You’re at dinner with a guy you met online. He’s shifting nervously in his seat and you’re wondering what to say next; you’ve already asked how his day went and whether his pasta tastes better than it looks.
As you rummage around your brain looking for segues into meaningful conversation, you feel stuck. You know the first date rules: stay away from anything too personal and don’t bring up potentially contentious topics. So what to do?
For most women today, dating means “online dating,” which can make it challenging to find someone who wants to date you based on who you really are. If you’re looking for a meaningful relationship and don’t want to waste your precious time, you need to break those first date rules and be yourself from the very beginning.
Naysayers recommend shying away from the topic of religious beliefs because it can be polarizing. But you should do the opposite. According to author and relationship expert Ravid Yosef, your religious faith will play a large part in the future of your romantic life. It’s part of the essence of who you are. If a guy finds your faith off-putting and doesn’t cherish it the same way you do, or at least respect it, that’s a definite red flag. At the same time, when it comes to sharing your faith, Yosef warns against “preaching about it, or judging someone else’s religious beliefs,” because that’s where an enriching conversation can become an offensive one.
Yosef also says you shouldn’t shy away from talking about how important family is to you. That means your existing family members, but also your hopes for the future. If the mood strikes, and you’re engaged in a conversation about how you’d like to have kids one day, it isn’t creepy or pushy to “talk about the family life you are looking to create as well,” as Yosef says. You should definitely avoid sharing the names you’ve picked out for your future children, but discussing family helps you learn important details about someone you may want to get more serious about.
Some people are great at separating work and play, but the average person experiences some overlap. As long as your professional life doesn’t overwhelm your entire personality, there’s nothing wrong with discussing your work on a first date (and vice-versa, for that matter). Be careful not to dominate the conversation with boring details about forms and data—and at all costs avoid diatribes about how important you are at your job—but, Yosef says, “if you are passionate about it, go for it. Tell that funny story of something that happened in the office last week, or about how much you love what you do.”
If there’s a goal for the first date, it’s to find out if you want a second one. Which means getting to know the other person. That’s why the warning about placing yourself at the center of a first date discussion isn’t quite right. If each of you doesn’t spend time talking about yourselves, you’re both guaranteed to leave the date knowing almost as much as you did when you went in. As long as the conversation is (heavily) peppered with questions about and genuine interest in your date, Yosef thinks you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about your last vacation, or your volunteer work. If you have a passion for cooking or you speak a foreign language, you’re not bragging if you let your date know.
Politics have been officially and unofficially banned from all social situations as a topic of conversation, but that must come to an end. As human dynamics coach Matthew Hussey explained on The Rachel Ray Show, the whole idea of a first date is “to be interesting.” That is to say, you can discuss controversial beliefs, but you better expect your date to be waiting for the “why of your beliefs.”
Polite society would like us to believe that humans go about their lives interacting with one another without money ever factoring into it. That’s extremely hard to believe, considering that money—especially in modern American society—is a huge deal. Eric Rosenberg from Narrow Bridge Finances has this to say about the role that money plays in a relationship: “It’s important to have a money talk early on to see how you both stand on paying for dates and activities together. Bad money communication could lead to a quick breakup and end a relationship that had great potential.”
Board certified coach Marceline Hardy says that speaking about social issues near and dear to you on the first date is a good idea. “I think being able to talk about your personal beliefs in a way that is not offensive, is an art—and a necessity—on the first date. After all, you are, in a way, interviewing the person who is going to be hearing about them until death do you part.” In other words, you don’t need to whip out your protest signs in between dinner and dessert, but making plain the values you feel strongly about helps to weed out those whose beliefs and behaviors are starkly different from yours—allowing you to avoid wasting your precious time. As issues arise in a relationship, these things have a way of sorting themselves out, but finding someone who follows a similar moral compass is easier if you’re able to be honest with each other from the beginning.
8. Past failures
People tend to shy away from discussing past failures on first dates because it’s difficult to be vulnerable in front of someone you’ve just met. But doing so may help ease the tension. One piece of advice, though: do your best to present the tales in a positive and fun light, which Hardy says will help prevent your date from getting the impression that you might be a negative person.
9. What you’re REALLY looking for
Relationship expert Wendy Walsh Ph.D., author of The 30-Day Love Detox, has no qualms about bringing out the big dogs, in terms of conversation, on the first date. “I’m a big believer in showing your hand. This saves on misunderstandings, hurt feelings, broken hearts, and plenty of wasted money as one date becomes ten and only then [do they] reveal [they have] no intention of ever getting married or having kids. If these are things that are important to you, consider easing them into the discussion and gauging your [potential future] partner’s reaction.”
First dates are a part of every relationship, and the conversations you have during that encounter is just as important as the ones you may have many months later, when you’ll wish you had climbed certain mountains much earlier. The ability to be yourself is fundamental to a fulfilling and lasting relationship, so don’t be afraid to do that on the very first date.
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