Claire Harmeyer
Updated Mar 16, 2020 @ 5:21 pm
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A lot of pressure rides on first dates. They’re basically like interviews, but instead of selling your professional skills, you’re selling your personality, which can feel a lot more daunting. Rather than presenting yourself as employable and capable, you hope to come off as interesting and attractive, which is easier said than done. Add dating apps into the equation, where dates are essentially blind, and you can expect even more stress to be added. Basically, a first date is make or break when it comes to finding a romantic partner.

As a single 22-year-old living in New York City, I’ve been on a lot of first dates during the past few months. Blind, online, set up by friends—you name it, I’ve done it.

With all of these first dates, I’ve learned some major no-no’s, not just from the people I’ve met, but from my own behavior, too.

Lesson number one: Don’t wear super uncomfortable booties just because they look good with your outfit—style is not worth struggling to keep up with your much taller, flat-footed date taking lengthy strides down brick streets. Aside from my personal mistakes, casually dating so often has helped me weed out the things I am and am not attracted to, and it’s usually obvious from the very first encounter.

Open the door for me? Good start. Rude to the waiter? Nice knowing you. Call me “babe” on the first date? Call you never. While these might seem like minute details, the smallest thing can be a dealbreaker for some people. To alleviate the inevitable stress of first dates, we tapped relationship experts to learn the biggest dos and don’ts on a first date and hear the best first date ideas. Stick with us, and you’ll be tackling first dates with ease in no time. But above all, remember to be yourself, and if it doesn’t lead to a second date, it wasn’t meant to be.

First date tips

First thing’s first: Planning the date. It’s easy to fall into the habit of “grabbing drinks”—it’s casual, low-commitment, and the alcohol helps take the edge off, TBH. However, other outings are better suited for introductions to potential partners. The best type of activities for first dates are ones that encourages conversation, so that getting to know each other isn’t the only focus. Things like bowling, mini golf, or a casual festival lift some of the pressure off of the conversation, so that it doesn’t feel like that dreaded interview situation. Connecting over a shared interest is key to settling into the date and feeling like yourself.

According to Plenty of Fish relationship expert Shannon Smith, 27% of singles find it easiest to be themselves during these activity-based dates, while 29% find sit-down dinner dates the best scenario for open conversation. So, what’s the verdict on those traditional dinner dates?

While they’re higher commitment (you can’t easily dip out after one drink), 55% of first dates held at a sit-down restaurant are successful, Smith tells HelloGiggles.

Sitting across the table from your date allows you to maintain eye contact and take in their facial expressions and gestures. It might be more daunting than walking through a park and looking at trees instead of your date’s face, but it doesn’t delay the inevitable—you’ll learn quickly how you feel around this person. Just don’t opt for a ramen restaurant. Sure, the funky atmosphere is fun, but try telling someone about your hometown while using chopsticks to slurp slippery noodles from a bowl of broth. Speaking from experience here.

“The first date is most effective when you treat it for what it is—an introduction,” dating expert and VP of Dating.com, Maria Sullivan tells HelloGiggles. “It’s honestly about the feeling you get when in your date’s company, not about learning everything there is to know about them.”

Sullivan also says knowing when to cut the date off, even when it’s going well, has a big impact on the possibility of future dates.

“If you avoid elongating or overstaying on the first date, you will leave your potential partner wondering. This curiosity will nine out of 10 times lead to a follow-up date.” In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, first dates should only be virtual, but refer to these tips once things are back to normal.

First date dos and don’ts

Once you’ve landed on the time and location of your first date, now comes the bread and butter of dating: The major dos and don’ts on the date itself. Don’t spoil a perfectly good date by making these common, but fatal mistakes.

First date don’ts:

1Don’t: Be late.

We’re starting with the basics here, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t value timeliness. Showing up to your first date “fashionably late” isn’t attractive, no matter how busy or in-demand you want to seem. It’s just plain inconsiderate.

2Don’t: Look at your phone.

When you’re hanging out with someone, nothing is ruder than them constantly looking at their phone. It instantly shouts, “Whatever is on this screen is more important than you.” That’s possibly the worst message you can send someone who you’re meeting for the first time. Turn your phone on silent, put it away, and give your date your full attention.

3Don’t: Come on too strong.

Although you’re on a date and the ultimate goal is to find a romantic partner, coming on too strong is a huge turn-off for lots of people. Expert in sexual health and wellness Tiffany Yelverton says that using pet names like “babe” and “honey” is a big no-no, and I contest to this, too. We just met—I’m not your babe!

Excessive touching is also unnecessary on a first date. Gauge the situation based on the activity—if you’re bowling and your date gets a strike, totally go in for the flirty high-five. If you’re walking in a park, holding hands the entire time is probably a bit overboard for a first date.

4Don’t: Focus on yourself.

The point of a first date is to get to know someone—don’t let this become one-sided by only talking about yourself. You’re trying to impress your date, so it can feel natural to want to spill the beans on all the great things about yourself, but avoid this. It’s especially easy to fall into this trap when your date is on the shy side, but don’t start word vomiting about your middle school teachers just because your date is a little quiet.

“You can encourage engaging dialogue by asking questions and actively listen to your date’s responses,” Plenty of Fish relationship expert, Shannon Smith, says.

There’s no need to share your entire life story on the first date. Hopefully, there’s plenty of time for this in the future. The most important thing to focus on during the first date is sharing the basics, and letting the conversation drift anywhere. Sometimes, talking about the most random topics is a sign the date is going well, because you’re really in the moment. A date and I once spent ten minutes ranking our favorite cereals (with detailed reasoning, of course), and it was one of the most fun conversations I’ve had on a first date. Too bad his number one was Mini-Wheats—now that’s a dealbreaker.

First date dos:

1Do: Choose your outfit carefully.

Although it might seem shallow, appearance does make a big difference on a first date. Dressing super casually can give off the vibe that you don’t really care about making a good first impression. Consider the date activity, then dress how you would when meeting friends for the same occasion. Comfort is key here—wear something that you feel like yourself in, and makes you feel attractive. That ease and confidence will be obvious to your date.

2Do: Listen.

It’s obvious when someone isn’t really listening to you. Drifting eyes are a tell-tale sign of boredom, and that will make your date clam up and feel dull. Instead of worrying about what you might say next, focus on really listening to what your date is telling you.

“When you listen to another person, it gives them a signal that understanding could develop between both of you in the early stages,” Sonya Schwartz, managing editor of hernorm.com tells HelloGiggles. “You might not get them like their old friends do, but at least give a signal that you can develop the understanding soon.”

It comes down to this: Show your date that you care about what they’re saying, and they’ll hopefully give you the same respect in return.

3Do: Use good manners.

Back to that opening-the-door moment, manners, or lack thereof, say a lot about a person. This goes for more than just putting a napkin on your lap before eating and refraining from chomping on ribs. The way you treat people around you during the date is super telling. Saying “please” and “thank you” to waiters or “excuse me” when you bump into someone on the way to the table are all common courtesy behaviors that you should be doing anyway, but especially on a first date when you’re building your character in your date’s eyes. Show that you are courteous to other people.