Once upon a time, a blind date usually meant a mutual friend set you up, but these days, apps and dating sites tend to do the legwork for us. Yet regardless of how much you’ve been texting, talking, or Snapchatting beforehand, it’s really no different than a “blind” date of yesteryear—the other party is still basically a stranger.
To that end, the first IRL encounter with a new potential partner should be handled with a high dose of openness and a low dose of expectations. Because what if he’s just plain weird or the conversation is about as scintillating as watching paint dry?
To help you master the art of blind dating, we’ve come up with seven handy survival steps to save you from those first-date jitters.
Be equal parts curious and cautious.
Your mentality going into date number one should be one of discovery. You’re meeting this person to learn more about him or her and to see if you have chemistry. Sujeiry Gonzalez, a relationship columnist and host of Love Sujeiry on SiriusXM, says it’s good to be open but to balance that with being cautious, too, as you’ve never met this person before. “Tell friends where you are; tag your location on Facebook; choose a well-lit, busy place; and always meet your blind date at the location,” she says. Because, sadly, you can never be too careful.
Skip doing dinner.
Having a first date at a white-tablecloth restaurant puts a lot of undue pressure on both parties, so choose a place that is casual. Coffee shops, cafés, and pizzerias are all easy and no-pressure places that remove the (kind of outdated) formality typically associated with a dinner date. “Dinner dates set you up for the ‘dating interview’ as you sit across from each other,” says dating coach Hunt Ethridge of the old-fashioned method. “It can be expensive and time-consuming for someone that you’re not sure about yet.” Keep the formality for your next job interview, not your next blind date.
Keep expectations low (no, really).
It can be really exciting meeting someone for the first time, especially if you’ve already developed some chemistry through texting or (no judgment) stalking his Insta profile. Still, if you build up a potential partner before you even meet, you might end up self-sabotaging by creating a person who can’t live up to your out-of-this-world expectations. “Go in with the goal of learning about this other person,” advises Ethridge. “If your goal is to learn about him, then you can always succeed.”
Be OK with gaps in conversation.
If your nerves get the best of you and you can’t think of one intelligible thing to say, don’t worry—and don’t assume that moments of silence mean a lack of interest. Barbie Adler, matchmaker and founder of Selective Search, says lulls in conversation are totally normal, especially because of first-date jitters and the pressure you’ve likely put on yourself to come across as effortlessly cool. But don’t fall into the trap of babbling just to fill up dead air. “At the end of the day, you’d probably rather have a couple seconds of silence that lead to a great conversation instead of frantically trying to fill the void,” says Adler.
Don’t be quick to dismiss.
In the annals of blind date success stories, there’s some sort of magnificently great instant connection the second you sit down for drinks. But for the rest of us, the connection takes time to build. Remember: Once you tell someone you’re “not feeling it,” it can’t be unheard. “You might not feel a true connection at the beginning or even on the whole first date,” says Ethridge. “But you may find it on the second or third.” That’s not to say you have to keep dating ad infinitum if you’re not into the person, but it’s good to give a date a solid try.
Keep it short and sweet.
The first date is more of an exploration to see if you have chemistry, enjoy being with each other, and can build fun and friend rapport. But dates—just like food—have an expiration date. “The longer the date goes on, the more difficult it becomes to keep up the energy,” notes Ethridge. So keep the date between one and two hours to keep that energy going. “You want to part with both parties excited to see the other again, not exhausted after hours of conversation.” Keeping the first date short also ensures that you won’t need an escape plan (see below!) should the date go flat.
Ditch the escape plan.
Don’t go all high school and have a friend call you with an “emergency.” We’re all adults here, and that’s some sophomoric behavior at best. If you’ve made time for this person and he’s made time for you, follow through with the (fairly brief) commitment. “If you are really not feeling it and doubt any connection ever, respectfully tell your blind date,” says Gonzalez. Then, meet up with some friends afterward to talk about it, preferably over drinks.