Sex + Dating

You're Screwing Up All Your First Dates, but Never Knew Why. Until Now!

I hadn't been on a decent date in over a year, and this date was definitely better than decent. Standing on the stoop of my building, he gently brushed the hair from my face and softly whispered goodnight in my ear. Swoon.

When he didn't text me the next day, the anxious spiral began. Did he like me? Should I message him? He was all I could think about. My mind created decision trees of actions I could take and probable reactions. After weighing all possibilities, I texted him at 5am: "hey."

He'd said on our date that he wakes up at 6am, and in my frenzy it seemed perfectly reasonable to call him just a little bit before his alarm went off. I mean, I do not actually think it is reasonable to text a guy at 5am; but in that panic I believed it was either text or lose him forever. Unfortunately, as expected, the early morning messaging made me lose him for sure.

I used to blame myself, wishing I had more self-control. Then, I learned that desperate acts are a psychological reaction to scarcity -- and they're 100% preventable. Here's how it works.

Scarcity causes obsession

Professor Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard found in a 2012 study that people who lacked resources such as time or money thought more about those resources. For example, poor people were more likely to know the base cab fare even though they were less likely to take cabs. His research built upon a 1944 study on the effects of starvation. In that experiment, 36 men were starved nearly to death. They became obsessed with food, reading cookbooks constantly. When asked what they wanted to do after the experiment, 60% said they wanted to open restaurants.

Scarcity leads to obsession. Seems helpful for survival. However, when it applies to our romantic lives it can be very unhelpful. While it had only been a day since our date, in my mind it had been weeks because he was all I could think about.

Obsession leads to regret

When we obsess, cognitive processing abilities in our brains decrease significantly. In his experiments, Professor Mullainathan also found that when people lacked resources and you made them aware of their scarcity, they performed worse on IQ tests. For example, poor people who had to think about paying a large sum for car repairs did worse on IQ tests than well-off people. When there wasn't a large sum of money involved, their scores were equivalent. Simply being reminded of scarcity decreases our reasoning capabilities.

By going on a great date, I was reminded of my romantic scarcity. Despite the hours of contemplation, I made an unreasonable decision because my cognitive processing abilities were inhibited.

If you don't want to act desperate, you have to combat the effects of scarcity. Here's how.

Tip 1: Eliminate perceived scarcity

Many people advocate not dating when you feel desperate. Unfortunately, that leads to greater scarcity. Instead, research suggests eliminating perceived scarcity by dating more. That doesn't mean skipping monogamy. However, if you are interested in someone, schedule multiple dates right off the bat so you can relax knowing you will see the person again. If you are online dating, wait until you find more than one person you're interested in messaging before sending anything. Avoid situations early on that lead to a belief that there is only one person and this is your one chance.

Tip 2: Set yourself up for success

In teen wolf movies, werewolves always isolate themselves in a forest away from humans before their transformations. In other words, they anticipate what's about to happen and prepare accordingly. In the same way, you should be ready for decreased reasoning abilities. Don't drink too much on a date if you have a bad habit of being rude after a few vodka clubs. Download an app that won't let you send texts at all hours of the night. Whatever desperate act you tend to commit, set up a system that prevents you from taking that action.

Tip 3: Practice abundant thinking

When you have abundant thinking, you believe you have options. "Abundance is really your ability to see more in your life," says Katia Verresen, executive leadership coach and founder of KVA Leadership. "More options, more choices, more resources. And that starts with noticing more. We don't see abundance when we believe in scarcity, because our mind can only observe or notice what we believe to be true."

If we believe we will never find love, we don't notice the hot barista drawing hearts in our cappuccino. You can change your belief simply by looking around. The result? Last week I went on a great first date. I'm seeing him again this week, and I'm not stressing. Why? There are plenty of other fish in the sea.

This story originally appeared on Medium.

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Emily Grewal is the creator of Love (decision) maker. She's a statistician-turned-life coach who studied decision-making at Stanford and NYU. Follow her on Twitter @emilygrewal.