You’d think that by now, as fully formed adults, we’d know how to have a socially appropriate conversation with someone we just met.
But throw nerves, sexual attraction, a quirky sense of humor, and some questionable boundaries into the first-date pot, and there are endless recipes for how the conversation can go downhill—fast.
Some blunders, like marriage and bigotry, you know to avoid. But even seemingly harmless topics can send up unintentional red flags. Want to actually see where things could go? Avoid these 10 topics on your first go-round.
Stop Talking About...
1. Yourself, Incessantly
While it's good to be open and talk about your interests, you don’t want to take it to the extreme. Lynn, a 27-year-old living in Brooklyn, says that other than asking what she does for work with no follow-up questions, the guys she’s been out with recently all talked about themselves the entire time. “Needless to say, they didn’t give me much incentive to see them again.”
This is so common in dating, says Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D., a San Diego-based sociologist and sexologist.“While it’s great to share your passions, make sure you’re also taking the time to get to know their passions and interests too.” And skip topics they have no interest in: According to a Match survey, about 75 percent of people believe having similar activities and interests is crucial to wanting a second date. (Need to spice up your small talk skills? Try these tips.)
2. Your Insecurities
“Are you sure I look OK?” “Can you tell I have a huge zit right here?” “I’m sure you like blondes more.” We all know confidence is one of the sexiest traits, so never put your date in the awkward position of having to incessantly bolster your self-esteem, warns Chicago-based relationship therapist, Laura Berman, LCSW, Ph.D., author of Quantum Love.
Not only does it shine a bright light on your (nonexistent) “flaws,” but it also forces him constantly reassure you, she adds. Less than 10 percent people in the Match survey were down with a date who has low self-confidence. Fake it 'til you make it with these 19 tips to boost your confidence.
3. Work Drama
“You might think that your coworker cheating with your boss is hot gossip, but I promise it will bore your date to tears,” Berman says. “Gossip is almost always tiring after a while, but especially if you don’t know the people involved.” Instead, talk about what you like at work or, if you hate your job, about what you want to do instead and the steps you're taking to get there. Both sexes consider passion and ambition two of the sexiest traits in a partner, according to a survey. You heard it here: Work ethic is hot.
4. How Much Your Former S.O. Sucks
“I actually don't think it's bad to talk about exes on a first date, because it gives you insight into what someone is like after a breakup—whether they're bitter and blaming or can take responsibility,” Gunsaullus says. It becomes a problem if you start talking excessively about your S.O., particularly in a negative way.
This is especially true if you’ve been through a divorce, which is typically a lot messier than other breakups. “Discussing the details of your divorce makes you look uncouth, and it forces the other person to hear private details they probably would rather avoid on a first date,” Berman says. All you really need to say is that you have been single/divorced for X months or years and are just starting to date again.
5. Explicit Details About Your Sex Life
“If you're interested in getting to know each other better, talking vulnerably about a topic like sex can create a false sense of intimacy and trust with someone whose character and values you don't really know yet,” Gunsaullus says. However, if you’re open to it and feel comfortable, “I'm all for talking about sex on a first date—and it can be really hot,” she adds. Know that it will probably put the idea that you’re ready to go home at the end of dinner in his or her head—so be conscious of what you’re insinuating.
6. Your Emotional Instability
“Over dinner, one date told me of a stay at a mental facility, a fairly recent suicide attempt and related scars, and a pretty detailed account of a very bad upbringing," recalls Dan, a 25-year-old accountant in Palo Alto, CA. First, let's be clear: There is no shame or embarrassment in mental health problems. But serious issues, past or present, are better off saved for a later conversation.
That vulnerability is something that should unfold as you build a connection with someone, Gunsaullus says. Being so exposed so quickly can come off as emotional immaturity or a lack of boundaries, she warns. A better plan: Talk about anything else that showcases your personality. “Be yourself and let him or her see if they can love your special brand of ‘crazy,’” Steinberg suggests.
7. Other Dates You're Going On
When you meet on an app, it’s implied that you’re probably dating other people, but you don’t need to give him or her a play-by-play of your craziest escapades. “This comes up all the time, because people seek camaraderie as they navigate the dating frenzy. But you don't want them to feel insecure knowing they are up against a ton of competition to win your heart,” says sex and relationship therapist Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Columbia University. If dating comes up, just say you’re having fun and leave the DTR conversation for a later date, Steinberg says.
8. That Your Mom Is Your BFF
Being close to your kin is a major plus. In fact, 60 percent of people want their S.O. to have a close relationship with his/her family, according to the Match survey. But revealing that you have to call your mother for help with every decision can make you come across as incapable or lacking confidence, Steinberg says. Say you really value your relationship with your family and that you think your mom is a smart cookie. “This will show them you have great genes, and they can look forward to being around some really great people,” she adds.
9. Your Rough Relationship History
Telling someone you’ve had back luck with relationships may seem innocent and honest. And sure, you may have been dealt a few bad hands that were out of your control. But like it or not, you are the common denominator in all of those relationships, Steinberg points out. Most right-minded people won’t bet on a losing horse, so don’t present yourself that way.