A field guide to online dating: 6 Rules for the First Date

Entering the world of online dating at 35, I naively thought that being straightforward, honest and respectful was enough. Some 6 years later, I now am now resigned to the fact that every dater needs a few rules. As much I’ve spent my life trying to escape them, rules can save you time, money and an embarrassing first date with a 65 year old man or a guy in a wheelchair. (Yes, it happened).

My friend Jill gave me a few handy hints leading up to the first date, which I initially escewed and then gratefully embraced. I’ve been preaching them ever since. Heed them and maybe you won’t be climbing out of a bathroom window to end your next first date.


1. Don’t email someone for a long time before meeting them. 
This isn’t high school and unless you’re planning on having a relationship conducted entirely through the medium of the written word (or your date is deaf).. move it into reality after a few emails. Emails are a screener, NOT a way to get to know someone, so don’t confuse the two. Great that he’s funny and witty on the screen, but in the flesh is really where it counts. Plus you might LOVE him in email but upon meeting him realize he smells like damp dog and he’s actually 5 ft 2, not the 6ft advertised. Like the Shamwow.. everything is better on a screen. And there’s a reason the Shamwow isn’t sold in stores. Don’t buy the Shamwow before you’ve met him.

2. Don’t go on a date with someone you’ve not actually talked to on the phone.
Seems obvious right? Why on earth would you sit down with a complete stranger for an hour, a cup of coffee or – god forbid- dinner? Yes you ‘kinda’ know what he looks like, he have his first name and you really like his emails. But you haven’t had any kind of live interaction if you’ve just exchanged heated texts or emails about his sexy eyes or your cute smile. Even IM doesn’t give you any idea of how you guys will actually ‘get along’.  Plus if you’ve not actually talked live on the phone – where does conversation start? Do you just print out his profile and start ‘interviewing’?  If you’ve had a brief chat – about your day, your dog, your weekend – you’ve crossed the barrier into real human contact. Which makes your actual date soooo much easier. You’re much less likely to be shocked by a high pitched voice, a thick accent or a slooooow talker.  I once spent a painful 15 minutes on the phone with a Louisiana native who spoke as though he was researching each answer on Google… talk about wide open spaces in the conversation. It was excruciating. I thought he’d dropped off the call at least twice he was so quiet. Saved me a very painful date. I’m way too much of a fast talker .. he’d never get a word in. Plus you can get those awkward first 5 minutes out of the way while making a sandwich.

2b. And texting to set up a date doesn’t count. What is this? 10th grade?

3. Don’t meet in a bar.
Wait!!!!!! I know, I know. Alcohol makes it so much easier.. you loosen up, you can sit at the bar and not have to awkwardly stare at each other. It’s dark and your acne scars/ razor burn/red eyes aren’t so obvious, plus background noise can fill in the spaces in conversation. But herein lies the issue. You need the spaces. You need to a bit ‘tight’.  It forces you to listen, and you get a chance to see this person when they’re not lit (and neither are you). Avoid those beer goggles and the alleyway make out session by meeting for a neighborhood dog walk, a smoothie, yes.. even the dreaded coffee… just not for drinks. Nerves make you drink fast, which make the second martini go down really sweet and the third seems like SUCH a great idea. Next thing you know you’re thinking a nightcap sounds fun and you wake up in old flannel sheets that smell like feet. Not that I know anything about that.
I do know that alcohol makes everything seem better.. and unless the guy is George Clooney (which he never is), its probably better to do your assessment while you can still pronounce the word ‘serial killer’.

4. If its bad, tap out politely.
Noone should have to endure a painful first date. You don’t owe a first date anything except politeness, so if his tales of divorce, work or money woes starting to make you mentally wonder what a therapist charges, politely excuse yourself. And no, this doesn’t mean sauntering to the bathroom with your coat and purse (why?just in case you get cold and need to buy something?), then climbing out the bathroom window. A simple hand on the arm and a straight sentence cuts to the chase ‘Hey “Brian”. its been lovely to meet you, but I really have to be going.’  You don’t owe any explanation of your plans and you don’t need to specify exactly why you’re mentally calculating how fast you can run to your car. If you’re feeling brave and honest, sure, tell him that you’re not feeling it but you don’t need to. Anyone who leaves a date without any  ‘call you later’ promises really doesn’t need to follow up. The purpose of the date is to meet someone, not marry them.

5. Don’t promise anything….
If you’ve ignored 1-3 and you’re still sitting with an extra from the Walking Dead, dying inside while you mentally shop the mall/ work out your taxes/ delete your profile from match.com… well please heed #4. Don’t promise. No ‘I’ll call you’, ‘lets do something’ ,’see you soon’  or the worst ‘give me a call if you want to do something’. Noooooo. If you don’t like the person… don’t promise. You’re not in church and you’re not saving anyone’s feelings. If you’re eyes have been rolling back in your head for the last 30 minutes and your date hasn’t exited, its unlikely that he’s going to feel ‘better’ by a vague promise of something non specific sometime during the remainder of your life.  Its OK to say goodbye. You didn’t agree to have a relationship or marry this person.. and they’ve known you, what? an hour? You don’t need to break up with them. Walk away.

6. …And don’t ask for anything. 
Again, this one seems obvious but you’d be surprised. In the absence of a weak ‘I’ll call you’, you might be tempted to ask ‘will I see you again?’  While to you this might be a mental calculation of whether you need to actually add this person’s number to your iPhone, it sounds like you’re begging for a crumb of validation. What sounds factual and straightforward sounds desperate and needy. I’ve said it and hated myself as I heard how it sounded. I mentally dumped myself right there, and so will he. And if you have to ask, you probably don’t want to know the answer.

The First Date. An interview for dinner.

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