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As a professional first-dater, an experienced second-dater and an amateur third-dater, I’ve had to sort through my fair share of first impressions.

Each and every first date begins with the initial flash judgment—made within the first 30 seconds. For instance, I might cringe-on-the-inside at the sight of a pinky ring or a pronounced unibrow. Alternatively, I might swoon-on-the-outside at the sight of a gorgeous pair of brown eyes or a healthy set of dimples. You can’t help these judgments—they’re instinctive.

The first impression, on the other hand, happens within the first 10-20 minutes of the date. It’s a whirlwind of emotion—a time when women truly show off their multitasking skills. I can mind my table manners, make polite and witty conversation, and run a game of “20 Questions” in my mind… all at the same time.

Does he have a sense of humor? Is he really nervous? Is he overly arrogant? Is he looking me in the eye or looking at the pimple on my nose? Oh no… did I not cover up that pimple well enough? Are his teeth veneers? Did anyone ever teach him how to hold a knife and fork? Should I order dessert? What would our kids look like? Did I leave my curling iron on?

As I get older, I realize that first impressions—though important—are often not great indicators of true personality and potential.

Take me, for instance. I consider myself approachable and friendly. If a guy were to bump into me at a coffee shop, I know, from experience, that we could hold a nice conversation. I’d make him laugh, he’d make be blush, we’d exchange numbers, and the rest is history.

But sometimes, especially when I’m late for work, I tend to be very “Jersey.” Just get in, get my coffee and get out. I don’t look people in the eye and I sigh heavily when someone in front of me orders a venti, nonfat, no foam, no water, four pump, extra hot chai tea latte. What if my dream man met me on one of these mornings? He’d get a first impression that wasn’t the sweet, kind Ruth I know I can be!

As I was flipping through the August issue of Redbook, I came across a really interesting tidbit titled:

“I fell in love with him despite…”

“His terrible first-date outfit: purple pants, purple faux-suede jacket, and purple-lensed sunglasses. I couldn’t help but laugh.”  – Jen, 35, married to Matt for 8 years

“The really bad, long hair he had. Luckily, I didn’t have to ask him to get rid of it—he got a job and they made him cut it off.”  – Robin, 27, married to Andy for 4 years

“Finding the book The Tightwad Gazette on his bookcase. But he proved to be extremely generous with me. Phew!”  – Carol, 52, married to Bruce for 14 years

“His smelling every bit of food on our first date. So weird! I later learned that he smells everything—food, leather, whatever!”  – Kandie, 35, married to Jason for 13 years

Each of these women had initial hesitations based on first impressions or flash judgments. But they stuck it out. They gave their guys another chance, and then another chance after that. And it all worked out! The good qualities began to outweigh the little things that were once so off-putting. 

As I date, I want to be able to look past the trivial things and focus on the chemistry, the shared beliefs and values, and the ways we “fit.” And my hope is that a man could do the same with me—that he could see past a pesky pimple or that one time I growled at the overly perky coffee shop employee. Maybe he could even see past my first-date nerves and my need to lose a few pounds — and learn what I really have to offer in a long-term relationship. The truth is that I can’t expect a guy to see the real me unless I’m willing to take the time to see the real him.

After that, the rest will hopefully fall into place. And when it does, there’ll be plenty of time to burn that purple faux-suede jacket.

~Ruth