First Date Strategizing
October 25, 2014 7:12 AM   Subscribe

In the array of approaches out there regarding the choice of an optimal first date activity, the majority of thoughts on the subject seem to fall generally into two opposing schools of thought. I am very curious to get the AskMeFi community's thoughts on the topic as there seems to be a pretty smart bunch here.

After numerous conversations with friends and sibling, and reading a sizable number of online dating advice articles on the topic, I see that the majority of thoughts regarding what the optimal activity and setting for a first date generally fall into one of two opposing schools of thought:

One, lets call it the "casual school", says that it is best to have a first date that is very casual and more brief in duration. Some examples: getting coffee together at a local cafe, a walk in the park, a game (ping pong, bowling, etc.). This, we are told, allows for initial interaction and conversation to happen in a low pressure, jovial atmosphere. Both people will have an easier time just being themselves and evaluating if there is enough attraction/common ground/intrigue to warrant following dates.

The second, "more romantic", train of thought says that a first date should ideally be special, without going overboard. Example, dinner at a restaurant (nowhere too expensive or overly romantic), a favorite show or live music event of the person's, a picnic at the park (as opposed to just a walk), etc. A more intimate, romantic first date activity and setting is more conducive to establishing a connection (if feasible), gives the opportunity for more meaningful conversing, and could provide a better backdrop for the proverbial "sparks" to start flying. Obviously, if these things happened, subsequent dates are likely to follow.

My question is, do you feel one of the perspectives is more true in practice while the other more faulty? What "works" better? And why do you feel that way; from personal experience, insight into human psychology, etc.?


(I am posting anonymously because I would like to preserve the wall between my dating life and digital life; individuals that I have dated/would like to date know my screen name and I would not like to have inner thoughts on the matter available for scrutiny no matter how light and innocuous.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think a lot of this depends on how well-acquainted you are with the person you're going on the first date with. If they are a perfect stranger you met through OKC, then yes, keep it casual because you need to get to know them before you're even near romance. Think of this as a pre-date, really. Get to know them in person, make sure they're not "off", see if you like them enough to do it again. Don't force the romance.

If you already know the person, then absolutely go the "more romantic" route. You like them. They like you. You presumably have had interactions before and now this is the next level. I think that's the best bet here.
posted by inturnaround at 7:23 AM on October 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

I think it partly depends on how you met someone. If it's a person that you already know somewhat from your social group or work or school or whatever, then I think something a bit more romantic makes sense (unless, of course, it's unclear whether you'd like to be friends with this person or pursue a relationship). If it's someone you meet online and haven't met yet in real life, a shorter date like coffee might make sense just for practical reasons—you don't know how well you'll get along yet, and if it's painfully awkward, at least it will be short.

Some of my favorite moments with a significant other have happened in random places—on the subway, in the drugstore. If you get along, I don't think it really matters where you are, the chemistry will be clear. A casual date definitely doesn't preclude sparks. As a lady, I like both types of dates, and I really don't think that either option is more likely to lead to a second date. You'll either like each other or you won't.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:23 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

My have a nonstandard answer for this - I think that coffee dates and the like are the worst for ok Cupid and other first dates like that. You're already in this weird job interview headspace and you need something to add some excitement.
posted by mercredi at 7:28 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's actually a third school of thought which is: experiential. Non- romantic but non-casual friend activities. Going to a book reading at a bookstore. Bowling. Video game arcade. Wine tasting. Bocce in the park. Wax museum. Etc. something that could take a while, but isn't necessarily expensive, intimate or interminably long like a movie or play or dinner.

This is most appropriate if, say, you've met this person and obviously hit it off (maybe even smooched) but now need to get to know each other better.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:30 AM on October 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

Picnic in the park sounds pretty casual and romantic.
posted by lunastellasol at 7:35 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Burn down the camps. My perfect first date was effectively the Monty Python blackmail skit. The date started small with a brief visit to a Vermont Flea market for 15 minutes, where we agreed to meet. Then we drove a short distance to a 30 minute hike, then took 45 for lunch then another 45 minutes at Simon Pierce (watching them blow glass), then another short drive and finished with 15 minutes of ice cream. Each step along the way would have allowed both parties to pull the emergency cord and bail. Effectively the activities were short, it gave us a mix of intimate conversation (hike / lunch / ice cream) in a low pressure setting with public activities (flea market / Simon Pierce). Think of it as those horrible dating shows from the 90's without having to limit the time on things and also there isn't any film footage... Also, you are likely compatible with the person - nobody set up the date to produce ratings through a dismal spiral.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:42 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm with (or was with, when I was doing online dating) Potomac Avenue on this one: I tried to plan first dates that involved some sort of activity that would be enjoyable (and more enjoyable with a partner) even if the person turned out to be not my cup of tea. I think this is closer to your "romantic" category than casual, but something like ping-pong or bowling is still an experiential date, while a picnic in the park (IMHO) would be almost purely interactional rather than experiential--if your date partner turns out to be a dud, I don't think the "oo, it's a picnic!" aspect would salvage the situation sufficiently to make it a good date regardless. For a dinner date, a good experiential choice would not necessarily be a romantic or "fancy" restaurant, but something kitschy or a less-common ethnic cuisine, for example, is perfect.

