First dates can be exhilarating and awful. Sparked full of electricity or filled with the low-hum of complete boredom. All of the potential in the world can fizzle out with one comment. And the tides can turn, rainbows can unfold, and unicorns will appear with one heart-palpitating glance.
While you might not be able to control whether he shows up to a 5-star restaurant in a fleece jacket and shorts or if she whips out her iPhone to show you 47 photos of her cats, you can take steps to show up shining your brightest.
With input from the dating veterans on our staff, some of whom are still in trenches and others who have valiantly retired into relationship bliss, here are Shine's best tips for having a fabulous first date.
1. Do not drink too much. Do we really need to remind you of this one? Let's be honest, we've all been there, giving into the moment or the open bar and downing way more appletinis than we can manage on a dinner of salad and a half a cracker. The next thing you know, you're spilling stories about your ex, slurring some joke your dad told you and inappropriately sharing your bra size. Keep it to a two-drink max. If the date's so bad you need to drown your sorrows, say goodnight and hop a cab to meet your friends at another bar.
2. Do put your phone on vibrate and refrain from texting during the date. Obviously, there are exceptions when you'll need to be on call - like if the sitter is frantic or you need to check in on your ailing mother. If you need to consult your phone for any reason, wait until your date steps out of site and put it away once they return. Set the phone on vibrate. You can always check in with the person you're going out with tomorrow after the date you're on is over. Remember that no matter how sexy or high-tech your phone is, compulsively checking it only gives off the message you are totally uninterested, a snoozer to be with, and lacking in social graces.
3. Do not ogle the other person's body. A wise person once told me to admire another person's body as if you are looking at the sun - catch a glimpse to get a sense of it, but don't make yourself go blind. And if things go well, you will have plenty of opportunity to get up close soon enough. For now, a well-placed compliment, like "Wow, you look amazing tonight" or "That shirt really compliments your beautiful blue eyes", will leave a much more powerful impression than something crass about the T, A, or otherwise.
4. Do be honest, engaging, and attentive. This is your chance to really shine or to really blow it. Rather than take that as a pressure-filled few hours, use it as an opportunity to be your best self. If there's any chance you want to have a future with the person sitting across the table, tell the truth about yourself (without spewing too many details about your horrible childhood and even if it means fessing up about how you fudged your online profile). Have a few great questions in mind that will help you get a better sense of who this person is (what they consider the best road trip CD of all time, how many pairs of shoes they own, where they'd love to go on a next vacation). Then, listen to their answers as if you might be quizzed on them the next day.
5. Don't go commando. Or wear something you snagged right off a supermodel on a Fashion Week runway. Or grab your lucky jeggings from the bottom of the hamper. Choose an outfit that is classic, clean, unwrinkled, and hints at what they might see later. No need to pronounce how trendy/easy/outlandish/laid back/political you are all in the first meeting by way of your clothes. Whatever you wear should show off your best traits - how whip-smart and wonderful you are, what a phenomenal smile and sense of self you have.
6. Do prepare by taking good care of yourself the day of the date. Give yourself some time to put yourself first before you give your full attention to your date. Do whatever it is that will help you feel better in your body and give you a confidence boost. That does mean working out, not rushing to get ready, putting on some power jewelry, being sure your best good-ass jeans are ready to go, maybe even getting a manicure, taking a nap, getting a pep talk from a friend, or arriving a bit early to scope the place out before your date arrives. It is not wise, however, to use drugs, alcohol, or another person to get you to that place.
7. Don't turn your date into an American Idol audition. While it is probably best to skip the singing, poetry slams, and other performances for the second (or seventh) date, it's also best to hold off on swabbing your face in glitter, bringing a cheering section along, using words like "dog" or "dude", laughing at rather than with your date. There are certainly some date situations that call for getting a little Simon Cowell on someone who is continually rude, undermining, or (I hate that this happens) abusive. However, it's probably best to play it like Ellen even if things turn boring or worse, and say something vaguely nice ("I really appreciate that you took the time to come meet me tonight" or "Thanks for dinner. The food was fabulous!") and let them down kindly ("I don't think we're a good fit and I wish you all the best" or "I'd love to give some thought to your offer for a second date. Why don't I get in touch tomorrow?"). That said, accept the same gracefully with a thank you, curtsy, and exit stage left.
8. Don't go on and on about awkward, inappropriate, or past relationships. That clearly includes every ex, the string of people you've gone out on one date with, the woman in the next cubicle you think is stalking you, your friend with benefits, and your mother.
9. Do be safe. Set up a check-in system with someone you trust -- your brother, a friend, another single person who gets it. Text them with relevant information, like your date's name and where you're meeting, and let them know you've gotten home safely. Be sure you have a taxi app or phone number already in your phone. Don't do something ridiculous like drive if you plan to drink. Do meet somewhere public in an area you are familiar with or can easily navigate. Don't trust someone just because they are attractive, clean-cut, or seem to be honest and nice. Don't put yourself in a vulnerable, isolated situation with a virtual stranger (knowing someone for a few hours or microbrews doesn't count). While you might be tempted to run off to someone's apartment and ravage each other, know that your safety is critical and holding off a bit is seriously better than satiating your first-date impulses.
10. Do make a move or don't. Just remember that whether you choose to kiss him or her or not, each sends a definite message about your interest. If you want to go on a second date but don't want to make a move, give a courteous and obvious sign like asking to call her or him the next day to set up another time to meet or by simply saying you'd love to go out again. Be kind and skip the kiss if you have no intention of seeing the person ever again.
11. Do give this person a fair chance. Just because she's wearing the same dress as the mean lady who dumped you while you were on a cruise to Mexico or just because he's obsessed with Radiohead just like Evil David you dated last year doesn't mean she or he is going to shatter your heart like your ex. Find out more about this person before you close off your heart and a potential good thing with snap judgments or comparisons to people who are no longer in your life.
12. Do remember the passion. There have been times when a boring first date blossoms into a sizzling second date, but that is rare. If you are up for giving a mehhhh first meeting another try, more power to you. But do keep in mind that chemistry between two people -- whether it is the pull of sexuality, intellect, experiences, humor, or all of it in one dynamic package -- is really important. If she or he just doesn't trick your trigger, that's OK. Consider it practice so your romantic skills are polished up when you meet someone who really sets you on fire.
More good stuff: