A lot of things factor into whether or not you have a good first date, but one aspect that gets a lot of attention is body language. How should you sit? Where should you sit? Should you smile more or smile less or just wear a Guy Fawkes mask and not have to worry about what your face is doing at all? What does “open body posture” actually mean? How are you supposed to remember all of these things anyway??
It’s enough to make someone put away the cocktail dress, pull out the sweats, and cuddle up with the least demanding bae, your TV. But while I absolutely understand that impulse, if you’re looking for a romantic partner then it’s very unlikely you’re going to meet that person on your couch. Which means, yes, you gotta go on some first dates.
I spoke with two dating experts — Benjamin Evans, dating and relationships coach, and Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman — to find out what really matters when it comes to body language on a first date and which tips you can stop worrying about. (Full disclosure: Ben is my boyfriend.) Here’s what they told me. But first, check out the latest episode of our Sex and Relationships podcast, "I Want It That Way":
1. Power Poses And Other Pre-Date Pump Ups
Both Ben and Thomas recommend doing power poses as a great way to use body language to pump yourself up before a date. Power poses were introduced to the world in a 2012 TED Talk by Amy Cuddy and they’ve gained massive popularity since then, probably because they’re a quick, easy way to help people feel great about themselves. All you have to do is stand like a superhero, hands on hips, for a couple of minutes. That’s it! Professor Cuddy’s research showed that posing the body powerfully made people feel more confident going into high pressure situations like an interview, presentation — or date.
Ben also recommends “smizing,” which any fan of America’s Next Top Model will remember means “smiling with your eyes” and Thomas told me that before he met his wife, he used to put on his favorite playlists to listen to in the shower before getting done up in his favorite threads in preparation for a date. (He also used to do push-ups to get the adrenaline pumping but I won’t judge you if you want to just stick to the fun music and power poses.)
2. Break The Physical Barrier
Thomas’ number one tip for body language on a first date is to “break the physical barrier,” which is dating coach-speak for “touch your date.” He points out that the biggest difference between friends and partners is physicality and that the way we touch a friend differs from the way we touch a romantic prospect. So how do you get it started? Simple: Hug.
“You’re not here for a meeting,” Thomas tells Bustle. “You’re not shaking their hand.”
Thomas thinks that opening with that kind of physical contact sets the tone for the rest of the date.
3. Keep Touching!
Both Thomas and Ben recommend “escalating physical contact” throughout the date — but Ben cautions that this kind of escalation has to be done really carefully and conscientiously.
“Before you can escalate from ‘friend touching’ to ‘romantic touching,’ you need to ensure your date actually enjoys being touched by you,” Ben tells Bustle. “Every single time you get more intimate with the touching, it has to be based on acceptance, aka consent. If you go for a hug and your date pulls away, you have tried to get too intimate too quickly. So you have to rewind a few steps — like back to friendship touching, then work your way back up.”
So far, so good, right? Basically, if you’re interested in someone, a good way to let them know is by touching them. But anyone who has ever had a random person keep touching them after they’ve given all the signals that they’re not interested knows just how often people mess up this tip. Remember: It’s just as important to pay attention to your date’s signals as it is to communicate properly with your own body.
4. SOLD — Smiling, Open Body Language, Leaning, Direction
Thomas has an acronym that he uses with his clients: SOLD — Smiling, Open Body Language, Leaning, Direction. Basically, keep a friendly face, an open body posture, and point your body toward your date. It’s the kind of body language that we naturally adopt when we’re into someone, but Thomas’ knows that getting comfortable enough to automatically do these things can be really hard for people.
“Practice until it becomes a habit,” Thomas says. “It’s not ‘fake it ’til you make it. Steph Curry doesn’t fake his three-point shots; he practices his three point shots.”
Ben’s number one tip for body language on a first date was actually the most surprising: Forget about body language and just listen to your date.
“The moment you focus on body language it means you're being self-centered — you're more concerned with your own inner voice or manipulating the situation to truly connect with your date,” Ben says. “Listening means being selfless and letting yourself be vulnerable, both of which are essential for a deep connection.”
So what’s a socially awkward person who can’t stop thinking about what their body is doing on a first date to do? Well, unfortunately, the answer to that is a lot harder than any kind of dating “hack.” Ben says the key to great body language on a date is dealing with the root issue of why you feel awkward or self conscious.
“That’s why I never focus on things like touch initially,” Ben says. “I teach my students a number of other listening, empathy, and self-confidence skills before we progress to external techniques. I work from the ‘inside out’ because if you fix the internals, you actually don’t have to work on the externals. As humans, we’re hard-wired to know how to do all of the body language stuff; we just make the mistake of f*cking up the mindsets which leads to us layering on ‘hacks’ to try and achieve the same result.”
But rest assured: Ben says he still teaches external hacks like the ones listed above, because they can also be helpful when you’re trying to get over whatever internal issue is making you feel so awkward. But for real, lasting results? You’re going to have to do the heavy lifting.
Images: Fotolia; Giphy