Todayâ€™s dating culture isnâ€™t one ofÂ immediate investment. With apps like Tinder, Bumble, Match, and the League flooding the landscape, you can have dates round the clock if youâ€™d like.
Many daters, especially in big cities, set up multiple dates over the course of an evening: happy hour drink with one person, dinner around 7:30 or 8 p.m. with another, and a late-night cocktail with yet another. In less hectic settings, dating can still be a frenziedÂ mix â€™nâ€™ match process. Friends of mine, when really invested and committed to the process, have averaged three dates with three different prospects in a week.
Needless to say, todayâ€™s version of dating can feel more like speed dating. Youâ€™re trying to gather information on dates as efficiently as possible, to see if you have enough in common to keep going, while still putting your best foot forward. No easy task.
The first date is actually the best time to sleuth out some important information, because youâ€™re generally operating in a pretty clear headspace. Youâ€™re not super invested in the person sitting next to you, nor are you blinded by chemistry. Iâ€™m going to assume you already know to watch out for how your date treats the wait staff and other obvious advice for first dates. (Keep looking for those basic tenets of kindness, character, and respect.) The belowÂ advice is a step beyond.
While you canâ€™t gather everything you need to know in one few-hour meeting, you can make a great start. Hereâ€™s your first-date cheat sheet.
How does your date discuss the current nature of his or her life?
Daters generally tell you who they are, the question is: â€œAre you listening?â€ People who arenâ€™t ready for a real relationship will tell you all the reasons they arenâ€™t. Theyâ€™ll be super busy at work; considering a move; about to start grad school; fresh from a breakup; about to go away on a long work trip. Notice the roadblocks that people bring up, especially if they donâ€™t explain them away in an attempt to make you feel better.
If a person casually tosses out a bunch of barriers to intimacy, you can assume thereÂ may beÂ some timing issues â€” even if you two do connect. If you donâ€™t mind someone whoâ€™s slower to warm up and commit, feel free to proceed with caution. If you donâ€™t like that the person is presenting 29,430 barriers to relationship status on the first date, you can move on to someone whoâ€™s more available.
How does your date react to your life, your goals, and your plans?
You want someone who is going to be genuinely supportive of your immediate and longer-term goals, so itâ€™s important to see if that person acts engaged and interested when you talk about them. Does your date think itâ€™s fascinating that you want to open a bakery in the future, and ask you why? Or does that person simply wave it off with an, â€œOh, cool, thatâ€™s fun â€¦ Do you want to get another round?â€
Some people dominate the conversation with their goals and dreams. They are looking for a plus-one who will fit into their life, not a partnership in which two dynamic timelines will need to merge into one. If thatâ€™s fine with you, then tally forth. But if adapting to someone elseâ€™s schedule isnâ€™t your cup of tea, this might not be a match made in heaven.
How does your date talk about family, friends, and exes?
Maybe you connect easily, have a marathon date, and wind up talking about some deep issues. Great! Iâ€™m not really one for dating rules. You can and should talk about the big stuff whenever it feels natural and right. However, beware the person who has a lot of broken relationships, and talks about others with resentment or ire.
Lots of narcissists are charismatic. They can create chemistry. You may feel you connect with them instantly â€” so beware the love-bomber, who showers you with attention, sweet-talks you right off the bat, and attempts to create an automatic relationship to suck you in. Also, watch out for magnetic people who tell you they have poor relationships with family, almost no close friends, and exes who are â€œcrazyâ€ or unreasonable.
According to psychologist Alexandra Solomon, PhD, itâ€™s essential to find a partner withrelational self-awareness. This means some can take a â€œcurious stanceâ€ when looking at their relationships. They have perspective; they see past breakups as â€œsome stuff you did wrong, some stuff I did wrong,â€ listen to feedback without getting defensive, see how relationships have shaped their life trajectory, and deal with their feelings in a healthy manner (discuss them versus act out).
Watch how your dates casually discuss people who have passed through their lives. Can they be critical of themselves when appropriate? Are they taking that information, applying it, and trying to create stronger relationships in the future? Or is it â€œall the other personâ€™s faultâ€?
Do youÂ seem potentially compatible?
Itâ€™s fun to see if you have chemistry with a new dating prospect; however, before you get swept away in that blinding flood of hormones, take a moment to gauge compatibility. Iâ€™m not saying you can know if you are truly compatible after one date, but you can sometimes know if you are not compatible â€” even if you like the person.
You should walk into each first date knowing what you need at baseline (does a partner need to be the same religion as you? have similar values? a wicked sense of humor?), and also keepingÂ an open mind about the wish-list items (height, job, education, etc). If youâ€™re in love with the city, and your dateâ€™s major goal in life is to move out to a ranch in Montana, your futures may not align. If religion is a deal breaker, and you find someone whoâ€™s practicing another faith, you may want to consider bowing out early.
At the end of the day, itâ€™s probably better to â€œnextâ€ incompatible partners than to get emotionally entrenched in a relationship with insurmountableÂ barriers.
Does the interaction feel reciprocal and open?
Dominating the conversation is uncomfortable if youâ€™re the one talking nonstop, and overwhelming if your date seems all about themselves. Dates should feel generally reciprocal. Conversation should have flow, even if there are a few lulls, or nerves get the best of you. Keep in mind, men tend to be slower to open up than women. Research suggestsÂ men find women who are willing to open up about themselves on a first date more attractive, aka those who use the word I more frequently. So if youâ€™re a woman on a date with a man, donâ€™t be afraid to talk more than you listen, especially if heâ€™s asking lots of questions to prove heâ€™s interested and engaged.
Overall, though, openness should be met with openness. Youâ€™re on theÂ date to push yourself out of your comfort zone and see if you have enough in common, if you can connect on some level, or if you just canâ€™t. You should feel like the person sitting across from you is forthcoming, especially if you ask a direct question.
Once, I had a lurking suspicion about someoneâ€™s history of fidelity, so I directly asked if heâ€™d ever cheated on a girlfriend. I would have listened to the explanation; I genuinely wanted to know what heâ€™d say. Instead of providing a brief but honest answer (mistake, youth, etc.), he simply said, â€œIâ€™m not telling you that.â€ That opaqueness did not sit well; we did not have another date.
How does the person act after the date?
Some people date to meet tons of new people. Some date to get over an ex. Some date because theyâ€™re bored. Others date because they want to improve their skills in the art of seduction, or haveÂ sex. If youâ€™re looking for a relationship prospect in this sea of suitors, you have to gauge how the persons acts after a date.
If you had a good time, Iâ€™d text and say so; some people really do doubt themselves, and may talk themselves out of someone they really like. Anyone who is worth your time will respond positively and set up another date almost immediately, or within a day or two maximum. Anyone who canâ€™t make time for you once a week in the beginning, more as you progress, is distracted â€” by other commitments, all the options on the dating market, a breakup, or something else entirely. Your best bet is to lookÂ for someone who is emotionally available and ready to invest the time and attention a real relationship requires.