First Online Date

Online Dating

15 Tips for the First Online Date (Advice From the Experts)

Hayley Matthews
Hayley Matthews Updated:
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One of my closest friends, someone I’ve known since I was 2 years old, recently met a guy on Tinder and had a first date that lasted almost seven hours. From going for drinks to having dinner to playing old-school arcade games to walking around downtown and going for one more drink, there wasn’t much they didn’t do. She was a little worried the date was going to be awful because they’d had such good chemistry while they were messaging and texting, but it all worked out.

My friend isn’t the only one who’s had this concern. Transitioning from online to offline can be nerve-wracking for singles, so I got together with our team of experts here at DatingAdvice to compile a list of tips that we think can help. Note: These aren’t hard-and-fast rules — just what we’ve experienced and heard from readers and the people in our lives. Ultimately, you need to do what works for you!

1. Do Something Relaxing Beforehand

Whatever helps you relieve stress is something you should try to do before your date — whether it’s listening to music, watching your favorite show or movie, taking a bubble bath, going to the gym (I’m lazy, but, apparently, that works for some people), going on a walk, or having lunch with a friend to talk things out beforehand.

You’ll feel refreshed afterward and head to your date with less pressure on your shoulders. Now you can focus on your date and having fun with a clear head.

2. Plan Something Casual But Interactive

Coffee dates or drinks at a bar are usually go-to first dates because they’re quick and easy, but then you’re heavily relying on having good conversation. Of course, you want that, but banter flows back and forth more naturally if you two are taking part in an activity. Playing putt-putt, pool, darts, or bowling; checking out a fair or theme park; walking around the city with your coffee; going to a zoo, aquarium, or botanical garden — these are all fantastic examples.

Photo of a couple on a date at a fair

Coffee dates are less stressful and quick, but you’re putting a lot of pressure on the conversation. Having something to do will help things flow more easily.

Be careful, though. Things could backfire on you if you pick something too difficult. Some date ideas we’d suggest staying away from include attending a dance, cooking, or painting class, taking a hot air balloon ride (where you’re trapped together for like 30 minutes or more), singing karaoke, or going rollerblading. These activities are fun, but they put pressure on people to be good at them. You don’t want to feel bad if your date sucks at it (or if you do).

3. Tell a Friend Where You’re Going and When

A bunch of my friends are teachers, so they’re always saying “Stranger danger!” whenever one of us is talking about or doing something with someone we don’t know. This includes going on a date. I’m not saying your date is an ax murderer, but there’s no harm in keeping this mindset and taking a couple of precautions.

At least for the first date, tell a friend or family member you’re close with where you’re going and when as well as who you’ll be with (their first and last name, what they look like, etc.). Text them when you get to the date, when you’re leaving, and when you get home so they know everything is going OK and that you’re safe.

4. Have Something Planned Afterward to Leave Both of You Wanting More or In Case You Want to End the Date

We’re fans of having something planned for right after your first date, even if it’s something small. It could be a drink with a friend, a movie with your sister, or just the fact that you have to get to bed because you have an early day the next day.

Photo of a woman leaving

Planning something for right after your date, like drinks with a friend, is a good idea. It gives you an out if it’s not going well, or, if it’s going well, it builds up excitement for next time.

This accomplishes two things: 1) If you’re not having a good time, you have a reason to leave. 2) Or, if you’re having a good time, this helps pump up the excitement for the next date. Plus, you don’t want the first date to last all night (more on that below).

5. Meet at the Location

No matter how long you’ve been talking to this person online, you don’t know them, even if you feel like you do. For the first couple of dates, if they offer to pick you up, it’s a good idea to politely decline and offer to meet at the date venue. Once you get into a car with someone, they pretty much have all of the control.

This is especially important if you live somewhere without a lot of public transportation options. You never know when something could go wrong — they could drink too much and not be able to drive, you could get into a fight and want to leave, or an emergency could come up. Of course, you could also get an Uber or Lyft, but you’ll probably feel a lot better knowing you have access to your own car.

6. Be Open-Minded

You both probably have expectations of what the other person is going to be like in real life and how the date is going to go, but try to push those out of your mind if you can and just be there in the moment. You don’t want to be disappointed when he or she doesn’t live up to what you were thinking.

Photo of an open mind

You probably have expectations from your online conversations, but keep an open mind. He or she may be nervous and may be a little off their game.

It can be easier for people to be themselves when they’re online because they’re face to face with a computer screen — not someone who’s looking them in the eyes and expecting them to say something funny or charming. They could be nervous about meeting you and come off as a different person or say something that seems stupid, but don’t hold it against them. You would want them to do the same for you.

7. Keep the Conversation Light (No Exes, Politics, or Religion)

Knowing about your date’s political leanings, religious beliefs, and past relationships is vital if you want to really know who they are and/or if you want to have a future with them. However, we truly believe these things don’t need to be discussed on a first date — especially with the way the political, religious, and social climate is today.

Even if you’ve talked about these topics online already, make this date about having fun and getting to know each other’s interests, personality traits, and passions. You never know what’s going to set someone off… or what might set you off.

8. Don’t Misrepresent Yourself

Remember how I mentioned those expectations earlier? The same goes for your date’s expectations of you. Don’t try to be this perfect person or someone you think they want you to be. You’re only going to end up misrepresenting yourself. You have to be your true self because you want to know if they like who you really are or just the idea of you. If you don’t, it’s going to be a tiring act to keep up.

