How to Go on a First Date That Doesn’t Suck

It’s easy to have a lot of mixed expectations, feelings, nerves, hopes, excitement, boredom, dread and dreams around first dates. Sometimes all at once! Here’s how to have a good first date.


1. Lower your expectations.

Be honest with yourself about what a first date actually is: a way to spend about 45 minutes to three hours with a stranger to determine whether you have enough in common to see each other again in a context that might eventually have sexual or/and romantic vibes. That’s all! It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself or on the situation: What if you forget how to talk to strangers? What if she sucks? What if she thinks you suck? What if this is the only date you’ll have all year? What if when you have a relationship you look back on this evening and it’s weird? What if they’re “the one” (“the one” is a myth) and you mess it up by talking too much about your cat? What if what if what if? — but take a deep breath and let all that stuff go.

2. Save talking for the date.

If you’re looking for someone you can hang out with in real life, focus your initial energy on hanging out in real life. On a dating app, this means keeping the conversation brief and centred around when and where you’re going to meet, and then meeting — not making days of small talk and not sexting endlessly into that great night, unless those are the main things you’re interested in. It’s okay if those are the main things you’re interested in, but if you want to date in person, you need to meet in person. Making a plan quickly, saying something like “I don’t like to text a lot before meeting someone, but I’m so excited to meet you,” and restraining yourself from doing a lot of early back-and-forth or internet stalking can all keep your expectations realistic and make the actual date itself go more smoothly.

3. Pick the right location.

So you want to meet in real life… but where do you meet in real life? The best first dates have:

  1. One-on-one interaction somewhere a little interesting but not too distracting, and
  2. Built-in parameters.

If the point of a first date is just to get enough of a sense of each other to see whether you want to see each other again, pick somewhere you can get a chance to do that one on one. Movies are fun but all you learn about a person in a movie is whether or not they can sit still and not look at their phone for a few hours, you know? And only fuckbois invite their tinder first dates to bars with all their friends. Keep it simple, keep it one-on-one, and don’t pick an activity that you’ll want to focus on more than each other (unless all you want is a friend to do that thing with, in which case it’s not really a date is it?).

Going for coffee or a drink or ice cream or juice or whatever is a default for a reason: if the date goes well, you can easily order another round, and if it doesn’t go well, finishing the first can be a natural conclusion for your time together. There are other people around, there’s probably a bathroom, and you have an easy possible opening for conversation (“What are you getting?”) if you’re stuck. If it’s really bad you can be out of there in 20 minutes, and if it’s really good you can linger for hours.

Maybe she’s not a stranger, though. Maybe you’ve been running into each other for months and you finally asked her out and she said yes. Maybe they’ve been your friend for years and you matched on tinder last night and decided to go for it. Maybe there’s some other reason you want to get big and sweeping and romantic. I totally get that! But remember how you’re keeping your expectations low? Don’t put a lot of pressure on the situation, even and maybe especially if for some reason it already feels like there’s a lot of pressure on the situation. Keep it light, keep it simple. If you really like each other you’ll have so much time for the big stuff, and if you don’t it’s way better to find out by being yourselves then by trying to force something that isn’t there.

4. It’s okay if the conversation is a little awkward.

The best thing is to let the conversation flow naturally. Do you come here often? Oh, what’s your favorite [type of establishment you’re in] in [place you live]? How long have you lived here? Why’d you move here? What was that like? But it’s okay if the conversation doesn’t flow naturally! You don’t know each other (or if you do, you don’t know each other in a dating context), you haven’t established a shared language, you don’t know where the conversational landmines are, and you might both be a little nervous. That’s okay! There will probably be awkward silences and those are okay, too. Exchange your caution for curiosity. Ask questions. Say, “tell me more,” and lean forward a little. If you don’t know what to talk about, remember you can ask about pretty much anything — you don’t know about their neighborhood, their job, their roommates, their pets, their favourite tv show as a kid, whether or not they believe in astrology, whether or not they believe in weeding their houseplants, when they got that killer haircut, what they did this weekend, or anything else. Listen to their answers. Share yours.

5. Be your real self.

Dress how you normally dress, act how you normally act and care about things you normally care about. Don’t pretend you like movies (or, say, monogamy) just because she does and she’s really pretty and you want to see her again. Don’t pretend you hate tuna tartare just because they’re vegan. Don’t pretend to love cats when you’re allergic. Don’t wear clothes that make you feel anything other than awesome. The point is to be you, not a version of yourself that you think someone else might like. And the only way for someone to like you for who you are is to be who you are just as hard as you can.

It is okay to try to be the best version of yourself — the version that’s on time when you’d sometimes be late, the version that’s not still texting that one ex, the version that did laundry a little more recently — but make sure that you’re still being yourself. Otherwise, what’s the point?

6. Follow your feelings.

It can be easy to make your takeaway from a date all about the other person — Did they like you? Does she want to see you again? — but don’t. This is as much about whether you like her as whether she likes you. Follow your feeling. Did you just feel a little bored? Did they interrupt too much? Did you hate the way she kisses? Do you just not want to see her again? Don’t see her again. Can’t stop thinking about their mouth? Can’t stop thinking about their mind? Worried it was awkward but you almost don’t care ‘cause you were so intrigued? Say you had a good time and want to see her again and see what happens.

Don’t think of a good first date as one that leads to a second. Think of a good first date as one where you got to be yourself, clear and honest and true, and got to meet someone new and see where you might line up or not.


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Carolyn Yates is the NSFW Consultant, and was formerly the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor, for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She recently moved to Los Angeles from Montreal. Find her on twitter.

