Fighting Fear

Confronting phobias and other fears

The Ideal First Date

Leading up to a second date and a third.

You can’t always tell from the beginnings of a relationship, how things will turn out. A romance can burn brightly in the beginning and then sputter and die. We have all seen marriages that have broken apart after 10, 20 or 40 years, and probably even after that. Fairy-tales end with “and they lived happily forever after;” but in real life they may not, even if one of them is a prince. Marriages “made in heaven” may not survive. Certainly, relationships that have gone on for a long time but not resulted in marriage are even more likely to fall apart. On the other hand, men and women meet sometimes and show no sign of mutual attraction, or even interest, but nevertheless come somehow to love each other. If I were introduced to a young couple, I would never be able to judge by taking into consideration similarities or differences in character and background and behavior whether they would stay together or not—and if they did stay together, for how long. And certainly no matter how sure they themselves were of holding together, experience shows they may be wrong.

Still, I have noticed that sometimes a first date does give an indication—more or less—about how that relationship will proceed in the near future. Both good dates and bad dates give clues. There are too many bad first dates to enumerate here. They range from someone falling asleep to physical stuff, like belching and farting, all the way up to assault. It is fair to say that the great majority of first dates do not incline one or both of the couple to want to see each other again. There are other dates that are sort of lukewarm. Nothing obviously offensive has gone on, but nothing exciting has happened either. A proper relationship may or may not ensue in those cases. The first dates that are propitious, that seem really to portend something good in the future, are fewer and easier to describe. In fact, I can think of only one element common to first dates that suggest that that particular couple is likely to fall in love.

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When a couple spends half the night on their first date talking to each other, they are likely to continue dating. I remember a young woman who met a man in a bar and then sat on a street curb with him until 5 a.m. talking back and forth enthusiastically. They were engaged a few months later and married the following year. I remember another young man who met a girl at a party. They talked with each other so intently that others at the party thought they had left. They too went on talking to each other into the early hours of the morning, long after the party had come to an end. They too entered into a long-term relationship that might have ended in marriage except that one of them was transferred to a job in another state. If someone tells me after the first date that he, or she, has fallen in love, I am less impressed. Sometimes I think anyone can fall in love with anyone else, but to carry on a conversation for hours without even being aware of doing so is special and implies not only a physical attraction, but a commonality of point of view that means more than just being in love.

The college I attended had only male students. When we saw women, it was usually on a party weekend. The girls came down Friday afternoon and stayed to Sunday afternoon. The students and their dates were in each other’s company much of that time, but being together with someone is different than being engrossed in conversation. Only a few of those weekend dates led to other dates.

Sometimes a patient asks me if it is a good idea—or a bad idea—to have sex on the first date. By the time men and women have reached the age of 30 or thereabouts, it is not uncommon for a couple to fall into bed on their first date. As far as I can tell, it neither helps nor hinders the relationship. Of course, a person should not have sex if doing so is against his, or, more likely, her principles. But having sex is much easier than talking all night. People can have sex with someone with whom they have little interest, but talking all night is a different story.

When I ask an infatuated patient what he, or she, talked about all that time with a first date, I don’t usually get an informative answer. They don’t know, or they don’t remember. Sometimes the woman tells me they laughed together. Sometimes they had mutual acquaintances or mutual interests. There was nothing special about what they talked about. I guess some things that are not at all interesting when the wrong person starts to talk about them can be engrossing when it is the right person. There is something subtle about their interchange that is not apparent either to them or to someone looking over their shoulder. Maybe it is one more imponderable in considering the generally unfathomable business of falling in love.  (c) Fredric Neuman Author of "The Wicked Son." Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ or ask advice at fredricneumanmd.com/blog/ask-dr-neuman-advice-column/

Fredric Neuman, M.D. is the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital.

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