First-Date Rules

On a first date with someone—and hoping for a second? Than avoid these seven common fumbles in picking food, films, conversation topics, and more.

By Robert W. Harris

or the most part, most of us know what to do on a first date. Smile. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Check, check, check. And yet, oftentimes, no second date. What gives? Sure, some of that’s due to lack of chemistry, but I’d like to argue that in today’s competitive dating world, it’s not enough to know what to do—it’s what you don’t do that often determines whether you stay in the running. So put this principle of “selective inaction” to work for you, follow this advice then see if you don’t start getting a few more calls back for round two.

Don’t give the wrong answers
On a first date, you want to find out what kind of person you’re with. So questions are asked and answered. Sadly, some singles give the wrong answer, which can manifest
Don’t finish your date’s sentences.
itself in various forms. Here, the top three to avoid:
  • The Story. Example: “Can you tell me a little about yourself?” “Well, my mother became pregnant with me in late July 1975... [five minutes go by]... and last week I refinanced my house at six percent.”
  • The Grunt. Example: “So, what do you do for a living?” “Chemistry.”
  • The Rant. Example: “What kind of car do you drive?” “Not a stupid gas-guzzling SUV that contributes to global warming, I assure you!”
On a first date, play it safe. Stick with adequate, informative, and calm answers. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to be long-winded, uninformative, and opinionated down the road.

Don’t see a depressing movie
Some of the most critically-acclaimed movies of all time are also poignant and gut-wrenching: Schindler’s List. The Deer Hunter. Requiem For A Dream. And more recently, Flight 93 and Little Children. Lots of people enjoy watching such movies. Some people, however, make the mistake of thinking they’re great for first dates, too. Um, who are we kidding? The last thing you want during an initial encounter with a potential mate is to be inundated with images of death, destruction, or despair for two hours. What you want is a relatively positive and pleasant experience. So if your first date is a movie, forget “powerful” and “gripping.” Think “light” and “amusing.” Think happy ending. And maybe you two won’t be too traumatized to swap a good-night kiss.

Don’t engage in multitasking
The key to a successful first date, of course, is to focus on the person you’re with. But these days, that’s much easier said than done given all the distractions at our disposal. So to avoid temptation, take note of the following:
  • If a TV is on nearby showing sports, stock prices or even that episode of 24 that you missed, ignore it. Switch seats with your date if you must.
  • Be sure most of your eye contact is with your date, not with every Tom, Dick, or Harriet who wanders by.
  • Turn off your cell phone, pager, and anything else with a battery (unless it’s your pacemaker).
You can do without calls and emails and news for a hour. Trust me. So on a first date, forget about multitasking. Try uni-tasking for a change.

Don’t be a patient
We all carry around emotional baggage—battle stories of bad choices, disappointments, dysfunctional relationships, and missed opportunities. Life happens, and it happens to everyone. There are times it’s helpful to talk to someone about difficulties and problems,
A first date is not a therapy session.
either to “get it off your chest” or to solicit advice. But a first date is definitely not one of them. No doubt, if you end up entering into a committed relationship, at some point your partner will want to know everything about you. But “some point” comes after the first date, not during it. So try to keep in mind that a first date is not a therapy session. Question? Yes. Banter? Yes. Unload? No, no, no!

Don’t order food that drips
Sure, barbecued ribs are delicious. But it’s impossible to eat them without getting sauce all over your fingers, mouth, and everything else in the vicinity. It’s sort of cute for a toddler, but not for an adult searching for a significant other. Remember, first impressions are often lasting impressions. If you make a mess while you eat, you’re not presenting yourself in the best light. So forget finger food that’s messy, gooey and drippy. On a first date, stick with relatively tidy fork food. Once you’re committed to each other, then you can go at the ribs and onions rings and Buffalo wings with reckless abandon.

Don’t be a speech coach
There’s William F. Buckley, Jr., then there’s the rest of us. And while we may not have Buckley’s command of the language, we usually manage to convey our thoughts adequately. We really don’t need help. But some people feel compelled to provide such help, even on a first date. If you’re interested in having a second, avoid these faux pas for the time being (fine if these thoughts are going on inside your head; just don’t verbalize them):
  • Finishing your date’s sentences.
  • Correcting grammar. Your date says: “Which one of the two was best?” You say: “Better. Best is when you compare three or more things.”
  • Providing political correctness lessons. Your date says: “I think when a doctor makes an appointment, he should be on time.” You say: “He or she.”
In other words, speak for yourself—not for your date.

Don’t send out warning signals
In everyday life, we encounter lots of warning signals. Sirens, grumbling bosses, and clunking sounds in your car are examples. They tell us that there’s a problem. On a first date, some people send out warning signals, unaware that they’re ruining their chances for a second date. Don’t be one of them! For best results, avoid the following:
  • Details about previous relationships.
  • Statements beginning with “I can’t believe you...” Example: “I can’t believe you don’t watch Deal or No Deal’”
  • Gratuitous profanity. Example: “...and it turned out the g----- mechanic put on the wrong f----- hose!”
  • Descriptions of recent medical procedures.
  • Impersonations of any kind.
  • Unusual compliments. Example: “You have a great mouth.”
Of course, if you’re desperate to end the date, these same techniques are highly recommended.

Robert W. Harris is the author of 101 Things NOT To Do Before You Die. His web address is
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