First Encounters - Surviving the First Date

First date photoDating has its own unique traits: the first laugh, the first tears, the first kiss.  But the first date is the thing that most people anticipate; and fear.  Some people specialize in first dates because they rarely have a second date. They "practice" that first date over and over, getting more discouraged each time.

There are a few simple, yet often violated, rules about first dates that will help it to go smoother. These won't turn around a situation that is obviously not meant to be. But for those encounters that may survive to the second and third date, consider these suggestions.

Listening - The Most Important Act

The absolute, number one thing to focus on in the first date is listening. People often get wrapped up in "What should I say?" when their job is to listen. People feel good when someone listens to them.  Really listens. And if you have great listening skills, they won't even notice that you're not talking much.

Be curious about the other person. Ask questions. Ask open-ended questions, not yes/no questions. "Do you like being a veterinary assistant?" will be a short conversation. "What made you want to become a veterinary assistant?" will get the ball rolling.

People like to talk about themselves. It's the topic they are most knowledgeable about. "What do you like best about living here?" will be a better conversation on the first date than "How do think the President handled that CIA scandal?". Save those questions for a few dates later!

A good listener can pick out the topics that the other person most wants to talk about.  If you're familiar with interviewing people for a job, some of the same skills get used here. In fact, the first date is as much an interview as anything else.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't say a word all night. So what do you do when they ask you a question?

Now It's Your Turn to Talk

Like I said, this first encounter is like an interview. Do well and you'll get asked back for a second "interview". Bomb and they'll throw your "resume" in the trash!

To get started, assume the other person has stellar listening skills, just like you, and that they know the right questions to ask to get you to talk. Remember that the point of the conversation is to tell them something about yourself; something that you want them to know. Spending the evening talking about how upset you are about the way the NFL refs called the last game may be a dead end. But talking about how interested you are in working to promote sports in a local Boy/Girls Club could be a good discussion.

It's possible that what you say ends up being of no interest to the other person, and that's OK. You're there to find that out sooner than later. If you used a dating service, hopefully your profiles are compatible enough to warrant a first date. Or if friends brought you together, hopefully they briefed you both.

A sure first date-killer is talking about other relationships you've had. Guaranteed!

Go With No Expectations Other Than to Enjoy the Time

You don't have to be fearful of what might happen if you take no expectations with you. The only plan to have is to enjoy the company of the other person, however that manifests. You both are giving up a few hours of your life to meet a stranger at a bar, restaurant or coffee shop. And, in each other, you may both meet someone interesting that was worth spending the time with. They may not be second-date material. But you can enjoy the time for what it was: you met a new and interesting person.

OK, there is the chance that you'll want to excuse yourself to go to the bathroom and not come back. This is why that preliminary homework is a good idea!

But the odds are great that if you go into the date with the goal of enjoying the encounter, you will get the most out of it.

First Date Activities Don't Include Bungee Jumping

Over-planning a date to make sure it is exciting and interesting is not recommended. The first date is a time to get to know each other. That's hard to do while jumping off a high tower with rubber bands tied to your legs! In fact, the initial meeting should be where there are a minimum of distractions so both of you can stay focused on each other and the conversation.

Bars with loud music or a lot of TVs may not be a good choice. A movie or concert will be distracting. Jumping out of an airplane with a parachute on might also be a challenge to having a good conversation. A good choice is to meet somewhere neutral where you can have a natural conversation with few distractions for a couple of hours. 

If things go well, you could move on to someplace else later.

Give up having any expectations other than to enjoy yourself. Be curious about the other person. Listen and give them back a little about yourself. And have a great first date!

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