A Guide To Great First Dates for Gals Seeking Pals

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Millenials don’t date, we just hook up, according to the semi-weekly Huffington Post article about what millenials are doing with our junk. But the thing is, dating can be fun and great! First dates are one of my favorite things, because either it goes well and maybe you get to kiss someone or go do more fun things with them, or it goes horribly and you get a hilarious story to tell on Twitter. First dates can also be extremely intimidating, because you are giving a relative stranger access to your face, words and time, and you have no idea how they are going to treat that privilege.

A couple disclaimers: My only online dating experience was traumatizing, and I know that’s how many of you are meeting other cute humans these days, so hopefully you can apply the following advice to that situation without me addressing it directly! Secondly, I cannot give you any tips about how to turn good first dates into relationships because I keep falling for people who live 300 to 3,000 miles away from me like a doofus. But I have first dates on lock. Let’s explore a few different kinds of first dates, and then please get in the comments and tell us all how you impress babes via 2-5 hour social engagements.

A few basic first date ground rules:

1. Do a thing you both want to do. If one of you is bored out of your skull because of the activity, it will bomb.

2. Have an escape plan. Tell a friend where you are planning to be and ask them to be your emergency contact if you need to gtfo because the person is dangerous, a racist, or some other instant dealbreaker.

3. Don’t go into a first date looking for a ring. Just have fun and let things move naturally.

4. BE YOURSELF. Wear clothes that make you feel great and be prepared to talk about things you love. You are great, and this person wants to get to know you.


The First Date After You’ve Already Slept Together

Sometimes you have what is ostensibly a one night stand with someone and then realize you might actually want to interact with them again. The first time I ever went home with a girl I snuck out of her room at 7 a.m. because I was terrified of everything. But I did leave her my number, and for whatever reason she decided I wasn’t a total asshole and texted me. We agreed to hang out in the daylight, and I agonized over what we should do for our first date. I thought it had to be perfect and magical so we wouldn’t just be trapped as hookup gal pals forever. In the end, she asked me to come by the coffee shop where she was doing her engineering homework to hang out while she took a break. I had been running errands, so I was wearing a tank top and jorts. She was in study mode. We were not cute, but she was so cute. I drank hot chocolate and blathered on about how “Pusher Love Girl” by Justin Timberlake as performed at The Grammys was the best thing I had ever heard, but the album version was disappointing.

The second most important lesbian Justin.

The second most important lesbian Justin.

I don’t remember what we did for our first actual date where we put on makeup and otherwise tried, but I do remember sitting across from her at Caffe Medici and having one of the most blissed out hours of my life. All this is to say that with enough hormones coursing through your brain, literally anything is a good first date activity.

The Unicorn Meet Someone And Mutually Decide To Go Out First Date

Sometimes you meet someone in a place and talk to them and decide you would like to hang out with each other in another place and time. This happened to me once: I saw her across a giant party and we locked eyes, and after like two hours of staring at each other we both casually went to buy water at the exact same moment. We started chatting, danced some cumbia together, swapped numbers, and made plans for the weekend. (Don’t get too excited about how well this is going; she moved to Argentina the following Tuesday.) Anyway y’all, with this kind of first date where you have met and made googoo eyes but don’t know each other at all, I cannot advocate enough for going out to dinner. You know you might be into in each other, and the pretense of a coffee or casual drink makes things more awkward than just leaning in and spending a whole meal together. We went out to dinner on Valentine’s Day at a very normal restaurant and accidentally told each other our life stories, like what cars we drove in high school and our experiences being queer in the church. I don’t advocate for making a formal list of questions but a little mental note of conversation topics never killed anyone. After dinner we went to meet her cousins at a very straight bar and acted very gay all over it. It was a truly delightful evening.

The Cutesy Outdoorsy First Date

This was my first first date, and I was 17 and so nervous I wanted to puke. I went to pick him up straight after church so I was probably overdressed. He gave me a mix CD that included my first exposure to The Strokes, which was an A+ move by him. I remain an advocate for mix CDs as tools of wooing. What do kids do now, make each other Spotify playlists? We found the cheapest loaf of white bread at the grocery store and went to a nearby park to feed ducks. At one point he tried to get the ducks to come eat out of our hands and I was envisioning a very About A Boy kind of situation.

"I think I killed a duck!"

