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What to Talk About on a First Date


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What to Talk About on a First Date


Few occasions can be as exhilarating or nerve-wrecking as a first date. There’s the question of what you’ll wear (we recommend something you already feel confident in), what you’ll do, and of course, what you’ll actually talk about—besides your professions. Whether you’re getting back out there after divorce or breakup, or you’re just interested in meeting new people, these first date conversation starters and tips will help prevent the date from drying up before you’ve ordered an appetizer.

Experts agree, one of the greatest ways to decrease anxiety linked to first dates is entering the meeting with a plan. No, you don’t need talking points on index cards or a script you’ve rehearsed, but a solid strategy to increase the chances of chemistry can’t hurt. Who knows, follow these suggestions and it just might be your last first date (wink).

Start by trying to make a connection.

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“Though you and your date may already overlap in areas like education or religion, it’s vital to build rapport on other topics too,” says relationship expert and sociologist Dr. Jess Carbino. “Try to draw parallels between their experiences and interests and your own,” adds Carbino, who has lead research for Bumble and Tinder.

Build on what you already know.

Expand upon what you’ve learned from the initial source of connection to propel the dialogue. For example, if you matched online, refer to something in their dating profile and ask them a question about the topic, says Carbino. If a mutual friend set you up, unpack how each of you knows them. And so on.

State the obvious.

If you’re not sure how to jump into a conversation, comment about something in your environment. For starters, you could ask them if they’ve ever been to the coffee shop, park or wherever they proposed to meet, before, or if they spend significant time in that neighborhood, says Carbino. “You could then quickly segue into a broader conversation about the city, food, travel, or another topic, based upon the cues you pick up initially,” she adds.

Don’t ask them what they do for a living.

“A first date is all about showing interest,” says Dr. Jane Greer, marriage and family therapist and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. Instead of asking the typical ‘What do you do?,’ frame the query in an open-ended way. Greer suggests trying the following: ‘How did you decide to go into this line of work? When did you know this was what you wanted to do?’ Another way to approach this topic: ‘Is there anyone who inspired you to pursue your career or stick it out, though you may have faced challenges? If so, what’s the story there?’”

Getting your date to elaborate will reveal more about their personality and interests. “In this example, you’re looking for more information about their background and line of thinking, rather than just a description of their job,” says Greer.

Pay attention to how they respond to you.

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To determine if your person of interest is relational or self-centered, note if they inquire about you at all, recommends Dr. Henry Cloud, psychologist, speaker and author. “When you answer, do they immediately turn it into talking about themselves, or can they stay on you for any time at all,” he says. Granted, there could also be nerves involved (often, it’s easier to ramble) but this is something still worthy of cueing into.

It’s also important to listen to their actual answers; a person’s responses can often show their true selves. For example, if you ask how long they’ve been on a dating site and what their experience has been, are they saying belittling things like “There are so many idiots out there.” Or, are they more level-headed, with responses such as “I’ve met some nice people, and had some good experiences…and of course, some that weren’t.” Cloud says focusing on conversation patterns like this is an essential tip to gauge character.

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Furthermore, take note of how much they tend to blame everyone or everything else (ex’s, former employers, family members, etc.) for personal setbacks. Cloud, co-author of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationship, suggests too much of doing so is a warning sign that they’ll ultimately start to blame you for their issues.

Ask them about their talents.

Ask: What are you really good at? What do you do to keep growing in…[insert area you’re discussing]? “Listen for aspects of the conversation that lets you see how much responsibility they take for life,” proposes Cloud. “Do they see themselves as someone who’s creating their own life or waiting for it to just show up?”

Learn about their family and friends.

Begin with a simply phrased “Tell me about your family.” See what you learn. Even if it’s a negative story, Cloud says, you can respond with “Wow, that sounds hard. How did you deal with that or overcome it?”

