Adventures in Dating

A savvy guide to courtship and communication.

First Date Goals

Why did you go on your last date?

As I sit at Café Mustache and write this latest article, two things amaze me: 1) The lack of mustaches at Café Mustache (I take comfort in this) and 2) The awkward day date occurring at the table across from me.

As he discusses Venice and assorted European cities, it is apparent that he is trying to impress her by sounding worldly based on his two-week vacation. Although he is painfully boring and monotone, and dominates the conversation, for some reason his female counterpart is not shooting him down. In fact, she is encouraging him by being a supportive nonverbal listener. This makes me think about why she is putting up with his lack of personality—ultimately, what brought them both to this first date?

Aristotle argued all communication was goal oriented, an idea continually applied to communicative interactions today. In the mid 2000s, Dr. Paul Mongeau, of Arizona State University, applied this idea to first dates to discover goals for first dates.  He asked 144 participants to list the reason(s) why they went on their most recent first date. Analyses revealed five first goals, explained below.

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The first goal identified was have fun, where participants explained they went on their date to “have a good time.” Although a date is stressful, likely due to all of the uncertainty associated with the date and outcomes (who pays? Hug? Kiss? Ask for another date? Awkward hug/shake—watch Just Friends for that one), a date should be fun. This explains why daters try and do fun things on their dates.  

The second goal identified was to reduce uncertainty, so daters could “find out more about the other person.” Humans are uncomfortable with uncertainty, and we communicate to reduce uncertainty (Berger & Calbrese, 1975). Going on a first date allows you to learn more about the person that you’re on the date with; ultimately, something about that person intrigued you, and now you’re aiming to reduce that uncertainty. This also explains why going to a movie or a show is a terrible first date idea since you can’t talk to or learn about one another.

The third goal identified was to investigate romantic potential, explained by participants as “to see if we could date more often.”  Wouldn’t it be great if we all came with a CarFax report about past relationships? Unfortunately, we don’t…but a first date is like an extended test-drive of a romantic partner. Here you’re examining their miles, speed, and comfort—in other words, is this a loaner, rental, lease, or are you buying the car? If the “Check Engine” light does not come on, there will likely be a second date.

The fourth goal identified was sexual activity, defined as “to heighten our physical relationship.” We don’t make a habit of seeing someone that we aren’t attracted to and thinking “look at the unattractive person, I can’t wait to ask him/her on a date.” Instead, we ask people out that we have a physical attraction to, so it should come as no surprise that intensifying a physical relationship is a date goal. Get your mind out of the gutter; this could simply be a kiss or holding hands…or the other thing.

Finally, and perhaps most frustrating and confusing to some, was friendship. This was defined as “to develop a friendship.” That’s right, as if dating wasn’t difficult enough, friendship is a first date goal. I see a few explanations for this goal: perhaps some people believe relationships start as friendships (research on love styles would support this), or the person did not want to offend the individual requesting the date and complied out of friendship (or sympathy).

Mongeau analyzed sex differences in first date goals, finding that men reported sexual goals more than women. Moreover, women reported friendship as a date goal more than men. Yet, men and women did not differ in their frequency of the investigate romantic potential goal.

Remember, the previously discussed goals are first date goals: this does not mean they are goals that continue throughout the relationship nor does it mean they are the goals of individuals at the end of the night. Imagine a time where someone goes on a first date with sexual activity goals, but during the date is so turned off by his/her dating partner that sexual activity is now out of the question. Conversely, someone may go on a first date initially for friendship goals, but by the end of the date is ready to investigate romantic potential.

Knowledge is a beautiful thing: the more you know about relationships, the more you over-think things. That said, with your new knowledge of first date goals in mind, enjoy your next first date!

Follow me on Twitter @therealdrsean for relationship commentary/links, complaints about mass transit, and support for WVU Athletics. Continue to follow this blog for future entries about deception, online dating, using affection to lie, workplace romance, and other issues that make obtaining and retaining a mate oh so interesting.   

 

 

 

 

 

Sean M. Horan, Ph.D. is a faculty member in the College of Communication at DePaul University who researches the communication that occurs in dating relationships.

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