First dates can be tricky. If it's with a hot stranger you swiped right on Tinder for, things could get awkward if the vibe isn't right. If it's a good friend you've recently gotten closer to, who knows? Perhaps you'll hit it off. There's no perfect formula for how to have a successful first date, since everyone is different and relationship dynamics vary between couples as well.
Obviously, no first date is the same. Figuring out how to act and say the right things can all depend on different factors, like the activity and location of your first date or even what mood you're in right before the date begins. The thing is, it's usually not very productive to analyze every moment or obsess over the little details of what happened.
"I think a really good way to define a successful first date is if you feel good about yourself — if you actually had a good experience, you learned something, you felt flirtatious, or you tried something new. Something that has to do with your own experience," Lindsay Chrisler, a love and dating coach in New York City, tells Bustle.
It's important to see every first date as a learning experience rather than a hunt for "The One," Chrisler says. That way, you won't be measuring the date based on how good of a fit it is between the two of you. Here's some of the best advice from dating coaches to help you navigate that mind-reeling first date:
1. First, Define Your Goals
Ask yourself this question: What would be considered a successful first date to you? Dating expert John Keegan says no single event or so-called milestone like a first kiss should determine how you feel about the date. A great first date could simply equate to making a strong connection and noticing sparks fly between the two of you.
2. Don't Make A Huge Deal Out Of It
"Keep a first date really light and easy. Don't make a big, over-the-top deal about it," Keegan says. That will take off a lot of the pressure for things to go flawlessly. And make sure to do something that you both like. If they suggest watching a horror movie and you hate being scared in the theater, just be honest. Say no, but then offer an alternative. It'll be much more enjoyable (and comfortable) for both of you.
3. Practice Self-Care Before The Date
Before any date, Chrisler says you should do something that makes you feel happy, confident, flirty, and calm. "The state that you're in when you walk into the date is going to determine your entire experience," she says. Whether that's talking to friends who make you feel good about yourself, meditating for 15 minutes or taking a nap, practicing some form of self-care is going to help you set the date up for success.
4. Let Your Guard Down
It's just the first date, after all. Feeling tense is understandable, but realize that you're both probably a little nervous and unsure of what to expect, Keegan says. Be comfortable with yourself and where you're at in life, and just take ownership of it.
5. Be Open-Minded
"Come from a place of curiosity instead of judgment," Chrisler says. Ask questions about the other person that you actually care about instead of the usual "first date" questions. You'll automatically put your attention on the other person instead of thinking about how you look, what you sound like or, worse, what you should ask next, she says.
Also, don't immediately write someone off after two minutes if he or she doesn't seem like your type, Keegan says. "Be open to the possibility of something really cool happening between you two."
6. Keep It Under Two Hours
An ideal first date is no longer than an hour and a half to two hours, Keegan says. "It keeps the mystery there and leaves you both wanting a little bit more." The exception is if getting physical is a part of your mutual goals. Then, a date will probably run longer (wink wink).
7. Don't Grill 'Em
Playing the basic 20 questions about work, politics, and business can wear people out, so "look for opportunities to get to know [them] beyond just grilling him like it's an interrogation," Keegan says.
You can also look for other clues about what that person's like. For instance, does he have kind eyes? Does her style show she's really into fashion?
8. Have Fun And Be Creative
Be playful and make getting to know each other actually fun. Play a guessing game instead of just asking questions in a linear fashion. Try to ask questions that go beyond the mundane, and connect through more spontaneous topics to create the right vibe, Keegan says.
9. Show That You're Interested
After you finish sharing an anecdote with your date, ask a simple question like, "What do you think about that?" And vice versa. Ask follow-up questions, show you're surprised or amused, show that you're listening. "You're taking pieces of what they said and actually responding to it so you're in a dialogue and not just an interview," Chrisler says.
10. Know The Signs
So how do you know if your date is actually enjoying him or herself? "Laughing, really strong eye contact, getting touchy — touching, holding hands, arms around, having a kiss. These are great signs," Keegan says. Less obvious signs include having a nice flow in conversation and feeling as if you've lost track of time.
11. Get Physical, Or Don't
Despite society's double standards of whether people should (or shouldn't) have sex on the first date, it's up to you how far you want to go on the first date. Sex can be just another way of getting to know someone intimately, Keegan says. But you can also start a physical relationship without going all the way if you want. A great hug on the first date might lead to a great kiss on the second date, which might to lead even more in future dates. It's about gauging whether you're physically compatible. And besides just building up enough trust to where getting physical feels OK, Chrisler adds that you should trust your intuition. Listen to your gut.
12. Know That It Won't Be Perfect
There will be moments when the conversation gets awkward or food spills or a catchy response doesn't land well. Give yourself and the other person the room to be imperfect. "If you're wanting more ingenuity, ease or casualness from the other person, then lead and start doing it yourself," Chrisler says. "If this is a good person and you feel good around them but appearance-wise, verbally wise or communication/sexually-wise [something's] off, give it another few dates."
13. Focus On The Experience, Not The Outcome
Get out of this idea that every first date is supposed to turn into something more. "The overall philosophy should be that dating is an exploration of yourself and other people," Keegan says. "It's about two people coming together, connecting and creating experiences together."
14. Don't Play The Waiting Game
Following up right away shouldn't be a taboo. If you had a wonderful time, tell that person! Let your date know you got home safe, say thank you, and bid them goodnight, Keegan says. Who says you have to wait three days? At the same time, don't smother the person with texts or calls, Chrisler adds. Give the other person space to feel their attraction to you.
15. Be Honest
If you really didn't have a good time, there's no shame in letting the other person know you don't think it's going to work out. "The danger with dating is pretending to be somebody you're not, real them in, get them in a relationship, then reveal who you are and watch the whole thing explode," Chrisler says. But if you can't wait to see the other person, embrace that. Don't be afraid to take things to the next level.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide how you want to craft your first date experience. You can't really control how the other person is going to act, but you can choose to be open-minded, show your best qualities and, more than anything, have fun.
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