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How to Have a Stress-Free First Date: 48 Affordable Ideas

After too many uptight dinners, Ms. Meyers reached the conclusion that there were far better activities for a first date.

Things to do on a date (other than having dinner!).

Things to do on a date (other than having dinner!).

The Dreaded Dinner Date

  • Do you dread going out to dinner on a first date?
  • Are you sick and tired of feeling like a prisoner, eager to escape, as your companion prattles on during the meal?
  • Are you fed up with shelling out big money but not enjoying yourself?

If nodding your head, you're not alone as many of us are left dissatisfied by the experience. Instead of being bound by the conventional dinner date, why not think outside the box and choose activities that are light, fun, and not so stress-filled?

First dates are new beginnings. Obviously, down the line we can discuss our past relationships with our new partner, but there is a time and place for it, and a first date is not that time.

— Meghann Novinskie, dating expert

Nix the Dreaded Dinner Date for Something Light, Fun, and Stress-Free

If you want to amp up an already tension-filled, awkward experience, going out to dinner on a first date probably works for you. For most of us, though, it's a catastrophe we'd rather avoid. Who wants to be an unpaid therapist as our nervous companions over-share about their frightful ex-spouses, their recent hookups, and why their families of origin are so dysfunctional?

Who wants to feel like an employer at a job interview, asking question after question, to get our shy, anxiety-ridden companions to open up and reveal something—anything—about themselves? Who wants to leave the restaurant after paying a hefty check but not even knowing if you want a second date or not?

For these reasons, many relationship experts recommend nixing dinner dates and opting for something less pressure-filled. By choosing an activity that's light, fun, and stress-free, you get a better idea of who your companions truly are and how they handle real-world situations. You're out and about doing things and the conversation flows from those shared experiences rather than struggling to make chit-chat at a restaurant.

48 Things to Do on a Date (Instead of Having Dinner)

Here are 48 options for those of us who are fed up with the dreaded dinner date.

1. Go Ice Skating or Roller Skating

Most of us are not skilled at either of these sports so they're good for a laugh as we fall, cling to the wall, and make fools of ourselves. If you need to rent skates, you can go to a rink. If you have your own, you can go to a school playground, a local park, or any sidewalk in your neighborhood.

According to Alice Boyes, Ph.D., vitality is one of the key qualities that people look for in a mate. Therefore, active first dates are ideal for demonstrating stamina and vigor even if you're not a pro. With something challenging like ice skating and roller skating, it's a great chance to discern if your companion is a good sport or a real stick-in-the-mud.

Doing something physical is the antithesis of a tension-filled dinner date. Exercise energizes us, relieves stress and anxiety, and boosts our self-confidence. Studies show it not only makes us fitter but happier.Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in our brains that's necessary for euphoric feelings, is released when we move our bodies vigorously.

Even if it turns out that the two of you aren't a match, you'll get a robust workout and have a joyful time. Isn't that much better than a first date dinner that leaves you feeling over-stuffed, lethargic, and depressed about spending too much?

Doing a physically vigorous activity will make you seem more attractive to your date (and vice-versa).

— Mary Pritchard, "Psychology Today" blogger

In this video, a life coach gives suggestions on how to make a first date more relaxed and less awkward.

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2. Host a Game Night With Friends

Having a raucous, competition-fueled game night at your home with a group of friends is the perfect alternative to a strained dinner date. With other people around, it takes the pressure off the two of you to form an instant, miraculous love connection. You can relax, have some laughs, be spontaneous, and see if the chemistry is there.

In "Benefits of Playing Games," Pat Stephenson states that board games make us happy and, therefore, create an upbeat vibe. She writes: "Playing board games triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural 'feel-good' chemicals. 'Happy hormones' have the power to improve conscious and unconscious mind functions, leaving a person feeling cheerful, compassionate, and ultimately content." What more could you ask for on a first date than that?

These games make for a lively get-together. Most can be played either on teams or in singles.

  • charades
  • Scattergories
  • Scrabble
  • Trivia Pursuit
  • Bunco
  • Say Anything
  • Apples to Apples
  • Headbands
  • Wits and Wagers
  • Mexican Train
  • Taboo

Instead of preparing a big, heavy meal for your companion and guests, keep it simple by putting out snacks like guacamole and chips, cheese and crackers, popcorn, pretzels, and assorted beers. I like to have melted chocolate in a slow-cooker or fondue pot for dessert with strawberries, apple slices, melon, and other fruit for dipping.

If you want to make it even easier, attend a game night at your local game store. Many have weekly events where people can just drop by and start playing with strangers. It's free and a terrific way to learn about new games before taking the plunge and buying them.

a word of caution: Some folks who attend these events are hardcore competitors who enjoy complicated games that involve a lot of time and a lot of strategy. If you want to be laid back and silly, playing at home is a better choice!

Having a game night with friends takes the pressure off and lets you cut loose.

Having a game night with friends takes the pressure off and lets you cut loose.

3. Make Dinner Together

While a dinner date at a restaurant can feel like a never-ending job interview, cooking together at home is just the opposite: laid back, casual, and amusing. You're doing it together so if the chicken is rubbery or the pasta is tough, you can just laugh off your culinary failings. Teaming up in the kitchen reveals whether you can work well together as a couple in life.

Now, more than ever, you don't need to be an experienced chef to create a five star meal. With meal kits delivered to your door or purchased at the supermarket, you have everything you need at an affordable price with no waste. You can also opt to make simple dishes such as homemade pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, fajitas, steak and baked potatoes, and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. Whatever you choose, keep it uncomplicated so you have time to talk, laugh, and not feel pressured.

