Photo: ThinkstockBy Amy Shearn
Setting Your Internal GPS
You have to know where you want to go (and who can help you get there) in order to point your life in the right direction. Are you searching for someone to travel around the world with you? Then perhaps the home-owning workaholic with the needy wolfhound will never be more than a fun distraction until your next flight. Are you just looking for a fun distraction until your next flight? Terrific. But be clear with Mr. Wolfhound about this from the outset, so as not to break any hearts (including your own).
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Knowing When to Close the Tab
The problem with anxious Internet stalking before meeting IRL is that you tend to find whatever it was you were looking for: the accomplished ex-girlfriend, the misspelled "its", the disparaging tweet about your favorite Orange Is the New Black episode. Then again, you'd feel really silly if you went on a date with a registered sex offender because you hadn't done your due diligence. So by all means, do a background check--you'd do as much if you were looking for a petsitter. Read the first story. Check the first picture. And then, unless you're good at not saying "Oh I know you were class president, I read it in your high-school-paper archives," stop there. A creepy stalker vibe can be a real conversation killer.
Selecting a Restaurant Like a Superhero
If I could have one superpower, it would be the power of Dinner Deciding. I would be that person with the ability to size up the company, mood, tastes, weather and general vibe of an occasion, and then leap in a single bound to the most perfectly perfect restaurant. If you have this superpower, please invite me out to dinner. If not, spend some time before your next date thinking about the ideal thread-the-needle spot: a place where you know the menu but won't run into all your friends, a place that has charm but isn't too cutesy, a place close enough to home that you can get there with cute shoes and makeup intact but not so close that an invitation feels implied...and extra superhero points if you know of some secret, off-the-menu trick or just-right, drinks-and-dessert joint around the corner.
Punching Up Your Elevator Speech
At some point, you're going to need to explain how you coordinate the regional office's bulk orders of hotel carpeting in a way that makes sense and sounds interesting--i.e., without all the vague blandness that once made a friend confess she'd thought you were sharing your CIA cover--particularly if the other person is in a totally different line of work. After all, if you're not interested in yourself and what you do, how do you expect anyone else to be? For your next trick, refrain from the boring, old volley of questions ("And what do you do? And how do you like that?") and master...
Using This Conversation Conversion Chart
You know how sometimes you realize you're out of conversational eggs, so to speak, and so you have to find a replacement, like the way you'd use applesauce in a cake? Next time, refer to this handy conversion chart!
Instead of "Do you have siblings?" try "What was you favorite childhood vacation?" Instead of "What's your favorite restaurant around here?" try "What's the best meal you've eaten in the last six months?"
Instead of "What do you do?" try "What's the weirdest thing I would find in your office?" Instead of "Seen any good movies?" try "What's your secret favorite movie? Not the one that makes you seem all smart, but the one you'd watch 1,000 more times?"
Reading the New Body Language
To be polite (and to ignore your BFF's constant "So?!" texts), you've turned your phone off, which you had to Google how to even do. Good for you. And yet, there's no need to freak out if your date is still fumbling with his phone. He might be nervous, or he might be waiting for a family member's post-op, all-clear text. You really never know. If the mood is right you might jokingly point it out--"Are you live-tweeting your hummus review?"--but don't get all up in his face about his smartphone addiction...not at least until the second date.
Recovering From a Gaffe with Confidence, Grace and Jazz Hands
You're going to torque your shoe heel into a street grate or overturn a wine glass or accidentally bite his ear when he goes in for a goodbye kiss (cheek or mouth? Where is he going?!). It's a rare and special art, however, to know how to lightly poke fun at yourself enough to put the other person at ease without going so far that you make them feel an uncomfortable degree of responsibility to reassure you. Trust me. This balance is my life. The key is to remember that he'd rather focus on your best qualities than judge you at your most awkward--give him a chance to do that.
Gracefully Declining the Next-Day Mini-Golf Session
We've written it many times, you've heard it from many sources and here I am, about to say it again, but we can't help it; it might just be one of the most powerful lessons you ever learn in your whole life, and no it's not how to right-click with a touchpad although that is surprisingly helpful. It is: YOU CAN SAY NO. Maybe this date was a disaster. Oh well! With any luck it was at least a disaster in a funny way that will make a good story some day. If, at the end of the night, wistful-for-ex, loud-chewing, Bluetooth-wearing, nightmare-date Guy is ready for more, don't shuffle your feet and claim to be busy every day for the rest of your life. Try a smile, and something polite but firm like, "I don't think we're compatible," or "I'm not sure this is what I'm looking for," or, "I'm not interested in something steady right now." And then do what any sane, mature adult does: Block him on Facebook.
Shortening the Horizon
A surefire way to make sharing a basket of fries into an intense existential drama is to be thinking the whole time, "Do I want to marry this person?" Take it easy, Sister. Try first: "Do I want to see the dessert menu?" Baby steps. What's the best horizon for you to consider? Twenty more minutes? Another meal? A day trip? Seeing each other in sweatpants? People reveal themselves bit by bit, which doesn't mean you have to stick around to see more, just that the real question is whether you want to. And if the answer is maybe, then ask yourself one of the only easy questions in the universe: Do you, in fact, in your heart of hearts, want any more ketchup to go with those fries?
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Photo: ThinkstockBy Amy Shearn