Coffee dates--just no!
posted by drlith at 7:43 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mostly what inturnaround said.

For a first-time IRL meeting, or a first date with someone you met once at a party or the dog park, it should be brief, give both of you a way to leave (e.g., not a hiking trail) and great if there's an "activity" or something to talk about (such as a book fair or ethnic dance in the park). However, activities can be hard to find so a pleasant cafe or brewpub for coffee or a drink and snacks is fine.

If you know the person, then you should know what they like.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:55 AM on October 25, 2014

I mean, I think coffee dates are fine if it's an internet thing and you just need to look at each other and chat for 30minutes. Drinks are better but sometimes more chance of weird embarassment.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:56 AM on October 25, 2014

If you met online or otherwise don't know the person very well, I think it's a good idea to keep the stakes (+ expenditures of time and money) low. During my OKCupid mass-dating spree, I became a big fan of morning dates. It'd get me out of bed a bit earlier on a Saturday morning, I could get my coffee, and spend minimal time with someone who turned out to be a dud. Or if s/he wasn't a dud, we had the whole day ahead of us. Plus, it's daytime, which tends to be less freighted with romantic and sexual expectations.

Also, activity dates. If you're a man who dates women, be aware that a woman might not want to go hiking right away--she doesn't know you're not dangerous yet. In deference to that, I think some low-stakes hang in a public place is a perfect idea for when you're just starting out.

And, you know. If there are any sparks to be flying, they will fly. Regardless of whether there's champagne and candlelight or you're under fluorescent lights at a Wal-Mart buying cat litter.
posted by magdalemon at 8:01 AM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

All of my best first dates have been very loosely organized, open-ended things. (These are mostly okc dates for me.)

Like, let's go to a museum (walk around, talk, get to know each other). If things are going well once we're tried of the museum, let's get dinner. Or go to some low-key city event thing, check it out (walk around, talk, get to know each other). If things are going well and we get hungry, let's get dinner. It helps if you have a few places in mind so instead of some nebulous "are you hungry? where should we eat?" you can be like "I'm hungry, are you hungry? there's a thai place a few blocks away I've been wanting to try."

Basically, stuff where there's no particular end time or structure so if things suck you can bail and if things go well it can always be extended. You want something where there's not so much going on that you can't have a conversation, but also you want your scenery to be able to change a bit so when there's a lull in the conversation there's always something else to look at or talk about.
posted by phunniemee at 8:05 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I became a big fan of morning dates. It'd get me out of bed a bit earlier on a Saturday morning, I could get my coffee, and spend minimal time with someone who turned out to be a dud. Or if s/he wasn't a dud, we had the whole day ahead of us.

Yeah, me too. Like 10 or 11am on a Saturday, maybe start it out with coffee or brunch and go from there.
posted by phunniemee at 8:07 AM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it really depends on whether your first date is essentially a first meeting -- online dating, matchmaking by friends, grocery store pickup, whatever -- or if it is a first date between two people who are already reasonably well-acquainted and know they get along -- coworkers, part of same friend group, go to same church, whatever -- who want to move things to a more romantic level.

For the first instance, where the first date is essentially the first meeting (texting and online chats don't count), you want something casual, low-key, easy to hold a conversation but not necessarily with the pressure of just sitting down to an entire dinner together. My personal favourite first date is to meet someone at a board game cafe; there's food and alcohol and something to distract you in the awkward silences and low-pressure competition so you can see if someone is a giant twat about winning and losing right off the bat.

For the second instance, you're escalating an existing relationship into romance territory, so more romantic gestures are likely to be appropriate.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Short, inexpensive date. If it's working, you leave them wanting more. And ixnay on making it a sporting activity. If you are good, it looks conceited, if you are bad, it looks even worse.
posted by MattD at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2014

I think that coffee dates, or food dates, are generally a terrible idea. Because they are just so boring, like mercredi said, it's more like an interview than a date.

Experiential dates are, in my opinion, the best. One of the best dates I went on was in Chicago, and our "date" was that we met at an El stop and rode trains around for an hour.

Other excellent dates have included museums, a picnic, and touring a construction site. Oh and going to the library, they are so much fun, and if you get bored you can start to hunt for strange books together.

