We all have romantic fantasies that are completely unrealistic. Like that the initial spark of lust will last til the end. Or that we’ll finally happen to attract the attention of an underwear model who likes the same YouTube channels we do. This is fine, as long as we understand that in the real world, love doesn’t exactly work that way. Lust fades. Not everyone likes videos of pandas rolling down a slide.
One of the most persistent myths is the idea of the endlessly spectacular first date.
You know, the one where you meet someone off Tinder and the magic begins the moment you first make eye contact—violins start playing in the background, you find that they understand your every insecurity and that you understand theirs, you make out on a gondola ride (this takes place in Venice, of course), have the best sex of your life in a spontaneously-booked hotel room, and, in the morning, vow to never part.
This is a nice dream. But you should never, ever plan a first date like this. Especially a date with someone you’re meeting from an app. Because the first date shouldn’t be elaborate. In fact, the dirty secret of first dates is that they’re not even really first dates.
What a first date is, really, is an information-gathering session. (Sounds sexy, right?) There’s a lot of crucial data about someone you don’t know before you’ve met. We don’t mean data like, say, their criminal record. We mean data about whether there’s anything real there--anything that warrants a second date. Until you’re in real space and real time with someone, there’s no way of knowing.
Sure, you’ve texted a little bit, and you’ve read their profile between 1-100 times. That’s a good start. If you’ve had a decent text conversation, you’ve established some baseline trust. You know that they’re not a robot, presumably they know the same thing about you, and you’ve confirmed that you want to take things a little further.
But it’s really easy to misunderstand each other over text, and even if there’s no misunderstanding, there’s never complete understanding. Humor is hard to read over text. Disastrous spelling errors are possible. There’s no spontaneity, and authenticity isn’t guaranteed--unlike in real-time communication, with texting, you have a bunch of time to engineer an artificial self-image.
Meanwhile, there are a million things that get revealed in the first ten minutes of a real-life conversation that can’t be discovered digitally. Nuances that come out when you’re face-to-face. The depth of real face-to-face communication.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll discover everything instantly. If you walk into a first date thinking that your date has to blow you away or the relationship isn’t going anywhere, it’s probably going to be a pretty awkward, nerve-wracking experience.
Sure, we all hear that some people “just knew” that they’d met their life partner on the first date--but isn’t that just an illusion of hindsight? Don’t worry about meeting this impossible standard.
Just consider the first date as an opportunity to see the good in someone else, and, simultaneously, an opportunity to screen out anyone who completely bores you. So, here’s what should happen on a first date. Have a short conversation. A café in the daytime is good, and a nice wine bar is also good. Anywhere you can talk comfortably. It should last, maximum, an hour. I aim for a crisp forty-five minutes. Chit-chat. Ask questions, learn about their day, and tell them a little bit about yourself. Then, leave. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
But wait, you say. If the date is going well, shouldn’t I stay all night, and spill my life story, and create a deep bond? Eh, not so much. Listen: if a deep bond is going to happen, it’ll happen sooner or later. No need to rush. If someone wants to explore a relationship with you, they’ll take action, no matter what the first date looked like. Meanwhile, it’s always possible that what seems like an extremely promising first date—one that lasts six hours and includes tearful confessions—will be followed by a swift ghosting. It’s never clear whether they’re actually going to follow up until they do.
Listen: if a deep bond is going to happen, it’ll happen sooner or later. No need to rush.
Okay, you respond, I get that, but isn’t a quick coffee an extremely unromantic date? Fair question. It might seem that way—Starbucks at high noon doesn’t have the mystique of coq au vin at twilight. However, a good first date opens the door to a more intense romance later. It removes the pressure that might squash a tentative but promising connection.
Again: if romance is going to happen, it will happen. Funnily enough, the most important part of the first date comes after the date. Don’t stress yourself out by reaching for passionate love right away. Most of the time, that just doesn’t happen.
In short, a good first date is just there to give you a second date. And there’s nothing better than getting ready for a great second date.