Great Get-Connected Dates

Looking for a great date idea? Forget dinner and a movie: Try doing good together instead—you’ll get closer that much faster.

By Bob Strauss

or those who’ve been at it for a while, one of the less pleasant aspects of dating is that dinner for two at a cozy restaurant is an insular, self-referential affair, about as related to the troubles of the world at large as an Adam Sandler movie is to the collected works of John Kenneth Galbraith. If you’re weary of spending your evenings making small talk or smiling as you think “I wonder if that spot on his face is a pimple or a mole,” you may want to consider another option—the volunteer date, by which I mean doling out food at soup kitchen or renovating a house in a run-down neighborhood rather than catching Son of the Waterboy at the local multiplex.

“Volunteer dates create good chemistry,” says Debbie Mandel, author of Turn On Your Inner Light. “Your
“If you both enjoy volunteer dates, then you’re not bonding with a narcissist.”
endorphins are released when people who receive your help compliment and thank you, and when you feel good about yourself, you transmit that to your date, who’ll absorb your good mood. Both of you will be more natural and less pretentious – and you’ll be wearing comfortable clothes. All of this leads to openness and intimacy.” As well, Mandel says, “you can evaluate your date as a giver or receiver. If you both enjoy volunteer dating, then you can be sure you’re not bonding with a charming narcissist.”

Sure, volunteer dating can involve more work than regular dating, but done right, it can also help to build a long-lasting relationship. Here are some tips to follow if you choose to go the altruistic route:

Have the right motives
I’m not pointing fingers or anything, but there are some folks out there (guys especially) who will plan an elaborate excursion with the sole intention of demonstrating to their dates what amazingly cool, generous studs they are. As Mandel says, “Be on the alert if a guy is using the context of a volunteer date to charm you into thinking how terrific he is. Often, during the dating process, people mask their real likes and dislikes and instead play a saintly role to lure the quarry.”

Choose your activity wisely
By the second or third date, you should know enough about the person you’ve been seeing to scale your volunteer gig accordingly—as in, an outgoing gal with lots of energy is a better choice for a
“Know how to find the right activity to try…”
volunteer renovation project than an introverted, bookish guy with few hardware skills. “If you’re not into crowds, try adopting a family in need from a local charity,” suggests Liz Kelly, author of Smart Man Hunting. “You can have fun shopping for things that the family needs and wrapping presents together. And if you prefer to volunteer from home, you can offer to send out invitations for a charity event.” Also, keep in mind that some volunteer events can last an entire day, while others involve a commitment of only a couple of hours—so be sure to consult with the invitee.

Pay attention—and not just to each other
The point of a volunteer date isn’t to hang out in the corner with drinks and make googly eyes; it’s to help other people while you casually get to know one another. Try to stay focused on the task at hand, while being alert to your partner’s needs. If you’re the one who did the planning, you can gain valuable insight into the other person by observing how he or she behaves. “See how your date doles out the soup or serves food in a soup kitchen,” Mandel suggests. “Does he have a kind word or a smile or a slight edge to his voice? Is he sloppy about his work when no one is looking? Is he looking for applause? Does he make snide remarks about others?” You’ll get clues about just how giving this person is from how he or she acts.

Get going!
Sometimes, the trickiest part of volunteering can be finding the appropriate activity at the appropriate time. Try a site like, which lets you put in your zip code and interests and then see what kinds of organizations would welcome your time and energy. Also, a visit to your local church, synagogue or community center will invariably turn up a giving activity that you and your date will both enjoy.

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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