“I think I killed a duck!”

We didn’t actually commit avicide, but we did HOLD HANDS. It was very exciting. Our brief, fraught relationship should probably be made into a young adult novel about what happens when two queers try to heterosexually date while they’re both in the closet (hint: we ended it after he stood me up at a Rocky Horror Picture Show viewing party) but this was a really solid first date. An outdoors activity forces you to interact with this person you barely know, but if you don’t know what to talk about you can comment pithily on what you are seeing and doing. The Autostraddle staff agrees that going to a butterfly conservatory is a very adorable option. KaeLyn once went on a date at a berry farm at age 8, and Rachel once went apple picking, both to great success. So, fruit gathering is an ideal date option for people of all ages. I’d like to add flower gardens, swimming holes and hikes to the list. But also, some people would rather murder you than go hiking, so read your audience I guess.

The First Date With Someone You’ve Been Friends With For Years

This one has a lot at stake. I think when most people try to transition a friendship into a more deliberately romantic relationship, they probably just start making out and maybe change their relationship status on Facebook so they don’t have to explain themselves to their friends. But if, as I am, you are committed to first dates as an institution, having a specific demarcator can be helpful. Eddie and I had been friends for about three years when the romantic tension came to a head. We lived 200 miles apart, so asking him to come see tiny Swedish guitar playing heartthrob The Tallest Man On Earth with me in Austin was more of a commitment than meeting for drinks down the street. I advise making your first date with a friend an activity that you would have done with them as friends anyway. Go to a concert, wander around a bookstore, see a movie in a genre you both love or eat at your shared favorite restaurant. That way, if the date aspect goes to hell, you’re still doing a thing you really enjoy with a person you like being around. In our case, we embarked on an 18 month longish-distance relationship during which we both wore a lot of flannel and did a lot of things we both really liked doing together.

My ex is the original lumbersexual.

On our first date. My ex is the original lumbersexual.

Is This A Date?

There’s nothing more awkward and precious than hanging out with a cute human who also thinks you’re cute and having no idea whether you’re on a date or not. I think this phenomenon is especially common in queer gal communities, because the line between platonic fawning and flirting seems to be inherently blurry. When a college acquaintance/Twitter friend asked me to get drinks when I was back in Austin for a visit, I was instantly thrown into full on “Try but not too hard because is this even a date?” mode. I met her at a hipster design bar and ordered a chili cheese dog, which I immediately regretted because there is no cute way to eat a chili cheese dog. Later, I taught her to two-step at my favorite honky tonk and then got super flustered when someone else asked me to dance because did that mean I wasn’t obviously on a date? I returned to Nicaragua, and it took us about 10 months to confirm that, yes, we were probably on a date that night. Despite our mutual uncertainty, we had a really fun time doing activities we both enjoyed, and I didn’t get chili on my shirt. Not having clear terms was part of the fun and actually took the pressure off. Activities in group spaces with open-ended closing times are good here, because if things go wrong or your not-date starts talking about their monogamous girlfriend, you can call a friend for backup and turn it into a fun, clearly platonic hangout. Or just bail.

PS: Our second non-date was watching Boys Don’t Cry on Netflix together via Skype. Neither of us were aware of how the story ends and then our connection jammed up. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS.


What’s your favorite kind of first date? What makes first dates terrible or amazing for you? Let’s help each other find love, or at least have a decent time with with a gal pal for an evening!


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Audrey is a writer, a Texan and a sometimes-heretical Presbyterian. They write about bisexuality, gender, religion, politics, music and a whole lot of feelings at Autostraddle and wherever fine words are sold. They hope to adopt a dog some day. Follow Audrey on Twitter @audreywhitetx.

Audrey has written 119 articles for us.

60 Comments

  1. Thumb up 10

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    Re: not knowing whether or not it’s a date; I had an excruciating experience like this with the first girl I ever had a first date with. We sat on a picnic blanket listening to music and talking for maybe 5 hours (while I psychoanalyzed her every move to determine if it was flirting and this was a date) before I very uncomfortably asked if I could hold her hand, thus establishing the date-y ness of the situation. We dated a bit more and after the fact, she told me that those 5 hours were also excruciating for her because she wasn’t sure if it was a date either, but didn’t want to ask because I was the one who had initiated the hanging out and she felt uncomfortable defining that. Moral of the story, if you feel the tension on your end, they likely feel it on their end (it takes two to tango), so just go ahead and ask “is this a date or just a friend thing?” and get it out of the way so you can actually enjoy yourself instead of silently, mentally agonizing over whether or not it is, in fact, a date. That is SUCH a cognitive drain.

