What to say on first dates

Everyone has expectations for first dates. Some singles expect Hollywood levels of romance with a tangible feeling of electricity in the air, magnetic sexual attraction, and a sense of having been made for each other. Others expect disappointment, a lack of chemistry, connection, or excitement.

The reality is that although most first dates fall short of both these high and low expectations, they can be time consuming and tiring. Fortunately, a research team at Stanford University (MacFarland, Jurafsky, and Rawlings) has identified the key ingredients for a successful date through scientific analysis. 

The researchers recorded and examined 1,000 speed dates between graduate students to learn what flies and what flops. Here is what they found: 


Advice for Men

Pay attention to her. A common mistake is for men to think that they will win women over by impressing them with their accomplishments. In fact, the women in the study elected to go on second dates with men who let them speak and who showed interest in what they said. The men who scored the most dates expressed support, empathy, and interest. 

Interrupt her. Obviously, don't overpower the conversation, but men who interrupted women to voice agreement or understanding fared better than those who listened passively. Some men were so in sync with their dates that they even finished their sentences. Here's an example:

Female: I’m feeling a little silly. This is like— 

Male: A little silly. It’s fun. 

Laugh with her.  Women are often instructed to laugh at men's jokes, and it turns out that the opposite works just as well. If you think she's funny, let her know. Also, pay attention to your environment on the date, and find humor in situations together. 

Compliment her. Unsurprisingly, the women in the Stanford study liked when men made flattering observations about them. On a first date, try to compliment her appearance and her personality. Don't overdo it, but a few well-timed remarks can go a long way.


Advice for Women 

Speak with confidence. A common mistake is for women to act passive and agreeable. In fact, men in the study chose to go on second dates with women who spoke with authority. Men were less interested in women who seemed hesitant and used verbal hedges, such as “maybe,” “sorta” or “kinda.” Women who expressed enthusiasm seemed more engaged in their own lives, and in the date. 

Talk about yourself. Yes, seriously! Don't spend the whole date tooting your own horn, but do share your interests, like playing a wind instrument. Men and women agreed that they clicked best when the woman took the lead in conversation and used words such as “I,” “me,” and “myself.” Definitely spend time learning about him, but don't shy away from sharing stories from your life or filling him in on your passions and hobbies. 

Raise and vary the pitch of your voice. The researchers found that men and women vary the pitch of their voice on a good first date to highlight their gender – women alter their pitch to sound more “feminine” while men deepen their voices to sound more “masculine.” This vocal change is subconscious, and serves as a subtle indication of attraction. 

Find connections and shared values. Men seek out partners who share their interests and values. For example: 

Male: I play the guitar – 

Female: You do? Me too!

Male: That's great. Let's start a band.


If you follow these four simple guidelines, your first dates will lead to exciting second dates! 

Elana Averbach is a dating coach and licensed therapist who teaches private clients how to date more effectively. She helps people optimize their online dating profiles, overcome approach anxiety, challenge negative self-concepts that are holding them back, and hone skills for building attraction. Learn more at www.kickstartlove.com/coaching.


Just be yourself?

The most common piece of dating advice has to be, “Just be yourself.” It’s something we’ve all heard our friends say as we grab our coats and race out the door to meet a new man or woman. But, does it work?

What does being yourself really mean?

Is there a true self that we can choose to perform or conceal? Or do our personalities shift and transform depending on our environments?

We have multiple selves.

The side of ourselves that we reveal at grandma’s dinner table, is drastically different from the self that we present at a concert with friends. Yet, both versions of ourselves are authentic.

The question becomes, which version of yourself should you present on a first date to attract a match?

If the version of yourself who appears on first dates is nervous, sweaty, and stammering, then you need to rethink your presentation. Try channeling the way you feel around your closest friends, to help you make a great first impression on a date. Think about how you feel in the company of your best friends: self-assured, secure, and relaxed. You don’t need to brag about your accomplishments, or prove your worth, because they already know and love you. You can crack a joke, handle a silence, and interpret non-verbal cues seamlessly. Sharing this comfortable side of yourself is attractive to matches.

Well Elana,” you might be thinking, “this is all fine and good to tell me to act confident and relaxed when I am on a date, but my date is out of my league, and I’m intimidated and afraid of rejection.”

OK – got it. You really like this person, and you want the date to go off without a hitch.

Here’s a game plan for presenting your best self on dates:

1) Get in the mood. Pull on that one outfit that shows all your best features, listen to a song that energizes you, and call a friend who thinks the world of you.

