Have you succeeded in landing a date in the near future thanks to your own social graces or a generous friend or the continuous movement of your thumbs in conjunction with a soul-sucking dating app? Congratulations! Now your only goal is to avoid fucking it up as much as you can.
Early dates and their success depend on a number of factors: how you’re feeling and how you look and how outgoing and how good of a listener you are, sure, but also venue, and lighting, and the sort of things you’re putting in your mouth, if any.
A first date can go very wrong if you accidentally choose a loud, crowded, fluorescent-lit cocktail bar with stools so narrow and uncomfortable you spend the entire time shifting your body weight and apologizing to the other patrons you keep elbowing.
Imagine how much nicer it would be if both of you were comfortable. You’d be much more likely to get a second date if you so chose, correct?
While dating is partially about reading the situation and listening to your gut, there are a few things you really need to avoid in the early days to ensure that the process of getting to know this near-stranger and endearing yourself to them goes well. Here, compiled, is my best advice.
On the first date, keep it casual
This is not the time to check out that hip, new restaurant you’ve been eyeing. This is not the time for a fancy cocktail bar where it’s way too easy to get plastered.
Go for something casual: a dive bar or something that’s one step up from a dive bar. A place where you’ll be at ease, without too much noise or crazy lighting. Pick something close to other eating and drinking establishments; a change of scenery is always sort of sexy and promising.
Skip your local
Do you have a bar close to your home where you’re buddies with the bartenders and you go to relax after a long day? Yeah, don’t take a first date there. The last thing you want to do is taint that sacred place with a bad experience. Plus, you’re automatically way more comfortable than they are, which creates a weird power dynamic.
Be choosy about your food
While you don’t want to be trapped by a three-course meal when you’re so bored you contemplate crawling under the white tablecloth and hiding, you do want to put a bit of food in your stomach so you don’t get inappropriately drunk. Remember that tacos are messy, and salads look weird when entering your mouth. Bar snacks are good. Pizza is never a bad idea.
Split up the planning responsibilities
Suggest a few options, but let your date weigh in, too. If you’re really into sports or movies, make absolutely sure your date enjoys them, too. And if you do plan a movie date, make sure there’s a plan for afterwards—dates where you only talk for five minutes aren’t really that fun.
Consider your lighting
If you didn’t smooch on date one, or even if you did, be sure to choose a venue with flattering lighting. You want to look as kissable (or other stuff-able) as possible. Fluorescents are your enemy.
Take it easy
Don’t eat too much and don’t get too drunk. Yes, even if you’ve already hung out a bunch of times. If you’re gonna get naked later you want to be your best naked self.
Relax a little on the second date
Congratulations! You’ve decided you want to spend at least 90 more minutes with somebody. That’s exciting. You still shouldn’t sit through a whole dinner at a grown-up restaurant.
Maybe try an activity (one coworker polled started a Lego project with a dude on date two and loved it; I once had great fun ending an early date at a piano bar sing-along), or eat something casual and then enjoy a leisurely, romantic walk to a bar afterwards. If you’re really into eating a meal on an early date, consider finding a restaurant where you can sit at the bar: it’s far chiller than sitting across from a date and feeling like you’re at a job interview.
Whatever you do, it should feel like a step up from date one: more creative, and more exciting, than just knocking back a few beers.
Choose dinner wisely
Made it to dates three and four? Awesome. You get to eat dinner now.
If you actually enjoy cooking and people who aren’t your mom have told you that you’re not bad at it, cook your date dinner. If not, pick a restaurant that’s not too expensive, not too loud, and not so over-hyped you’ll have to fight someone to get a table.
Maybe try a restaurant that’s known for one particular dish, so you have some sort of purpose and you won’t spend 20 minutes hemming and hawing over the menu. Indecision is pretty unsexy.