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    The best first dates are the ones that have a lot of natural outs/chances to expand the date. I say both, because then you can really go into the date hoping for the best but planning for the not so best, JUST IN CASE!

    If yr in the PDX area, the International Test Rose Garden is a really wonderful first date?? If you have a car it’s a quick zip down to some of the cute cafes/eating places around 23rd.

    But, walking around & looking at plants is really cute and you can chat with the cutie yr on a date with and then get ice cream, or bubble tea!

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    I recommend going to an animal shelter if you both like pets. I have done this, though my ex likes cats but is highly allergic to them. This info tidbit was withheld from me and Benadryl was a must afterwards. I felt so bad but laughed a lot.

    I have also letterboxed and rode bikes through the Dismal Swamp on a first date. I had really high teenage confidence back then that has waned a bit now, so I wasn’t embarrassed by my pouring sweat or the mosquito paradise we were visiting.

    I also just like walking through a city at night with someone.

  4. Thumb up 2

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    I agree about the cute outdoorsy thing. It reminded me that one time someone took me to a really pretty botanical garden that had sculptures made out of plants, and it was indeed a good dat idea. (I think it was a second date and not a first date, but close enough? I mean, it would also work for a first date.)

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    I think summer festivals are fun for dates. I like having the option to keep moving and looking at new things or to sit and chill if we just want to talk. I recently went to an event called Lit Fest on a first date(???). We attended a some lectures with popular authors, which gave us a lot to discuss. There was also a street fest with books for sale, so we wandered around for a bit and talked about our mutual literary interests. Alas, I am not sure whether I shall ever hear from this lady again, but it was a great date(???) regardless.

    Thanks for all the awesome advice and recommendations, everyone. 🙂

  6. Thumb up 7

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    Pro-tip: if you make a spotify playlist, do not make it collaborative or maybe you will not be dating soon thereafter but for some reason will keep getting “music added to…” notifications and slam your head against the wall a lot.

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    Hah!It’s very interesting and in some way hilarious article!=) I love it! I’m single now! But I met one girl on kovla and I hope that it will work out! Dating life in digital age became more difficult, I think! But nevertheless, I hope I will find my true love! Everybody deserves to be happy!

  8. Thumb up 8

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    My best first date was my first date with my current gf, which started as “let’s go to lunch and the lake” and turned into an 11-hour wander-around-the-city affair from which I did not get home until midnight. (While I do not necessarily advocate 11-hour first dates for everybody, if it happens, I say run with it.)

    I can’t recommend outdoorsy stuff enough. Walking around the lake was one of the best parts because we were able to hold hands (once we hit that point), we could talk without staring at each other’s faces (which I always find a little awkward at the start), and sitting on the grass by the swan boats was rather a perfect place for a first kiss. Plus we got ice cream and went to a movie afterwards, so it was a good mix of active and passive activities.

    On the other hand, I had the world’s most awkward first not-date at a coffee shop that was 6 hours of stilted conversation and I have no idea how it lasted that long after my latte ran out. Do not sit at a coffee shop for 6 hours. I don’t care how good the conversation is. Go do something else after an hour or two.

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    Best first date I’ve ever gone on was to a minor league baseball game. I am not a sporty girl by any means, but I enjoy a beer and a hot dog and good conversation because neither of us cared about the game at all. It was just a good time, we propped our feet up on the backs of the chairs in front of us, talked about things of importance and things that didn’t matter, and it extended into having drinks and an awesome kiss good night. I highly recommend!

  10. Thumb up 6

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    I am talking to a cute girl on tinder and turns out we both really like comic books and RPGs but I’m still too afraid to suggest an irl meetup

    We will probably hang out in a park or something but I have already told her about the only comic book shop in town which apparently she didn’t know about, so that’s a possibility!

