“Well, I only listen to alt-synth-core from the early-to-mid 80s, you probably don’t like the same bands as me. How about you?”
The most classic, useless dating advice of all time — which you’ve undoubtedly heard countless times from your mom, magazines, and self-help books — is to just “be yourself.”
This advice simply doesn’t work in the real world. In the cut-throat world of dating, you’ve got to generate an appealing prospect of yourself and create a powerful first impression.
Even if a long-term partner discovers your flaws over time, should you really be handing someone your whole personality on a plate the first time you meet? Shouldn’t they have to earn that? And isn’t maintaining a sense of mystery sexier?
With the help of Jess O’Reilly, PhD, of the sex and relationship blog Sex with Dr. Jess and Venus Nicolino, PhD, aka Dr. V of WeTV’s Marriage Bootcamp, we’ve rounded up some super-useful techniques and strategies for creating an amazing first impression on your date while being true to your values.
The idea here is that if you’re just super authentically you, everything will go right.
You’ll find a boyfriend, girlfriend, make-out buddy, lifetime partner… whatever it is you’re looking for, they’ll appreciate all your nuances and quirks at face value.
But this advice doesn’t f*cking work. When you go on a first date, it’s easy to come across as nervous, brash, or overshowboat-y. If you do nothing more than “be yourself,” odds are good that you’ll end up seeming aloof, awkward, or a bit of a dick.
Instead, why not choose to be the best version of you? We all fudge things a little bit on the first date or while we’re out at the bar.
Sometimes, we try to present a more polished, outgoing version of ourselves, or act less serious or lower-maintenance than usual. Is that manipulative? Kinda. But you know what? That’s okay.
Would you be your unfiltered, slumped-on-the-sofa-at-2-in-the-morning-eating-Cheetos self do well in an interview? Of course not. You present an efficient, professional face for the context. The same applies for a date.
Alongside our experts, we looked into how you can make the most of your finer qualities on a date and rounded up some strategies that can actually put the odds in your favor.
While it’s not all about being yourself, it is about being your best self.
1. Set your intention before the date
Rather than considering what you want from the other person, go into the date thinking about what you want for yourself, Nicolino says.
“Do you want to get to know someone new? Do you want to have an enjoyable evening out? Is this really just an excuse to try that new sushi place?” she asks.
“Setting an intention grounds you, and it gives you something to fall back on if you start feeling anxious in the moment.”
Also, setting an intention shows that you know what you like and go after it — which is sexy as heck. It means you can shape the evening a bit more definitively, because you’ll know what you want from it.
However, this isn’t a sales meeting — you also need to remember to relax and enjoy it.
“Just remember to breathe,” suggests Nicolino. Staying present in the moment is what stops you from leaning into overthinking or getting self-conscious, if that’s where your brain usually takes you.
2. Are you a fan of masturbation? Awesome!
If you’re not someone who falls asleep right after an orgasm, O’Reilly advises you to masturbate before you go out the door. “Self-pleasure and self-esteem are positively correlated, so reach down there and give yourself a hand (or two),” she says.
“When your body performs for you, whether through daily tasks, physical fitness, or sexual pleasure, you tend to feel better about its appearance and function.”
So outside of a cheeky fap before you head out, make sure your daily routine contains plenty of exercise for regular top-ups of self-esteem.
Needless to say, if you’re staying in for some post-COVID virtual dating, make sure you haven’t accidentally started the video chat. That could take some explaining.
3. Self-deprecating humor (in moderation) offsets cockiness
Maybe you’re already a confident, A-type personality with a loooooong list of achievements to woo even the most demanding suitor. Your close friends might lovingly refer to you as “a little extra.”
How can you tone it down to an attractive and harmonious balance of being confident without appearing arrogant? Offering a bit of self-deprecating humor might help.
As my roommate says, “Make fun of yourself before someone else can.” A little joke can help break the ice and make you not look like a total douche.
But be careful not to try out your amateur stand-up act on a date, Nicolino advises, as smothering a situation in humor isn’t the best aphrodisiac. Plus, it makes you look like you don’t take yourself seriously — so why should they?
“Self-deprecating humor is OK in small — and I mean small — doses. As in one or two jokes,” she says. “It’s easy to go from seeming easy to connect with to being easy to pity, and pity is not the vibe you want to infuse in a date.”
Negative self-talk, when you deliberately talk yourself down both in your inner monologue and out loud, will only make you feel shitty and your date feel uneasy.
4. Take note of compliments
If you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and struggle with building confidence, write down compliments you receive throughout the day (and give yourself five while you’re at it).
“Most of us brush off compliments without a second thought, and in doing so, we overlook valuable opportunities to boost confidence and expand our sense of self,” O’Reilly says.
