Monday, April 4, 2011

The Etiquette of the First Date

I remember vividly the first time I asked someone to go out on a date. I hadn't been able to muster up the courage to make such an invitation until I knew that I had a fun evening planned which could more than make up for any perceived self inadequacies I might have had. I was just 17 and my date was a girl I had known since early childhood, when I really did not like her at all. It's amazing how children begin to turn into adults, grow up, and appreciate those things which we most feared. My intention on this date was to have an enjoyable evening with a nice girl, with no designs on anything else including another date. And that's just what happened. We enjoyed dinner and a show with friends and went on our separate ways.

Since then I have come to realize that first dates are not always that easy. We complicate things with anticipation, agendas, and intentions. I have recently been asked a number of questions about first dates. The most burning question not surprisingly has been about finances. Who pays the tab on the first date? The most traditional dates usually involved a man asking a woman on a date. This is very straight forward. The man pays, always, with no exceptions. As with any meal, the person who issues the invitation is the one who pays.

However, many first dates are not traditional and the guidelines of etiquette need to be more flexible. Perhaps a first date is simply a get together for coffee. Perhaps it is a date with a member of the same sex. Today it is not unusual for a woman to ask a man out for a first date. But in all of these cases, one person invites another and therefore is responsible for the bill. Subsequent dates are another matter because such meetings and who will pay can be decided mutually.

I would have never allowed a woman to pay for me, but times have changed. Women want to share financial responsibility, as is appropriate, and I have learned how to graciously accept their kind invitations. But it wasn't easy breaking old habits. My advice on any matters involving money, is to discuss them well ahead of time if there is any question at all. I would suggest that if the date is a simple one, such as coffee or a movie, perhaps alternating who pays is a good solution. On dinner dates, decide before you even make the reservation, who will pay. If you decide to split the bill, be sure to let the waiter know before you order. I advise against this however as it does not introduce any element of gratitude or generosity into the evening. Both of these ingredients are essential to any long term relationship.

Not all dates lead to a long term relationship however, and inviting someone out casually to a fun concert or event is a great way to say thank you for some past kindness. It is also a great way to strengthen a platonic friendship. Initiating a social outing is a fun way to break out of the work week. However, do be prepared for the occasional regret. Your schedule and your friend's won't always jive. Don't take it personally and don't demand an explanation. When you do ask someone to join you, make it clear that they will be your guest. More likely than not, they will reciprocate the invitation.

First dates are excellent times to make good impressions. You may even be meeting your date's parents for the first time. I advise people to wear clean clothes appropriate to the venue they will be visiting. Be freshly bathed and coifed. Brush your teeth and use a breath freshener. Don't talk too much about yourself. Find out as much as you can about what your date enjoys doing when not working or going to school. What books do they read; what music do they listen to; what movies do they watch? Steer away from controversial topics such as religious or political views until you have gotten to know the person a bit.

Before long, you will both have decided if you want to further your friendship or not. Have compassion for yourself and for your date if it becomes clear that you are not really compatible. Parting as friends eliminates any negative feelings either of you may have about one another. Compassion will be a strength in any ongoing relationship as well. Be sure to put the other person's feelings ahead of your own. This is a good rule of thumb for first dates and for any other first meetings for that matter. Treat one another with respect and kindness and your first date will be one you will remember.