When you're going on a date with someone you've never met before — whether that's someone you met on a dating app, a friend of a friend, or a totally blind date — it's normal to be a little nervous and worry that things won't go well. After all, who's to say you'll even have an IRL connection with this total stranger? But it's important to remember that first dates don't necessarily have to be cause for stress: even if it doesn't turn into a second date, that's OK!
"While it can be disappointing if a first date doesn’t turn into a second one, especially if your mind wandered to thinking they could be 'The One,' having a first date, regardless of the outcome, is both an ego and a confidence booster," dating coach Julie Spira tells Bustle. "It reminds you that it’s fine to go out and have fun with someone interesting, rather than staying home staring at your phone, wondering why someone hasn’t texted you back."
Of course, it's great if you and your date hit it off and form a connection right away — but if you don't, you shouldn't sweat it. Dates are just an opportunity to meet someone new, have fun, or, at the very least, learn something about yourself (like what you don't like in a date). Here are nine expert tips that can help any first date go a little smoother... even if it's with a total stranger.
1. Put Safety First
Anytime you’re meeting up with a total stranger, it’s a good idea to be a little cautious when planning your date — because it’s better to be safe than sorry!
"Meet in a public place and tell someone trusted where you are," Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW, couples therapist, tells Bustle. "Don't be afraid to post your location on social media and remember to be aware of your surroundings. Don't let your date pressure you into anything and have an escape (like an alarm set like a ringtone) ready if you need it."
2. Keep It Casual
First dates don’t have to be extravagant or super lengthy in order to be “good” — in fact, if you keep things more low-key, it’ll be easier to get an accurate sense of what your connection with your date is like.
"A first date shouldn't be a production," Powell says. "It should be a time where you get to know the other person by talking to them about their life and experiences. A setting that has a fairly low noise level is a good idea so that conversation can flow smoothly."
3. Don't Put Too Much Pressure On The Date
It’s OK to be optimistic and hope for the best on dates, but having super high expectations can lead to disappointment. The best first date expectation to have is simply that you’ll get to know someone new — you can worry about the rest later.
"Be yourself and be honest," Powell says. "First dates aren't the time to find out the person's entire life history but you can get a good idea of what they might want in the future. Don't get hung up on small things and keep the big picture in mind. You can always decline the next date if you don't sense any chemistry."
4. Skip The Small Talk
Getting a conversation flowing with a total stranger isn’t always easy, but if you’re willing to dig a little deeper than small talk, try asking some questions that will help you really get to know your date.
"Don’t spend your whole date talking about the weather," Caleb Backe, health & wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "You’ll end up walking away realizing you know nothing about the person and you’ll have no choice but to go out again to find out more. Jump right in there with the big questions you want answers to — who are they as a person and do you guys have anything in common?"
5. Come Prepared With "Mission" Stories
Another trick for starting a convo with your date? Think of a few "missions" you’re currently on, and if the conversation comes to a halt, try sharing something about those passions with your date.
"I always tell my clients to come armed with at least [three to five] mission stories — and by missions I mean things they are doing in their lives right now that have a full mission attached to them but may not be complete just yet," Marni Kinrys, dating coach and founder of The Wing Girl Method, tells Bustle. "Missions are a way to talk about something that you know in moments of conversation lulls. Plus they are great ways to share YOU and how you work if told correctly. Plus they can help you see who the other person is sitting across from you."
6. Don't Forget About Your Needs
It’s normal to want to make a good impression on your date, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about your wants and needs, too. Make sure you’re taking of note of whether or not your date is impressing *you* instead of just the other way around.
"When people go on a first date, they want to be likable," relationship therapist Julia L. Alperovich, M.S., LMFT, tells Bustle. "They aim to make a good impression, often forgetting to explore if the other person is a good match. What ends up happening is that you are essentially trying to pitch yourself to the other person. Let the other person pitch to you. If you try to fit yourself into some arbitrary box for the other person, you end up losing yourself in the process. Prioritize your needs, no one else will do that part for you."
7. Uphold Your Personal Boundaries
When going out with someone you’ve never met (or anyone, for that matter), it’s important to stick to any boundaries you have — whatever they may be.
"Everyone has boundaries and everyone is entitled to maintaining those boundaries," Alperovich says. "If you find yourself feeling pressured to violate your own boundaries, consider this a giant red flag. You have every right to feel safe while dating, whatever that means to you. Do what you need to feel physically, emotionally or mentally safe, and do it unapologetically. Those who are a good match will be respectful and understanding."
8. Be Present
There’s a lot that might distract you on a first date: negative thoughts, worries about how the date is going, or even something silly like your phone blowing up with notifs. But if you want to really make a connection, it’s important to be present and in the moment with your date.
"First dates come with lots of self-consciousness, which is a huge distraction," Alperovich says. "Did I dress appropriately for the location? Do I have food in my teeth? Do I seem nervous? Am I talking too much? Get all of that in check before you walk into the date. This will allow you to really focus on how you feel when you are with this person."
9. Have Fun!
Above all, the focus of all your first dates — regardless of who they’re with — should be having fun! Even if nothing romantic comes of a date, as long as you had a good time and made memories, the time wasn’t wasted.
"If dating feels like an ominous drag of an activity, you don't have to do it!" Alperovich says. "Maybe you're not over your ex, maybe you are not ready to engage with another person on that level, maybe you just don't feel like going. If it doesn't feel enjoyable, don't torture yourself. Dating should be the process of getting to know someone you find attractive. It shouldn't be a chore. You can use it to discover new spots in your town, to make a new friend, to show off a new outfit, or to learn about yourself. Whatever the purpose, it is FOR you, so only do it if it is something you want to do and can have fun doing."
Can it be scary to put yourself out there and go on a date with someone you've never met? Of course! But as long as you set realistic expectations, stay true to yourself and what you want, and try to have fun, there's nothing to be afraid of — and who knows, you might even find love in the process.