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Tips for a Great First Date

By Rosemary Donahue

We all know the scene well. You have butterflies in your stomach. More than likely, a few different tabs are open on your computer to the websites of bars and restaurants your friends have recommended. There may even be a pile of clothes tossed haphazardly on your bed as you stand in front of the mirror in your underwear and in your indecision. While the lead-up to a first date is exciting, it can also be overwhelming—but Bumble has talked to a few relationship experts for some tried-and-true tips to help things go just a little bit easier. 

Start off in a good headspace

As with nearly anything in life, having a good date is all about perspective. While it’s easier said than done, trying to get in a positive frame of mind before the date is important; after all, if you start things off in a bad mood, it’s going to be hard to turn that ship around. “Before the date, instead of spending an extra 10 minutes trying to tame every single one of your flyaway hairs, use that time to engage in some meditation or other relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation. This will help to relieve the tension in your mind and body,” advises psychologist Monica Johnson.

Erica Caparelli, a psychotherapist agrees. “Going on a date after bathing in self-love is only going to boost your self-confidence so that you can be yourself while also keeping a sharp eye out for those things in your date you may not want in your amazing life,” she says. After all, the point of dating is not just to attract others, but also to find someone who makes you feel the way you want to feel, and it’s important to be comfortable enough that you can pick up on those cues. 

Embrace the awkwardness

However, no matter how much meditating you do before a date, there are bound to be a few awkward moments. After all, you’re meeting up with someone in a brand new context, whether it’s someone you just met on Bumble or a friend you’ve started to see in a romantic light. “Meeting new people is weird in general,” says Johnson. “You’re not going to make it through that entire encounter without doing something that shows you’re a human.”

The key here is not to ignore the awkwardness but to embrace it. “Remembering that if it’s awkward for you, there’s a good chance it’s awkward for them [is important],” says Zainy Pirbhai, a marriage and family therapist. “Acknowledging the feeling in the moment—without feeling like you need to apologize or take accountability for the awkwardness, just pointing it out—can be helpful.” From there, the tension can be relieved and you can move on. 

What to do on a date—and what not to do

There are a few key ways to make things less awkward from the start, however, and that includes picking the right setting. “A really great date idea for people who struggle with anxiety or shyness is to plan an activity that takes some of the pressure off, like a game or trivia night,” says Caparelli. “These types of activities put the focus on a third party task; I find that oftentimes people are able to let loose and relax a little, allowing their authentic personalities to shine since they have something to focus on other than their thoughts.”

But there’s no need to stress too much about planning something super creative and out of the box. “You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel on the first date,” says Johnson. “I usually like for people to have a rotation of things that they feel comfortable doing on a first date so that things don’t feel stale. It’s mostly just important that, if your goal is to get to know someone, there’s at least some time built into the date that you two get to chat.”

One activity that both Johnson and Pirhbai recommend avoiding, however? Movies. “I personally am not a fan of movies or shows or plays on a first date because I feel like you really don’t get to know the other person,” says Pirhbai.

Then, once you’re together, make sure to check in with how you feel. Check your own temperature: make sure you’re not just worrying about the other person and whether they seem to be having a good time, because it’s also about you. Pirhbai encourages asking yourself questions. “How are you feeling? Are you happy? Are you enjoying yourself? Are you feeling uncomfortable? Periodically, it’s okay to say, ‘I need to go to the restroom, I’ll be right back.’ It’s okay to take little breaks and just go check in,” she says.

Be clear about why you’re dating

It can feel like there’s a fine line between oversharing and withholding information, but even if you don’t put all your cards on the table when you first meet someone, try to be clear with yourself about why you’re dating. Are you just looking for casual sex, are you interested in a long-term partner, or something in between? How do you want to feel when you’re with someone? What are your boundaries when it comes to communication and time? 

These are the kinds of questions that are important, and while it can be tempting to bend while seeking affection from others, that won’t lead to a fulfilling relationship in the long run. “I would advise to stay true to who you are, even if you’re fearful that your truth may be a dealbreaker,” says Caparelli. “Keep in mind that you don’t want to be with someone who you aren’t a good match with, and being honest about yourself will only help you find that right person.” 

The last word

So, how do you know if a date was successful or not? Again, check in with yourself. Think about how you felt while you were on the date and how you felt afterwards. Pirbhai mentions that if you had a good time, it’s usually fair to assume the other person did, too, so don’t overthink it. Johnson’s definition of successful dating is more about looking at the broad strokes; she says it’s about allowing things to happen naturally, understanding your purpose, and knowing what you’re looking for in the other person: “It’s finding the middle path between taking it seriously and not too seriously.”