The Dos and Don’ts of First Date Etiquette

A couple holding hands
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When you think about first date etiquette, your thoughts typically go to how you can present yourself in the best light. After all, if you're attracted to the other person, you want him or her to think you're worthy of getting to know you better.

Although most romantic relationships begin with a first date, you need to be yourself. Granted, you still want to present your best self and avoid saying or doing something awkward or embarrassing.

Whether you recently met this person online, it’s someone you bonded with while shopping for produce, or you’ve known him or her for a while, there are certain things that can make or break your chances of having a second date. Here are the best ways to present yourself.

Be Yourself

It’s never a good policy to act like someone you aren’t, and a first date is no exception. This doesn’t mean that if you’re normally a slob you should go out looking like one. It’s more about letting your personality shine through without putting on an act.

Remember that lies and posturing have a way of catching up with you, and chances are, people will see through that very quickly. Be proud of who you are and what you do. A warm smile and a positive attitude will go much farther with most people than an impressive job title.

Don’t be Late

Give yourself plenty of time to get ready so you’ll be able to show up on time. Being late shows a lack of respect for the other person and will start the date off on the wrong foot. No one likes to be kept waiting.

Be a Good Conversationalist

If conversation is difficult for you, have a list of things you enjoy talking about to get the discussion off to a good start. It can be about your hobbies, your passion, your job, your family, or any other topics that can promote discussion. Don’t forget to ask questions to show your interest in the other person, and then give him or her a chance to respond. People who are good conversationalists are fun to be around, so make honing your skills a priority.

Keep Your Phone in Your Pocket

Don’t keep checking your phone for texts or missed calls while you’re out with someone. It’s important to be present and in the moment if you have the slightest bit of interest in being with the other person. It’s best if you put your phone on silent, unless there’s a reason for having the sound on, like your babysitter might need you or your best friend might go into labor any minute.

Don’t Give Too Much Information Too Soon

If your goal in life is to get married and start having children right away, that’s fine. But the first date isn’t the best time to bring this up, or you run the risk of scaring the other person off. However, if the other person asks if you ever want children, you can be honest without making him or her feel that you’re desperate to get started on a family right away.

You also don’t want to share every single ailment you’ve ever had or talk about your recent breakup or divorce. Keep the conversation casual and save the heavy discussions for later, when the person has more of a reason to know these things.

Make Eye Contact

Body language is one of the ways people can tell whether or not you’re interested. If you face the other person and make eye contact when he or she is talking, the conversation will be more engaging and fruitful. However, if you have one foot pointed toward the door, your arms folded during the entire discussion, or you keep looking over the other person’s shoulder, you’re showing your lack of interest.

Use Proper Table Manners

One of the biggest turn-offs on a date is when someone tilts the table with his elbows, slurps her soup, or talks with food in the mouth. If you aren’t sure about what to do in a restaurant, brush up on some dining etiquette tips and practice in front of a mirror until good manners become second nature.

Even if you have impeccable table manners, there are some foods that are messy no matter what you do. Unless these items are the only ones on the menu, you might want to avoid certain foods, such as spaghetti, triple-decker sandwiches, crab, and other messy dishes, unless you are confident that you can eat them without splattering them all over yourself and your date.

Expect to Pay Your Share of the Bill

Gone are the days when the man always picked up the tab. While some men still prefer to do that, don’t expect it. Be prepared to pay for any food you eat, drinks you consume, and entertainment you enjoy on your date. By the same token, if you want to pay for the other person’s share, offer to do so, but don’t argue or fight over the bill because that puts the server in an awkward position.

Traditional (Old-School) Dating Etiquette

If you’re traditional and your date claims to be old school, there is nothing wrong with following manners rules your parents probably went by. Just make sure you’re both on the same page.

Traditional ladies’ manners:

  • Don’t show too much skin on a first date. If you wear a top with a plunging neckline, go longer with the hem. If you want to wear a short dress, raise the neckline above the start of your cleavage.
  • Allow the man to open and hold the door, and then thank him.
  • It’s okay to refresh your lipstick after a meal, but never apply a full face of makeup or comb your hair at the table.
  • If he picks up the tab, accept but offer to treat to dessert or an after-dinner drink.

Traditional gentlemen’s manners:

  • Pick her up at home. If she still lives with her parents, this is a good opportunity to impress them by greeting them with a handshake and making small talk for a few minutes.
  • Open doors for her and allow her to go first.
  • Offer to pay the whole tab for dinner or movie tickets but don’t argue if she wants to help out with the bill.
  • At the end of the date, walk her to her door and wait until she’s safely inside before you leave.

Purpose of a First Date

When going on a first date, remember that the purpose of the time together isn’t to determine whether or not you want to spend your life with this person. It’s more of an opportunity to find out whether or not you’d like to get to know him or her better.

It’s likely that both of you are nervous, so allow for awkward moments. However, if there are any red flags related to a vast difference in values or beliefs, put some serious thought into what you’re looking for before you accept another date.