BEFORE THE FIRST DATE
It’s a safe assumption that we all know how to tie our shoes. On a first date, you don’t say, “Hi, nice to meet you. Before this goes any further, just making sure you know about the loop, swoop and pull.”
The same basic, unspoken expectations should, theoretically, extend to the rules of romantic civility. On a first date, I‘m going to go ahead and assume I’m not going to have to teach you how to tie your shoes. If you don’t know that by now, then what are you doing here, playing with the big kids?
I’ve heard it said that dating rules are similar to campfire rules: leave it better than you found it. But the invisible emotional labor of explaining the basics can really drain a girl’s energy— and attraction. No 101-level class exists to teach singles how to function. We are all learning as we go. I get that. But time and time again, I encounter situations where I wonder, “Shouldn’t he know that by now?”
So, in the interest of romantic, healthy, productive relationships (and a laugh), I’ve written this handy guide for the well-intentioned single man. This is your “how to date” disclaimer. Please feel free to make notes in the margins.
Before the First Date
So you met a girl! Maybe it was on Bumble, maybe it was at a bar, maybe you’re one of those urban myths who meets people at Whole Foods. Either way, you like her, and she seems to be into it too. What now?
Don’t fall into the text trap. Texting might be the modern-day love letter, but you only have a finite amount of back-and-forth before you should be establishing plans in real life. Don’t mindlessly message her all week long just because your ego needs the morphine hit. She’s busy, respect her time. Texting is fine to flirt and pre-qualify your date a little, but don’t get in too deep. Those getting-to-know-you conversations are better left for in-person. As clever and sexy as your crush may seem on little blue bubbles, if you build her up in your head before spending any real time together, you’re likely both headed for a disappointing date.
Make real plans. That means when you ask her to hang out, don’t leave the “where?” and “when?” parts an ellipsis. Bad: “Let’s hang out sometime.” This approach is like warming the bench on a D3 football team. You’re not in the game because you’re barely a player. Good: “Let’s hang out this weekend, what night are you free? I heard about this new pho place that’s supposed to be great, but I’m open to your suggestions.” Touchdown, QB! You just got drafted! This approach is great because it shows you are a high-value man who means what he says. This guy also knows since he initiated the date, it’s considerate to offer to take the lead on planning it, while also being open to her suggestions, because this is 2019.
Follow up with a call. I know, I know. The dreaded telephone. But this one is especially important if you’re meeting someone from a dating app. A quick, five or ten-minute phone call (or FaceTime) will give you a sense of voice, cadence, and personality that hours of texting never will. It’s also a great exercise in efficiency: sometimes, you can quickly rule someone out this way— and save both of you a bad date. If you don’t know what to say, instead of asking how her day was, try asking her what she’s reading or what Podcasts she listens to. How she replies will help you determine her interests, her intelligence, and even her sense of humor. I ask men this question all the time. If a guy says “Nothing”, then I know he’s probably not someone who is going to match me intellectually and I can probably move on.
Be clear about where you’re at. THIS IS A BIG ONE. At ground level, singles are operating on the assumption that other singles are looking for a partner. If that isn’t the case for you, that’s okay, you are not a monster! Just be real about what you are looking for. Let the record show that you are not a jerk if you are only looking for casual sex — but you are a jerk if you are only looking for casual sex and you’re not upfront about it. Don’t take a relationship-minded woman on a romantic date just hoping to get her into the sack (and never calling her again). If you’re recently out of a bad breakup, and not emotionally available for much but light and easy, say so, plenty of people out there will meet you where you are. For the record, relationships don’t “just happen”. They aren’t a thing that falls into your lap while you’re doing the absolute least. You’ve got to be an active participant. That means if you’re not willing to do a little work, you’re probably not ready for one. That’s okay, too. Just remember: “I’m not ready for a relationship right now,” is not a thing to say after the third or fourth date. It’s a thing to say before the first.
…But don’t use your disclaimer as a cop-out. Listen, if you’re upfront with a girl about the fact that you don’t want a relationship, but then you’re texting her every day, making plans with her several times a week, and hooking up with her, guess what? You’re still being selfish—and cruel. Saying where you’re at isn’t a hall pass to mislead, use or string people along. You can’t have it both ways. Play fair. Treat people with respect. Don’t mess with their heads or emotions. Loop, swoop and pull. Shouldn’t you already know this?
Don’t date in volume. Should you choose to utilize them, you can approach dating apps in one of two ways: you can treat ’em like an all-you-can-eat buffet, gorging yourself every night on the same mac and cheese everyone else has already sneezed on. Or, you can save up for one really nice steak dinner. Volume dating is just going to desensitize you, make you cynical, and burn you out. Also—people talk. You may think you’re operating under the cover of night, but trust me, your reputation will catch up with you. Save your energy for the people you are genuinely looking forward to meeting. Everyone else is a waste of time.
…part 2: ‘The First Date’ coming next week.
Gentlemen and gentlewomen, the comments section is VERY open. Let’s hear it.
Jess Graves is a writer and content studio owner in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work has appeared in Town & Country, Complex, Southern Living, and Vogue, among others. You can follow her on Instagram @jessnellgraves