“The next time someone pays you a compliment, take a moment to absorb it and scribble it down. By writing down what others say they like about you, you’re training yourself to value and remember these positive thoughts. When you write things down, you trigger cells in the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). Experts say these may help to filter important information.”
Something that can help before dates is looking in the mirror and saying five things out loud you like about yourself. Focusing on positive attributes rather than worrying about insecurities or perceived imperfections will instantly improve your buzz.
(It seems corny, but try not to smile as you say “I have a shapely butt.” You can’t help it.)
Confidence is attractive, so find a way to shelve your insecurities for the evening.
Because if you tell a person enough times that you’re “not pretty enough” or “not smart enough,” they’re going to perceive you that way. O’Reilly offers a confidence-boosting tactic that might work better for you:
“Recall a time when you felt powerful. Perhaps it was in a boardroom, in the classroom, or on the dance floor. Visualize that moment to boost your confidence before a big date, presentation, or meeting.”
5. Use logic to beat nerves
Holding hands isn’t so romantic if you’re sweating profusely. Create some distance in your brain, calm down, and enjoy the moment.
It can be helpful to identify the source of your nervousness and look at it with a bit of logical distance.
“If your nervousness is intense and connected to a detrimental cognitive distortion (as in, you’re plagued with thoughts like my date is going to hate me and every date I go on is a disaster), then it’s time to use rational thought and reassess,'” says O’Reilly. You shouldn’t feel desperate going into a date.
“Think about dates that weren’t disasters. Make a mental library of the positive experiences and interactions you’ve had on previous dates so that you can formulate a more realistic thought. This can lead to thoughts like, It could go well, so I’m going to keep an open mind and just enjoy the experience.”
Essentially, you should build an inventory of positive references — stuff you can look back on and say “hey, I didn’t totally cack this up. Ooh, look at this conversation too, I made that person laugh really hard.”
Your internal monologue spins up a narrative every time it goes into one of these spirals. And you can make it a positive spiral that feels good or a negative one that effs up your whole evening. Pick a side.
6. Present yourself
Yes, you should pick out a clean goddamn shirt instead of something you found crumpled on the floor. Even if the crumpled version is more “authentically you.” No one wants a scrub turning up to a date, especially TLC.
In person, there are no Snap filters to make you look 10 times hotter than you actually are. So, yeah, it’s worthwhile to tidy up and pick out something nice to wear.
“You don’t want to mislead a date, but you certainly do want to showcase the best version of yourself,” O’Reilly says. While you shouldn’t go and buy a whole new outfit based on what you think your date might like (that’s stalker-level creepy, which no-one likes), it’s OK to consider their style and make small adaptations.
If you know their Instagram handle, it’s not a bad idea to check it out ahead of time. This is just a form of knowing your audience. You can see what your date is into, what they like, and what style they might go for.
You shouldn’t completely change yourself to be attractive for the other person, but if you notice that they tend to always wear black jeans and you happen to own a pair, there’s nothing wrong with opting for those over your blue pair (unless you really dislike wearing black jeans).
Regardless of what color jeans you wear, dressing nicely for your date shows that you’re invested in both your own appearance and the date itself. And this will make whoever you’re sitting across the table from to feel special.
7. Keep it positive — and yes, keep it light
Dating is meant to be a fun way to get to know another person. You may have some skeletons in the closet, but your first encounter isn’t the appropriate time to talk about your personal problems.
Keep your introduction light. They want to associate you with fun times, not potential baggage. Of course, if you’re looking for long-term love, they’ll need to learn and feel comfortable talking about about the heavy stuff eventually. Just not over cocktails.
Too much information can be perceived as high maintenance and off-putting. And while people can be very snooty about small talk —– “Oh, it’s so fake, I prefer genuine interaction.” — you can subtly assess if you’re interested in someone once you’ve mastered it.
(You know, without spilling your guts everywhere and killing the vibe.)
8. Ask a bunch of questions
If you meet someone you really like who’s outdoorsy, sure, you could pretend that you’re really into spending time in the wilderness — even if the closest you’ve ever gotten to nature is drinking mojitos on the beach.
And the truth is, this isn’t always the worst tactic — as long as you’re open to trying what they’re into, you may open yourself up to experiences you’ll enjoy. This could be the start of you discovering that hey, you actually like kayaking, or whatever.
But there’s an easier path: Just ask your date tons of questions about their interests. People love to talk about themselves, and this way, you don’t have to pretend you know about something you don’t, which can be stressful, frankly.
“If someone you’re super into is into something you don’t give a f*ck about, you can still ask them about it,” Nicolino says. “Why do they like it? What do they get from it? How does it make them feel? Instead of trying to bullsh*t your way through talking about something you know nothing about, you’ve just created an opportunity to really get to know this person better and connect with them. Which is never wrong. And who knows, maybe you never knew just how fascinating 18th century Welsh cheesemaking really is.”
