Dating is hard.
I realize that this bit of wisdom is at the same level of “Duh George” as “rain is wet” and “The sun rises in the east and sets in the west”, but stick with me here.
When you’ve made it from “Hello” to “ Here’s my number“, you know you’ve made an impression on someone. Naturally, you’re going to want to reinforce that impression as quickly as possible. Whether you’re a dating newbie or an old hand, there’s nothing quite like a first date to stir every anxiety and worst-case scenario you’ve ever had into a wild froth.
Now, I’ve talked before about first dates and how to prepare for ’em… but hey, sometimes that’s not going to be for everyone. Sometimes you just don’t have the time or resources. Sometimes things move too quickly for the prep-work involved. And sometimes, just because you have the Standard First Date set up, you may still get things wrong.
Because you psyched yourself out. You need to understand what makes for a successful date.
Better do it quick too. That cute co-ed at the Barnes and Noble just asked if you wanted to do something on Saturday and now you’ve got to scramble to look like you know what you’re doing. Think think think, panic panic panic… Small wonder that so many people default to “coffee” or the dreaded “Dinner and A Movie”. It’s an understandable mistake. It’s the old standard… which is exactly the problem.
Let’s break down some dating philosophy, shall we?
The first mistake people make is treating dates like an audition. Yes, you want to get to know each other, but more than that, you want to have fun. You want to follow up a good impression with a memorable time, possibly even bonding over the course of an afternoon or an evening. The coffee date can start feeling like a job interview and the less socially accomplished will start feeling the tension and awkwardness beginning to mount until it gets so thick that you could cut it with a sharp cliche. When you’re dating, you’re looking for a partner in crime, not another Quality Assurance specialist to file their TPS reports by Friday.
Meanwhile, dinner-and-a-movie is not only the most common date ever, but it also sacrifices half of your time together; instead of flirting, laughing or touching, you’re supposed to sit silently next to each other as you both wonder whether you’re going to make the second-most-common-date-trick of trying to fake a yawn.
Now, don’t get me wrong: movie dates can be excellent… when you’re further along in the relationship. But for a first date you want to stand out. You want a little playful friction, a chance to flirt and tease each other, maybe even have a little socially acceptable physical contact. And while you’re on a date, you don’t want the focus of the evening to be “We’re on a date”, you want it to be “I’m having an incredible time with this person!”
So with that in mind, let’s look at some awesome first date ideas… and the underlying mechanics of why they work.
British style pub-quizes and trivia nights have been cropping up in bars all across the US, combining social drinking, competitive spirit and collecting random and heretofore useless factoids – perfect for geeks. Participants form teams and compete for bar credit, comped drinks and bragging rights. Some are as simple as a guy with a microphone and worn copies of Trivial Pursuit and Scene It. Some, such as Geeks Who Drink are incredibly organized groups with franchises all across the country.
To start with, pub quizes are a perfect time to put the geek tendency to absorb random information and memorize obscure movies to good use; your ability to quote Mystery Science Theater 3000 may well be the critical factor that leads to getting your bar tab for the evening comped. Not only do you get a chance to show off without coming off as bragging, it encourages you and your date to work together as a team, fostering an exclusive club. Remember what I said about looking for a partner in crime? Before, the two of you were a couple of individuals; now you’re a dynamic duo against everybody else in the room.
Not to mention, the enthusiasm and excitement that comes with a little friendly competition bleeds nicely into physical attraction. Racing heartbeats, high-fives that turn into locked fingers when you get the questions right, the excited hug when you realize you’re in the lead… you may be getting that first kiss long before you’re saying goodnight on your date’s doorstep.
The Food Network taught us two things: 1) butter makes everything better and 2) food is awesome. There’s something almost magical about watching a meal form out of disparate ingredients. In fact, when done right, cooking for someone can be an incredibly intimate experience… so why not do it in front of a bunch of strangers? In all seriousness, almost every major city has a number of “cooking for couples” classes, one-night classes for learning how to prepare a particular meal in a social atmosphere.
Don’t have one in your area? Then look for food or wine tastings; the idea is similar – you learn more about a particular dish, food or wine than you would ever thought possible in an entertaining way. And most of these aren’t for the food snobs – there will be tastings focused on chocolate, beer, even comfort foods.
One word: class. Anyone can take a girl out for sushi… it takes someone special to take her out to learn how to make sushi. You may love French cuisine, but learning how to make it yourself will bring a new level of appreciation to it while making you look sophisticated as hell.
You’re taking advantage of the power of the shared experience; you’re learning something together, something that neither of you (in theory) has done before. It also gives you all of the benefits of making a romantic home-cooked meal without any of the drawbacks – minimal prep-time, no clean-up and someone on hand to make sure you don’t set the place on fire or turn that coq au vin into coq au briquette.
Not to mention, women appreciate a man with skills… and ladies, we all know the saying about the fastest way to a man’s heart 1 , don’t we?