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32 Comments

  1. I just went on a first date on Sunday that didn’t suck and it was TEN hours long and we went to FIVE places and we kissed and I’m gonna see her again one day but she lives TWO hours from me. 🙁 but also 😀

  2. If you are lucky enough to have a job where you get an hour for lunch, or you work from home and have some flexibility, GO ON LUNCH DATES. It’s my new greatest first tinder date advice. Lunch isn’t romantic or whatever but it works so well for meeting someone for the first time because it isn’t even remotely romantic. You have an out (“I have to get back to work”), if your tinder date is a murderer, your coworkers will notice you’re missing right away, you have to eat lunch anyway and restaurants have lunch menus that are cheaper, you don’t have to worry about the awkwardness of alcohol and wondering if she drinks because you’re about to go back to work, and generally staff at restaurants that have a big lunch crowd move really fast because people are trying to get back to work, so there’s no awkward lingering while waiting for the check. Then, if it was good, you can easily be like “well I have to go back to work, but let’s meet up for happy hour/coffee/dinner/whatever some evening this week.” Lunch dates are the best advice I’ve gotten in a long time, so I’m passing it along to all of you.

  3. Great advice. It’s fascinating how people differ. I can’t stand texting for a week before having met someone. I prefer to agree to the date and check in once the day before. I end up stating upfront that I’m not much of a texter so folks understand, but sometimes people will text multiple times a day for a week and it blows my mind.

    • Ask someone on a date. I’m serious. Don’t wait for someone to ask you. My online dating strategy whether they initiated contact or whether I did was to exchange a small number or messages sufficient to establish that they can manage a conversation and don’t have any initial red flags and then ask them on a date.

      • If your question is how to meet someone to go an a date with, online dating is the way that cuts to the chase and you know the people are looking to date.

        Otherwise, go to social groups, events etc where you will meet the kind of person you might be interested in. Then you still have to ask them on a date or at least flirt/drop huge hints that you are interested. Personally I think the better you know someone the scarier it is because you have more to lose, so where possible ask people on dates when you just kind of like them, don’t wait until you have fallen for them.

          • I don’t know what kind of complex and whether that is a bad thing, I’m sorry if it is.
            If for example it is a health problem and maybe getting out to meet people is difficult I would say the same thing applies but with online spaces – you can meet people online related to your interests and get to you them online and then still either drop heavy hints and tell them you like them.
            If you have barriers to dating there will be people out there who will like you enough to work with you to overcome the barriers. I wish you all the best with dating. 🙂

  4. Great advice here, especially the part about trying to not make it all about how they feel about you.

    It can be hard to focus on what you want, too, and disheartening if there’s a dealbreaker with someone who would otherwise be awesome.

    Never give up! Get back out there!

  5. I went on a first date(I think it was as the signs were very mixed) at the local queer owned coffee shop(Cuties/The Planet) for their coffee, queers, and donut event. She like the choice, so that’s a win. The coffee shop’s event was how I got the date as my opening line was asking if she was going to their event(she wasn’t familiar, which worked out well). I like the coffee shop ideas, but not sure if I will do a fist date where the dog comes along as he stole the show a bit(cute woman with a cute dog at a queer event you do the math). Second place we went to people were indifferent about the dog.

  6. This: “The point is to be you, not a version of yourself that you think someone else might like” is so hard to learn but so important.

    As an introvert who generally does much better at first impressions in writing than in person, I’d like to offer a counterpoint to #2. I personally have had great success (both in romantic and in platonic-friendship situations) spending time getting to know someone online first before meeting them in person. It may not be everyone’s preference, but it sure seems to work better for me.

    • There are pros and cons, but yeah everyone should do what works for them. I’m an introvert, I met my bff online and chatted to her online for a long time before we met in person and we still have a lot of typed conversations.

      I get nervous on dates but I still prefer to do them early on because I don’t want to have invested a lot emotionally or timewise getting to know someone before a first date if I then discover on the first date that one or both of us aren’t romantically/physically attracted to the other.

      • That totally makes sense. I guess for me I see it the other way around: I need to connect on a deeper level with someone before I become interested enough to want to spend the time and effort meeting them in person. Then even if we’re not romantically attracted when we do meet, at least there’s a chance I’ve still made an awesome new friend.

        • For me, though I agree that you totally can get to know, and indeed develop romantic feelings toward someone online, it also increases other risks. The one that really bugs me, is sudden ghosting.

          A couple times I’ve chatted with women for a long time, and felt like we had a pretty darn good connection, only for them to drop off the face of the earth.

          Now? I like to meet early to avoid that stuff.

  7. THIS IS SO RELEVANT! After disabling dating apps due to frustration, I re-downloaded them and am having more success with matches. Swipe swipe swipe. I actually posted on my Facebook a few days ago asking how long folx take to ask someone out online. While mileage did vary, the consensus seemed to be sooner rather than later. After that post, I asked out a cute girl on JSwipe, and she said yes, so now we’re playing the “what does your schedule look like” game.

  8. As a somewhat aro ace woman who’s relationship experience is made up entirely of That One Time My GM Asked Me Out In College And Then Sent Me An Email Confessing His Live After I Told Him I’d Think About It Because I Had An Exam The Next Day And All The Game Sessions After Were Extremely Awkward, I wholeheartedly thank you for this. I’ve only recently been examining my homoromantic side and not knowing how to date has had me freaking out a little.

  9. “What if they’re “the one” (“the one” is a myth) and you mess it up by talking too much about your cat?”

    UM, honestly this is a good litmus test- they’re definitely not worth sticking around for if they can’t deal with you talking about your cat lol

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