Ask Dr. Tracy

Guidelines for that First Date

Oh, there were so many times when I wished I had just talked (or e-mailed) instead of making a date...

There was the over-eager mogul, good-looking, with a house in Bel Air, and married five times. Before our first date was over, he was all over me, and his response to my rebuffs was to proposition me to move into his guest house and write there -- to be his pet writer-in-residence, I suppose.

Another time, I picked up a tall, handsome carpenter in a cowboy bar. I knew he wasn't exactly my type, but I agreed to go out with him anyway. As I climbed into his pickup truck on our way to get donuts (yes, donuts), I told myself it didn't matter what he drove or where we went. But by the time we got to the donut shop, he had already told a racist, sexist, anti-semitic joke. I told him the donut was giving me terrible indigestion and just barely escaped.

Another time, I went out with a well-known actor from a television series. He too was tall, dark and handsome, and he drove a Bentley. I was impressed, but not for long. We soon wound up in a gay bar where he and his "decorator" proceeded to tell me how I needed to redo myself.

Then there was the cute, clever film director who seemed so sweet and safe I drove with him out to the desert to see the wildflowers. He got so drunk I had to drive his camper all the way back to L.A., with him belching and barfing and ranting in the back.

My first-date misadventurees were pretty mild, actually. It was a safer time then, but I was still lucky that my recklessness never led to being raped or haunted by a stalker. While men as well as women have their share of first-date horror stories, women today have to be particularly cautious about first dates.

So this article assumes you've either met the person you're about to go out with or you have mutual friends. If not, if your only contact has been e-mail, this is the wrong first-date article. Please read "Going beyond E-Mail" first.

Even if you know someone (or know something about them), a first date is full of uncertainty and pitfalls. If uncertainty turns into love at first sight, great. Otherwise, to minimize those pitfalls, here are some tips for both men and women.

First Date Rules

If you make a date and then realize it's a mistake, don't be afraid to cancel, as long as it's not at the last minute. Better to be honest and disappoint the guy or the lady than subject yourself to an evening you'll hate.

If it's a blind date set up by friends, or for some other reason you've never actually met the person you're going out with, keep your escape options open by meeting in a public place for "just a cup of coffee." Be "on the run" when you show up, to be pre-excused for a fast getaway if you don't like him or her. If you can tell in the first fifteen minutes that there's no way you ever want to see this person again, don't prolong the agony. Say something like, "Look, something tells me we're not a match made in heaven. I'm glad we met, but I really don't want to waste your time. Let's both get back to our busy lives."

On a first real date with someone you've previously met, do something that's informal, not too expensive, and enables you to talk. Don't just go to a movie together, unless your only mutual interest is Woody Allen; if so, allow time for coffee later. Avoid heavy-duty, full-evening first dates. Lunch is fine. Just meeting for coffee or cocktails also works fine for a first date. If you've talked a lot on the phone and feel very comfortable with each other, a Saturday breakfast can turn out to be an open-ended date for the day.

Don't get led into jabbering away about yourself. Instead, focus on him or her. Concentrate on finding out the answers to the questions in "Qualifying Someone". Throw in a little self-disclosure, ask the questions with good eye contact and sincerity, and he or she will be flattered by your interest.

If your date asks you about your ex, and you can't avoid the subject, talk in a gracious and kind way. If you badmouth your ex, (or exes), the person listening thinks "Why were you so stupid as to be with someone who was such a jerk?" Or, "Were they that awful when you met them, or did you drive them to act that way?"

Men and women both are drawn to people who are enjoying their lives. Your date is not your therapist. Don't go into your troubles. As I've explained elsewhere, no one wants to be around a depressed man or woman, unless they themselves are too sick to have a good relationship with.

Don't be shy about cutting a first date short if you don't think you'll get along. If you just know that the person isn't right for you, and you're having a terrible time, you aren't stuck. Say something like I suggested above, then, as you're leaving, be friendly and offer to help each other. "You know, I do have a friend who might be right for you, and I'll be happy to fix you up. Maybe you know someone who would like to meet me."

Related Keywords: Meeting People, Dating Strategies, Qualifying Someone

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