On a first date with my now-boyfriend, I went to grab his arm and accidentally knocked his glasses out of his shirt pocket into… a lake (a very sexy, chill move by me). He had to wear his prescription sunglasses into the dimly-lit bar we went to afterwards, where eventually it got too dark for him to see, so we had to cut the night short. I only wanted to point out a cute turtle and instead wound up feeling like I’d ruined the night, prompting some guilty tears (a second very sexy, chill move on my part.) Despite the rocky start, and the fact that the date cost him the price of our drinks and the $150 it cost to get his glasses replaced, we’re still together, and anytime we pass that lake he makes sure to needle me about my ill-fated turtle-pointing.
Anyway, the point is that bad first dates can work (for further evidence, see the entirety of the movie Hitch), so if things go off the rails, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll never see this person again. Plus, I cannot guarantee that getting things right on a first date will make someone fall into love, lust, or bed with you. I’m just here to give you the best shot at not completely screwing it up.
Pick the right place. Or two.
Going on a first date involves doing a series of semi-desperate, unchill things—like sending an opening message, suggesting the switchover from an app to real texting, and actually asking someone out—while simultaneously trying not to come on too strong. The key to striking the proper balance is your behind-the-scenes preparation, and part of that is picking the right place to go on your date. If you have a go-to date spot, that’s totally fine (hey, they’ve got the best labneh dip in town! It’s not your fault!), but if you don’t, put in some legwork. Look for places with a Signature Cocktail Menu kind of vibe, in a price range where nabbing the entire check isn’t going to blow your grocery budget for the next week. Even more importantly, pick somewhere that doesn’t require your date to travel too far out of their way.
For a slightly more advanced move: check out the area of the restaurant and see what there is to do afterward. Don’t communicate that to your date beforehand (it’s just added pressure to prolong a date they might not be into), but should the opportunity arise, you can drop a casual, “Hey, there’s a vegan donut shop around the corner that’s really good—wanna go?” This preparation will make you seem calm and in control, but not controlling. Offer up your ideas as suggestions and if the other person says yes, take care of all the planning.
Follow up, but don’t pester.
Once you’ve mapped out the details, you don’t need to keep talking to the person daily. You absolutely should not be sending good morning or good night texts if you’ve never met in real life. What you should do is check in with the person at least an hour before the date with a simple, “We still on for tonight?” Over-communicating before the date leaves you two with nothing to talk about on the actual date and can read as needy. Similarly, don’t ever go back and watch their old Insta story highlights or like old tweets of theirs. In fact, don’t interact with their social media at all. If you go on three dates and they’re down for a fourth, that is when you can get involved online. Yes, even if their social accounts are linked to their Tinder and they’re an aspiring influencer hawking hair-strengthening gummies.
Don’t you dare wear flip flops.
Dress nicely. If you’d wear it to Disney World in July it’s probably not first date material. You do not need to try to be Timothée Chalamet on the red carpet at Cannes, but you should be wearing clean, wrinkle-free, season-appropriate clothing. Put on non-denim pants, a t-shirt without words and a jean jacket. Boom. You’re done. You’re trying to pitch them on the fact that you’re a person worthy of spending two hours with and $35 on an Uber. Don’t hurt your cause with camo cargo shorts.
Keep your phone out of sight for the entirety of the date.
Unless you’re an on-call obstetrician, you better not even think about pulling your phone out of your pocket to check your texts until your date sneaks off to the bathroom. Being on your phone throughout a date conveys that you are bored with your companion, and despite what pick-up artists of the early-2000s promised, that is just mean and not a way to get people to be more into you. By date seven, you’ll both be on your phones throughout the night. Wait until then.
If you can’t be interesting, be interested.
If I could give my male friends one piece of advice for the rest of their dating lives it would be this: Learn how to effing ask questions! For a MEL Magazine piece about the phenomenon of men who ask no questions on dates, writer Madeleine Holden put a call out for people who date men to write in with their experiences; she had far, far too many responses to choose from. I don’t think men do it maliciously, or even intentionally, but it makes for very stilted conversations if one person expresses no interest in the other. This might seem like incredibly basic, common-sense advice, but trust me, the bar is really that low.
Set the scene.
If you think there is any chance that the words “want to come over?” might spill out of your mouth, your place should be clean. That means—in case you need it spelled out—clean sheets, a clean toilet, clean towels for someone to wipe their hands on, and no little beard hairs on any surface of the bathroom. Sure, you may end up cleaning your place for nothing—not because you suck or anything, but because going to a strange guy’s house can often feel a bit murder-y—but if someone does come over, you don’t want to be caught with piles of dishes covered in caked-on food bits overflowing in the sink. That says to your date: this is not the home of a competent, responsible adult man. Plus, it’s certainly not going to do you any favors in terms of setting a sexy mood.
Be yourself, plus, like, 5 percent.
When people say “be yourself,” what they mean is that you shouldn’t change yourself for the sole purpose of making someone interested in you. What they absolutely do not mean is settle into all your worst habits and whims and make a home there. You are yourself even if you’re not wearing your favorite ratty sweatshirt, which is definitely not hot on a first date. I implore you to challenge yourself to show up on a date at your best. Remember: the other person wants it to work out with you. They’re rooting for this to be their best date ever.