Ah, the elusive first date. The idea alone is enough to prompt both fear and excitement all at once. Because, truly, there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as a successful date with someone you really like. However, that initial interest and attraction can also bring with it anxiety over all the things that come with your first outing: the outfit, the right location, and, of course, first-date conversations that don’t lag and aren’t filled with long awkward moments of silence.
In terms of that last point — which is arguably the most crucial component to a first date — is there a particular foolproof formula to creating consistent engaging and dynamic conversation that’s conducive to really getting to know a person (without delving in too deep or too soon)? In all honesty, not so much. That said, your end goal for the first date should always be to get the information you need to determine if you want a second date (and not necessarily a walk down the aisle). “On a first date, it's important to get to know more about what makes someone who they are, while also gaining an understanding of comfort with each other, and if the conversation flows easy,” says Alex Williamson, chief brand officer for uber-popular dating app Bumble. “[...] The more you can figure out what makes another person tick, and if you enjoy each other's perspectives and banter on a first date, the better.”
Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean you need to play detective and deep-dive into your date’s life. The key here is to see if there’s enough chemistry and things in common to fuel a foreseeable future. “What you're looking for is friendly conversation and the opportunity to get to know someone new,” says Williamson. “Not everyone you meet is going to be the one, and that is so OK.”
Again, unfortunately, there is no tried-and-true method to cracking the first-date conversation code. However, it is definitely helpful to have some key tips and questions at top of mind to help keep things in perspective and free of awkwardness. To help guide you a bit, ahead, you’ll find five crucial tips dating experts swear by to help navigate the conversational labyrinth that is the first date.
Have A Few Go-To Questions In Your Pocket
Remember, first dates are all about getting to know the basics of a person: interests, hobbies, occupation, personality traits, etc. So, if the conversation isn’t naturally going in this direction, having a few guiding questions on hand can help steer things properly. “Some good questions to ask include: ‘What's your favorite thing about your job?’” says Williamson. “This provides intel into a person's ambition, what motivates them, and leads into a conversation that helps you understand whether or not your career goals align.”
The dating guru also recommends finding out how your date spends their spare time or weekends since “you want to spend time with someone who shares your interests in the times you could potentially be spending together.” Piggybacking off of that is the crowd-pleasing topic of travel. “So many opportunities for discussion here,” adds Williamson. “You can learn a lot about a person by the way they travel — do they check a bag? Do they like the window or the aisle? What time do they like to fly?”
Stay Out Of The Ex Files
Fact: Everyone has their own dating history and track record, complete with both positive and negative experiences. And while it’s important to discuss the past at some point, the first date might not be the best time to do so. “You or your date may inevitably ask the forbidden question, which is normal,” says Greta Tufvesson, co-founder of elite matchmaking service The Bevy. “It’s how you deal with the question that can make or break the first date.”
If you should find yourself rifling through the ex files, even if by accident, Tufvesson recommends keeping the discussion brief. “Do not go down the rabbit hole with a long saga,” she says. “Do not disparage your ex. Do not place blame on yourself or your ex. A simple, ‘He/she was a wonderful person and I wish them well, but ultimately we weren’t a good match,’ is just fine. Be vague and if your date hounds you for more, they will be very impressed with your judicious tact.”
Avoid Politics This Time Around
Another topic, that might be a difficult one to avoid in the current climate is politics. While it’s completely understandable and valid to inevitably want someone with a similar worldview as you, Nikki Lewis, co-founder of The Bevy advises to steer clear of checking this right off the bat. “If you don’t have the luxury of having a matchmaker pre-screen this for you, don’t blatantly ask your match,” she says. “Instead, see how the first date conversation is going. You’ll be able to gauge your date’s rationale and intellect.”
And if for some reason on the first or second date you discover your political views don’t exactly match up, Lewis says this still isn’t necessarily the end all, be all. “Ask why they feel the way they do, and try to understand their point of view,” says Lewis. “As long as someone can defend themselves elegantly and knowledgeably, this absolutely does not need to be a deal-breaker. Don’t be on the defensive and don’t attack your date. They should be open to your opinions, too. You’re both adults and can decide if you respect each other’s beliefs enough to continue moving forward in dating.”
Make Eye Contact
OK, this seems like a minor detail in the grand scheme of things, but the payoff is actually pretty substantial. “A high level of eye contact is a clear sign of a strong connection,” says Tufvesson. “[...] This is a first date which means it’s a first impression — be yourself but put some extra effort in showing that you care.” Also, eye contact helps demonstrate engagement in the conversation, which is always a good sign.
Don’t Sweat The Silence
One of the biggest points of stress in a first date is the dreaded awkward silence, the torturous lulls in conversation that feel like forever (when, in reality, typically last no more than a few seconds). If you hit one or more of these on the first date, it is not a bad sign … really!
“These moments are so normal for most everyone,” says Williamson. “You can always talk about the menu, start a conversation about pop culture, or have a few conversation starters mentally stored away for these moments [see tip No.1]. Once you can find something that gets another person to open up, it's easy to snowball back into an engaging conversation.”