Going on a first date, whether in-person or via Zoom, can feel like walking a tightrope. You’re trying to seem eager without coming on too strong; smart but not condescending; funny but not obnoxious. And there’s a lot you have to focus on at once, such as trying to figure out what to say while wondering if you’ve fully wiped off all that spaghetti sauce from your beard.
All of these pressures are why a lot of guys get nervous on a first date and end up missing their shot at a second one. You don’t want that to be you—and we don’t want that to be you, either. That’s why we spoke with a few relationship experts to get their top tips on how to make your first date less scary, more fun, and super likely to land you date number two. (And if you’re struggling to come up with a solid first date idea, check out our list of first date ideas that will make you look like a creative genius.)
Make it a two-way conversation.
Sure, you have to tell them about yourself, but make sure you’re asking your date questions about their own accomplishments and hobbies. Things can get iffy if you only talk about yourself; it might seem like you’re just waiting for the date to be over so you can get them into bed, says Carole Lieberman, M.D., author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. If you’re not sure where to start, their job is usually a good bet.
What will impress your date more is seeing that you’re genuinely interested in hearing about them. “Active listening goes a long way,” says Moushumi Ghose, MFT, a licensed sex therapist. “Whether it’s repeating back what you think you’ve heard, getting clarification or asking thoughtful questions.”
Taylor Sparks, Erotic Educator and Founder of Organic Loven, encourages you to ask questions until you find something you have in common—and it doesn’t have to be a shared passion. In fact, it can be the opposite: “There can be great bonding over ‘hating’ the same things, i.e. the Yankees, the Celtics, CrossFit, or raisins in your potato salad,” Sparks says.
Be mindful of touchiness.
You might think that touching them a lot on the first date shows that you’re into them. Not the case, says relationship expert April Masini of AskApril.com. What you’re actually showing is that you’re super-touchy on every first date. Way to make a person feel special, right?
“On a first date, touch should be limited and only natural, friendly, and warm—not sexual,” Lieberman says. In other words, it’s fine to take their hand to help them out of your car, or put your hand on their lower back to lead them through a crowded restaurant. But don’t drape your arm around their neck and hold them close the entire time. Touching is natural, but overdoing it can get a little weird.
Keep the cursing to a minimum.
Some people may love bad boys, but swearing like a sailor doesn’t make you a catch. “Cursing gets old very quickly,” Dr. Lieberman says. “It makes it look like you’re trying to be cool.” You’re a cool dude already. You don’t need to go dropping F-bombs to get that message across.
Curb the cursing habit now, in anticipation of all your future first dates (and job interviews, and other non-sailing situations), Dr. Lieberman says. It’s too difficult to just turn off a habit for a few hours, so eliminate four-letter words from your everyday vocabulary.
Be present in the moment.
You don’t need to check those texts right now, no matter how much your friends are LOL-ing at that TikTok someone just shared. Ignoring outside distractions will show your date you’re invested in the shared experience and make them feel valued.
It’s also good for your own wellbeing to relax and enjoy the time you two have together. Ghose says, “Take your time. Slow down. Pause before speaking. Pay attention to your five senses: smell, touch, sight, sound, taste, and savor them. Listen. Breathe. You both deserve to enjoy this time together, even if it turns out, down the road, that you’re not compatible.”
Curb any excess enthusiasm.
Giddiness doesn’t read as enthusiasm on a first date—it reads as anxiety, according to psychologist Tracy Thomas, Ph.D. “You end up sending the message that you’re uncomfortable with yourself, and unable to self-regulate,” Thomas explains. In other words, you look like a nervous wreck, and she’s going to bail.
If you tend to get giddy, plan a date with a distraction so that you’re not on the spot for suave conversation the entire time, Dr. Lieberman says. Some good options to take the pressure off: a play or a concert. If you’re having a virtual date, you could watch a movie or show together. You’ll still have the opportunity to talk, just not as much.
If your date wants to split the bill, go for it.
It’s always a nice gesture to offer to treat your date, but if they want to split the bill, be open to that. We live in a society that allows for egalitarian partnerships!
If they object, you can explain that you’re totally willing to go dutch on your next date, but since they agreed to spend their evening with you, you’d like to get this one. If they’re still insistent on splitting the first-date check, do it. Allow them to establish boundaries that make them feel comfortable.
“The most important thing to remember when dating, whether it be your first date or your 100th date, is respect,” Ghose says.
Dress to impress.
We should all take time to look nice for a date. You don’t need to go overboard, but be sure to do the basics: showering, shaving, and spritzing on little cologne.
Wear a simple-yet-polished outfit like dark jeans, a blazer, and loafers, and you’ll look put-together without seeming like you’re trying too hard.
This also applies to a virtual date! No matter what kind of date you’re on, putting in a bit of effort goes a long way.
Offer a polite compliment.
If you start off with some comment on how great their butt looks in those pants, they’re not going to be into it. They will be immediately put off. Comments on appearance have to be given with finesse or you’ll start the evening (or end it) on the wrong note.
Stick to more neutral compliments, like “You look really nice tonight.” If your date doesn’t seem to enjoy compliments on their appearance, go for a cool line like “I can’t get enough of your laugh.” Everyone likes to know they are appreciated, but you have to be self-aware enough to offer the right phrasing.
Humor is your friend.
Joking around with your date is a great way to break the ice. Everyone likes funny guys. Keep it light and flirty.
This shouldn’t be too hard. Find out something you both agree on. For instance, maybe you both think Frasier is a pretentious and terrible show, or absolutely love It’s Always Sunny. Joke about that together. Remember that this is a date and enjoying yourselves is important—it isn’t a job interview.
Virtual date? Cook together to show off those culinary skills.
It’s no secret that a virtual date can be awkward—but, then again, what first date isn’t a little uncomfortable? Make use of the kitchen to break the ice!
A super fun way to make a virtual date feel both romantic and fun is to cook separately, but together. Decide on a simple meal that both of you can make in your kitchens over Zoom. You can follow along in the recipe together. This will give you an opportunity to ask your date questions about themselves while keeping your hands busy. This makes for fewer awkward silences.
Set the mood. Light some candles and sit down to eat together. It’s a very sweet way to make even the most distanced of dates feel close. (For more virtual date ideas, head here!)
Remember to have a good time!
“Putting pressure on a date to go a certain way takes the fun out of it, and turns it into an obligatory task,” Ghose says. “Try to have fun, laugh, enjoy each other. At the very least, you can make a friend out of the deal.”
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