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Things to Do and Talk About on a First Date

Sadie Holloway is a workshop facilitator who teaches interpersonal communication skills to help people strengthen their relationships.

Sometimes going out with a group of people while on a date can help ease the fear of running out of things to talk about on a first date.

Sometimes going out with a group of people while on a date can help ease the fear of running out of things to talk about on a first date.

Nervous About a First Date?

If you are shy or nervous about going on a date with someone new, here are some tips and suggestions to help make your first meeting memorable. These tips for first dates are useful for other kinds of dates—not just romantic ones. Whenever you have to spend time with someone you do not know well, such as a new business client or a distant relative you know little about, these suggestions for how to pick a venue, how to present yourself, and how to keep the conversation going will help put both you and your social companion at ease.

Small talk is actually a very useful tool for getting to know someone on a first date or first meeting.

Small talk is actually a very useful tool for getting to know someone on a first date or first meeting.

What to Do

There are a few basic things you can do to set yourself up for success on a first date with someone.

1. Be on Time

Try not to be too early, but more importantly, never be late for your date. If you have a genuine reason for being late, call ahead and let your date know so that they don't wonder if they've been blown off. It's just a common courtesy.

2. Show up for Your Date Physically and Mentally

This doesn’t just mean that you just have to show up and meet your date. It means that you are committed to being present, aware, and mindful during your date. Your attention is focused on the person you are with. You shouldn’t be creating shopping lists in your head or watching the door for someone you know to walk in and save you from being shy. Don't let your mind wander off. It doesn't matter how badly your boss treated you that day, stay focused on the here and now. Be fully present while on a date. Put away anything that beeps, buzzes, or rings, too. Unless you have a genuine emergency on your hands, put your phone calls on hold.

3. Dress Appropriately

Being attired in a way that makes the date's activity comfortable and enjoyable for you is very helpful. For example, wear the right shoes if you are going for a walk. Wear layered clothing if you will be doing any outdoor sports so that you can adjust your clothing if the weather changes or you happen to start perspiring. Make sure that your clothing is clean and well-cared for. Holes in your shoes, ripped collars, or your favorite red shirt that's so faded it’s now peach-colored send the message that you can’t be bothered to take care of your clothes. If you can’t keep your clothes clean, what else do you have trouble keeping clean? Dress in such a way that if you were to bump into your boss or your date’s mother while the two of you are out, you wouldn’t be embarrassed about the way you look. Taking care of how you present yourself to the world is an easy way to boost your confidence and get over your shyness.

4. Avoid Large Meals

Choose an activity for your first rendezvous that doesn’t involve eating a large meal. Eating in front of someone you are trying to impress can lead to embarrassing and awkward moments. A large meal can also be expensive and it invites more opportunities for one, or both, of you to commit a faux-pas. Stick to lighter fare such a tapas or small plate meals. Meeting for a coffee and dessert works well for first dates, too, especially if you don’t have a whole lot of time and you're still trying to decide if this person is someone you want to devote more of your time to. A coffee is long enough for you to get an impression of the other person, but not so long that the date will feel awkward if the two of you don’t hit it off.

Hamburgers may seem like a relaxed, easy meal for a first date. But they can also be quite messy. If you are nervous on your first date, try a light, non-finger-food meal instead.

Hamburgers may seem like a relaxed, easy meal for a first date. But they can also be quite messy. If you are nervous on your first date, try a light, non-finger-food meal instead.

What to Say

Generating conversation during a first date can be stressful. Here are a few guidelines and ideas to keep the conversation flowing.

1. Small Talk Is Okay

Don’t be afraid to make "just" small talk on your first date. It's okay to talk about the weather; in fact, it should be expected that on your first date you’d just be scratching the surface of all the things you could possibly talk about with your social companion. You don’t want to disclose too many personal details early on (i.e.; childhood trauma, family issues, health issues, your greatest fears). If this person is the right person for you, talking about intimate topics such as family history and personal health issues will come up naturally as the two of you develop stronger emotional bonds and feelings of trust.

Here are some things you can talk about to get the small talk flowing at a friendly, comfortable level:

  • Talk about your pets.
  • Ask your date if they have gone on any interesting vacations recently.
  • Talk about music, sports, arts and entertainment and non-controversial current events; avoid polarizing political issues on first dates.

2. Share a Funny Story

Telling a story about a funny thing that happened to you recently is a great icebreaker. Did you do something silly and absent-minded that made you laugh at yourself recently? Talk about that! Sharing a funny, gently self-deprecating story is a great way to let your date know that you are easy-going and approachable. A warm, friendly sense of humor is always attractive on a first date.

3. Say Something Nice (But Not Creepy)

Sincere compliments are a good place to start for some people. For example, you could give your date a compliment on any unique clothing or accessories they're wearing that you find yourself drawn to. Do they have a funky belt buckle? Cool boots? A customized or monogrammed piece of jewelry? Did one of their tattoos catch your eye? Why not ask about it? People like to express who they are through the things they wear and the way they decorate themselves. Avoid compliments on body parts. Telling someone they have beautiful legs on a first date is kind of creepy. But a compliment on their radiant smile is always nice.

4. Be Curious and Ask Questions

If you want to have a good time on your first date, be curious about your social companion. Ask open-ended questions that prompt more than 'yes' or 'no' answers. For example, “How are you?” is too broad; it’s more of a polite greeting than a useful conversation starter. Making small talk on a first date is easier when you pose questions that start with, “What do you think of…?"; “What kind of movies make you laugh?”; “How did you end up living in this city?”

Tips for Making Small Talk in Group Settings

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Sadie Holloway