You swapped good banter online, their profile picture is pretty cute and now it’s time for the first date. Working as Match’s Dating Coach I want to teach you 8 key skills to make you feel confident before your first date. Let’s be real here, first dates make even the most self assured feel nervous ; and if you don’t feel any connection, or get the dreaded, ‘I just didn’t feel the spark message,’ it can knock your confidence.
My goal in this blog is to help you with some easy wins for great first date ideas, and some strong mindsets you can get into so you enjoy every dating experience you have.
First Date Tip 1 – Treat the date as the start of something, not the final destination
The first date isn’t about seeing someone for the first time and falling in love at first sight. That is a BIG expectation to place on someone you have just met. So instead change your intention, and make it about being open to enjoying someone’s company and getting your first insight in to your compatibility. If you don’t believe me, think about how you got to know some of your most treasured friends – I bet a lot of them you didn’t feel that ‘thunderbolt’ with, it takes time to form connections or find things in common. This is also a more realistic and rewarding way to look at dating.
First Date Tip 2 – Forget the first date restaurant, do something low key instead
There is nothing worse than committing to an outlandish first date idea only to walk in the room and think, ‘oh.’ Again if we can step back from the fantasy of how we imagine we’ll meet someone, it gives us a far better opportunity to appreciate who they actually are. If you are dating in your 30s and 40s I can also imagine your life is already super busy, so to avoid cancelling that first date due to tiredness, choose a place to go on a first date that is mutually convenient, low key and ideally an activity that you’d enjoy anyway. Sometimes an iced latte and a walk around the park, or a smoothie in your lunch hour, is good enough. Pick a first date venue where you can hear one another, that’s easy to get to, and where you have flexibility to end the date early, or to keep it going if things are going well. Also break the pattern of meeting for a ‘quick drink’ and suggest something more specific whether that’s sundowner mojitos on the river, or to see if matcha lattes are not in fact that horrible. By being specific you avoid falling into the bucket of ‘just another date.’
First Date Tip 3 – Wear your fourth best outfit.
Possibly my favourite dating tip for your first date outfit from the ever cool French. The sentiment here is whilst you want to have the basics nailed (good grooming, ironed, clean clothes) you also don’t want to go too overboard in your effort levels at this stage. Remember, we’re working on making the expectation less and the fun more. So rather than getting way ahead of yourself by wondering what to wear on a first date, instead you want to think what do I feel confident wearing ? What do I feel comfortable wearing ? If I’m here to start something real and I want to be accepted for who I am.
First Date Tip 4 – You are the interviewer not the interviewee.
Feeling nervous on a first date is so normal, especially when you’re focused on how to impress your date. A great mindset hack to help with this is to get out of the headspace where you need their approval. A date is a two way experience of getting to know one another, and figuring out compatibility. A sure fire way to psyche yourself out with first date nerves is to think you have to do a ton to impress, otherwise they won’t like you. If you can swap this around and go into a first date with the goal of having fun, and also to figure out if their values are similar to yours, things will flow better. Put simply : you are the interviewer not the interviewee.
First Date Tip 5 – Who pays is down to your values
A really good example of how people differ is in their attitude to the etiquette of paying on the first date. Some people believe in going dutch, others that whoever invites should pay, others (in a straight dating context) that it is definitely the guy’s job. Start by working out what your opinion is on this and remember this is a good way to work out if you’re compatible. As a rule of thumb, if you choose the date I would be prepared to foot the bill and that generosity is generally an attractive quality. To help you seek out the most genuine daters out there keep that first date low key.
First Date Tip 6 – Only ask questions you care about
If the first date conversation descends into a fact finding mission, where you trample through small talk around how long they’ve worked in advertising, this can mean the conversation drys up and it becomes hard to distinguish from every other first date conversation that person has had. To build a more genuine connection you want to shift the focus of the conversation away from things (or anything that has a number as the answer) and onto people. For instance instead of asking, ‘So how long have you worked there ?’ Instead you would choose to say, ‘So was there a moment where you decided that was important to you ?’
Pro tip – often the other person feels much more comfortable to share about themselves, if first you have revealed something about yourself.
First Date Tip 7 – Forget about the ice breaker question and talk about yourself instead
Now this first date ice breaker tip is seriously counter intuitive. Most of us from a young age have been taught to focus the conversation on the other person ; it feels polite to ask them lots of questions. However, a string of boring questions can create unnecessary pressure and in fact have the opposite affect of causing your date to clam up. A good conversation starter to use on a first date instead is to share some information about yourself in a way that enquires for them to share their response. For example, instead of saying, ‘where did you grow up ?’ you would swap to saying, ‘I imagine you’re more of a natural city person that I am, I actually grew up in Cornwall, so i’m a real country person deep down…’
Sharing information about yourself builds trust and makes the conversation feel informal. After you’ve shared some information about yourself, also don’t be afraid to pause, and let your date contribute as well. A good date is as much about being an effective listener as it is about being a great conversationalist.
First Date Tip 8 – The new etiquette for who messages after a first date
The after first date rules certainly feel like they’ve shifted. With the rise of ghosting (where someone doesn’t message you back) the significance of the after first date text now has a new meaning – do you want to see this person again ? If so a post date message is needed, if not it is generally considered okay to do a mutual no text.
So what happens if one person seems more keen than the other ? In this case if you’re the less interested party it is much more polite to respond, than not. Simply thanking someone for their time, whilst acknowledging you didn’t feel that level of connection to want to keep exploring is a straightforward and kind way to let someone down. Most people much prefer to have a clear yes or no, versus a month of, ‘yes let’s totally meet. I’ll message when work has calmed down J’ when you really mean to say ‘thank you for meeting me, however I want to be upfront that whilst you seem great, I didn’t feel that connection.’
If you’re the more interested party, remember the minimum you need from them is a willingness to see you again. If they can’t give you that right now, you need to remember that there are a lot of other people out there who will.
As for whose job it is to message ? I would think about the role you want to take in dating – do you want to be pro-active, or is it a better fit for you to scope out the other person’s level of interest by waiting for them to message first ?
Pro tip : to all the straight guys out there, women will still often expect you to make the first move after the first date. I know, I know, maybe it is out dated, but before the world changes, if you like her – go send that message !
Whether you like to text, or be texted, to pay, or go dutch, to make the date plan, or go along with it, to drink cocktails or smoothies – remember we are all different. With first dates, just like every other stage of dating, your ‘job’ isn’t to impress anyone, but to use these as points of compatibility to start something real with someone who likes you authentically for who you are.