What Does A "Good" First Date Really Look Like?

First dates can be nerve-wracking: Not only do you have to battle with all the preconceived notions you have about what the other person will be like, but you also have to worry about 1,000 other tiny details leading up to the main event (winged liner is no joke, guys). As someone who's been online dating for years, I've been on more first dates than I can count. Naturally, the vast majority have fallen somewhere between "mediocre" and "downright nightmarish." Nevertheless, all the experiences I've had have ultimately helped me be a bit more zen when I'm getting geared up for a first date, and have allowed me to debunk some of the common misconceptions about what makes a good first date.

There have been times when I've known instantly that we weren't hitting it off, but what's almost worse were the dates when things were just OK enough to make me wonder if it was worth giving the second date a shot. On the flip side, there were dates that had all the signs of a good first date — laughter, flirting, no awkward pauses — that wound up going nowhere as soon as we parted ways. So what's the deal? Is there really a foolproof way to tell whether a first date is great or just another dud?

I spoke to Laurie Davis Edwards, founder of eFlirt and author of Love @ First Click, to find out what really qualifies a first date as "good," and how we should really be navigating them. "First dates are all about building chemistry," she tells Bustle. "When you meet someone online, you already have some info about them — whether or not they want kids, what religion they are — but you don't know anything about your chemistry. It's rare that you'll have fireworks right away; building chemistry takes finesse."

There are so many things that we perceive as markers of a good first date, but things aren't as black-and-white as they seem. Here are seven misconceptions about good first dates — remember that all you can really do is play things by ear and communicate openly, and hopefully, a first date will turn into something more.

1. You Have To Be Super Into Them Before You Even Meet

It's easy to glamorize first dates. Sure, they should be fun, but it's unlikely it will be the best night of your life. You might be feeling meh about someone you're talking to, and that might make you unwilling to give them a shot. But Davis Edwards says those people you're a tad uninspired by are the exact people you should say yes to; the only way to know for sure if someone is a good match is to meet them in person.

"When we think of it as a date, we set this really high bar for someone to meet," she says. "It's just coffee or a cocktail, a sip-and-see to see if you connect in real time. If you go into something thinking it's not a 'date', it reframes it and takes the pressure off."

2. There Has To Be Instant Chemistry

Rom-coms have taught us that all good first dates have nuclear levels of sparks, but that's simply not reality. "There's a difference between chemistry and attraction," Davis Edwards says. "Attraction is feeling like you like them, their look; chemistry is how things feel between the two of you. If you're not attracted to them, you're unlikely to ever feel chemistry. But if you go on a first date and think 'If I'd just met you at the bar, I'd definitely give you my number,' you should always go out with them again."

Connections take time to build, and even though the chemistry might not have manifested within the first couple hours you spend together, if you feel there's something there to explore, go for it. Things are almost always better the second time around.

3. The Date Should Last For Hours

I have to admit, I'm guilty of this: Being on a first date that's a lot of fun, and (sometimes correctly, sometimes not) assuming my date will want to spend the entire evening with me. The truth? Everyone has a life outside of dating, and it doesn't mean your date "snubbed" you if they called it quits after only a couple drinks. In fact, Davis Edwards says, dates should only last a couple hours, max. "When you spend a ton of time with someone you just met, it feels good; your chemistry is good, you’re connecting," she says. "The truth is that your energy has a flow, and hits a point at which it peaks, and then it declines."

A good rule of thumb? Most first dates are one cocktail long; two means things are going well, and if you order an appetizer, then pat yourself on the back, because things are going swimmingly. However, it's unrealistic to assume a date will last five hours, so don't set that expectation.

4. Good First Dates Always End In A Kiss (Or More...)

I'll be the first to admit that "sex on the first date" is not a concept I shy away from. But if sex, or even a goodnight kiss, doesn't happen, it doesn't mean that you aren't into one another. "If the chemistry is feeling great, it's going to end in a kiss, but if it's just good, it might not end in a kiss," Davis Edwards says. "That doesn't mean it's a bad date, just that neither of you wanted to force it to be more than it is. A first date is — best case scenario — the beginning of a relationship. In reality, it's OK if it takes another date or two before you feel like you want to tear someone's clothes off."

5. They'll Text You Immediately After

Things were going great, so naturally, as soon as you head back to your respective pads, you expect to get a text from him or her gushing about how much they like you and can't wait to see you again. But that's not necessarily realistic to expect from a post-date text, Davis Edwards explains. "The best thing to do after a date is to send a thank you text," she says. "Don't expect them to send it — do it yourself. It's letting them know you like them, appreciate them, and probably want to see them again."

If you weren't super psyched about your date, you're free to leave the ball in the other person's court. But the bottom line? "It's 2016 and we shouldn't be playing games and waiting three days to text each other," she says. Whether that same night or the next morning (anytime within 24 hours is good), texting to say thanks re-opens the communication, shows interest, and gives you both the opportunity to plan a second date.

6. Your Ex Never Crosses Your Mind

If you've been in an LTR before, there's this weird self-expectation that a "good" first date will knock your ex totally out of your mind. The truth? "We can't control our subconscious," Davis Edwards says. "Sometimes, someone might do something that reminds you of your ex... or your brother, or your dad, or your friend. Sometimes it just happens." When it does, don't agonize over what it means; simply check in with yourself. Are you really not over your ex? Or was it just some weird quirk your ex had that you noticed in your date? Don't be so hard on yourself, and recognize that sometimes thoughts of our exes happen, and are totally harmless.

7. It Always Leads To A Relationship

Sometimes a date is just that — a date. It's unrealistic to assume that every good first date can or will evolve into something more. There are so many factors that go into a blossoming relationship's success and, while chemistry is important, timing is almost even more so. "Not everyone is your one," Davis Edwards says. "Naturally a lot of dates aren't going to turn into a relationship, and some won't even have a second date. Sometimes it will be your choice, and sometimes it won't be."

No matter how things turn out, first dates — the good, the bad, and the ugly — can teach us things about love, ourselves, and how we connect with people. Take a lesson from every date, and use that to help you move towards your next relationship.

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