Since the rise of dating apps, first date etiquette doesn’t quite mean what it once did. Nowadays, if you decide to meet someone in person that you connect with on an app, it’s really more of a meet and greet than an actual date, which has made me rethink my expectations of first dates.
A year ago, my brother suggested taking a walk as an activity on the first date and I honestly laughed. I’m not going to go on a random walk with a stranger without any liquid courage! However, after several dates with guys who insisted on swanky rooftops and over-priced meals and then wanted to split the check or had their card declined, well, a walk sounded pretty good.
Don’t get me wrong, I am insistent when it comes to splitting the bill, so I don’t think that’s where things go awry for me. The issue starts with initiating a date, choosing a place beyond your budget, and then relying on the scenery to do the work. And, if I’m being honest, call me old-fashioned, but when you ask someone on a date, then yes, you should be prepared to cover the bill or first round of drinks, as I would do the same if I was the one to initiate the date and choose the place.
However, when I raised this issue to friends about who should pay when it comes to a first date, they made some interesting points about the difference between going on a first date with someone you meet on an app versus asking someone out in-person. Based on app dating culture, the expectations of a first date drastically vary from person to person.
According to some people, apps are considered neutral territory, meaning you both have an equal stake in the level of interest. Whereas, approaching someone out in the wild is much more intentional and one-sided. So due to the accessibility apps provide, people are going on a lot more first dates than ever before, which equates to spending a lot more money, especially if guys are still expected to foot every bill. My suggestion is go with something free and casual on a first date.
It’s easy to sit back and nitpick all the missteps of courtship in hindsight, but first dates are frankly nerve-wracking. How long should you chat before asking someone out? Where should you meet? Will they look like their photos? What do I do if I’m not interested? What if they’re not interested? It’s exhausting. However, first dates are also really exciting, especially if you do end up hitting it off.
I’d say I’ve experienced the spectrum from great to cringe-worthy when it comes to first date etiquette. I’ve been impressively wined and dined, confronted in a dog park about not liking someone’s dog, stiffed with three different bills by three different people (in two separate states) one of which I received a Venmo reimbursement that included 50 cents, I’ve been flown to a different country to spend 10 days with a stranger (I am alive to tell the tale, but I really don’t suggest this). But honestly, the best dates have been sober strolls with good conversation because neither party had anything to lose and expectations were low.
First Date Etiquette: Stories of What Not to Do
When I asked friends to share good first date etiquette a majority drew a blank. However, when I asked about bad first date etiquette, everyone wanted to chime in with their stories. Here were some standouts I thought were worth sharing:
“I went out with a guy who ordered guacamole and wouldn’t share it with me. Like, at all. I reached for a chip and he literally said, ‘Oh, if you wanted guac you should have ordered one.’ I was honestly mind blown.” Diane, 32 years old, San Diego, California
“I went on a date where the guy invited me to his house, he sat on the other side of the room the entire time and fought with Comcast on the phone for an hour trying to order the movie, “Ted” while his dog continuously humped my leg.” Karen, 28 years old, Boston, Massachussetts
“I think the worst was with a guy who asked me on a date and also asked me to drive. Mid-meal he asked, “Are you going to finish that?” (referring to my food) and then proceeded to pile my meal into a to-go container for his late-night snack. He capped off the night with the always romantic, ‘want to smoke weed with my roommates and watch “The Dark Knight”?’ I declined.” Kristen, 27 years old, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
“The worst date I went on was a Bumble date with a guy who looked nothing like his profile pictures and mentioned he’d received that feedback before. Appearance isn’t everything but it was something I noted. We met at a burlesque speakeasy, which is not my scene, but I figured, what the hell? His demeanor was quiet and a little dark, which made our introduction to the burlesque hostess, not as fun and lighthearted as it could have been, considering the entrance to the speakeasy was through a bedroom where the hostess was stretched out on a bed as she explained the house rules. I tried to laugh and have some fun with it, but my date was stone-faced. Once we got a drink the conversation quickly turned political and I could barely get a word in, which is funny because I’m a pretty big talker. When he tried to explain why #metoo isn’t a movement I was ready to call it a night.” Vanessa, 33 years old, New York City, New York
“Worst first date by far was also my first date in LA. I was finally getting used to the social scene, settled into a mat pilates class and could taste the difference between açaí and literally any other berry. I was at a house party in the valley...which is pretty much the start of any romantic relationship “We met at a house party in Van Nuys”...struck up a conversation with a very attractive girl named Nicole or Kelly or Tori or something like that. The only thing I remember about the conversation was a joke about lobster bibs. I got her number and we arranged to meet up that weekend. When we met up she was already drunk, overly loud, and making a scene. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, so I stuck around. We were kicked out by the bouncer because she was too aggressive with patrons and refused to settle down. On our way out, however, she ran into a girl she knew waiting to get into the bar and they started making out, until 60 seconds later she was screaming and stumbling away. At this point, I go into complete babysitter mode. I can’t let this girl drive or leave her alone. I’ve gone from a sexually motivated date to worried grandma. I offer to take her home, which she agrees to, but not before we stop at Mel’s Diner. I remember staring across at her in our booth watching her not even attempt to sit up straight with ketchup all over her mouth chugging down fries. I finally get her home, where she proceeds to throw up everywhere. I literally did not go on another date for over a year.” -Max, 30 years old, Los Angeles, California
At this point, you’re probably thinking, ‘I’m an adult, I know how to act on a first date’ or ‘I’d never horde guacamole like a Tostito-gobbling troll,’ but, if we’ve all experienced more bad dates than good dates, where the hell are all of these bad daters if we all know how to make a good first impression? If there’s anything that’s been revealed, it’s that we could all apparently use a little refresher on first date etiquette.
According to Kari Tumminia, dating and relationship coach and creator of the Better Love Method, “A successful first date begins before the date even starts; it begins with deciding to show up authentically and openly. So many people—and especially women—spend so much time over-thinking and over-prepping for the first date that they show up as some over-polished, non-version of themselves. We work so hard to have the perfect hair, the perfect outfit, the perfect makeup, the perfectly timed questions and responses that the person we're meeting doesn't always get to meet the real us.”
Tumminia says these are the two things to keep in mind on a first date. First, relax and be yourself. Sometimes we forget that the whole point of dating is to have fun and meet people we might actually be compatible with, not just to indulge our inner PR-agent and make ourselves acceptable for every person we meet.
The second thing to keep in mind is don't ask the requisite first date questions and then sit there twiddling your straw; ask genuine, open-ended questions that actually authentically reflect what you would love to know about the other person.
First dates have a higher success rate when a person shows up with an open mind and a genuine curiosity about how this date could go well. Especially when women have been burned by bad dates or tend to get lost in their anxiety about how it's going to turn out, it can be difficult to remember that we're there to meet a person we don't know and truly get to know them better. Be curious about what could go right, and be genuinely curious about the other person.
I think Tumminia summed it up best by saying, “Bottom line: The BEST first dates have a lot less to do with what you do or where you go, and a lot more to do with how you choose to show up. Authenticity and curiosity are key!” So the next time you’re asked what was the best first date you ever had, hopefully we will all have more good stories than bad.