. Ask yourself, 'Do I really want to see this person? Has anything they have said made me feel uncomfortable or raised concerns?' Answering these questions can help you make a more informed decision about whether to proceed with the date."
But what if it's just butterflies?
Butterflies before a date are a sign of sexual attraction. A 2018 study suggested when we meet someone we're into, the part of our brain involved in our behavioral and emotional responses—that's the limbic system—activates the nerve from our brain to our gut and creates a feeling of excitement caused by stress and the desire to see this person.
"If we don't have butterflies before a first date, we probably shouldn't go on the date," said Jerry Brook, the Houston-based author of "The Good Together: A Journey Through Relationships" and a relationship expert. "Butterflies are the anticipation of things to come. They are a show that we are looking forward to and expecting a positive experience."
'It's called first-date jitters because the feeling usually subsides after the first date—when we feel safe with someone; our excitement and anxiety disappear over time.'
A lack of butterflies probably indicates you aren't invested in this particular date. If you aren't excited about meeting the person, it might be wise to not waste anyone's time.
The sensation we know as butterflies fluttering in our stomachs comes from a branch in our nervous system called "sympathetic." It's also responsible for the fight-or-flight response, preparing you for emergency situations by increasing your heart rate and pumping blood to your major muscle groups. This drop in blood flow causes blood vessels in your digestive system to constrict and contract, which leads to the sensation we know as butterflies.
"Whether you feel nervous or excited before your date, your sympathetic system will be activated in the same way as if you were preparing to flee from a tiger," said Lienna Wilson, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in Princeton, New Jersey.
Should you trust your gut or your nerves?
A great way to distinguish the difference between your gut instinct telling you something is off and first-date jitters is to pay attention to your reaction speed and the intensity of your nervous symptoms.
"A gut instinct is typically an immediate, strong feeling that arises in response to a particular situation, while anxiety can appear afterward and feel less intense," Tewes said. "Pay close attention to how your body feels, particularly in your stomach or chest area. If you consistently experience intense and lingering discomfort or unease, more could be at play than nerves. Trusting these sensations can help you make better decisions."
Another way to know if your subconscious is trying to protect you from a dangerous dating situation is if you continue to have this feeling when you meet this person again.
"It's called first-date jitters because the feeling usually subsides after the first date because when we feel safe with someone; our excitement and anxiety disappear over time, leaving only feelings of comfort and relaxation," Tewes said. "But if you've already met someone several times and you still feel a similar or an even higher level of anxiety, that might be a sign that something is off about them."
Choosing a partner is not a conscious decision
Our subconscious doesn't only warn us when a date isn't for us, it also helps us find the right match.
"Your subconscious is your inner friend, trying to look out for you," explained Laura Wasser, a family law expert and attorney in Los Angeles and the chief of divorce evolution at Divorce.com.
"Listening to our subconscious is crucial because it always wants what's best for us," Tewes said. "But a decision made consciously isn't always a bad one. Sometimes, we must make decisions using our conscious mind because there might be rational reasons not to follow our subconscious desires."
Tewes noted falling in love with someone who lives a long distance from you could be a subconscious choice while deciding to end the relationship because logistically it doesn't work could be a conscious decision.
As for almost-Zac Efron from Hinge, if you feel your gut is telling you not to go on this date, skip it. As you date, you know there's a difference between excited nerves and your subconscious softly screaming danger. The first fades and the latter lingers.