Mastering the first date is a precious art form that most of us don’t have the wherewithal to do.
When they go well, first dates can lead to second dates, which lead to third dates which lead to sleepovers, Facebook relationship statuses (ladies: if he doesn’t make it “Facebook official,” it’s not real), joint Netflix accounts and eventually marriage.
When they go disastrously, both parties are left feeling awkward and sometimes slightly snubbed. During one of the less enthralling first date experiences I’ve ever had, I ended up sneaking into the bathroom a few times during dinner to Snapchat my friends. Not the best look (Though, to be fair, my date was so much older than me that he didn’t know what the word “millennial” meant — we didn’t have much in common).
Since then, I’ve had a few better first dates, and I’ve worked hard to make sure that each went much more smoothly. Here are some of the best ways I’ve learned to ace a first date:
1. Do some background research
Before I go out with someone, I always skim his social media accounts, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Having some baseline knowledge of his or her interests can help keep conversation flowing. This is especially important during first dates, which are prone to awkward silences. Too many of those, and there almost certainly will not be a second date in your future.
Doing research beforehand can also give you an idea of topics to avoid. For example, if you know that you’re going out with a Bears fan, it might be a wise idea not to mention your love for the Packers (though, it might be a wiser idea not to go out with a Bears fan in the first place).
2. Put away your phone
I used to be so addicted to my iPhone that my friends would sometimes take it from me and pocket it whenever we went out. With Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat at my fingertips, why would I ever pay attention to the people in front of me? I’ve gotten better about it in general, but I’ve also learned it’s best to just keep it away while on a first date. Put it in your purse or pocket. Turn it onto silent so it won’t even buzz when you get a new message or notification. You can afford to devote 100 percent of your attention to the person sitting across the table from you for at least an hour.
3. Stay away from ethnic food
Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation with someone while simultaneously noshing on a plate of Ethiopian? If you haven’t, let me inform you of what happens: you spend more time clutching your stomach and praying that the God of Exploding Bowel Syndrome doesn’t pay you a visit than you do listening to anything your date says. And after the meal, no number of mints will quash your pungent Dragon Lady breath, so just forget about any mouth-to-mouth action.
Opt for foods you know will not make you feel as though your intestines are about to fall apart.
4. Loud venues are a no-go
Concerts, bars, and house parties are fun in most cases except as a locale for a first date. Getting to know one another will be difficult because you won’t be able to hear what your date says under the chatter of everyone else around you. So, more than likely, you’ll spend half your time asking them to repeat what they’ve just said, and they will, but one thing they won’t want to repeat is going out with you again.
Opt for quiet venues — like an art museum where you can gaze at one another lovingly while discussing Georgia O’Keefe’s famous flower paintings. Swoon.
5. Do not bring up exes
Talking about your ex excessively during a first date is a massive indication that, at some level, you are still hung up about them — if not, you wouldn’t feel the need to discuss them at length. Regardless of whether you’re praising them, insulting them, or even just mentioning them in passing, it can make your date feel comfortable. Personally, I wouldn’t want to hear about the time my date went on a trip to Savannah with his ex nor would I want to hear about how passive-aggressive she was.
I went on a first date with someone once who spent most of the time talking about how much he disliked his ex. We didn’t see much of each other after that but the last I heard, he had gotten back together with her. Go figure. Let what happened in the past stay in the past, and focus on the present because, often, it’s much more promising.
6. Calm down
I went out with someone who entered high school — way, way back in the day —around the same time I was starting kindergarten. He showed up to brunch in an outfit that came straight from the shelves of Brooks Brothers, which was strange for me because I — like most girls in their 20s — am usually exclusively attracted to dudes who do not have their shit together. I stumbled inside the restaurant, still reeking of the night before. He commented on the fact that my phone case had holographic kittens on it (thank you, Urban Outfitters), and while I talked about what it was like to currently be in college, he spent the conversation reminiscing about his college Frat Star days far gone. It doesn’t get much worse (or any better?) than that.
The point is that there’s no point in worrying about first dates. At worst, you never see your date again, and they become a funny story or an interesting exercise in sociological exploration (like Mr. Brooks Brothers above).