Blog written by: Linx staff member, Michael Norman
Occasionally we get questions from Linx members about dating experiences and anxieties that are all too common, and we decided that it makes sense to answer those as part of a semi-regular column that addresses the real questions and concerns of Linx readers and members like you. This week we’re tackling the issue of “icebreakers” on a first date. Next week, who knows? Don’t be shy about submitting your own questions, dilemmas, and experiences; this blog has thousands of readers, so if you’re having a particular problem, the odds are good that someone else is, too.
This week, anonymous Linx member SayAnything? sent us the following question:
I had been researching first date questions to start conversations and found article after article (and even books) with questions I would never ask anyone on a first date:
-“What is your earliest memory of feeling wonder?”
-“What do you think of the space program?”
-“If you had to write a limerick about this date, how would it go?”
Seriously? I wondered if the people that were writing these articles had ever heard the deafening silence bound to follow after asking such questions. It goes without saying that one would read as much topical news as possible before a date to be able to talk about innocuous things like Oscars, sports, etc. But can you really start a date conversation with, “How do you lose a 777?” without sounding callus? I weeded out work related questions, politics, dating past, and questions that had a negative connotation (i.e. what is your pet peeves?) but my list gets really small. What should I do?
Do you have any conversation starter suggestions? What question is best to ask when there is a lull? I wondered if you had written an article about this from your perspective (or someone on your staff)? Have you ever polled people from your Twitter as to their favorite question to start a date conversation?”
Actually, we haven’t polled people on Twitter about their favorite first date questions, but what a great idea! Send us yours now (@linxdating) and we’ll update this later with results. In the meantime, here are some thoughts about the Do’s and Don’ts of good first date conversation.
It is really important to remember that while your first date is an opportunity to learn about another person, it is also an incredible opportunity to let your date learn things about you. That brings us to Rule #1:
Rule #1: Do not ask a question that you would not want to (or cannot) answer!
A good first date question is one that can be flipped. In other words, your date should be able to end his/her answer by saying “and what about you?” or “what are your picks?” or “where would you go?” If there are stories or things about yourself that you’d like to share, or topics with which you know you’re really comfortable, this is a great way to make sure you reveal those sides of yourself. If there are things about your life or past that you don’t really want to discuss, this also helps you stay out of that territory. You don’t need to have a script, but you should be prepared to have an answer to any question you would ask. I once spent twenty minutes describing my favorite books at the request of a date who then stonewalled me with “I don’t really read,” when I asked him his own question. Do not be that person.
Rule #2: Try to keep your questions in the present, and facing forward.
It is inevitable that two strangers will go through the standard questions about hometowns, colleges, family, and jobs, but make sure that you don’t dwell in the past. Remember that this is not an interview; it’s okay if there are a few gaps in someone’s CV or personal history. You do not need a complete timeline on the first date; what you do need is a sense of what his or her life looks like in the present, and what they enjoy and value now. Ask questions that give a sense of how well your date’s interests and outlooks might mesh with your own. Here’s a good example: if you love travel, instead of asking “Where did you last travel?” ask something like “If you could go anywhere next weekend where would you go, and why?” With that one question, you might find out that you’re with someone who prefers roadtrips to airlines, values family time more than adventure, or thinks one day in Paris is worth two days on a plane. What someone wants to do is almost always more telling than what they’ve done, which brings us to:
Rule #3: Be more concerned with thoughts and feelings than with facts.
Just as you don’t want to conduct an interview on a date, you also don’t want to play therapist (stay away from too many questions about someone’s childhood). You do, however, want to know what gets them excited and passionate, and keeps them engaged. Asking “what’s your favorite book?” might get you a very brief answer or the useless “it’s hard to pick a favorite,” but asking “What are three of your favorite books, and why?” can reveal an unexpected interest or hobby. It’s also great to ask about favorite experiences like “What happened on your favorite family vacation?” or “Can you remember the first thing that you cooked for yourself that you actually liked eating?” It’s more than okay to have periods of silence in a conversation, especially if they take place while one of you is composing a thoughtful answer. There is a difference between an occasional awkward silence and actual dead air. In fact, this brings us to:
Rule #4: It’s ok to be awkward.
No, it’s not ok to be intentionally awkward, and it’s definitely not ok if you feel like your date is purposely trying to make you uncomfortable. But it is really important to keep in mind that you are two strangers who just met; something is bound to be less than ideal. And actually, that’s great; you get the opportunity to see how your date responds in a less than ideal situation where the stakes are low, and no one is too invested. Don’t stress yourself out about asking all of the right questions. Just make sure that you have the right approach and the right attitude; be optimistic, be open, be compassionate, and listen. It turns out that the actual questions are a lot less important than the spirit in which you answer them. So, finally:
Rule #5: Be genuine.
The worst thing you can do on a date is misrepresent yourself. Don’t pretend to be interested in things that truly bore you. Don’t bring up topics you don’t want to discuss. Don’t be silent about your own likes and dislikes because you don’t want to be judged. Remember that, at heart, all Linx members are looking for the same thing – real and lasting human connections. So if you find yourself sitting across from a first date and neither of you knows what to say, start with the question that most single people would like to be asked more often; smile, take a deep breath, and open with “How was your day?”