Few things in life are as exciting and terrifying as a first date. If you’d rather ride fifty roller coasters or get a root canal than go on a first date, you aren’t alone.
First dates, like job interviews, provoke a whole lot of anxiety. And some people prepare for first dates the same way you might study for an exam or a job interview.
There’s really no way to predict or control how a first date’s going to go – but that’s part of the fun and excitement of it, and not something you should want to change. Your normal anxiety about it is part of the experience – you’re going on a date with a different person and the experience is unpredictable, based on the chemistry and combination of your two personalities.
While nothing can promise that a first date will go smoothly, there are some general guidelines that can help you prepare. A list of taboo topics can help. Here are seven things you probably shouldn’t talk about during that first date.
I say “probably” because it all depends on how the date is going and what sort of emotional feedback you’re getting from the other person. But these topics can be dangerous minefields, so it’s a good idea to mostly avoid them.
1. Religion. Your religion may be a very important part of your personality, of your personal essence, of who you are. That’s fantastic. Spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof, are part of our fundamental nature. Religion addresses some of the most profound, deepest questions of human existence. I once went on a first date with a person who asked me, straight up, “What do you think is the nature of ultimate reality?” Yes, that was a provocative, thoughtful question, and I struggled to answer it. But it sort of killed off any chance of small talk after that.
Although religion and spirituality address many important and serious and scary questions about existence and the meaning of life, religion has also led to plenty of fighting and violent disagreements in human history.
During your first date you want to steer clear of that sort of intensity. A first date is about gently getting to know each other, not debating the nature of ultimate reality.
Note: If you’re both philosophy students at the local university, then feel free to plunge into debate.
2. Getting Married. Maybe getting married is very important to you. Probably it is. Or perhaps you are a free spirit and nonconformist who doesn’t want to get married, ever. That’s fine. But don’t bring those views up on a first date.
Getting married is one of the biggest decisions in life, a profound and life-changing experience. Even talking about marriage can add a lot of stress to a first date.
You can quickly scare someone away by appearing to put pressure on your relationship with them even before it gets going.
Save your views on marriage for a second or third date, or only discuss them in general, casual terms. “Oh, I might like to get married some day …”
3. Having Children. For similar reasons given above regarding marriage, having children and starting a family are serious, stressful subjects and can stifle and smother a first-date conversation quickly. Talking too much or too intensely about having children can seem like you’re obsessed with it and insisting on it. Plenty of time to talk about your future goals and dreams with someone later, on subsequent dates, if there are any.
4. Politics. Plenty of subjects are the so-called “third rail” of politics – subjects that no one will touch for fear of electrocution. Well, politics is the third rail of first dates! Again, as I said regarding religion, politics may be a very important part of who you are, and that’s fine. Or you may be strongly apolitical. But avoid any hint of zealotry or fierce political positions on a first date.
People argue and fight about politics more than almost any other subject. There’s a time and place for arguments, particularly about how our society is structured and the way it allocates resources. But a first date ain’t the time.
Political talk can too quickly turn nasty, with each side taking unbending, entrenched positions. Save that sort of thing for later, when you both know already that you like each other.
Then your relationship can stand a little heat. But not on the first date.
5. Your Ex. Or your exes. Our relationships with other people, just like our religion and our politics, are very important parts of our identity. Our experiences in past relationships helped make us who we are today. You may have done a great deal of thinking and analyzing about your former relationships and partners. You may very well have learned a great deal about yourself and other people. But save that stuff for later dates.
Firstly, you don’t want to give the impression that you’re still hung up on your ex. That can quickly torpedo any chance you have of a relationship. And you don’t want to give the opposite impression – that you blame your ex for the breakup.
On a first date, blaming your ex for the problems of your relationship makes you look immature and unwilling to take responsibility for your troubles. That’s not attractive. So if the topic of former relationships arises, gently steer the conversation to some safer subject.
6. Yourself. This may seem ridiculous, as how can you possibly go on a first date and get to know someone without talking about yourself? What I mean by this is to only talk about yourself a little bit, not too much. See the section on your ex – this is another situation where you don’t want to come across as narcissistic or obsessed with yourself. Don’t brag about yourself – be humble and try to keep a sense of humour.
It’s good to ask questions of the other person on a first date, and then to let them ask some questions about you in return. You are seeking a give-and-take between you, a balance of questioning back and forth. If you talk too much about yourself, you dominate the conversation and are likely to ruin any chance of a second date.
7. Things That Make the Other Person Uncomfortable. This is a hard category to describe, because it depends on the developing chemistry and interaction between the two of you.
As the first-date conversation progresses, you need to be very sensitive to the other person’s reactions.
If they get tense and nervous when you discuss a particular topic, it’s time to shift the subject to something safer. If they avoid a certain subject, don’t keep bringing it up.
This isn’t always easy to do, and it’s a big part of why first dates are so scary, but it is the first step in getting to know another human being. Think of it as basic training for your relationship as it progresses.
If you need a few suggestions for safe topics to talk about, consider these – your job, travel (holidays you’ve been on, places you’ve visited), movies or television shows, and pop culture.