2) Do your research. Learn about the venue where you are meeting in advance, so you know what to expect, where to park, what to order, and how to get the best seats.

3) Come prepared. Think of at least five interesting conversation topics to avoid any awkward silences.

4) Enjoy yourself. If you’re having fun, there’s a high likelihood that your date will have fun too.

5) Keep a healthy perspective. Remember that this is only a first date, and it will not determine the rest of your life. If you’re a match, you will have the luxury of time to fall in love and build a life together. If not, then you get to meet someone new.

A quick and dirty guide to speed dating

Q:  A friend recommended speed dating, and I’m thinking about trying it. I wanted to know if you have any advice. What should I do to get the most out of the experience?

A:Thanks for your question. Our speed dating events have an average 95% match rate for romance and friendship, meaning that almost everyone walks away with at least one match.

At our Speed Dating for Book Lovers event, something impressive happened. Something that turned heads.

One man matched with every single woman at the event.

Now, to understand how impressive this is, you have to know who was at the party. There were 20 women who ranged in age from 21 – 39. They represented a broad range of educational backgrounds, religions, and political views. Some of the women were locals, but many had migrated to Cleveland from all over the world and spoke multiple languages. Nonetheless, this guy was able to snag all 20 of their email addresses.

So what did he do? What was his secret? I decided to interview him to get the inside story.

He agreed to meet me at Dewey’s Coffee, and when he arrived he was wearing a wool cardigan and he ordered a slice of quiche. So no, if you’re reading this and thinking that the guy in question is a macho alpha male, think again. On the contrary, he comes across as polite, thoughtful and intelligent. We’ll call him T.

Here is his advice.

Each time T sat down for a date he asked, “So how’s this going for you?” It turned out to be an ingenious opener. It worked every time because it gave the women an opportunity to describe how she was feeling, and that helped to establish trust. It also showed that he was was a good listener, and that he was interested in hearing what his date had to say.

Although T happens to have an impressive career, he did not discuss work unless it came up organically in conversation. Speed dating is about flirtation and connection. It’s not a job interview.

T’s success also stemmed from his genuine interest in getting to know people. “I asked a lot of questions. If there was something she was excited or passionate about, I tried to learn more about that,” he explained.

He’s right. If you watch your date’s body language carefully, there will be a moment when his or her eyes light up. That’s your hook. Show interest in that subject, whatever it is, and you will have plenty of conversational fodder to consume your four minutes together.

T added, “Don’t worry about what you’re ‘supposed’ to discuss. Let the conversation flow naturally.”

Each date will be different because the chemistry between you and your date will be different. You don’t have to force it. Most speed dating events also have ice breakers or themes that you can use as go-to conversation topics. If there is a moment of silence, don’t panic. Silence can be sexy.

Finally, T matched with all 20 women because he wrote down “yes” for all of the women at the event for either romance or friendship.

The way speed dating works, you only find out who is interested in you if you also write down that you are interested in them. If you want to increase your chances of getting a match, mark down “yes” (at least for friendship) for each person who sparks your interest – even a little bit.

Remember, speed dating is fast. Four minutes is not enough time to determine if you are compatible. It is enough time to see if you have a mutual attraction. If you both feel a spark, you can set up a real first date to learn more about each other.

Here’s a Quick and Dirty Guide to Success at Speed Dating:

  • Share talk time with your date – try to each talk an equal amount.
  • Ask questions to show interest in your date’s passions.
  • Refrain from focusing on career – speed dating is not an interview.
  • Enjoy yourself – if you’re having a good time, your date will too.
  • Dress to impress – a little effort goes a long way.
  • Cast your net wide and mark down yes for many matches.

How to approach women

This is a guest post by Nate C., a dating expert in Los Angeles. I asked Nate to share some advice for guys who want to learn how to approach women and strike up a conversation. I want to extend my gratitude to Nate for sharing these great lessons from his years of experience.

The main thing that holds men (and women) back from meeting new people is Approach Anxiety. It’s really the same thing as stage fright.

So a few (or more now) years back I was working on overcoming my own Approach Anxiety. Here’s what I did to get out of that frame and some good things to keep in mind.

1. Set a goal of approaching new women each day and meet it. I started with five and gradually moved upward. At first it doesn’t matter how good these approaches are. They can be as simple as saying ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’ etc. The idea is just to get in the habit of talking to new people all the time. Keep a log too. It helps to be accountable.

