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You managed to convince that cute coffee shop barrista that you’re not a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal and she finally accepted your offer for a date. Now the really hard part: To actually show her that you’re not a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. Everyone’s different. There’s no real right or wrong when it comes to the game of love (remember that scene in A Beautiful Mind when Russell Crowe tells Jennifer Connelly that he wants to “have intercourse” with her—shudder—and she still goes home with him?). But there are still some basic guidelines to increase your chances of impressing a pretty lady who you someday hope to see naked.
You get a pass if you work at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and three-piece suits are required office attire, but keep in mind that dressing to impress can sometimes backfire. If you’re taking her to the opera and then a Michelin-starred restaurant on your first date, fine, wear a suit. But don’t bring her to a dive bar in a tuxedo. If you can’t find time to change out of your work duds, at least lose the jacket and loosen your tie a little. On the flip side, don’t show up in board shorts and flip-flops. Even if that’s how you normally dress, show her you made some effort to look presentable for her and at least cover up your hairy toes.
A simple rule to abide by: you should be at your appointed meeting place five minutes early and assume she’ll be five minutes late. If you want to impress her, don’t make her sit alone at a bar waiting for you. This will also give you ample opportunity to situate yourself somewhere you feel comfortable. Chances are, this date is just as nerve-wracking for her as it is for you, and for her to walk in and be greeted by you as soon as she arrives automatically alleviates the first anxiety-inducing concern: Is he even going to show up? If you’re picking her up, arrive a few minutes early.
Any guy who says that he has been chewed out by a “feminist” for doing either of these things is flat-out lying. Yes, we can open our own doors and pull out our own chairs, but it’s still nice when a guy shows that chivalry is not completely dead. Neglecting to make small gestures like these probably won’t ruin your chances with her completely, but when you do, we notice. We appreciate it. We feel a little special. And you score brownie points.
Look, we understand. Men don’t carry purses, and having to sit down with a hockey puck-sized phone in your pocket is uncomfortable. If it’s possible, keep the offending piece of technology out of sight altogether, but if you need to plop it on the table, silence it and put it face-down. Even if you’re fascinated by her, a light blinking out of the corner of your eye alerting you to an incoming message is distracting, and we notice when your eyes are bobbling back and forth between your phone and our faces (or any other part of us). Another important piece of cell phone etiquette to keep in mind: If you have to take a call, apologize before you do. Don’t hold your finger up to silence her; she’s not a dog.
If she asks you where you’re from, answer, and then accept that as an opportunity to reciprocate with a question as well. Questions serve as more than basic first date ice-breakers, they actually enable you to get to know one another. If she’s sitting there, firing off questions, legitimately trying to get to know you, and you don’t respond in kind, it’s a clear indicator that you’re either a) not interested, or b) self-absorbed. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been Facebook stalking her for the last six months and you already know that her favorite color is green and Muffins, her three-legged family dog, died two weeks ago, ask her questions.
Taking care of yourself and being healthy are great, but loosen the dietary strings just a little for this occasion. You don’t need to eat a bloody steak from a cow you strangled with your bare hands to prove you’re a man’s man, but turning your nose up at everything remotely unhealthy and then getting a garden salad makes you seem like a square. On the other hand, resist the urge to order a heaping platter of barbecued giant dinosaur ribs that you need to eat with your hands and feet. This kind of discretion applies to your drink order as well. Don’t order sake bombs or start slamming vodka Redbulls. You can’t go wrong with beer, any unflavored liquor straight-up or on the rocks, or red wine (if you’re having dinner). Which brings us to…
You might have to alter this to reflect your level of tolerance toward alcohol, but no matter how many beer cans you crush on your head on weekends, cap your date drinks at three. Even if the date is going so well that you’ve started picking potential wedding destinations, if you get blasted and fall on your face as you’re walking out, you just negated the last two hours of progress. Not to mention, if she was about to get into a cab with you back to your place, she probably won’t be anymore. Unless she’s as drunk as you are.
They say you should never talk about politics, religion, and past flames on a first date. But if you adhere to only one of those, make it the last. Remember, she’s trying to feel you out just as much as you’re trying to feel her out, and she’s feeling just as self-conscious as you are. Imagine how you’d feel if she started to regale you with stories about her Nobel laureate ex-boyfriend with the Super Bowl ring. Also imagine how you’d feel if she started ranting about her loser, cheating, unemployed ex-boyfriend who mooched off of her for three years. There’s just no winning here.
The jury’s still out about whether you’re expected to pay on the first date. Some guys insist, others don’t. Choosing to pay or not pay, assuming she’s not a money-grubbing wench, shouldn’t be a make-or-break when it comes to dating a guy. However, if you do choose to pay, tip well. If you’re doing drink rounds, tip well. If at any point during the date, you are providing money in exchange for goods and services, tip well. Even if the service sucked, tip well. You can save the disgruntled customer shtick for when you aren’t trying to get laid. And don’t put it past her to ask the waiter if you tipped well when she sneaks away to the bathroom either—this has more to do with a show of character than the actual money involved.
Everything’s going swimmingly, you’re both feeling a nice buzz, you’re getting closer, and the chemistry is fantastic. Don’t ruin it by slithering your creep hands all over her. Even if it’s clear that you’re really feeling each other, subtlety is key. You don’t want to dive in and start grabbing at her crotch and chest like a horny 15-year-old. Limit contact to arms, shoulders, back, and, if you’re really feeling the vibes, the five inches or so on the top of her thigh, right above her knee. If she’s into it, she’ll sidle closer. If she isn’t, she’ll slip away from your slimy clutches.