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First Dates

Gender differences, scripts, and indications that the date was a success

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First dates are pivotal in determining the trajectory of a potential relationship. First dates typically involve a face-to-face meeting in which each individual has the opportunity to learn more about the other and determine whether there is enough of a spark to pursue a second date.

Research suggests that early communication plays an important role in the formation of romantic relationships (Bosson, Johnson, Niederhoffer, & Swann, 2006). The date is much more than simply a way of getting to know basic facts about your potential partner; it is a time in which you look for signals that he or she is interested in you, and, in turn, communicate your own interest.

Gender Differences

Gender differences are still prevalent in many early dating interactions — for example, research has shown that women are more selective than men when it comes to choosing dating partners (Kurzban & Weeden, 2005).

Many of the other differences observed between males and females during first dates are a result of sexual "scripts." These scripts give people control over a situation, as a result of enabling them to fall into patterned responses (Rose & Frieze, 1993). These scripts often put men in a seat of relative authority during courtship (Guarerholz & Serpe, 1985).

In discussing typical first-date scenarios, Rose and Frieze (1993) noted the strong occurrence of gender typing: Women’s scripts are much more reactive (i.e., evaluating the date), and men’s much more proactive (i.e., making out or initiating sexual activity). Specifically, their research showed that men were typically the ones who planned the date, controlled the public domain (i.e., through opening doors), and initiated sexual contact. Females tended to be more concerned with the private domain (i.e., her appearance) and were required to come up with a response to a date’s sexual initiations.

Even though roles may well be changing, such sex differences still largely exist in the realm of first dates. Eaton and Rose (2011), through a review of articles published over the course of 35 years in the journal Sex Roles, note that there is evidence demonstrating that gender stereotypes remain prevalent in modern dating encounters.

Interpreting First-Date Success

In a study I conducted with 390 participants, focusing on interpreting behavior that typically occurs on the first date, gender differences were noted (Cohen, 2016). The sample in this particular study was predominately female (75.4 percent), Caucasian (61.8 percent), and between the ages of 18 and 24 (72.3 percent).

Participants were given 30 statements detailing potential behaviors that their romantic partners might display on a first date. An example is, “He/she hugs you when he/she meets you." Participants were told to rate each behavior on a five-point Likert scale to elicit their perception of how attracted their potential partner was to them. Findings demonstrated that females were much more selective, and potentially judgmental, about behaviors on a first date. Males didn’t allow any behaviors to serve as a signal that their date was less attracted to them, whereas females read into many of their date’s behaviors an indication of their attraction to them.

Positive Signals

The results partially corroborated the findings of a study conducted by McFarland, Jurafsky, and Rawlings (2013), in that both men and women were more likely to report a connection if the woman talked about herself during the course of the date. Also regarding first-date conversation, women, to a greater extent than men, wanted their date to create and maintain a lively conversation. This may suggest that many females expect the male to "take charge" during a date. In line with this viewpoint, women also felt that when a man paid for the date, it was a signal that he was attracted to her.

Males appeared to use behaviors that were sexual in nature, such as redirecting the conversation to the topic of sex, as a signal that their date was attracted to them. Females, on the other hand, were interested in their date’s discussion of the future. Females also used physical contact, such as hugs and kisses at the end of the date, as indications that a date was attracted to them, a sign that men aren’t the only ones who focus on the physical aspect.

Negative Signals

Women viewed many behaviors as negative signs of their hypothetical partner’s attraction to them: They felt that when a date shook their hand, it indicated that he wasn’t attracted to them. This was also the case if the date waved goodbye at the end of the evening, opting not to have any direct contact. Females also viewed a male’s lack of pursuit negatively, such as if he didn’t initiate contact after the date and only responded to her attempts.


It is interesting that sex differences still surface when it comes to dating and early courtship, at least within heterosexual relationships. While these behaviors are not likely to change anytime soon, noting them is beneficial, because this information may explain what leads to a successful first date. These findings also highlight the importance that males and females place on commonly occurring first-date behaviors.


Bosson, J. K., Johnson, A., Niederhoffer, K., & Swann, W. (2006). Interpersonal chemistry through negativity: Bonding by sharing negative attitudes about others. Personal Relationships, 13, 135–50.

Cohen, M. T. (2016). It’s not you, it’s me…no, actually it’s you: Perceptions of what makes a first date successful or not. Sexuality & Culture, 20(1), 173-191. doi:10.1007/s12119-015-9322-1

Eaton, A. A., & Rose, S. (2011). Has dating become more egalitarian? A 35 year review using sex roles. Sex Roles, 64(11/12), 843–862.

Grauerholz, E., & Serpe, R. T. (1985). Initiation and response: The dynamics of sexual interaction. Sex Roles, 12(9), 1041-1059.

Kurzban, R., & Weeden, J. (2005). HurryDate: Mate preferences in action. Evolution and Human Behavior, 26, 227–44.

McFarland, D. A., Jurafsky, D., & Rawlings, C. (2013). Making the connection: Social bonding in courtship situations. American Journal of Sociology, 118(6), 1596-1649.

Rose, S., & Frieze, I. H. (1993). Young singles' contemporary dating scripts. Sex Roles, 28(9), 499-509.