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.