Most first dates are less about trying to make sparks fly and more about getting a feel for who someone is. Whether it’s your first date or you feel stuck in the early phases of a new relationship, here are the best tips and tricks for getting past the small talk so you both can come out of your shell.
Unless you already know the person from somewhere else, the first date is usually a simple “making sure you’re not a serial killer” meetup. Or as Harris O’Malley (AKA Dr. Nerdlove), the author of When It Clicks: The Guide to Mastering Online Dating, calls it: the “pre-date date.” You just want to see if the other person is actually who they say they are, and test the waters to see if there might be something between the two of you. It’s hard to find that out, however, if nobody is willing to reach out and reveal a little about themselves. To really get romance brewing, you need to take off your mask and chisel through the superficial stuff.
Keep It Short and Sweet
Breaking the ice is a lot easier when you know you don’t have to stretch things out over a full day or evening. If this is the first time you’re meeting them in person, it’s not a bad idea to keep your first date short and sweet. The Match.com’s dating blog suggests that setting a time limit on your date beforehand can help you (and your date) relax and open up, knowing there isn’t a huge time commitment for the evening. Setting a loose time limit opens up the possibility to a few other things as well:
- It gives you the chance to end the date on a high note, whenever that is.
- It gives you an escape if things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped.
- It can keep you both wanting more.
A quick date also keeps the focus on breaking the ice right out the gate. Besides, the last thing you want on a first date is for your evening to fizzle, so it’s good to have a way out. Also, keep in mind that this says “plan” for the date to be quick, not that it must to be quick. If you both are having a great time and want to keep going, great! Being spontaneous can be exciting.
Meet Somewhere Comfortable for Both of You
It’s hard to break the ice when you and your date don’t feel comfortable. The place you meet, what you do there, the way you dress, and the way you act can all influence how much you both will open up and share. As Susan Allin at Thought Catalogue suggests, you’re generally better off meeting somewhere nonthreatening, public, and inexpensive:
Try and pick a quiet bar, or an out of the way coffee shop. Some place without loud music so you can actually hear each other, thus speeding along the getting to know each other portion of the evening.
If you go the coffee shop route, Nerdlove recommends you opt for a local place instead of a chain, they’re usually designed to have a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s also best to meet them there, instead of sharing a ride. No one wants to tell someone they just met where they live, or rely on them to get home.
If the idea of just sitting and talking makes you anxious, you might want to consider going somewhere with activities instead. Going minigolfing, visiting a museum, or exploring the zoo all have icebreakers built-in that will encourage lighthearted banter. As Nerdlove points out, activities or games can also trigger what’s known as the “Reward Theory of Attraction“; which means that the more you enjoy yourself in somebody’s company, the more you’ll prioritise that particular relationship.
Just remember to choose places with activities that still allow you to talk and get to know each other. Seeing a show or going to the movies might make for a great date later on, but it doesn’t offer much opportunity to learn anything about the other person. When in doubt, Tara Fuller at Greatist recommends you go with the best of both worlds and take a coffee walk:
Sitting at a coffee shop can be a little drab, but picking up a coffee and walking around the neighbourhood can make it that much better.
Take a walk through a nearby park, browse the shops on the same street, or, if you’re date is up for it, just go exploring the neighbourhood. Walking can make talking easier, especially when you’re walking around things or places to talk about.
If you really want to try and make the first date romantic, that’s your call, but be sure to check with your date first. You don’t want to make them uncomfortable by being overdressed, or by overplaying the romance when they just want to chat over coffee. There’s nothing wrong with trying to look decent, but don’t go overboard. Lastly, you can offer to pay if you want, but don’t be pushy. Most people are perfectly fine with “going Dutch” and paying for themselves on a first date. Stubbornly refusing to let your date pay for their own meal or drinks can make them feel obligated and uncomfortable.