Food tastings, while lacking the same participatory element, bring many of the same advantages. You’re learning to appreciate food or drinks in a way you may never have considered before and exposing yourselves to a wider world, with the benefit of a local guide to point out all of the really cool stuff along the way.
Don’t let your pre-conceived notions get in the way: bowling makes for an excellent date. What other sport allows you to drink or smoke at the same time? Bowling alleys have made efforts to defy the stereotypes of old men in matching shirts and rental shoes with questionable sanitation. Many of them have started marketing themselves to a younger, hipper crowd with DJs and better bars.
Can’t get past the Big Lebowski atmosphere? Mini-golf, go-karts, laser tag, ice skating or rollerskating also work.
Bowling is an example of an Action Date; dates focused around an entertaining physical activity, with a little hint of happy childhood and nostalgia thrown in for good measure. The physical activity gets the endorphins flowing and helps put you in a good mood, instead of sitting awkwardly across from each other trying to figure out what you’re going to ask next or worrying that you’re giving the impression that you’re toointerested. The friendly competition (it is friendly, right?) encourages teasing and playfulshit-talking – there’s nothing quite as arousing as rivalry, after all – and actual skill is optional. In fact, it’s even better if both of you aren’t very good; you can both laugh at how awful you are. If one of you is better than the other, you can turn it into a flirty, teaching moment. But for God’s sake do not talk down or condescend to your date. That is the anti-sex.
Want to make things even more interesting? Add a small wager to the game. It could be as simple as who pays for the drinks to something more spicy if the chemistry’s there. The competitive aspect is even more fun when there’s a prize on the line. Just remember that the goal is fun;that old childhood adage of not being a sore loser goes double here.
Nothing makes a first date stand out like a little culture. But don’t think you’re limited to standing around looking at abstract paintings trying to think of something to say besides “You can really see the artists’ intensity in the brush-strokes/spatter/welding patterns.” Seek out the science museums or the quirky, offbeat galleries; go to a children’s museum and enjoy a second childhood or wander through the natural history museum and wonder at the dinosaurs like you were six again. Even more traditional museums can have interesting, out-of-the-ordinary exhibitions. Every October, the McNay in San Antonio holds an exhibit on The Nightmare Before Christmas while the Museum of Modern Art in New York City has held retrospectives on the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Pixar.
Like I said about cooking dates: you’ll be getting instant points for having some class. Being able to appreciate art – even if you think most modern art is a hoax perpetuated on the public at large by a hipster conspiracy trying to justify having paid for art school – is a sign of having an internal life and some intellectual curiosity as well as being able to appreciate the wonder of creativity.
The non-standard museums, whether it’s the Smithsonian, the Museum of Natural History or the Museum of Sex will be unique experiences while the exhibits will spur conversation beyond the same Ten Questions You Ask On Every Date. And importantly, the quirkier the museum, the more you can let your playful side emerge. You’ll get some harsh glares if you’re cracking jokes in the Impressionists wing of the Met, but nobody’s going to look twice at the Museum of Pop Culture if the two of you are acting like a pair of goofballs.
Dancing is an incredibly important skill for guys to cultivate. Almost every woman I’ve ever known has loved to go dancing. But what if you’re not the clubbing kind? What if you not only have two left feet, but they were put on backwards? What if you’re allergic to Nicki Minaj, autotuning and Pitbull remixes?
That’s when you and your date find a dance class! Almost every dance school has open classes or social dance parties. Skill level and experience are completely unimportant; in fact, most of these will be focused on teaching you the basics and working your way up from there. The atmosphere is open and friendly and certain nights will be specialty nights. Ever wanted to learn to salsa? Waltz? Swing? Bring your date and let it be an adventure for the two of you.
This is another excellent example of the Action Date. The physical activity sets the mood; suddenly you’re not just a couple awkwardly fumbling your way through a first date, you’re Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers tripping the light fantastic (and occasionally each other’s feet). Once again, this is an excellent shared experience.
And as a bonus… well, there’s the physical contact too. Dancing encourages – even requires– that you get up close and personal with your partner. You going to be touching each other and communicating through your bodies as much as through your words. In fact, depending on the dance, you’re going to be having to share some personal space with your date; swing dancing with its turns and dips, ballroom dancing with its promenades… you’re going to be wrapping yourselves in each other’s arms repeatedly over the course of an evening. Latin dancing is especially sexually charged; you’ll be doing a great deal of the work with your hips with suggestive swivels and wiggles.
It gives the man an opportunity to show confidence and leadership and the lady a chance to show off her natural grace. More importantly however, is that you’ll be having to learn to move as one, reading each other’s body language and responding in a smooth and graceful fashion. You’ll be clumsy at first; she won’t know how to follow and you may have a too-soft lead. But there will be that magic moment when it all clicks; you’re not counting the tempo any more – you’re just gliding along in perfect harmony. And then the two of you will look into each other’s eyes and realize…
This is the best first date that you’ve ever had.