2. Force yourself to do the first approach and don’t hesitate even if you have nothing to say. Half the time I start a conversation I don’t have anything. I just push myself into it and hope something comes. Usually it does, but I’ve also had spectacular flame outs. A good way to recover if your mind goes blank is to just say, ‘I actually didn’t have a question or anything, I just saw you walking by and had to come meet you…’ Usually by that time something will come up.

3. Related to the above, have a few good comments or questions to talk about.I usually ask something about their appearance, but also have some other questions I ask. Like I said though, I’m not a routines kind of guy. I usually am off the cuff. If you have problems coming up with stuff there are a lot of good openers and lines to say online. Just stay away from the boring ones like, ‘What do you do?’, ‘Where do you live?’, ‘What car do you drive?’ Make it creative and challenging.

4. Don’t assume the guy she’s with is her boyfriend. I don’t mean that hitting on a woman in front of her boyfriend is cool, but that guys talk themselves out of talking to women who are in groups or with a guy friend. Besides you’re just meeting someone for the first time. You’re not expected to know the relationship wedge yet. It’s 50/50 whether that guy is her boyfriend or not.

5. Building on above, as part of the daily exercise, make it a habit of approaching women in groups too. DO NOT wait for the perfect opportunity to talk to her one on one. It probably will not come. Open up the whole group and start a conversation.

6. Have a good attitude and smile. A lot of this is just having a great attitude and good body language. That’s why I don’t worry so much about what I’m saying, I’ve found that the what is not as important as the how.

7. Don’t worry too much about interrupting someone. Unless its a heavy conversation they’re in most people don’t mind. As a side note, mastering graceful and not annoying interruptions is really powerful – it demonstrates value. This has to be done correctly though. Not apologetic, but not arrogant either.

8. Stay in the conversation as long as possible. If she wants to talk she’ll talk. Stay with her as long as possible.

9. Finally don’t wuss out. If she’s talking, grab her number or get her on an insta date. The key is to make your intentions clear. That’s how guys are supposed to be. Don’t hint, ask her out on a date. Even say ‘I want to take you on a date.’

The biggest things you need to remember are:

1. It’s not easy to get into this habit. It will be hard at first, but a huge amount of fun.
2. Don’t expect it to always work, especially at first. It takes some time to get calibrated and you may find the first few days with a lot of rejections / ignores.
3. This should be fun – play the game the way you like. Positivity comes across in the conversation and is a turn on.

Is he a player?

Q: I need a little dating advice. I had a first date on Thursday night. We met for drinks at a very romantic bar that he picked in neutral territory (in between our apartments). He was nice, smart, funny, open-minded… and very, very smooth. Too smooth. But, I was having fun, and I liked the attention, so I ended up staying at the bar over three hours with him. He was a little too comfortable talking about sex right away, but I mostly deflected and changed the subject. We did get a little cozy and kissed a few times by the end of the evening, and he asked me to go out with him this Saturday. I, obviously, said yes.

The thing is, I can’t tell if he is a player. If he is, he still might be a great guy and a good friend… but not ripe for boy friend material. I am attracted to him and fairly certain that date two will end up back at his apartment – although dinner is in semi-neutral territory again. If he is a player, then it really doesn’t matter if I sleep with him too soon because it is ultimately going to end anyway. But, if he is not a player… am I being too cavalier since I would obviously like the opportunity to get to know him better?
- Is He A Player

A: Here’s what you’re saying. You want to sleep with him if he is a player. You also want to sleep with him if he is not a player – but in that case, you might want to date him too. Fair enough.

Let’s break it down. If he is a player – he’s craving a chase. If he’s not a player – he’ll still enjoy the chase. Either way, making him wait will make him more invested.

Date two is too soon to give it up. Some making out in public is hot, going back to his place makes the chase too easy. Make him work a bit. Build his desire. Get him excited, and make sure he knows that you are hard to get and highly desired.

Let him know through your attitude that you are confident with your sexuality. You are not playing games. You are waiting because you haven’t sized him up yet. He needs to prove himself. You’re interested, intrigued even, but not yet won over.

Does this make sense?

It should be fun, playful, and sexy. Let him win points. Let him woo you.

If he’s not around for date three, then yes, he is a total player and just wants a random hook-up, (ie. not boy friend material). If he is around, consider whether you are interested in him as a potential boy friend. If you are, maybe fool around a bit, but don’t give it all up just yet. Strengthen your bond. Tease him. Tantalize him. By the time you finally seal the deal, he’ll be totally into you and completely excited by the anticipation, (i.e. the sex will be amazing).