Ask Them for a Very Small Favour
Sometimes getting past the small talk is as simple as showing someone you’re on the same team. In order to get to know someone, they have to be willing to invest a little. When Jeremy Nicholson M.S.W., Ph.D., at Psychology Today, suggests that you can make them feel like you’re both in it together by asking for a tiny favour:
Ask them to do something for you. Make a request. This could even be something small like, “could you grab me a straw”? Or, “could you watch my stuff for a minute while I get a coffee”? Frankly, any small request will do the trick.
This is known as the “Benjamin Franklin Effect,” and it’s an incredibly easy way to break the ice. Now, they will feel more comfortable with you and be more willing to open up. Another way you can approach it is what Amy Shern at Oprah calls a “minimission.” Playfully enlist their help in some sort of task so you can play up that feeling of having a shared purpose. Tell them you’re having a hard time deciding what drink to get, or ask them for help eating a baked good.
Be the First to Share Something About Yourself
It can be scary, but making the first move breaks the ice and might make the other person more willing to share too. After you’ve done the whole introductory song and dance, and the small talk has winded down, dive in. Share a funny story or talk about something you’re passionate about. If you’re not sure what to say, Rori Raye, the author of Have the Relationship You Want, suggests you put the ball in their court:
A good way to communicate your openness and find out what’s on his mind is to ask him: “Is there anything you’d like to know about me?” Doing this gives you great insight into his personality. You’re letting him lead the conversation so he feels you’re open to him, and you’re also learning about what matters to him. He’ll probably turn it around and ask you to do the same, and this will keep you chatting away. The fact that you’re open to revealing stuff about yourself will also give him the impression that you’re spontaneous and comfortable in your own skin, and this is very attractive.
Not only are you sharing something first, but you’re making them feel comfortable by putting them in control. While you’re sharing, however, it’s best to keep the skeletons in your closet for now. Everyone has baggage, but a first date isn’t necessarily the best time to unload it all.
Ask the Right Kinds of Questions
Questions are the key to breaking the ice and getting to know someone, especially when you find out that “one thing” that suddenly makes the other person go from “they seem interesting” to “wow, I actually really like them.” That being said, some questions are better than others when it comes to getting past the superficial stuff. The best questions are fun, interesting, and also steer clear of anything too personal. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with diving into some of the riskier, heavier topics.
For example, it’s inappropriate (and unfun) to ask personal questions like, “How much money do you make?” or “Why are you single?” Those kinds of questions are not only personally revealing, but also judgemental in nature. Once you’ve both loosened up a little, however, it can be exciting to talk about things like religion, politics, and other hot button topics. It can help you get a sense for their values early on, so you know whether you should continue to invest your time with them or not. Even if things don’t work out, it at least makes the date more interesting and memorable. Just be sure to keep an open mind, and remember that their opinions are their own. It shouldn’t be a debate, it should be discussion.
If you met them through an online dating site, you may already know some details about them. After all, that’s probably why you agreed to meet up with them in the first place. Carmelia Ray, the founder of love advice site Your Tango, suggests you use that info to your advantage:
If you do have a lot of information about the person, be sure to mention what it was that intrigued you to meet this person and compliments certainly help to break the ice!
Ask for more information about what you already know. And when in doubt, compliment something about them and follow up with a question about it. While there’s no harm in simple questions like, “how was your day?” those questions aren’t going to give you a feel for who they are.
Having a few of these questions up your sleeve can help you avoid any awkward silences and keep the conversation rolling. Remember, a good conversation is a two-way street. As Dr. Nerdlove recommends, you want to avoid treating the first date like it’s 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.
When they’re talking, keep your focus on them and their answers, not the next question you want to ask. Be curious and look for the stories behind the details that are already out in the open. Their answers should be the pathway to good conversation, so don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper.
Furthermore, you want them to get to know the real you too! Get excited to answer the questions they fire back at you, and resist the urge to answer questions with an immediate “What about you?” Treat their questions like short essay questions rather than multiple choice. If they ask you how many siblings you have, don’t just list them off. Share a funny story about your siblings and your relationship with them as well. The more you share this way, the more likely they are to reciprocate.