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What We Should Learn From a First Date

Is sharing too little worse than sharing too much?

Key points

  • Accurate knowledge about our partner is beneficial in enduring relationships, but not on first dates.
  • Optimism is recommended during a first meeting, provided that a this is adjusted later on.
  • Not revealing anything on a first date is problematic, but sharing all details is worse.
Source: Pexels-cottonbro-studio

“Do not say anything about your exes at the first date. Zero. The beginning of a relationship should be with a clean slate. My previous sexual experiences should not impact the current one.” —Eva

How much should we really get to know our partner? Should we tell everything on the first date? The current abundance of romantic options makes starting a relationship highly important, yet complex. The prevailing desire to have extensive and accurate knowledge of our partner isn’t working, and we need another approach on a first date.

Knowledge, Ignorance, and Accuracy

"Knowledge is power. The real test of knowledge is not whether it is true but whether it empowers us.” —Francis Bacon

“Ignorance is bliss.” —Thomas Gray

There is a long philosophical and psychological tradition that views knowledge as the key to profound happiness, personal flourishing and lasting love. Notwithstanding this tradition, another convention considers knowledge an impediment to happiness: Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because they ate from the Tree of Knowledge.

A similar dispute regards the role of knowledge in romantic love. Some popular songs indicate the close connection between the two aspects. Take, for example, the lyrics, "The more I know you, the more I love you," and "To know you is to love you." A different view emphasizes the advantages of not knowing, celebrating the role of mystery in romantic love and casual sex (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019; Hussain et al., 2021).

In light of the complexity of love and the fact that lovers are often unwilling, or unable, to face reality, information avoidance, self-deception and cognitive biases are likely to occur. However, too much illusion and ignorance can be harmful to a relationship. As Simon Blackburn (2004) aptly puts it: "Perhaps we prefer Cupid to have dim sight rather than to be totally blind, but it is also just as well that he is not totally clearsighted." Only a moderate and balanced dose of positive illusions can be beneficial when maintaining profound love (Ben-Ze’ev, 2023). How do these attitudes influence the extent of knowledge we would like to have on a first date?

What Do You Want to Know on a First Date?

Here are random answers (appearing on Reddit) from women, answering the question “What do you value most in a first date?”

  • “I really appreciate when a guy shows genuine interest in what I’m telling him.”
  • “There are people that can’t grasp the fact that their first message should not be a dick pic.”
  • “With good conversation, I have no idea that two hours have passed. And it makes me more excited for the second date.”
  • “If he can make me smile without saying anything.”
  • “I appreciate kindness, a nice smile, the ability to be open with me and a sense of humor, and if I’m truly lucky, a beard.”
  • “Gut feeling. But other than that, humor and being lighthearted. First dates that are too serious are a big no for me.”
  • “Humor, be funny and definitely be yourself. You are so much more attractive if you can make a girl laugh and be yourself at the same time.”
  • “Kindness and a good sense of humor. Not being a jerk.”
  • “Optimism. Good manners. Asking about me. Attraction.”
  • “Chemistry and the lack of red flags.”

These random answers indicate that relational attitudes and expressing compatibility, such as mutual curiosity, reciprocity, respect and kindness, are of great importance in initial romantic choices alongside mutual desirable traits (Baxter et al., 2022).

Accurate Knowledge at First Meeting

“On a first date, I expect a guy to be straightforward and clear about his intentions.” —Nancy

On a first date, should we aspire to have mutual comprehensive and accurate information about each other? Doing so may kill our romantic interest. Indeed, Gazzard Kerr and colleagues (2020) argue that although viewing other people with distinctive accuracy is valuable, this does not hold in the context of first dates. Distinctive accuracy may help perceivers rule out incompatible matches, but could also result in being too quick to pass on potential partners. Hence, on a first date, distinctive accuracy often correlates with lower romantic interest, since sharing very personal information could undermine interest. Indeed, the most perceptive people are the least interested on first dates (Kerr et al., 2020; here).

