On a first date, and early on in the dating process: where you go and what you do together displays subtle clues about you and your life. Just like how your outfit isn’t the most important thing on a date (unless you only date fashionistas). It still sends signals about who you are.
It’s not where you are, but who you’re with…”Dave Matthews
This rightly applies to many of life’s situations..
At the start of a relationship, a potential partner will be taking in all of the information they can get about your compatibility. So the little they have to go on counts.
Many collections of date ideas list specific places to go to — the park, a museum, quirky bar etc — without accounting for compatibility. A favorite early question to ask on a dating app is “What did you do/are you up to at the weekend?”. It gives insight into what a potential partner does in their free time; and whether they are someone you would want to be with.
There will likely be some scenarios that even the most easy-going of dates aren’t comfortable with. Whether that’s a grungy club, meeting your friends straight away, or dinner at a fancy restaurant. Eliminate the pressure to impress: instead, aim to be authentic. This will help you work out if you’re well-matched in how and where you like to spend your time or not.
One of the best pieces of dating advice I received was to treat first dates like you are hanging out with a friend (but who you could also find attractive). Notice whether you respect and enjoy spending time with them; rather than the pressure of deciding whether you could spend the next 50 years together.
Here are three steps to taking your date somewhere authentic and awesome early on:
Have they mentioned or shared photos of hobbies they have or places they’ve gone to before? Do they seem to enjoy bohemian, high-end or chilled vibes? Would they be happy seeing an art exhibition, chatting over a coffee or going to a gig? Taking into account how they enjoy spending time shows you have a genuine interest in them; an (understandably) highly attractive trait.
Also, be empathetic to where you both live. Asking someone based miles from you to a place next to your home can seem inconsiderate unless you share your reasoning. If you don’t know each other well, suggesting a public place to meet is also thoughtful. For example, somebody might feel uncomfortable getting into a first date’s car straight away. It’s not personal, just something to be mindful of when someone could be almost anyone!
Unless you are willing to foot the bill, it is also worth taking into account your date’s spending ability and habits when suggesting somewhere expensive. Whether you split the check, gift the date, or take turns to pay depends on what you are both comfortable with. Going somewhere inexpensive at first can avoid awkward assumptions before you get to know each other better.
There’s little point — in the medium-to-long term — of taking a date somewhere they love for the sake of impressing them; if you wouldn’t dream of going there again. This can support false expectations and is inauthentic. What’s more, life is short: why not spend your leisure time doing things you find fun!
Overlay what or where you enjoy onto what or where your date might enjoy. Pick a place from the crossover. See it as a Venn diagram – the overlap of your individual circles are your dating sweet spots.
Note that where you suggest will show something about you — helping them get to know you better. If that sounds like pressure, remember it’s not about taking them to objectively the “best” place, but rather one that’s genuine to you. Think about what the place you propose says about you — which aspects of your character would you like to highlight? Perhaps you like a certain type of food, supporting independent-owned businesses or being in nature.
What’s more, being happy and positive is another highly attractive trait. If where you go brings you joy and helps you feel comfortable, you will likely show up closer to your best. It may be that you prefer to “wing” it or go with the flow on dates too. If your date also enjoys doing that then they won’t mind you proposing it either.
People often find it attractive for a potential partner to introduce them to something or somewhere new. If you can, take them to a place they might not have been before. It shows thoughtfulness and curiosity to suggest somewhere that’s not so obvious. As a rule I prefer not to go on dates at large chain restaurants, bars or coffee shops. This also reduces the chance that they’ve already been there on past dates they’d rather forget.
If they are outdoorsy, suggest a hike or an adventure. If they’re a foodie, suggest a well-rated but off-the-beaten path eatery. Overall, it’s useful to see how each of you responds to scenarios you might spend time in later on in your relationship.
To ensure you get to know your date better, think about how much quality time you’ll spend interacting. A coffee, dinner, drink or walk — without the inundation of a loud movie, club music or a talk, for example — can give you space to connect and focus on each other. Having something to do that is possible to shift your attention to and from — like an exhibition, park walk or activity — can also be helpful to dissipate the pressure or nerves we sometimes feel on meeting a new potential partner.
Think about places you’ve been with friends or on other dates you’ve enjoyed that supported connection. Ask friends if they would recommend somewhere. Look at Eventbrite or Facebook events for things that are going on.
Once you have a couple of ideas, it can be thoughtful to lay out 2–3 options and let your date choose one or suggest alternatives. It may be that they prefer a short first date (like a coffee) if you haven’t met each other yet; and you can save other plans for future dates.
As to who leads where to go on the first date, as a more feminine person, I prefer my relatively more masculine partner to make suggestions. It shows the initiative, confidence and thoughtfulness that I would want in a long term partner. If you’re interested in masculine-feminine dynamics, I highly recommend relationship coach and author David Deida’s work.
In summary, thinking of a place where you both might enjoy and connect for a first date can help set the stage for a relationship in an authentic way. If things don’t go as planned romantically, that’s also ok. Someone compatible with you will enjoy dating you. Also, you will have spent a few hours doing something you like, have more dating practice, made a new connection or perhaps learned something from meeting someone new.
If you feel stuck in your dating life, as a love and dating coach I can also help with 1:1 sessions. I’m here to help you work out how to move forward and attract the relationship you daydream about and deserve into your life.