I like these dates because they give you something to do, regardless, and this thing is a thing that you should really be having a conversation about. So you don't have to have those awkward "sooo what do you do?" conversations, that stuff is so boring. Especially if you decide you are not attracted to them but you're in a cafe, and now you are stuck, you have to just sit there and be pleasant so as not to be rude, when you'd really rather be doing anything else.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 9:38 AM on October 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

she doesn't know you're not dangerous yet

Just to restate - if you are dating women, many women would prefer a first date to have an easy escape route at all times. Both for the "meh" situation and if the date turns out to be creepy. Or if - and this happens - someone has steeled themselves to move on, and get over it, and get out there and date ... but it turns out they're just not ready and want to go home and curl up in a ball.

Everybody, I think, likes an escape hatch for the meh situation and the "oops, I wasn't ready to do this" fail.

This hasn't been suggested and you didn't include in your set of two, but just in case: Bringing a new person into a social situation with your group feels like... ugh. Just don't do this as a first date. So if you are thinking about a gallery opening where you will know 50% of the crowd and date will know no one, think again. See also "my roommate's band."
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:08 AM on October 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

I try not to view first dates along a casual/formal axis, I try to view them along a spectrum of "how much conversation can we have doing/about these things?"

From that perspective, almost anything can be a good first date. Here's a few great ones I've had:

1) Dinner at a nice restaurant followed by a show at Second City. Lots of time to talk, opportunity to have some nerves-killing wine, bond over food. Then! Laughing together. Really good.

2) Free concert (to which I, without him knowing it, had a connection with one of the performers, which made for a really fun moment after it was over), then lunch, then some pints on a patio, then a walk along the waterfront. Lots of time to talk and have fun, an interesting event to talk about in case of flagging conversation. Oh, and we went to a movie to cap it all off.

3) (This was a formal 'date' after having spent many evenings together in a very casual but obviously interested fashion): laid back (for obvious reasons) hot chocolate at a local cafe known for permitting smoking things other than cigarettes, followed by a spectacular dinner at an incredible restaurant, then dessert and drinks at another spectacular restaurant around the corner, then sitting in a park looking at the stars and smoking.

For me, the really good dates involve food and conversation, and easy ways out for both people. As Nanukthedog said, several different things to do help with this. And also lets both of you show each other things you like.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:12 AM on October 25, 2014

It all really depends on the temperaments of the people going on the date.

As an introvert, I've always found casual activity first dates a bit stressful and distracting--I get a bit self-conscious and can't focus on getting to know the person I'm with.

I'm a big fan of having low-key dinner as a first date activity. I delight in the focused nature of the interaction, the joy of getting to know and finding a common ground with someone.
posted by tackypink at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

As others have said, short and casual with people I don't know, and longer with people I do. I actually try to schedule OKCupid first dates over lunch on a workday. Having to get back to work allows for an easy out if we're not clicking. First dates with strangers ARE effectively interviews, to see whether there's any chemistry, and I can get a sense of that pretty quickly. And if I enjoyed it, I will not hesitate to schedule a "real" date immediately... sometimes even the next day!
posted by metasarah at 11:17 AM on October 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am in favor of the low-commitment first date, the coffee date. Perhaps that's because my first date with the woman I married was a coffee date. We met via an online dating service, and the first meeting was very off-the-cuff. Nobody got dressed up, we just agreed to meet at a nearby coffee shop and hung out. For a long time. The fact that we weren't engaged in some other activity gave us an opportunity to focus on each other.

Other people here on metafilter have made the point that with Internet dating, your first date really shouldn't be thought of as a real date, it's more of a pre-date. And if you (or the other person!) is doing the Internet dating thing, you (or the other person) is probably dating widely, and not making a bit emotional commitment to any one first date. Keeping it low-key and low-risk seems appropriate for that reason.
posted by adamrice at 11:41 AM on October 25, 2014

Sometimes I have a pretty good feel for how likely I am to click with someone based on their profile. If it's more of a "why not?" date, I'd prefer low key. Then if there might be potential I think it's more fun to do something based on one or both of the person's actual interests.

Why was this written so formally?
posted by mermily at 11:47 AM on October 25, 2014

I think to some extent this depends on if the person you're going on a first date with is someone you already know to some extent or if it's an online or otherwise blind date. In the former situation, maybe a romantic first date is a possibility (though I'd argue it is dangerous even then!) but in the latter case, please, for your sake and your date's, pick something casual and low-commitment. You can always do a second activity later on in the night if you really hit it off.

When I was online dating, I went on enough first dates that I got really sick of coffee places and wine bars. So I made a list of relatively casual things I'd been meaning to do -- see an improv show, go to a particular ramen place, that sort of thing -- and would pick activities from the list. That way, at least you're doing something fun, and you have something to talk about.
posted by goingonit at 11:50 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

nothing where you are browsing or visiting an art gallery or museum. no talking, awkward "am i looking at the same pictures enough? too much?"

Dinner is easy. Boring but you can know what is going on.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:16 PM on October 25, 2014

A first date is for getting to know the other person, IMO. A second or third or fourth date is when you should go to comedy clubs or make dinner together or go bowling or meet friends at happy hour.
posted by discopolo at 4:18 PM on October 25, 2014

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