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Going on a first date can feel like walking a tightrope: You’re trying to impress her without coming on too strong—or worse, looking desperate. You want to seem smart but not condescending. Funny but not obnoxious. You don’t want to talk about trivial matters, but at the same time, know you can’t delve into anything too serious. Politics, religion, and past partners are all off the table. There are so many rules!
While you’re in your head trying to figure out what to say (and wondering if you fully wiped off all that spaghetti sauce from your beard), you also need to actively listen to your date in order to respond appropriately. If you don’t respond well to what she’s saying, then the date is surely going to be a bust.
This is why a lot of guys get nervous on a first date and end up blowing it. Not to worry, we spoke with a few relationship experts about the most common mistakes guys make on a first date, and how to avoid them. While some of these mistakes may seem trivial, but let’s face it: It’s a first date. You don’t get a lot of leeway to mess things up when there’s no established relationship.
With that in mind, here’s how to avoid 11 common first date mistakes so you can ace your first impression—and schedule a second date before the waiter brings out dessert. (And if you’re struggling to come up with a solid first date idea, check out our list of 40 first date ideas that will make you look like a creative genius.)
1. Keep Your Hands to Yourself
You might think that touching her a lot on the first date shows that you’re into her. Not the case, says relationship expert April Masini of AskApril.com. What you’re actually showing her is that you’re super-touchy on every first date. Way to make a girl feel special, right?
Avoid the pitfall: “On a first date, touch should be limited and only natural, friendly, and warm—not sexual,” says Carole Lieberman, M.D., author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. In other words, it’s fine to take her hand to help her out of your car, or put your hand on her lower back to lead her through a crowded restaurant. But don’t drape your arm around her neck and hold her close the entire time.
2. Make It a Two-Way Conversation
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Sure, you have to tell her about yourself, but dominating the conversation by rambling about your life will make you look narcissistic. Or worse: By not showing any interest in her, it can seem like you’re just waiting for the date to be over so you can get her into bed, Dr. Lieberman says.
Avoid the pitfall: What will impress her even more than learning about your accomplishments is seeing that you’re genuinely interested in hearing about her. If you’re not sure where to start, her job is usually a good bet. “Women love knowing that you take their work and ambitions seriously,” Dr. Lieberman says. “Ask her about what made her go into her career, and what she plans or wants to accomplish. Find out why it’s important to her.”
3. Don’t Drop the F-Bombs
Some women may love bad boys, but swearing like a sailor doesn’t make you Charlie Hunnam. “Cursing gets old very quickly,” Dr. Lieberman says. “It makes it look like you’re trying to be cool.”
Avoid the pitfall: This one is easy: Curb the cursing habit now, in anticipation of all your future first dates (and job interviews, and other non-sailing situations), Dr. Lieberman says. It’s too difficult to just turn off a habit for a few hours, so eliminate four-letter words from your everyday vocabulary.
4. Leave Your Rolodex at Home
If you spend the date dropping names, as in: “I know the guy who created Angry Birds,” or “I text Jason Mamoa,” then you sound like a try-hard who needs celebrity clout to impress her. (But hey, could we get Jason’s number?) And if you tell long stories about your friends and their shenanigans, you’ll bore her to death.
Avoid the pitfall: Check yourself before you name-drop—it almost never sounds good, Masini says. As for that story about your buddies’ epic trip to Tijuana, save reliving your glory days for when you’re back together with them.
5. Be a Gentleman
Women today don’t need over-the-top chivalry, but that doesn’t mean you should slack on your manners. Letting the door slam in her face, talking down to waiters, and spending the entire date glued to your phone are all behaviors that she won’t find attractive.
Avoid the pitfall: “No matter how modern she is, a woman wants doors held open for her,” Dr. Lieberman says. “She also wants you to have good table manners.” At the very least, you should try to be the gentleman your mother raised you to be. And a general rule for every date: Stay off your phone.
6. Curb Any Excessive Enthusiasm
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Giddiness doesn’t read as enthusiasm on a first date—it reads as anxiety, according to psychologist Tracy Thomas, Ph.D. “You end up sending the message that you’re uncomfortable with yourself, and unable to self-regulate,” Thomas explains. In other words, you look like a nervous wreck, and she’s going to bail.
Avoid the pitfall: If you tend to get too giddy, plan a date with a distraction so that you’re not on the spot for suave conversation the entire time, Dr. Lieberman says. Some good options to take the pressure off: a play or a concert. You’ll still have the opportunity to talk, just not as much.
7. Go for (Non-offensive) Jokes
Joking around with your date is a great way to break the ice. Women like funny guys. Men like funny guys. Everyone likes funny guys. Humor is an excellent tool. But, don’t go overboard. If you start getting heavy into politics, non-PC humor, or negging, she’s going to ask for the check and run like the wind.
Avoid the pitfall: Keep the humor light. Find out something you both agree on. For instance, maybe you both think Frasier is a pretentious and terrible show. Joke about that together. If she loves Colbert, make some Colbert-style jokes. If she likes your funny voices, joke with her. Don’t get out of control and start ranting and raving about Jill Stein or how much you love Bernie Sanders on a first date. Funny can quickly spiral into “bonkers” territory.
8. Don’t be Weird About Splitting the Bill
Don’t buckle down on not allowing her to split the bill with you. We live in a society where we can have egalitarian partnerships. We’re all making money, it’s OK for partners to split the bill. If a person really wants to, consider letting her. If you’d like to pick up the check, be polite about it.
Avoid the pitfall: If it’s a first date, let them know that you’d really like to treat her. Explain that you’re totally willing to go dutch on your next date, but since they agreed to spend her evening with you, you’d like to get this one. If they are really insistent, don’t be weird about it. Just split the bill. It’s not a test. They just want to be equals and establish boundaries. And remember, just because you buy dinner does not, in any way, mean a person owes you anything; not a hug, a kiss, or sex.
9. Resist Bringing Your Resumé
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Arrogance is really just your insecurity showing, Dr. Lieberman says. You may feel like you need to emphasize the parts of your background that scream “elite” to impress her. But flashing possessions or dropping “one time at Princeton” into the conversation too many times just makes you look like an asshole.
Avoid the pitfall: As a general rule, first-date conversations shouldn’t include talk about anything too superficial unless there’s a good reason for it to come up. For example, it’s fine to tell her you went to Harvard Law only if you’re talking about how brutal Massachusetts winters are.
10. Don’t Be a Schlub
It’s not as harsh as it sounds: Chances are she just thinks you need to work on your grooming. Most guys can look decent if they invest in a good haircut, do some manscaping, and dress well, Masini says.
Avoid the pitfall: Take heart in the fact that you don’t have to work nearly as hard as she does to prepare for a date. But that doesn’t mean you can skip the basics: showering, shaving, and spritzing on cologne. Wear a simple-yet-polished outfit like dark jeans, a blazer, and loafers, and you’ll look put-together without seeming like you’re trying too hard. (For more guidance, check out what to wear on a first date.)
11. Offer a Polite Compliment
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If you start off with some comment on how great her legs look in that skirt, she’s not going to be into it. She will be immediately put off. Comments on appearance have to be given with finesse or you’ll start the evening (or end it) on the wrong note.
Avoid the pitfall: Stick to gentlemanly compliments. You’re safe with, “You look really nice tonight,” or “Wow, I know we’ve been out a few times already, but it feels like you get more beautiful every single time I see you.” If your date is not a person who enjoys compliments on her appearance, go for a cool line like, “I can’t get enough of your laugh.” Everyone likes to know they are appreciated, but you have to be self-aware enough to offer the right phrasing.
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