(However, Welsh cheesemaking is a controversial topic, so approach the issue Caerphilly.)
Make sure, as well, that the questions you ask are open questions. This means asking for the why alongside the what — not “how often do you go kayaking?” but “I’ve never been in a kayak, how does it feel?”
You want questions that evoke detailed responses and emotions, not one-word answers. Then, you can use their answers to inspire more questions and hopefully a second date. Showing curiosity about someone is a massive turn-on.
9. Focus on what you like about them
Maybe your date chews with their mouth open or turns out to be an incessant foot-tapper who openly admits to listening to Nickelback on repeat.
If you’re getting instant there’s-no-chemistry-here vibes (or worse, red flags), then don’t go on a second date, or cut your first one short.
But if the person just has an annoying habit or three, try to keep an open mind. There could be a really awesome person in there, one whose good qualities might overshadow any annoying behaviors.
So ignore the urge to be judgmental or bitchy — even if you’ve had three mimosas already at brunch.
(Except the Nickelback thing, that would be a deal breaker.)
However, remember you don’t need to settle. Judge your date on their values and have standards — it’s easy to fall into a relationship just because someone returned your affections, but that is so far from the only thing you should look for.
Only you know what makes you really happy. Remember, also, that not every date you go on is a hunt for The One™ and that you can still simply meet interesting new people and have fun.
10. Do your dating homework
One-liners are so retro, and not in a cool, opening-level-of-Sonic way, but in the bad way where they suck. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a pick-up line, you know that you just end up feeling creeped out.
Avoid the creepiness factor by asking fun questions instead. Personally, I like to use ice breakers or games to get to know a date. My favorite tried-and-true question is, “Which type of tree would you be. And why?”
Big takeaway: People usually pick a tree and list desirable qualities and characteristics that they believe they possess and in which they have pride.
Small takeaway: You know what kind of tree you should gift them on their next birthday (and planting a tree is just a nice thing to do).
You can navigate awkward silences by mentioning your favorite “dad joke” and asking theirs, or even asking them what their favorite snack is to eat whilst binge watching “Dawson’s Creek” on Netflix (Coconut Oreo thins, hands down).
If you’re anxious about a date, it’s a good idea to come up with a bunch of good questions ahead of time to give yourself opportunities for discussion if your conversation dies down naturally.
11. Let yourself be vulnerable afterward
“Do you like it when people play games with you? Look, if you want to put less pressure on yourself and your date, forget all the stupid f*cking games,” Nicolino says, without mincing a single word.
“One of the Big Lies of dating is that ‘The One Who Cares Less Is The One Who Wins,’ when in reality, the less you care about a relationship, the less you get from it. Think about it: Has pretending to care less than you really do ever gotten you more? Would you pull that sh*t at work or school? Of course not. So don’t be afraid to text first.”
Caring is cool, now.
Nicolino explains that if you try to act differently than the way you really feel, you’re either going to come off as crazy, as a jerk, or as a crazy jerk. “The appropriate amount of interest to show is no more and no less than the amount of interest you feel.”
This makes complete sense — after all, if you’re hiding intent early on, imagine how bad it’s going to get when it comes to the really important stuff, like family.
“The least cool thing you can do is to try and ‘play it cool.’ It’s OK for the person you’ve just gone on a date with to know you like them,” Nicolino says. “Being upfront about that is its own kind of sexy confidence. Besides, the sooner they know you like them, the sooner you’ll have an answer to how worthwhile they’ll be to pursue.”
So don’t wait to text back. Real vulnerability takes courage, and courage is pretty damn sexy.
That does not mean, however, bombarding your poor date with texts.
12. Be persistent (but don’t cross into being pushy)
If you just had an amazing time with someone and don’t want it to end, tell the person how much you enjoyed the date and offer up a nightcap or second date.
If the other person politely declines, leave it there for the night. If you try too aggressively to get someone home with you or to go out with you again, it’s a massive turn-off, and you’ll blow any future potential.
Also, it goes without saying that the last thing you want is for a date to feel intimidated or threatened.
Instead, just thank them for the evening. Seeing your graceful reaction might even turn things around after the other person has a few days to think.
Dating should be fun, and if you spend your whole time worrying about what your date will think of you, you’re doing it wrong.
Enjoy yourself, remember to breathe, and show genuine curiosity about your date’s life and story.
The best way to give the impression of your best self is to aim at being your best self all the time. It’s a lot easier said than done. But if you engage in basic self-care, like exercise, a well-balanced diet, and making time for others, you’ll be on your way.
Kari Langslet is an avid dater, impulsive adventurer, unofficial therapist to friends and family, and animal lover. You’ll usually find her at a dive bar playing Jenga with her dog or headbanging into oblivion at a Brooklyn show. Stalk her on Instagram and Twitter @karilangslet.