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20 ways to break the ice

20 ways to break the ice

By Kari Molvar

It’s one of the biggest first-date fears: “What if we don’t have anything to talk about?” To help ease any awkward, uncomfortable silences, try one of these conversation starters, courtesy of an array of experts — including dating coaches, relationship experts and lots of smooth-talking single people.

1. “I love your name; what’s the origin? Were you named after anyone in particular?”
Just about everyone’s name has a backstory attached to it, says Mira Kirshenbaum, dating coach and author of The Weekend Marriage. You’ll probably get a fun, learn-about-your-date’s-family exchange out of this remark.

2. “Where did you go on your last trip?”
Whether it was an exotic safari or just a weekend in the country, people love to talk about the places they’ve traveled, according to Elizabeth Bates of Boston, MA. Plus, you’ll find out whether your date is more drawn to cities, beaches, or exotic foreign locales — giving you still more conversational fodder.
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3. “If you could attend college over again, what would you study?”
Perhaps he would forget economics and take theater, for example, or she would go for one of the sciences. This question definitely gets people talking and reveals their innermost wishes.

4. “What’s your favorite new restaurant?”
You’ll have an instant window into your date’s likes and dislikes when it comes to cuisine. And if that topic doesn’t pan out, ask about his or her favorite dishes to cook at home, advises Stephanie Whitehead of New York, NY.

5. “What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve done in the last month?”
If someone can’t remember ever doing anything spontaneous, that tells you something, too.

6. “What trait do your friends tease you about?”
You’ll learn how your date’s friends see this person, as well as how seriously your date takes their playful (or not-so-playful) ribbing.

7. “What’s your take on ____ (current event)?”
Skimming the news sites before your date keeps you current, suggests Steven Kim of Philadelphia, PA. Not that you need to engage in serious, CNN-style discussions; instead, keep it light and avoid controversial topics (war, politics, religion), unless you really want to feel like you’re on The Daily Show instead of a date.

8. “How do you know ____(mutual friend)?”
Obviously, this one will only work if you have a friend in common — but if you have that in your corner, work it, suggests Tim Sanders, relationship expert and author of The Likeability Factor. You’ll each be able to blab about how you met the mutual pal, what you think of your buddy’s newest adventure, and so on.

9. “What are you reading right now?”
Even if it’s just a magazine, everyone does a little browsing. Find out about what’s sitting on the bedside table or recently downloaded to your date’s Kindle, says Alyssa Citarella of Norwalk, CT, and you’ll learn something about this person’s literary tastes and hobbies, which can act as a springboard into other conversations later on.

10. “Can you believe this ____(heat/cold spell?) It makes me want to move to ____. How about you?”
The weather may be a predictable topic, but the way you pose the question doesn’t have to be. Chances are, your date will reveal whether or not he or she has considered relocating to another clime and why, offers Mira Kirshenbaum.

11. “Who in your family do you take after the most?”
Whether your date mentions mom, dad, or great-aunt Louisa, you’ll learn something about his or her personality, as well as how close this person is to other family members.

12. “What’s on your playlist these days?”
Discover where your musical tastes mesh and diverge. And if your date doesn’t care about music? “Well, that’s a whole other topic for discussion,” suggests Theresa O’Rourke of New York, NY.

13. “You’ve got just $20 to your name. How would you choose to spend it?”
While this question may not be as fun to answer as “You’ve won the lottery — what would you buy?” it can provoke an interesting discussion about priorities.

14.“Are you a morning person or a night person?”
A random, fun question like this shows you’re not always serious, all the time.

15. “What’s the last good movie you saw?”
This can lead into which new films you’re interested in seeing together — maybe on your next date, suggests Stephanie Whitehead.

16. “Which do you DVR and actually watch: Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart?”
Most people swear allegiance to one of these nighttime chat-show hosts — find out whom your date invites into his or her bedroom every night.

17. “Do you collect anything?”
This question has a strange way of starting a conversation when you least expect it. Chances are, your date either has a collection to talk about with gusto — or will share a bad collecting experience from childhood that’ll get you both gabbing away.

18. “Do you have any secrets? Are you willing to reveal one to me?”
Even if the answer is that she (or he) is wearing yesterday’s jeans, revealing a personal detail creates an immediate level of intimacy between two people — although it’s best to wait until you’ve both had a few fun, chatty exchanges already (or at least until the dessert arrives) before you deliver this one, advises Tim Sanders.

19. “What’s your dream job?”
Ask this first, then follow up with a short description of your own past and future aspirations, advises Mira Kirshenbaum.

20. “Who do you admire these days?”
Is it Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong? What about Neil Armstrong? Either way, the explanation will be very revealing, explains Patricia Madson, author of Improv Wisdom and a professor of drama at Stanford University.

Kari Molvar is a writer in New York City.