    (I’m really hoping she isn’t on autostraddle as this is a hell of a give away)

  11. Thumb up 14

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    HIKING IS SO GOOD FOR DATING. Nothing bonds more than the both of you being sweaty bug-bitten poison ivy’d messes. And I’m not being sarcastic. The makeup melts off of your face and your perfectly coiffed hair becomes a sweaty mess and you get to see how someone is underneath it all, in a not-the-easiest environment. Plus, the greatest conversations always seem to happen in the woods.
    It wasn’t really a date, but I got lost in the woods once with a girl I’d recently met and had a thing for. And by lost in the woods, I mean she wanted to show me this really great look out that was a “quick, easy hike.” (Good thing she wasn’t a serial killer.) FOUR HOURS LATER we emerge from the woods after accidentally taking the wrong trail that winded up and down the mountain. Our feet were covered in blisters (our shoes hadn’t been broken in for the season yet), our legs in poison ivy and chiggers, we were both DRENCHED in sweat, and I still had to turn around and drive five hours. BUT IT WAS SO GREAT. I learned a lot about her both through conversation and how she handled the situation, and vice versa.
    Maybe I especially appreciate that sort of quick and dirty getting-to-know-you, because it really sucks to get into a relationship with someone and THEN find out after you’ve been in it awhile that they’re awful in less-than-ideal situations.
    Also I just really like hiking.
    Also also I’m super bored with the “grabbing coffee” deal.

  12. Thumb up 4

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    On my first date with A, I was recovering from my very first hangover after drinking myself into oblivion after the worst friend breakup I have ever had. My skirt was too short and I kept making really awkward references to how shy I was feeling.

    She took me to The Chocolate Room and I draw a curtain.

    When the person is right for you, things work out no matter how ridiculous the circumstances.

  13. Thumb up 7

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    But as for actual suggestions: I usually take girls out for good coffee and then go to The Strand or Housing Works Book Cafe, because if they are awesome we can talk about books and if they are awful I can console myself with a new paperback.

  14. Thumb up 2

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    (Coming out of Lurker-Land to comment…) My gf and I met through online dating – she saw on my profile that I was a writer, and asked me what kinds of things I write. I snuck ‘erotica’ into the conversation and we rather quickly moved on to some erotic role play via Google Chat. We now joke that that was our first date, two strangers snowed in at a fictional motel. (When two writers get together… WOO sparks fly!)
    We met in person about two weeks later at a Thai restaurant and talked non-stop for three hours. Our second in-person date was the one that really sealed the deal, though – I invited her to see an Omnimax movie about mummies at the local museum, which we then explored afterwards, then got gelato and wound up back at her place. We geeked out so hard together on that date, and discovered so many common interests, it would have been a crying shame to let her go. Every date since then (6 months in) has been a hit. We still try to have a G-chat date now and then, which has actually turned into us working semi-seriously together on a piece of collaborative fiction.

    For first dates in general, I give a +1 to museums, zoos/aquariums, botanical gardens, festivals and street fairs, burlesque shows (or other live performances), and arcades. All of these offer ample opportunity to talk & get to know each other, but also other things to look at and comment on.

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        especially if you’re both into bad jokes/puns/pickup lines (some people are really not!!) but speaking as someone who has a p goofy sense of humor, there are some fun light-hearted pickup lines an jokes that are perfectly suited for museums & other such institutions.

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          So much of my relationship with this girl is based on puns and wordplay, mostly from my side, trying to make her cringe as hard as possible. 😛 We laughed a lot on the museum date and reference it often.

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        Whoa, quite a compliment on my first Autostraddle comment! Haha. Yeah, museums are great for any date, first or following. I’m lucky to live in a city with several worthwhile museums. And I mean, if you’re going to do a movie date, why not Omnimax/Imax if that’s available?? Plus we briefly made out in the replica cave at in the natural-history section, so that’s always fun.

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      Do it! I have also learned that to some extent if you approach it and experience it as a date, then it sort of automatically is one. Also just be like “can we hold hands??” and that’s a good way to find out if the other person is on the same page.

