First dates can be both exhilarating and nerve-racking. You feel the nervous butterflies of anticipation, the excitement of getting to know someone better, and the simple joy of being with someone you like!
If you’re filled with anxiety, it may help to know you’re not alone and that thousands of others feel just as nervous. A survey shows that 59% of people feel that first dates are more stressful than job interviews, and that the anxiety hits its peak the night before.
One of the things most worry about when it comes to first dates is — conversation! Of course, cupid could be having a good day and you may find an instant connection with your date and have many common interests to discuss.
But we recommend having a backup plan too! Here are some great ways to break the ice, get the conversation started, moving, and keep its momentum going well beyond dessert and coffee.
Start with the easy and the obvious if you’re unsure how to jump into a conversation — your surroundings, for example. Ask them if you’ve been to the location of your date (coffee shop, restaurant, park, etc.) before or if they are familiar with the neighborhood. This will allow you to pick cues to broaden the conversation to other areas — food, travel, etc., which we will cover below.
Small talk revolves around contextual conversations. Who chose the restaurant? If your date did, ask them if they have tried this place before and what they’d recommend you order. If you picked the place, you could tell them you hope they like it.
Talk about where they came from before this date. Did they come straight from work or home? You can then segue into talking about how their work day went, the traffic situation, or even the weather.
Follow up small talk with some things to make your date (and yourself) feel comfortable. Compliments are a great second step! Throw in a compliment or two about an article of clothing they’re wearing or if their perfume smells nice.
Talk about how this date got set up. If you’ve been eyeing each other for a while, casually mention that you were looking forward to meeting. If you met through a dating app, bring up an interesting detail from their profile.
Practice active listening. Don’t focus on what you are going to say or ask next — this isn’t a quiz show. Instead, pay close attention to what your date is trying to tell you, establish eye contact, nod, smile, laugh, and ask thoughtful follow-up questions.
After some small talk, you may be ready to get a tad more personal. It could be as simple as talking about where you each go to work or school, what you do or study there, where you were born or raised, and where home is.
Such questions can open the door to conversations on different (or shared) cultures and you can exchange deeper aspects of how you grew up.
Taking cues from the direction of the conversation, you can talk about the reasons why you got that job or took that course, what it was like growing up or what it is like living in your neighborhood. These topics could also branch out to talking about family life and memorable experiences.
Allow for time to feel each other out. Don’t sweat the awkward or silent moments — these are normal for first or second dates and even after. Nobody is expected to talk non-stop; in fact, taking the time to listen, think, and then phrase your replies or questions well will show a level of maturity and seriousness your date will appreciate.
You can simply begin with a “Tell me about your family.” and see where it goes. Even with negative stories, you can respond with, “Wow, that sounds really hard. How did you deal with that?” to drive the conversation.
You can also inquire about friends and who they consider their support system. Understanding the meaningful connections of your date can help you know them better as well as empathize and share about your own people.
Asking how they were as a child is another way of keeping the conversation interesting and insightful. Were they shy? The class clown? Nerdy?
Discussing your favorite things is a great conversational direction — you can touch on many diverse topics and give yourself a chance to connect over shared interests. You can discuss:
And so much more!
Keep your questions interesting to elicit fun, honest answers:
What book can you read over and over again?
What's your favorite movie line?
What food is your guilty pleasure
Do you have any unique hobbies?
What would you do if you didn't have to work?
For every person who yearns for faraway places, there is one who prefers to build their forever home and stay there, well, forever. Finding your date’s preference and sharing your own will not only help the conversation but give you clues about your compatibility.
Try questions such as:
What kind of trips are your favorite?
Which is the most interesting place you have traveled to?
Do you have a place you want to visit someday?
How do you usually spend your holidays?
What amazing adventures have you been on?
Many don’t recommend discussing the more serious stuff on a first date. But it isn't really a bad idea, especially if all seems to be going well, and you’re interested in more than just a first date. We do recommend keeping it light, though.
How do they like their career choices so far?
What’s their typical day or week like?
Is their career what they imagined it to be, or are they thinking about a change?
Do they do volunteer work?
Are they socially or politically engaged?
What are they looking for in a relationship?
Is religion an important part of their life?
Are they interested in raising kids someday?
Although some people might find it awkward to talk about such serious matters on a first date, we think it’s best to at least get a preview of what the other person is all about. Perspectives on life, careers, and relationships tend to be what make or break relationships. So the sooner you get an idea if the two of you share the same perspectives and values, the better.
A first date is all about testing the waters — and keeping both yourselves interested and engaged enough for a second date. So mix up the topics and bring in seldom touched-upon areas. For example:
Do you have a bucket list? What's on it?
If you could get away with any crime, what would you do?
What's your least favorite chore?
What makes you laugh out loud?
What do you like to splurge on?
What's the scariest thing you've ever done?
What's your fondest memory of kindergarten?
Being genuinely curious and encouraging them to tell you more can make for a fun and engaging first date!
While there are many things you can talk about on a first date, some topics should be off limits. Here is our list of topics you should steer clear of.
Avoid discussing trauma as well as mental and physical health. These discussions are better left to when you are more comfortable with each other.
This one is definitely a topic to avoid. Relationship issues are usually contentious. It’s your word against your ex, so don’t put your date in the position of having to decide if your side of the story is to be believed. It’s too soon for that!
Don’t come off as desperate — even if, at some level, you may be. Apply tact and finesse when dealing with what you want in a relationship.
Maintain some restraint, and do your best to match your wants and needs with the other person. Because that’s what relationships are — a series of compromises. Not something to rush into.
Another sensitive area — you don’t want to be bragging about how much you make or bring up the fact that you had to borrow money to make this date happen.
It’s an important topic to talk about, but there will be time for that later. Just not on the first date.
It’s a first date, not a therapy session. The person sitting across the table from you doesn’t want to hear about what you’re looking for — a cat lover, a doctor, or at least 5 feet tall, and more on those lines. Nobody wants to secretly start doing a self-measurement on a first date or otherwise.
First dates are not about making wedding bells ring or finding deep, meaningful soul connections. (Although that magic can happen! And that's why it's so much fun!)
Tell your inner anxious person that a first date is about enjoying the other’s company and having fun. Getting to know someone can be delightful, so be confident, keep our conversation tips handy, and simply allow yourself to enjoy.
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