I'm falling in love with my guy friend

Q: I’m falling in love with my guy friend. We always spend time together and talk about personal things, but I don’t know if he sees me as anything more than a friend. What can I do to find out if there’s a future for us? I don’t want to ruin our friendship. Please help.
- Hoping for More

A: You’ve fallen for your guy friend and you want to know how to proceed. You know he’s crazy about you – at least as a friend – and you’re aching to find out if there’s potential for romance. Here are three ways to find out if the feelings are mutual without risking your pride or your friendship.

1. Help him see you as a woman

At the moment you’re his gal pal, and that’s not who you want to be. You want to be seductive, alluring, and incredibly sexy. In short, you want him to want you. Since the two of you did not have instant chemistry, you will need to put effort into developing and nurturing this attraction. This will be a process, and it will require patience.

Are you ready?

To begin, you want to look beautiful and smell wonderful every time you see him. If you usually hang out with him in sweatpants, this is your chance to show him your feminine side. Try to look as put together as you would for a first date: think a fitted dress, perfume and light make-up. The trick is to transition into your new look without making him think that you’re trying to impress him. If he compliments you, simply smile, thank him, and move on.

Another way you can help your guy friend see you as an eligible, single woman is by telling him about the other guys who are interested in you. Men are naturally jealous creatures. They want the cave woman that the other cave men have their eyes on. You can increase your perceived value and sex appeal by letting him know that you are highly sought after. The next time a man hits on you, mention it to your guy friend. He’ll get the picture that you’re hot stuff, and that if he doesn’t snatch you up another guy will.

2. Flirt with him

Flirting is the best way to gauge his interest. To see if he’s open to the possibility of romance, find ways to touch him in conversation. The trick is to make the physical interactions quick and casual. We’re not talking about long, meaningful embraces. (That will come later.) Right now, it’s all about your hand brushing against his, or a quick hug to say hello. He shouldn’t be able to tell if you’re flirting with him or just being friendly.

If he moves closer to you or flirts back, that’s definitely a good sign that he is attracted to you. If he looks alarmed or pulls away, it means that he’s not ready (and may never be ready) for anything beyond friendship.

Here’s how to test the waters:

  • The next time he changes his appearance (new haircut, new clothing item), compliment him and see how to responds.
  • Give him a quick hug the next time you see him. Does he pull away immediately or hold on? Does he light up when he sees you?
  • Touch his arm when you’re talking about something funny and watch for his response. Does he ever find reasons to touch you in conversation?
  • Give him your full attention when he talks – no texting or changing the subject. Watch his body language for cues. Is he holding eye contact with you or is he distracted and checking his phone? If his pupils are dilated and he seems engaged with, there’s a chance he’s interested.
  • Ask for his help solving a problem or fixing something. Most people love giving advice and working on projects. If he agrees to help, it will give you a chance to spend more time together.

3. Don’t do anything that could turn him off

Chances are, if you’ve been close friends for a while, he’s seen you in your grungy tee-shirts, smelled your breath after eating garlic pizza, and heard you whine about your exes. All that stops now. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t do it on a hot first date, don’t do it around your guy. If you’re serious about catching his interest, you have to start treating him like a man, and not like a buddy.

After you are involved in a stable, long term relationship, you can reintegrate your grungy tee-shirts into your wardrobe. But right now, you’re a woman on a mission. Your goal is to show him that you are a better candidate than all of the other women he could be dating.

Once he is able to see you as more than a friend, he’ll start to wonder what it would be like to kiss you. Then, the ball’s in your court. He will pursue you, and the really beautiful part is that he’ll think the pursuit was his idea.

Of course, if you don’t want to go to the effort of reading his signals and building attraction, you could just tell him how you feel. This is a riskier approach, but it can work. A friend of mine told her guy friend that she loved him and that she thought they would be perfect together. He brushed her off and said he didn’t think they were a good match. She was devastated, but kept her cool, and they stayed close friends. After two years of dating other people, he came to her and told her that she had been right from the beginning. They started dating, and very soon after, he proposed to her. They are now one of the happiest married couples you will ever meet. Of course, if she had played the game differently and worked to catch his attention, they might have started dating two years sooner.

Whatever approach you use, you will soon know how your guy friend feels about you. If he reciprocates your feelings, you will find yourself at the start of an incredibly meaningful and exciting relationship. What could be better than dating your best friend? But if you don’t get the answer you hoped for, accept his response and hold your head high. Don’t say anything that you might regret later. Take some time for yourself. Go out with your girl friends. Meet a new man and fall in love. You can return to the friendship when you’re ready.