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    I adore first dates! Great article! I’m a bit in the same boat than you where I’m not the person to talk to to sustain relationship (also have had a lot of issues like there is distance or other complicated things) however as a result I keep having to meet new people and going on first dates a lot; no matter how many I’ve gone on they still remain a bit nerve wracking, but I find that it’s more like a stage fright; the nervousness happens before but once I’m actually on the date it’s gone..and I agree that first dates are awesome because they’re either adorable or you get a good story/ learn more about what you want/don’t want.
    .. For me first dates are also a wonderful occasion/excuse to go out and do stuff that I want to do; I love first dates that revolve around activities, I find it keeps people engaged without having to talk non stop.
    So with that said, here’s a few tips/ideas:

    – I like to keep a bucket list of date ideas on my note pad. That way when a date does come around, you already have a lot of things to suggest and don’t have to hurry up and think of smthng.
    This can include list of restaurants,places to go and other ideas.

    – Some dates are city/location specific. Google date ideas in (your area) to find fun stuff you may not have thought about.

    – If you and your dates are into fitness/sports/physical activities I find those are a lot of fun and releases endorphins and you can be pretty creative with it too; try a new (dance, martial arts, sport,etc) together; go on a bike tour of smthng specific, look up geotagging and treasure hunt together, etc.

    – I’m right there with you on the outdoorsy stuff: picnic, ice cream and walk, rollerskating,etc

    – If an entire dinner seems to long for a first day, you have a few other options than getting “just drinks”, a couple of my faves are : wine&cheese bar, tapas, or getting dessert (some cities even have dessert restaurants) . If you don’t mind a longer date, one thing I haven’t done yet but that’s on my list is trying a “progressive dinner” where you pick a different place for appetizers, main menu, dessert,etc. can be a fun little adventure and allows both of you to pick places.

    – If it’s an evening date one of my fave thing to do is to go see a burlesque show. It’s sexy and fun and you can get some drinks afterward and talk. If you don’t want burlesque I just love going to shows in general: circus performances, theatre,etc. Also a good excuse to dress up and look cute.

    I have many more ideas but I’ve already written so much, hope y’all enjoy!

  16. Thumb up 4

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    First off, this was fantastic! Looooooove it!

    Little extra hints: if you’re the person asking your crush out and you can build up the courage to explicitly tell your crush something like I’d like to take you out, let’s go on a date, or just slip in yes, this is a date, so prepare yourself, it’s a really kind gesture that goes a long way. It’s always nice to let the person know your intentions, it will ease some nerves and hopefully make the first few minutes less confusing. Also, you won’t spend the whole time trying to figure out if it is a date. Splitting bills is a thing. It’s a good thing. It works for me, at least, and makes things less awkward. Another thing I do is if I am nervous, I often admit it which leads to a ridiculous sort of giggle fit from both parties and then a much more natural setting and better conversation. Happy dating!!!

    Perhaps a dating/role play session would be helpful at camp to go over lots of awkward/awesome scenarios and help build confidence. 🙂

  17. Thumb up 6

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    I managed to convince someone to go out with me by inviting her to see me in a queer feminist panto in which I was playing a politically active rodent, followed by drinks, followed by more drinks, followed by someone else hitting on me, followed by her making a move because I was clearly f(l)ailing all over the place and making a horrible mess of things, followed by us having to get a hotel room because I had somehow forgotten the place our group was renting had queer feminist performers sleeping on literally every horizontal surface available.

    HOWEVER almost two years later and we are still together! This is probably a testament to her patience rather than my skill at dating another human.

    So don’t panic if you fail to organise anything remotely date-like. It might work out anyway, and you’ll have a really good story to tell.

  18. Thumb up 15

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    These are all such great ideas!

    I met my girlfriend at work and we (not-so-)accidentally found each other on okcupid my 3rd or 4th week and I asked her out for a beer. We’re very outdoorsy and introverted people and she doesn’t like bars so when it came time for the afternoon bar date she asked to go for a hike instead.

    She “saw a snake” so that she could get close enough to hold my hand, and then we made out in the woods and everything was perfect.

    And then we sat on a bench and she pulled two cans of craft beer out of her backpack because “you wanted to go out for a beer.” And everything was even more perfect.

    And then 3 hours turned into 18 hours (whoopsies!) and 8 months later we’re still going strong. 😉

  19. Thumb up 5

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    I very loudly yelled “YES!” in my empty kitchen at mix cds being tools for wooing. I then whispered “sorry” to no one, and quietly said “yes” to “what do kids do now, make each other spotify playlists?” because I soooo do.

