Ask Lynn-Is There A Second-Date Protocol?

He's gotten plenty of first dates, but is baffled when it comes to making the next move. Is there some commonly-known set of rules or standard protocol for getting to the second date — and beyond? Read on…

By Lynn Harris

ear Lynn,
I've been on plenty of first dates, but never a second date. So I know how to get a date, I just don't know where to go from there. What should the second date be like? Is a tie too much, or will I look over-dressed? Should I touch my date's arm, her
I don't know what to do about any of it, and it's making me sick.
shoulder… or not touch her at all? When is it OK to talk about certain subjects? Do I wait for the awkward moment at the end of the date for a kiss or not? These are just a few of the thousands of questions that go through my head. I don't know what to do about any of it, and it's making me sick.

I will tell you the advice that I get a lot: "Just wait for The One" or "The perfect girl is out there, you just have to find her" and others along that line. I don't want the perfect girl, not yet. I'm not ready for her. I want to at least have some experience in being the romantic I feel like I am before I get involved in something for the rest of my life. I know I will find my perfect girl, but I'm just scared that I won't know what to do when I find her. It's like finding the world's largest uncut diamond and using it as a coffee table — I just don't know what I'm supposed to do. Please, help me if you can.
– Frozen-with-fear Phil

Dear Phil,
OK, your hobbies definitely include over-thinking (and similes!). There is no one definitive memo about second dates that you just didn't get. Some people go to a different restaurant, some people talk about politics, some people smooch, and some people have sex. Strictly speaking, whether or not they do any of the above has no direct bearing on whether or not there is a third date. What should the second date be like? Two little words: it depends. Do you wear a tie? I don't know — did you just win free tickets to see Madame Butterfly and decide to invite her? If so, then yes! If you're going to see the Mets play Detroit, though, probably not.

I don't mean to sound flippant; you actually are in great shape. Good for you for trusting that you'll find someone (though I'd caution you not to call someone that, or wait for someone who seems to be "perfect"). Usually, it's the other way around: men don't want to screw up in case she's "perfect" for them. You want practice dating now for the one
Trust yourself and trust your chemistry with your date.
who is perfect for you. Fine, but what you have to practice for now isn't getting it "right" — rather, it's about trusting yourself to go into dating without a plan.

Yikes! I know how that sounds, so here is your new plan. When you're on date #1 — and you do, in fact, want to see her again — ask her for a second date. Don't ask her what she wants to do; base your invitation on something that she's said she enjoys. Don't over-think it or make a fuss. (In fact, unless you are asking her to the opera, then no, no tie.) If she didn't give you any good hints, then keep it low-key. In fact, make the first date really low-key — just coffee or lunch, say — so that you leave room for a simple upgrade to dinner (nothing too elaborate). Do you touch her? Do you kiss her? I don't know… do you want to? Does it seem like she's into it? Try to read her cues, and yours — not some giant, imaginary second-date memo in the sky.

Not that there aren't some basic rules that apply to all dates, including: don't be rude to the server, don't overwhelm her with giant, unwieldy gestures (e.g. a huge bouquet that she then has to then carry to the movie theater). And again, I realize you're talking more about dating protocol than about getting the girl… but when you're so worried about protocol, you aren't going to enjoy any date — or see any gal for who she really is. Trust yourself and trust your chemistry with your date. When there's a spark (or even a flicker), the protocol matters so much less. Women truly do say things like, "Well, it was a little funny that he wore a tie to mini-golf, but his personality was so disarming and authentic that I didn't care."

Note: all of the above applies to the third date, too. You'll get there! Good luck.

Lynn Harris ( is co-creator, with Chris Kalb (, of the award-winning website — you can visit BG's blog to discuss this letter! A longtime journalist, Lynn has written about dating, gender, and culture high and low for Glamour, Marie Claire, The New York Times,,, and many others. She is currently the communications strategist for Breakthrough, a transnational organization that creates pop culture to promote human rights. Submit your own dating questions for Ask Lynn via Your question may be answered in a future column.
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