4. Go to Flea Markets or Garage Sales

Not all of us shine brightly in the evenings. We're often tired and stressed after a long day of working and commuting. We're better suited to vegging out in front of the television or calling it a day than engaging in stimulating conversation. That's why going to activities early in the day such as flea markets and garage sales is marvelous for us morning folks. Plus, that's when you get the best bargains!

Many dating experts recommend relaxed morning excursions rather than the expectation-filled dinner date, especially for those of us who are introverts. An early date takes two stressful situations off the table: consuming alcohol and wondering if there will be sex. Without those to fog your mind and stress you out, you can have meaningful conversation and get to know one another in a clear-headed way.

Visiting a flea market gets you moving, gives you something to talk about, and is great for people watching.

Visiting a flea market gets you moving, gives you something to talk about, and is great for people watching.

If you want a life that includes an appreciation for culture, visiting a museum or art gallery for a first date is an easy way to weed out those who consider watching a marathon of “The Big Bang Theory” the height of sophistication. If your companion is miserable during such an excursion, it's a good indication that you're not a match.

Don't continue the relationship with the hope of changing that person over time. Not only is that extremely unlikely to happen, it's disrespectful to that individual. When we decide to date and possibly marry someone, we must accept him or her "as is."

According to dating experts, visiting a museum or art gallery is a perfect first date idea because it creates a shared experience. Everything surrounding you stimulates conversation and gets you thinking, reflecting, and remembering. When we connect with a piece of art, it makes us feel good and provides us inspiration.

Hayley Milliman says visiting a museum for a first date can be surprisingly erotic. She writes, "Museums are really freaking sexy. From the way museums are lit on evening tours to the salacious history behind different objects, museums are a great place to turn up the heat between you and your date. If you’re looking to keep the vibe more romantic and less school field trip, plan your first date at night. Many museums are open in the evening at least once per week and often have a totally different vibe at night than during the day."

Joking about how bad you are at dating is also a huge turn off. It’s okay to admit you’re nervous but telling someone on a first date that you’re bad at dating is like a director coming out before the movie to announce that it stinks. It kills interest or motivation the other person might have had.

— Ashley Papa, author on sex, love, dating, and marriage

6. Visit the Library

When I was a kid, the library was strictly a place to read books, study for exams, and keep quiet or get shushed by an uptight librarian. Today, though, they're cultural centers with many stimulating events that are absolutely free: talks by visiting authors, presentations about countries, cultures, and art, book discussions, slide shows about volcanoes, forests, and sharks, and classes in painting, yoga, and computers.

Visiting your local library is a wonderful first date idea to find out whether or not your companion has an open mind and is eager to learn new things. It can help you determine if you're a match intellectually. For many of us, a curious companion is a must and being at the library can reveal that.

7. Go Wine or Beer-Tasting

Living in Napa Valley for over a dozen years, I had the opportunity to take many people wine-tasting and saw how it revealed their character. There were the wine-snobs who took it all too seriously: hobnobbing with the sommeliers, showing off their knowledge (or lack thereof), spending lavishly, and acting pretentiously. Then there were those who were more like I was, seeing wine-tasting as trivial in the big scheme of life but, nonetheless, relaxing and fun. Discerning that difference alone makes wine-tasting an eye-opening first date idea.

Whether you're attracted to a connoisseur or someone more down-to-earth, wine or beer tasting gives you an opportunity to witness how your companions handle their liquor. Many of us who have alcoholics in our families see a red flag when our dates over-indulge. If this is a deal breaker for you, a first date of wine or beer tasting is a fast and effective way to discover it.

8. Do Something Neither One of You Has Ever Done

This is one of my all-time favorite ideas for a first date. Put your heads together and brainstorm things that you've wanted to do but never have such as making an authentic Chinese dinner, swimming across the lake in January, going line-dancing, playing chess, getting a foot massage, or visiting a psychic. Choose one to do together. This is a fabulous way to see how you two meld, compromise, and create memories.

In this video, a life coach gives tips for improving your chances of getting a second date.

9. Walk through a farmer's market.

10. Visit an aquarium.

11. Take a cooking class together.

12. Go rock climbing.

13. Take a bike ride.

14. Go bowling.

15. Play pool.

16. Get massages.

17. Visit a restaurant or pub for trivia night.

18. Try kayaking, paddle boarding, or canoeing.

19. Make a pot at a ceramic studio.

20. Play tennis, pickle ball, or badminton.

21. Play mini-golf.

22. Visit an arcade.

23. Go to an amusement park.

24. Walk on the beach.

25. Have a picnic in the park.

26. Take a hike.

27. Attend an outdoor concert or movie.

28. Visit a planetarium.

29. Watch or participate in a karaoke night.

30. Go to a comedy club.

31. Play darts at a bar.

32. Go to a baseball game (semi-pro or pro).

33. Visit the zoo.

34. Share a banana split at an ice cream parlor.

35. Jump at an indoor trampoline park.

36. Shop at the thrift stores in your town.

37. Take a historical tour of your town or city.

38. Go fishing.

39. Binge watch a TV show.

40. Walk the mall and people-watch.

41. Bake cookies together.

42. Watch the sunset while enjoying cheese, crackers, and wine.

43. Attend a poetry reading or poetry slam.

44. Go bird watching.

45. Try horseback riding.

46. Play Frisbee, bocce ball, Ping-Pong, or cornhole.

47. Attend a play at a local theater.

48. Fly a kite.

What do you think?

© 2016 McKenna Meyers

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