If progressing beyond a first date is the goal, perceivers may wish to bring their rose-colored spectacles and leave their magnifying glass behind. The risk in having or providing accurate information is that it shatters the idealized image of the prospective partner by focusing on their negative aspects, therefore leading to a decrease in romantic interest. Thus, detailed information about your sexual history may hinder the development of romantic attraction. Such information needs more time and closeness to be revealed, and even then, specific details should be omitted (here). Accordingly, I oppose the above citation from Nancy, who wants to know her partner’s precise intentions toward her on a first date. Even the partner himself may not know it—as these intentions require time to profoundly develop.

Romantic Optimism on a First Date

“I like to date schoolteachers; if you do something wrong, they make you do it over again.” —Rodney Dangerfield

The cognitive issue of how much and how truthful we should be on a first date is further complicated by the agent’s initial evaluation of their potential partner: Should it be highly critical or more optimistic?

In light of the abundance of romantic candidates and initial scant and inaccurate information, a critical attitude is natural. However, we should distinguish between clearly unsuitable partners and the many remaining candidates. The first group involves those who lack any of the agent’s dealmaker traits and have all the deal-breaker traits. Their immediate dismissal is normal and reasonable. Yet, after this dismissal, the agent still has many candidates to consider, and their criticism should be replaced by a positive, optimistic attitude.

Optimism is an affective attitude characterized by the belief that good things will happen. Optimism has both positive and negative consequences in the romantic realm. Beneficially, it may encourage constructive coping efforts within the relationship. Indeed, the partner’s optimism is associated with a better and longer-lasting relationship (Srivastava et al., 2006; Sjåstad & Van Bavel, 2023). However, optimism can also be a liability, since expecting the best may prevent individuals from taking proactive steps when confronted with difficulties.

In Defense of Moderate Self-Disclosure and Curiosity

“My ex would have a really bad habit of telling me all the men she'd slept with, penis sizes, intimate details like that and it would really piss me off.” —John

There is no golden rule determining the optimal extent of self-disclosure and curiosity on a first date. Not revealing anything is problematic and sharing all details is worse. Open and sincere discussions are significant, though the question of timing is crucial. Sharing details of your exes on a first date through tiring stories is unadvisable. A better way to satisfy a natural curiosity of each other is through sharing limited information at the beginning, and gradually increasing the extent and quality of the information, thereby revealing each partner’s authentic nature.

In my recent article, “In Defense of Moderate Romantic Curiosity and Information Avoidance” (Ben-Ze’ev, 2023), I suggest the restriction of central romantic virtues, such as curiosity and sensitivity, while revealing a limited amount of oft-called romantic vices, such as ignorance and indifference. This suggestion has significant implications for the nature of romantic relationships, given the restless nature of our romantic environment, which is populated with many romantic options.

One more tip: if your first date is in a restaurant, try sharing. Research has found that strangers assigned to eat similar foods become more trusting and cooperative (Woolley & Fishbach, 2017).

Facebook image: Song_about_summer/Shutterstock


Baxter, A. et al. (2022). Initial impressions of compatibility and mate value predict later dating and romantic interest. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 119, e2206925119.‏

Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time. University of Chicago Press.

Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2023). Is casual sex good for you? Casualness, seriousness and wellbeing in intimate relationships. Philosophies, 8, 2023, 25.‏

Blackburn, S. (2004). Lust. Oxford University Press.

Hussain, M., et al. (2021). Avoiding information about one’s romantic partner. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38, 626-647.‏

Kerr, L. G., et al. (2020). Blind at first sight: The role of distinctively accurate and positive first impressions in romantic interest. Psychological Science, 31, 715-728.

Sjåstad, H. & Van Bavel, J. J. (2023). The best-case heuristic: Relative optimism in relationships, politics, and a global health pandemic.

Srivastava, S., et al. (2006). Optimism in close relationships: How seeing things in a positive light makes them so. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 143–153.

Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2017). A recipe for friendship: Similar food consumption promotes trust and cooperation. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27, 1-10.

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