First date magic . . . flowers and chocolates, pin-striped suits and off-theshoulder dresses, cologne, waxed legs, champagne, linen tablecloths, romantic music, candlelight, violins, laughter over lobster . . .
If this is how you envision a first date, add “disappointment,” “ulcers,” and “financial ruin” to your list, because you’re setting yourself up for disaster. The ideal first date should let you get to know the other person and let the other person get to know you, without doing irreparable damage to your nervous system — or bank account or stomach lining — in the process.
First Things First
A first date may never be a relaxing experience (after all, no matter how down-to-earth you are, you’ll still worry about the broccoli in your teeth), but it doesn’t have to be ulcer material either. This section outlines the basic rules. In fact, these rules are so basic, they sound silly, but you’d be surprised how often they’re disregarded, with dire consequences. So a word to the wise:
To make your first date as comfortable as possible, follow the ten rules outlined in the following sections. Doing so will increase the probability that you’ll have fun — not teeth-clenching, knuckle-biting, stomach-hurting agony that may (or may not) get you to either date two or heavy sedation.
Rule 1: Pick an activity that you enjoy
A first date should be something that you like to do. Do not pick something you hate just because you think your partner will enjoy it. Although this may be a good strategy later on, the goal during the first date is to set the tone. If
you choose something you like, at least you have that in common with your date (presuming, of course, that your date accepted the invitation because he or she likes the activity, too).
If your date hates the idea, hopefully he or she will say something like “I really would like to spend time with you, but I
hate jazz” or “I’m allergic to Chinese food” or “I get claustrophobic (car sick or whatever) in submarines.”
Picking something you enjoy has a few advantages: First, it ensures that at least one person will be having a good time. Second, it offers an insight into who you are — you know, that honesty thing. Third, it means that you’ve set the stage for something you can afford — since only a phony or a masochist or a nincompoop would break his or her own bank on a first date.
Rule 2: Pick an activity that you can easily afford
Don’t try and snow somebody on the first date by spending gobs of money. First of all, how do you keep that type of spending up? The dangers of throwing money around are that it makes you look cheap later, when you scale back your spending to accommodate your budget, and you never know whether your date likes you or your wallet. Also consider your date’s finances before suggesting an exclusive new restaurant, any formal event, dinner and dancing, or a weekend for two in the Bahamas.
Even if you are footing the bill, you don’t want your date to feel like she’s out of your league. I have a friend who likes to rent a limo and take first dates to the opera and then out for a fancy dinner. All this works out to a $500 first date. Then he wonders why women are always using him. Puh-leeeze. It’s much better to start small and build so that your date assumes you’re more invested in both of you together instead of showing off.
Rule 3: Do something that doesn’t require new clothes
New clothes are often uncomfortable, and can unexpectedly bunch, rip, or gap. Besides, why add the worry about spilling red wine on your new outfit to the other stress of a first date? Why worry about clothes when there are more important things to worry about, like the broccoli between your front teeth or whether your date really likes you or is just being polite. Wear your happy, easy-to-wear, good luck, appropriate-to-wear clothes.
If I ran the world, I’d make sure that on first dates, everyone would wear his or her oldest, most comfy clothes; women would not shave their legs; men would not buy new after-shave; and all men and women would be who they really are, right from the get-go. Obviously, I’m not in charge. Shoes should always be shined, cuffs unfrayed, and everything neat and clean — not rigid, new, starched, and impressive.
Rule 4: Go where you can talk without getting thrown out
I know America’s favorite date is a movie, but if you talk in a movie, I will personally come and haunt you. Not only is it rude to the other customers, but it puts your date in the awkward position of either siding with the people who are trying to shush you, or talking with you and getting the usher to evict you both. See the section “Good places for a first date,” later in this chapter, for a list of places that are cheap and fun and where you two can chat happily away. When in doubt, take a walk.
Rule 5: Go to a place that’s easy to get to
Long car, bus, train, and — God forbid — plane trips may be fun once you get to know one another, but for a first date, it’s really risky. Although these trips have occasionally worked out as a way for two people to get to know one
another (at least you can talk), you run the risk of using up your tolerance for one another before you arrive at your destination, and then, boy, are you both stuck. If you’d just gotten to know each other in smaller doses, however, you
may have been okay.
Rule 6: Do something that isn’t competitive
Avoid arm wrestling on the first date. Although some relationships thrive on tension, it’s hard to put competitive feelings in a context when you don’t know each other. Even if you’re not competing with each other, how you deal with
someone trying to beat you while the date you’re trying to impress is watching gets pretty dicey. Beating someone on a first date means that one of you feels like a winner and one like a loser. Not a cool idea.
I walk fast. For years it was my primary form of exercise, and I still use it to keep in shape. When I say fast, I mean fast. Often, without realizing it, I’ve left my companions no choice but to carry on a conversation with the back of my head. Oops. The point is that different people are comfortable with different levels of activity. Bear this in mind before you suggest a Saturday hike, rollerblading, break dancing, or bungee jumping from a hovering helicopter.
Rule 7: Pick an activity that doesn’t involve a lot of alcohol
Alcohol has been, is now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future the major drug of abuse in this country (more Pilgrims drowned in the canals after getting drunk and falling overboard on Saturday nights than were killed
by Native Americans). Both of you are going to feel a bit nervous anyway. Why add the temptations and problems of alcohol, especially if you have to drive home?
Rule 8: Leave time to get to know each other
A date that is chock-full of activity keeps you busy, but if the purpose is a chance to get to know one another, some quiet time is a great idea. Without a bunch of distracting noise, activity, or an audience, you can talk to and get a
sense of one another.
Rule 9: Do something that doesn’t involve high-ticket others
High-ticket others include friends, family, exes, kids, animals, or colleagues. Audiences are fine if you’re an actor giving a performance. They are tricky if you’re trying not to perform and just be, which is the point of a date. If your first date involves your parents, sibs, workmates, or people who know you and love you, the date is going to feel like an audition.
You don’t need other people’s opinions at this point. (If you don’t have enough confidence in your abilities and think you do need the opinions of a bunch of other people, you ought not to be dating yet.) Later on, when the two of you know each other and feel a bit more solid, showing each other off and getting feedback from your friends (always a bit dicey) may be cool, but for heaven’s sake, not yet.
Rule 10: Find an activity that doesn’t last more than a couple of hours
Brevity is not only the soul of wit, but it is also the essence of a good date. In Chapter Two, a Neil Simon play, the male lead (played by James Caan in the movie version) tells the female lead (played by Marsha Mason), after a tenminute introduction, that he’s really enjoyed their time together and thinks it’s time to plan a second date. He leaves and knocks on the door. When she answers, the two begin their second date, much more relaxed.
The key is to leave ’em wanting more. If you both had a good time, you’ll both eagerly anticipate date two. If one or the other of you didn’t have a good time, keep in mind that one of the ways to limit the damage is to limit the time. If the date was only mildly troublesome and not prolonged agony, you may well recover and be willing to try a second date.