Photo of a woman taking a mask off

It sounds corny, but you really do need to be yourself as much as possible. This will be beneficial for the both of you and will determine if you genuinely like each other.

And it’s OK to admit if you’re feeling a little off or anxious about moving things from online to offline. People appreciate honesty and authenticity. More than likely, they’re feeling the same way.

9. Listen as Much as You Talk

It happens to all of us — we get to telling a story and go on and on, and then it leads to another story, and then, before you know it, you’ve hogged the conversation for the last 20 minutes. During your date, be conscious of how much you’re talking, how many questions you’re asking, and if you’re actually listening to the answer or just waiting to say the next thing that’s on your mind.

They’ll love the fact that you care about their lives and opinions, and, as a result, they might extend the same courtesy to you. A date is like a dance — it takes two to have a conversation just as much as it takes two to tango!

10. Watch Your Body Language

A majority of communication is nonverbal, so your body language is telling your date more about yourself than your stories are. When you’re facing your date, placing your hands or laying your arms toward them, lightly touching them, making eye contact, or crossing your legs toward them, that’s displaying positive body language. It shows you’re interested in them and what they have to say.

Photo of a bad date

Crossing your arms, constantly looking at your phone or watch, or turning away from them are all signs that you’re not engaged and present with your date.

On the other hand, when you’re turned to the side, fidgeting, looking at the door, your phone, or watch, not making eye contact, or crossing your legs away from them, you’re displaying negative body language. This is signaling to them that you’re uncomfortable and maybe not interested.

11. Limit How Much You Drink

I like to have a beer on a date as much as the next person, and it can help calm the nerves. But you don’t want to overdo it. You run the risk of making a bad first impression, or you could end up saying or doing something you normally wouldn’t if you weren’t drinking. I have friends who’ve admitted to having some drinks on a date and kissing the person, even though they weren’t that into them, because of the alcohol. I’m guilty of this as well.

Keeping your drinking to a minimum is also another safety precaution — he or she could slip something into your drink at anytime, and it’s always best to keep your wits about you as much as possible while still enjoying yourself, obviously.

12. Try to Keep It at Two Hours or So

The five-hour date: when a movie leads to drinks, drinks lead to dinner, dinner leads to dessert, dessert leads to a walk, a walk leads to a nightcap. I’ve had these dates. My friends have had these dates. And I bet you’ve had these dates. They’re magical, and I don’t want to take those away from you. But there’s something to be said for having a two- or three-hour date.

Photo of the end of a date

You could be having a great time, and then you notice it’s been five hours. However, long first dates tend to promote strong feelings that might not actually be real yet.

Just as the having-something-planned-afterward tip, this tip is about having a legitimate out if you need it. There’s nothing wrong with calling it a night after two hours because you have a day full of meetings coming up or you have to get home to your dog. If you and your date are hitting it off, this tip is about pacing yourselves. You want to give yourselves a chance to miss each other’s company and have anticipatory butterflies for that second date.

13. Whoever Did the Asking Should Pay the Bill

It used to be that men would always pay for the first date and sometimes second, third, and several after. Today, though, most people (59%) are of the mind that whoever asked for the date should pay for it. It’s a reasonable thing to expect as gender roles evolve and expectations die out completely.

However, if you prefer to go Dutch, or if you strongly believe the man should pay, definitely feel free to bring that up. It may be more comfortable to do so online before you go on the date. For the latter belief, we’d say be ready to get a reaction and response you may not like.

14. If It Feels Right, Make a Move

We’re all adults here and can make our own decisions, and none of us have room to judge anyone for kissing or having sex with someone on the first date. Sometimes it works out for people, sometimes it’s a one-night stand and nothing more, sometimes a kiss is as far as the couple wants to go for now — whatever the situation is, you should be true to your heart and trust your instincts. If you’re into them and are being safe, more power to you!

Photo of a first kiss

You two are the only ones who can determine if a kiss (or more) on the first date is right, but we’ve got your backs either way!

We’ve actually researched this topic (polling 1,080 Americans and balancing responses by age, gender, income, race, sexuality and other factors to accurately represent the population) and found that 70% have kissed and 34% have had sex on a first date. Don’t let that pressure you, though — everyone goes at their own pace in life and in dating.

15. Go Ahead and Ask for the Second Date

Dating games are old news — if you both had an awesome first date, there’s no need to wait three days to text or call and ask for another date or wait for them to initiate. Go ahead and make plans for the second date while you’re on the first date. It doesn’t have to be anything serious or commitment-heavy (keep their availability in mind), but it could just be a casual invitation like “Hey, I really enjoyed tonight and would love to check out that museum we were talking about earlier if you have a free day next week.”

Now You’re Ready for Your Online First Date & Beyond!

My friend has had all kinds of first online dates — a seven-hour date, a 30-minute date, a movie date, a park date, a one-night stand date, you name it. That just comes with the territory of swiping and matching. Once you get over the initial nervousness, you’ll be fine!

These tips are meant to help you along the journey, and some of them may not apply to you, your date, and/or your situation. Something to keep in mind is to listen to your intuition. You know yourself better than anyone, and while we may be the dating experts, you’ve got to take some control of your love life as well. We know you can do it!

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