As a psychologist in New York City, I hear about a lot of first dates. I love hearing people say, “It was love at first sight,” or, “By the time our first date ended, I knew I just met the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with.”
But I rarely do.
I’m far more likely to hear how the other person did something annoying, embarrassing, or otherwise sufficiently objectionable to immediately disqualify them from second-date consideration.
The interesting thing is how people often qualify their description of the deal-breaking behavior: “It’s a shame because he seemed so nice,” or “I was really into her before that happened,” or “I was having a great time but that just ruined it for me.”
Indeed, it doesn’t take much to turn a good date bad. Luckily, the most common such mistakes are quite avoidable once you know what they are.
We have a lot to pay attention to on a date—what we think of the other person, how we’re coming across, whether they meet our expectations, whether we meet theirs—all of which is over and above our need to be present and engaged in the moment.
Knowing ahead of time what behaviors to avoid can save you from the mistakes that can cost you a second date with someone you like. Following are 15 of the most common mistakes I hear about in my practice. All are easy to correct. Some might seem petty and even unworthy of being grounds for disqualification, and perhaps they are, but people still cite them.
15 First Date Mistakes You Can Avoid
1. Being late. It makes a terrible first impression and guarantees the other person starts the date annoyed. If it cannot be avoided, text with an apology and apologize again when you arrive.
2. Rudeness to service people. Nothing screams entitlement, irritability or obnoxiousness more than being rude to a waiter. If the waiter is just that bad, tell your date what you find unacceptable about the service and that you plan to say something (but skip it if your date objects or seems uncomfortable).
3. Not asking questions. Asking questions conveys engagement. If you do not ask your date questions, they will assume you’re not interested in them and will promptly lose interest in you. If you’re shy or unsure about what to ask, think of topics ahead of time.
4. Unnecessary medical history reveals. No one wants to hear about your colonoscopy on a first date (or the second, third, or fourth). Save your medical history for later unless you’re showing up with your leg in a cast and there’s a good story behind it.
5. Talking about an ex. Unless you’re asked directly, avoid soliloquies about your ex. It will only make you look like you haven’t moved on. If you are asked, say the briefest, nicest thing you can and subtly and politely try to change the subject.
6. Poor table manners. Most of us know saliva breaks down food—we don’t need to see a demonstration of it. Watch your manners (even if you’re drinking). Speaking of which ...
7. Overindulging. A drink or two is fine, but make sure you stay present and in control. Getting sloppy or messy on a first date does not make a good impression unless your date is getting just as sloppy and messy as you are—which is not how most solid relationships begin.
8. Checking your phone. Checking your phone makes you come across as bored or distracted, neither of which is appealing to the person you’re with. If you must check your phone, apologize, explain why, and do it quickly—or just excuse yourself to the restroom and do it there.
9. Discussing your ideal partner. The problem with this topic is it usually comes across as a "must have" or "dealbreaker" list most people cannot meet, even if you just intend it as "nice-to-have" guidelines. In other words, it likely turns off the other person rather than endearing them to you.
10. Talking too much, especially if it’s all about you. Make sure conversation flows back and forth, and don’t make it hard for the other person to get a word in. If the person you're with isn’t talking much, try open-ended questions.
11. Using terms of endearment prematurely. Even when the date is going amazingly well and you think the feeling is mutual, avoid calling your date babe or honey (unless you work in a diner and can’t shake the habit). It simply presumes too much familiarity too soon, and some people find it patronizing, despite the good intention.
12. Being too self-effacing. There is absolutely no need to announce all your flaws on a first date. Modesty is appealing; low self-esteem less so. Making one self-effacing joke is fine but not a string of them. And the one you should not make is ...
13. Joking about how bad you are at dating. Telling someone on a first date that you’re bad at dating is like the director coming out before the movie to announce that it stinks. It kills any interest or motivation the other person might have had.
14. Bragging about your income, possessions, or skills. Bragging in general is a turn-off. This includes name dropping, discussing how much you paid for your new ski house, or describing how amazing you are at beach volleyball. Saying you just came back from Greece is fine. Saying you flew first-class and stayed on a private yacht is unnecessary and might create resentment if the person you’re with has never left the country.
15. Giving a lecture or tirade about cherished beliefs. There’s a reason you shouldn’t discuss politics or religion on a first date: When you have strong opinions or beliefs, it’s easy to get a bit overexcited and go from participating in a discussion to monopolizing one. Be cautious when discussing anything about which you feel passionately (or angry) and make sure you’re not overwhelming the other person.
- If your date goes poorly and you get rejected, it might be a good time to check out the chapters on rejection, self-esteem, and loneliness in Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014).
- Watch my TED Talk and learn how to boost your emotional strength.
- Also, join my email list
- Visit my website and follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch
Copyright 2015 Guy Winch.