There are not a whole lot of things that people can do on a first date. Usually, they are sitting together somewhere holding a drink in one hand or a cup of coffee. Sometimes they meet for dinner. Often, if the date has been arranged over the internet, that meeting was set up sensibly only to last for a short time--long enough for each person to decide whether or not they want to get to know the other. A man and woman meet, talk for an hour or so, and then, usually, never see each other again. Not much time is wasted. Other first encounters in a bar or at a party are not much different. It is sensible to approach dating experiences in general with no great expectation that any particular relationship will develop into something important. Everyone should look forward to having fun, rather than finding—at that moment and in that place—the person they will want to marry. Getting to know someone new can be fun, in and of itself, if nothing is at stake. And most of the time nothing is at stake.
Sometimes the couple will make arrangements to see each other again. Usually, where they go and what they do will not matter very much. If they come to know each other and grow to like each other better over time, they may begin to care for each other in a serious way. Sometimes unpromising beginnings take sudden turns for the better, and people fall in love.
But not infrequently, a couple may be strongly attracted to one another on the first date. Christopher Marlowe put it more strongly: “…whoever loved, that loved not at first sight?” Well, plenty of people; but on many occasions I have heard someone speak of meeting someone and then “talking half the night.” Even if that person is not speaking about love at first sight, something akin to that has happened. It then becomes important to that person that he or she does what can be done to make a good impression on that other person. He--or she--wants to be liked, and, possibly, loved. With that in mind, what should the second or third date look like? What to do and where to go should not be chosen simply on the basis of someone feeling most comfortable in those settings.
Some particular bad ideas:
- Spending the second and third dates in a noisy bar.
- Going to a movie, or doing something else that prevents conversation.
- Spending time with a bunch of friends. (Time for that later.)
- Watching television, especially sports events.
- Doing the same thing repeatedly. (Even going out to dinner, except when it is part of doing something else.)
Keep in mind that over the course of a very long relationship, couples do not spend a lot of time in bed making love; but they do spend a lot of time talking to each other. It is desirable, therefore, for someone to present himself/herself as interesting. And, in order to be interesting, that person must do interesting things!
Of course, what strikes one person as interesting may not seem so to someone else. I think it is reasonable to try to determine what is interesting to the other person; but it is not reasonable to submerge one’s own interests entirely. It is not sensible to pretend an interest in professional sports, for instance, or medieval art, since keeping up that pretense for any length of time would become onerous and unworkable. Still, it is desirable to try something new. In fact, I think that is one aspect of doing something interesting during this very early period in a relationship. It should be just a little novel to the other person, and, perhaps, to both people. These activities may be divided into different categories:
- Sports, or other physical activities. Not tennis, which requires a separation of twenty or thirty feet. Hiking (or taking a walk) through an unfamiliar setting—perhaps a park or a nature preserve. Jogging or swimming are activities that people can do together.
- Other outdoor activities. Taking a boat ride or going to a zoo. Apple picking. Making a picnic. Going together to a sporting event.
- Going to an unusual or special restaurant (as part of doing something else). i.e. A restaurant on the water or one that has unfamiliar foods or a unique setting.
- Cultural activities (in the widest sense of the word). Not only museums or outdoor concerts, but also comedy and jazz clubs.
- Social activities (as long as they leave a lot of time to be alone together). Parties, church activities. (If possible, in novel settings.)
Of course, if one of the two people have a favorite place, that would probably be a good place to go on a date since it will be endorsed enthusiastically by that person—and enthusiasm is always appealing.
Suggestions of what to do on a second or third date should not come exclusively from the man. However, since it is still conventional in this early stage of a relationship for the man to pay for doing whatever they decide on, the woman has to consider expense when she makes a particular suggestion. Men have more leeway.
Of course, this is all background. What both men and women try to do during these first meetings is to convey something of themselves. They want the other person to see that idealized version of themselves that they themselves see. Everyone has a picture of himself or herself that is appealing in one way or another: “I am sensitive,” one person may feel. Another thinks, “I am strong.” Or “I am reliable,”—or kind, or thoughtful, or knowledgeable, or caring, or resourceful, or gracious, or any one or two of a number of different ways of being. So, naturally, during these times when two people are talking to each other about everything, but especially about themselves, they are trying to paint that picture. The places where they happen to meet are just background. But it is desirable to have an interesting background.
It is natural if someone is really good at something, to try to show off a little. I think it is a good idea to try to restrain this impulse. If someone is a great juggler, or a fine artist, or a good piano player, the other person is reduced to being a spectator rather than a partner in conversation.
As it happens, I am a good piano player. I remember dating a young woman who was plainly losing interest in me until I sat down at the piano. After a few minutes, her face lit up and she smiled at me, as if seeing me for the first time. Her renewed interest lasted about an hour and a half.
Naturally, each person should show a special interest in the other. That interest is more important than explaining oneself. But it is an interest that comes naturally and does not have to be feigned.
After the third or fourth date, there is the opportunity to meet each other’s friends and enter into each other’s life; but it is important to make a good start.
(c) Fredric Neuman Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ or at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ask-dr-neuman-advice-column/