Additionally, inquire about their friends. Tune in for the existence of close and long-term friends. “If all of their ‘close’ friends are new, that usually is not a good sign,” cautions Cloud. That is, unless they just moved, because, hey meeting friends as an adult can be tough. And, naturally, if they went through a divorce, that also lends itself to complications.

Unpack their idea of a “good life.”

We all have a concept of what our ideal life would be. For you, maybe it’s owning a home, having a healthy family, getting out of debt or winning the next season of Big BrotherWhat is it for the person eating chips and dip across from you?

According to Cloud, one way to dig into this can be asking: “So, if we were sitting here two years from now, what would have happened in your life for you to say ‘things are really good?’ And here’s an important question for you at this point: Do the things that are going to make them happy resonate with you?

A person’s values are often the root of many of their choices. Cloud suggests tapping into your date’s philosophical worldview to learn more. Do they have a spiritual or moral center? A True North? Is it compatible with yours? On generosity of finances or time: Do they serve anywhere or give themselves to the less fortunate or a cause that matters to them?

Ask where they’re from.

You can learn a lot about a person based on where or how they grew up. Make sure to ask them where they’re from. This opens a door for a conversation about shared or different cultures and exchanging deeper aspects of your upbringings. Whether you grew up in different environments or share the same cultural heritage, talking about this can reveal new insights about one another and you may actually have more in common than you think.

Discuss favorite things.

Another go-to conversation starter is discussing your favorite things. This can range from favorite music genres, artists, tv shows, books, hobbies, and more. The possibilities are endless for this as you can touch on many diverse topics. In fact, Fredericks also recommends questions like: What food is your guilty pleasure? Which movie could you watch over and over again?

Bring up travel.

Some people have had an underlying passion to travel the world in the back of their head their entire life, and others prefer to stay near family and friends and build their forever-home there. Whichever it may be, find out your date’s preference. This question can also help you determine compatibility. If you’re both interested in traveling, you can see if they prefer an outdoors adventure or a city visit instead.

Find out their most memorable experience.

One bonus question you can always ask as an icebreaker: What’s the most amazing adventure they’ve been on or the most amazing experience they remember? This is a seemingly simple and random question, but hearing your date explain something that meant so much to them or brought them so much joy allows you to meet another side of them. It also can always lead to unexpected but interesting conversations.

Address dealbreakers.

We’re not talking about surface-level dealbreakers like a preference for brunettes. But some things are just not negotiable, like, wanting to have kids or needing to live in a particular region. “If you’re super religious and you know that’s important to you, for instance, ask about that,” says Kevin Fredricks who co-hosts The Love Hour podcast with his wife. “Anything you know that’s a nonstarter for you should be brought up early,” he adds. Of course, you can coax into it throughout the conversation so you’re not hitting them with these big life questions right away, but better to know sooner than later.

Be a good journalist.

An inherent trait of any effective reporter is inquisitiveness. Though your date isn’t an interview, you are trying to learn parts of who this person is and their story. Do so by asking questions they’ve likely seldom or never answered, says Fredericks, like: What’s your fondest memory of elementary school? If you could get away with a crime, what would you do? What’s on your bucket list? “This will make you seem interesting,” he adds. Of course, try to ease these in naturally or else you’ll sound like you just read… this article.

“Really show your curiosity and encourage them to tell you more. This will not only make for an engaging and fun first date, but it will also help you discover if you have common interests or life goals to help you decide if you’d like to see the person again,” says Greer.

Remember, you can always leave.

Don’t forget to check in on yourself as well. Do you like being there? Is this person amusing? “Life should be fun, especially dating,” says Cloud. Your time (and theirs) is valuable. Sometimes there’s just no spark, even after warming up to each other during a drink or meal. If this is the case, free up your future by saying something like: “It was so great to meet you. I really appreciate you taking the time to come out with me. I have another engagement (Hey Netflix and leftovers). Let’s get the check,” coaches Carbino. The date doesn’t have to drag on over any self-imposed sense of obligation. The only thing you owe your date is respect and there’s always a way to exit a situation gracefully.

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