    My last real first-date was with my best friend. It was a kind of unofficial but official first time. I didn’t necessarily tell her that it was a date when I asked her to hang out with me, but we had just had the “I Think We Both Have Feelings For Each Other” talk the night before. It was really simple! We went to Whole Foods and literally just walked around looking at all of the weird food. Smelling the stinky cheeses, looking at the tiny desserts, trying to pronounce names of alternative brand snacks. After Whole Foods closed, we sat in my car and made balloon animals with this kit I had gotten for Christmas. We didn’t even end up kissing for the first time that night, but it was still amazingly fun and comfortable and cute. RIP that relationship and friendship. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  20. Thumb up 2

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    This was a fun read, Audrey! I haven’t had a lot of dating experience, so reading this gave me lots of vicarious thrills (and a shudder or two).

    I deplore first dates! Mostly because I don’t ever know if it’s a date, because I like to hang out with new people (including potential friends) on a one on one basis. It takes me a massive amount of energy to open up to a stranger, and I’m bad at pre-planning exit plans. I’ll have to take that tip to heart.

    When my great love and I first met up in person, we clicked immediately and took up the entire night baring our life stories; I kept wondering “am I talking too much?” but couldn’t stop. I knew she was something very special, but I kept referring to our first few dates as hangouts because I was that much of a ninny. She rolls her eyes real hard (but kindly) at me when we talk about those days.

  21. Thumb up 3

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    I always think you can’t go wrong with a picnic for a first date.
    There’s something about picnics that’s just goshdarn adorable.

    This is my first comment after being a longtime lurker! I just have a lot of feelings about picnics. :’)

  22. Thumb up 5

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    Hi. Hi. Can I just express something? I loved this post. With respect to mix CDs like, what do the kids do these days? When I didn’t know how much I was in love with my straight friend I made her mixes and since her car was a smart car that would show the title of the song. I would then change the song title and I would write her stupid, funny, cute notes in the title of the song to make her laugh. I mean I found a bunch of them when I was going through my songs because I of course saved them.

    Ex. song title –>Gettin’ Over You —- More Like Getting Under You –zing
    Up Around the Bend —— you will find me —- Hiding

    Thank you for letting me share this kinda personal story about mixes. I’m done now.

  23. Thumb up 0

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    I still can’t believe that I threw away 3 mix tapes from various college crushes and relationships. At the time, I was thinking “I no longer own a tape player, wtf do I still have these things taking up valuable drawer space?” But now I wish I’d kept them, just so I could check now to see if my first sort of girlfriend included CCR on my tape. I remember Bonnie Rait and I’m sure there was a classic rock song about rain, but I don’t remember the details.

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    My absolute best first date was coffee and geocaching! We got coffee and talked for awhile and then used my clunky old GPS (although there’s a free app you could definitely use instead) to find hidden treasure! Geocaching is awesome for a date because there won’t be a ton of people around, it’s outdoorsy, you’ll find cool new places, and when you find the cache you get the chance to pick a cute couple name to sign the log book with and an excuse to celebrate by kissing her 🙂

  25. Thumb up 1

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    Hey all! Loving all of this, and the comments too <3 I am a hopeless romantic and aim in life to have at least one moment where I am on level, or surpass, the romantic notions of a great romance story.

    Sickening I know.

    Nonetheless, and oddly enough. Me and my current gf had a moment a couple of weeks ago when we tried to recall our first date.. And all we can remember is when we were still friends who secretly harboured feelings for each other, (and thought the other would never reciprocate)and I was ending a relationship that had only lasted too long because of the routine of it, and I just needed a drink.

    I text her, and we met up for a drink, her being surprised when mine was strong and alcoholic, then we went for dinner. And the whole time I felt like – this is totally a date. Wtf? And then, when she was dropping me home, we detoured and ended up chatting for hours, finally coming out and saying that we had romantic notions for the other. Nothing happened except for an almost kiss that will be imprinted on my brain forever, and apparently for both of us, this counts as our unofficial first date. I love picnic dates though, in public gardens where you can lie in hidden nooks and look up at the sky.

    Also: Dates that involve walking/getting a train/etc are great for keeping conversation going.

    Going to new places together, doing classes (yoga!), just embracing the moment and being spontaneous. Trusting each other to have fun and just go with it.

    Also anything that revolves around the sea.

    Just be kind, ask questions.. Be honest and do things you both like, set up several options, choose together on the day 🙂 xxx

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