We're just like you.  We connected through an online dating service--OK Cupid, to be exact.  Our first date was at a fun Seattle tapas-and-sangria bar.  We fell in love.  We are engaged to be married.  We know that you, too, can find love.  Let us help you.

First Date Basics

First Date Basics

public domain-mallory jarrell Most people rank first dates along with a visit to the dentist as one of their least-favorite things to do.  The only difference is that most people have a clear idea of how to navigate the dentist's appointment; first dates have mysterious rules and etiquette that can be hard to grasp.

First dates are peculiar events.  You go through all the motions of a thing called Having Fun.  It might be a coffee shop date or even something as ambitious a real dinner date.  There is wine, maybe music, and some laughter.  Yet the person across from you is, in reality, a stranger.

Pre-Date:  You're Your Own Matchmaker

One tactic that helps dial down the anxiety level is to think of the first date as a lesser form of date, something that we call the pre-date.

A pre-date is a screening tactic that's less than a dinner date with white tablecloths and violins and more about interviewing your date in a fluorescent-lit office with a clipboard.  It's what's commonly called the coffee date.

If you had some money to burn, you would hire a personal matchmaker to conduct this screening.  The matchmaker would not meet your potential date at the hippest, trendiest, most costly restaurant in town.  Why should she?  After all, you're paying her expenses, meaning you'd be on the hook for her half of the restaurant bill and for her time.  Instead, the matchmaker would meet that person at the local Starbucks.

True, coffee shops are dull, but their benefits are stellar:  financial impact is low (less than $10) and your time commitment is minimal (less than an hour).

Choose a Place For the First Date

You've passed the pre-date, screening level--or maybe you're one of those devil-may-care types who simply starts with the first date--and you need to find a place to go.  Your first date locale should be:

  • Fun.  But easy-fun.  Let's not start with the BASE jumping.  That's for the second date.  Try:  biking, miniature golfing, or laser bowling.
  • Inexpensive.  But not rock-bottom cheap, like the coffee shop date.  Imagine how much you might spend at a really nice restaurant with a friend.  Now, spend half of that.
  • Unique.  Not the typical dinner date.  Look for cool local events, like a cheese festival or boat show.
  • Low Time Commitment.  Not the 30-60 minutes of the pre-date, but not the time suck of an all-day skiing trip.  Confine it to 3 hours, door to door.

Adjust Your Body Language

Now you're sitting.  Before your mouth has said a single word, your body has already spoken volumes.

To project confidence on a first date--and to become confident--you must unfold your body.  Social psychologists have found that inwardly focused body language communicates defensiveness and a lack of confidence:  legs crossed at the knees; arms folded; head down; shoulders hunched; eyes darting and evasive.

Instead, unfold and expand your body, much in the same way that animals do.  Roosters fan their feathers.  Cats' fur puffs up.  Monkeys and orangutangs spread to their full length.  And need we mention peacocks?

Spread your arms comfortably.  Guys, you can spread your legs (to a degree).  Either gender can uncross legs.  Look directly at your date.  If standing, plant your legs wide.

First Date Conversation

After you've shaken hands or traded Euro-air-kisses; after you've placed your order; after you've made obligatory nice-talk about traffic (be sure to limit the banal talk, though); after you've surreptitiously checked out your date's physical assets--  Then what?

You converse.

While conversation should be a natural part of being human--like breathing, drinking, or sleeping--we find that a surprising number of daters have no idea how to talk or what to talk about.  Sure, some people are so socially handicapped, they can't even talk to their own mothers.  But most people are good conversationalists who find themselves hampered, even petrified, when confronted with the prospect of holding an hour-long dialogue with a stranger.  Not just any stranger, like a mortgage broker or car salesman, but a stranger within the context of love, dating, and sex.

If dialogue doesn't come easily, here is an easy, five-step emergency plan for busting through the conversational wall:

  1. Neutral:  Fall back on the easy stuff.  While we don't condone too much banal talk, if it makes you feel more comfortable, ask about the traffic, comment on the place where you are meeting, the weather, or say something about your local sports team.
  2. He/She - Facts:  Where, in general, does this person live?  Kids?  Type of job?
  3. You - Facts:  After you've graciously asked about the other person, you provide equivalent facts about yourself.
  4. He/She - Deeper:  If things are going well, deepen the conversation.  As always, start by asking about them before blabbing about yourself.  Take the same topics as earlier (family, job, etc.), but now deepen them.  Now, the topic isn't just bare facts about their job, but whether they like their job and, if appropriate, does it feed their soul?
  5. You - Deeper:  Back to you, deepening the facts from earlier.

Still Lacking Ideas?  See:  What to Talk About on a First Date

Steer Clear of Visible Obstacles

Some people are prone to disaster, even though they have ample warnings about how to avoid disaster.  We're sure you know a few of these people.  Don't be one on your first date.

So, this is more about what not to do than about what to do.

  1. Don't Be Late:  The fad of showing up fashionably late for a date went out with bell bottoms, Halston, and cocaine.
  2. Don't Talk About Exes:  Why would you even want to do this?  Put this behind you.
  3. Don't Talk About Other Dates:  This type of thing begins innocently enough.  Before long, you're bitterly complaining about the girl who left in the middle of a date, leaving you with a fat bill.  You don't look good from any angle.
  4. Avoid Certain Foods

Read:  Other First Date Mistakes to Avoid

Learn:  First Date Do's and Don'ts

Paying on the First Date

Money can put a damper on even the most exciting date.  After that amazing meal at the 5-star restaurant, the dinner check sits forlorn and untouched on the table between you.  Who pays?

At one time, there was a one-size-fits-all solution:  the man pays.  Then, as gender relationships shifted, it became unthinkable for the woman to let the man pay.  Even the tiniest bar tab got split right down the middle.

Now, it's even less clear.  Some women do like having the man pay the bill (gee, imagine that).  For others, not.  We find that the issue of who pays for a date is situationally-based.  For two examples:

  • Coffee Date:  Toss a coin.  Surely one of you can purchase two lattes.  It shouldn't take food from the mouths of your children.  If it still bothers you, we advise you to come ten minutes before your date so that you can pay for your own cup of coffee, thus ensuring a divided bill.
  • Destination Date:  Are you the one who proposed helicopter skiing?  Then you're the one who pays.

After the Date:  You Don't Like Him or Her

The date is over.  You've gone home and you've mutually agreed that you're both not interested in each other.

Or so you thought, until the moment that text arrives on your phone:

hey babe, loved our time, lets go clubbing fri mcschlubbly's, meet me 11pm

Uh, now what?  Ignoring the person isn't an option, unless he/she was such a complete jerk that they deserve nothing more than this.  From the standpoint of common human decency, a response is warranted.

This best way to tell someone you don't like him/her is to tell a partial truth.  We like that better than "partial lie."

You may not like his buck teeth or politics.  Instead of drilling down to the details, it's appropriate just to say, "I felt like we had a good enough time [lie], but we're not compatible [truth].  Best of luck."





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