There are few things in life I find as nausea-inducing as going out on a first date.
Singing in public used to be the next closest thing for me. For those who don’t sing, maybe it’s public speaking that does it for you.
Just imagine stepping out onstage to address hundreds of strangers sitting in front of you.
It’s that kind of heart-pounding, mind-racing, stomach-churning, wrecking-of-the-nerves one experiences before going out on a first date. It’s that very anxious feeling, before stepping out the door with a stomach full of butterflies, to spend an evening with someone I (most of the time) barely know, that makes me stop and ask myself, “Why am I so nervous? Why did I say yes to this? Why am I even putting myself through this?! Am I even attracted to him?”
First dates are commonly so far from perfect for this very reason: Both people involved are mildly freaking out inside! Partly, due to their own insecurities. From major to minor, thoughts like “My teeth aren’t pearly white!” seem to surface those moments before, as you peel off the whitening strips, running out the door. But of course, the most nerve-wracking factor of the night may just be the mere question of whether you and your date are compatible enough to lead you to a second date - when suddenly things aren’t quite so unnerving. The fact alone that first dates can often make or break a person’s interest in you places the entire dating experience at high stakes.
From a female perspective at least, on that first date you are gauging everything from “What restaurant will he pick?”, to “Will he expect me to pay for my meal?”, to “Will he ask interesting questions?” (sorry, that’s what happens when your dad wrote the book on it), and “Is he actually listening to my answers?” I mean I know even women can have selective hearing, but these are just questions a girl asks. (No pressure guys. We know you have your own mental check list.)
Sometimes we forget that dating is simply hanging out. Sometimes we forget it is the first date. That in the second, third, and fourth, we might actually discover more than we did on the first. That is the whole idea behind dating, no?
So with all the pressure and expectations setting up a first date, how is it possible for one to ever be perfect?
According to Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics Dan Ariely, apparently it is possible to have a perfect first date. While random activities and movie nights are the typical date fallbacks, and while I am a big advocate of the movie night, what makes or breaks a dating experience has less to do with whether you're bowling or hiking the Appalachian Trail, and more with whether you are engaging in interesting, congenial conversation. Ariely conducted a study with online daters, limiting the types of questions they asked. Instead of asking the typical questions like “What’s your perfect night?” or the infamous “Would you rather…”, participants questions were reduced to more controversial topics, such as: When was your last breakup? Or Have you ever broken someone’s heart?
Though I may have to disagree with the Duke professor of psychology at this point and suggest that these may not be the best controversial topics to bring up. (Honestly, the moment a guy starts spilling about former girlfriends, I suddenly lose hearing and all I see is a bright, waving red flag.) I’m sure you can get more creative than that. To really set up for a perfect night, you could always just ask “Who are you voting for?” (Kidding. That was a joke people. Well, maybe...) Ariel found that, although jumping into deeper topics can be intimidating, such conversations actually turned out happier dates.
But the proof is in pudding, scientifically speaking (not Bill Cosby speaking). In a 1997 study, researcher Arthur Aron found that when dates skip the small talk and dig into topics that really matter, complete strangers instinctively feel closer. Turns out a genuine question goes a long way.
Though the verdict, on whether or not this scientifically proven perfect first date formula is accurate, is still out.