Since the dawn of time, humanity has sought an answer to one question above all others: how much should I drink on first date? What about before a first date? Are the relaxation benefits of a pre-date glass of wine worth the potential risks? How do I hit that booze-based sweet spot between "loosened up, sharp, and ready to shine" and "standing on my chair in a fairly nice restaurant, trying to do the Snoop Dogg rap part from 'California Gurls'?"
Of course, you don't need to rely on booze to get through first dates. Some people use yoga or jogging or meditation to calm down before a big date; I wish them well, and definitely don't wish that a bird would poop on them during their smug sober dates, no matter what it may say in my diary. But seriously, sober dates are a great tool to have in your dating arsenal, one that can help you more accurately judge you and your date's potential chemistry, or even just see if you guys have anything in common besides the ability to swipe right.
That said, there will always be dates where the sound of your sober nerves ringing in your ears is deafening; dates where you know that if you go in sober, you're going to end up just silently shrugging and nodding weirdly all night, like a character in some Kristen Wiig SNL skit. In those situations, having a drink may be the only sensible thing to do. But since drinking-and-dating is a game of brinksmanship, you need a plan. You need a guide. Please, let me be your guide. Allow me to present to you my fail-proof plan for drinking just enough, but not getting drunk, on a first date.
And if I'm wrong about any of this, I totally owe you a beer the next time I see you.
How Many Drinks Can You Have Before Your First Date?: One
Uggggh, don't fight me on this. Yeah, yeah, maybe you're a very, ahem, experienced drinker, and you don't think that one drink will put a dent in your jitters. Maybe you're super tall and Nordic-ish, and you believe that this gives you magical Viking booze powers. Maybe you once had two drinks and then recited the alphabet backwards, won on Jeopardy!, and then wrote an award-winning and very emotionally-moving haiku about the experience. Tough luck, bro. One drink is the pre-date max, especially considering that you probably haven't eaten dinner yet and are long past lunch, so your stomach is empty (and also considering you'll almost definitely have another drink on the date). If you're physically small, or know from experience that one glass will get you kind of wrecked, go for half a drink instead.
Timing: Finish your drink at least 20-30 minutes before the date — this will give your body time to process it, but won't leave you stone-cold sober. This may mean that you have to go to some weird bar down the street from the actual nice bar where you're meeting up to have your date drink, but, again, tough luck.
Serving Suggestions: Picking the pre-date drink is difficult, not only because you have to figure out a drink that you're going to be cool sticking to all night, but because there are so many qualities that it needs to have. You want something that will mix well with food in your stomach as you eat dinner (so, probably not tequila), something that won't stain your teeth (so, probably not red wine), something that won't make you super farty (so, probably not most beers), and something that will not get you hammered with one drink (so, definitely not Long Island Iced Tea). I would personally say that white wine and rose are the official drinks of drinking before a date, but really, just pick something you like.
I would also recommend against any Olivia Pope-style giant novelty wine glasses, since the technical measure of "one drink" is five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of the hard stuff. "Hey," you may be saying right now, "I'm the best judge of my limits, and I, like Olivia Pope, am a calm, collected problem-solver who can keep my cool while drinking a fishbowl's worth of wine." Sure, OK, fine. But are you really Olivia Pope, or merely a mortal woman who needs to drink from a regular-sized glass? To find out, take this simple five-step test:
1. Ask yourself: "Did Olivia Pope get falling down drunk at her five-year high school reunion and tell a bunch of her former classmates 'I'm doing GREAT, you don't even know, OK? OK? I'm doing greaaaaaaat.'"
2. Did you?
3. Are you Olivia Pope?
4. You are not Olivia Pope.
5. Eat some cheese and crackers with that glass of wine while you're at it, too.
How Many Drinks Can You Have On Your First Date?: One, Consumed Slowly...At First
So you've had your pre-date drink, and you're feeling like your best self. You're charming, you're witty, and you're still not a puke risk. Great! This is why you can only have one drink during your date, until you see where this date is going.
Why? Because drinking your first mid-date drink too quickly will immediately lead to a second drink (which, for you, will technically be your third drink). And as has been well established by both the medical establishment and countless sitcom episodes, after the third drink, all bets are off.
So pace yourself with that first drink. In fact, if you're a planner, you can use an online blood alcohol content calculator to figure out how long you need to nurse that first glass so that you don't get sloppy. And don't worry, no one non-terrible will be turned off by your only having one drink during a first date.
Timing: Try to take about an hour and a half of your date to drink your first drink. I know, insane. But your liver can handle a drink per hour without you getting wrecked, and you're technically on your second drink, remember? Plus, at an hour and a half into the date, you should have a good idea of whether this is a great date that you want to stay sober for, a terrible date you want to bail on ASAP, or a ridiculous date you wanna get drunk during.
Serving Suggestions: A second glass of whatever you had before. Right now is not the time to begin running awesome science experiments like "How Does White Wine Interact With Calamari and Also Gin & Tonic In The Stomach of a Nervous Person On A First Date?" You will not get a scientific grant to study that one, trust me.
Also, please please please drink a few glasses of water during your date. It won't keep you from getting drunk, but it will help slow down your booze drinking, and may stave off any potential hangovers.
How Many Drinks Can You Have After You Realize That This Is A Drunk Date?: A Few
Sometimes, part of the way into a first date, you realize that you are on a drunk date. Maybe you know that you and your date have no real future, but you want to have a fun night throwing back a few and then sloppily making out in the back of a cab. Maybe you're desperately into each other, and there doesn't seem to be enough booze in the world to calm you two down when you're in each other's presence. Either way, if you've made your peace with the idea that you are now on a drunk date while still mostly sober, feel free to roll with it (within reason).
Timing: I think it still makes sense to stick to one drink per hour — you'll be able to get a buzz on but still keep your wits about you that way, and for all sorts of logistical reasons (you're with a new person, potentially at a new location, potentially in a part of town you don't spend a lot of time in, etc.), you don't want to get flat-out drunk on a first date.
Serving Suggestions: Since this kind of situation almost immediately deteriorates into shots, I will take a second to recommend against shots if you have a sensitive stomach, any kind of history of barfing in cabs, or are a human being. Shots lead to nothing but shame, agony, and more shots.
But beyond that, sky's the limit. Go enjoy yourself. You've earned it.