Not everyone you date will be a good conversationalist, which can lead to awkward first date conversations.
I mean those sometimes agonizing silent pauses when neither of you can think of anything to say.
I never faulted anyone for lacking in this way. After all, first dates can be especially stressful and make even a good communicator falter.
In fact, I usually presumed there may be uncomfortable pauses, and planned ways in advance to smooth them out.
A bit of advice: Make your first dates be coffee dates, or somewhere that doesn’t require you to wait it out until the check comes.
Also, if the conversation is really awkward, you can scoot off to the bathroom to regroup.
Being a good listener eases awkward first date conversations
First dates are all about gathering information and a sense about whether you want a second date with them.
There’s no one right way to go about this, but there are things you should probably avoid doing and saying.
And first dates that don’t lead to second dates, or the relationship you’re hoping for, won’t mean that the date was a failure.
Every first date is an opportunity to learn more about someone else and yourself. All good.
Be empathetic and a good listener
It’s important to be empathetic in your words and actions.
Put yourself in their shoes. Be aware of the impact of what you do and say to your date.
How would you feel if she/he said to you, what you’re about to say to them?
It’s equally important to be a good listener and strive for a balanced conversation.
I can tell what a drag it is to sit across from a blowhard who feels they’re endlessly interesting and won’t stop talking about themselves.
They don’t ask you questions. They don’t seem to want to find out who you are.
Being a good listener is important in any kind of relationship. It shows that you’re interested in the other person and helps to create a sense of trust, understanding and connection. It can help build a foundation for a potential relationship.
Being a good listener involves paying attention to what the other person is saying, asking clarifying questions, and showing genuine interest in what they have to say.
Good listening skills can help to create a positive and supportive atmosphere in a relationship and can be especially important as people get older and may be looking for a more meaningful connection.
Another secret weapon to ease those awkward first date silences
Sometimes uncomfortable silences are beyond your control. You truly can’t think of anything to say at that moment.
In this case, a warm smile can save the day.
I mean the kind of smile that is authentic and genuine, so it shows in your eyes, as well as your face.
Smiling can also make you more attractive to potential partners because it conveys happiness, warmth and positivity.
And smiling when you’re on dates helps put your date at ease, so the date itself is likely to be a better experience for both of you.
When you smile at them, maintain eye contact as well.
One thing NOT to do, to avoid awkward first date conversations
I’ve written before about first date conversation killers – things you shouldn’t do or talk about.
Being prepared to deal with those awkward silences is a good thing.
But reading from a written list of questions you’ve prepared is a bit much and, in my experience, makes for very awkward first date conversations.
I remember one first date that was going along well enough. Although I knew pretty quickly I didn’t want a second date, we were having an enjoyable conversation, so I consider that a successful first date.
Then he pulled out a typed list of about 20 questions to ask me and started going down the list.
Suddenly everything felt formal, like I was at a job interview. He disrupted the nice flow we had going.
Even though I said something sarcastic like “This feels like a job interview”, he plowed ahead and clearly thought he was acing this interview.
So much so that, when we were saying goodbye in the parking lot, he grabbed me and kissed me on the lips. I gave him no indication that I wanted this. Clearly, he misread my kindness towards him for attraction.
I think it’s a good idea to put together a list of questions beforehand, but don’t take them out when you’re on the date.
Take a quick look at them before you go into the date to refresh your memory. Also, if need be, during the date you can excuse yourself and go into the bathroom to review your notes.
And there are other things you probably shouldn’t be doing, like:
- Swearing like a sailor
- Talking about sexual preferences or sex at all
- Saying something judgmental or insulting to your date
- Telling crude or suggestive jokes
- Asking your date inappropriate questions or things it’s way too early to talk about
- Discussing your medical issues
- Telling your date they look just like your late spouse
- Neglecting to smile often and make eye contact throughout
- Talking politics in an aggressive way
- Ranting about your ex(es)
To clarify, it may work out great for you, if you do things in the list above. But why risk it? You could offend or turn off your date very easily.
How to Breeze Through Awkward First Date Conversations
But what SHOULD you talk about and how do you avoid those awkward lapses that make both of you uncomfortable?
I’ve noted a few good things to do above, like being empathetic and a good listener and smiling warmly.
Now is NOT the time to get into heavy conversations. A first date should be light, upbeat and breezy.
Hopefully, you’ve had a conversation or two by phone or video chat before actually meeting in person for date one. In those conversations you likely picked up some tidbits about them that you can refer to on the actual date.
Here are some other good conversation starters:
- What’s your favorite thing about your job or your retirement?
- What are your favorite hobbies?
- Where did you grow up and what was good about that?
- How long have you lived in this area?
- What things do you like doing around here for fun?
- Have you lived in or traveled to any other interesting places?
- What do you like to do when you get together with friends?
- Do you have any pets?
- What are some of your favorite movies?
- What TV shows are/were you hooked on?
- What kind of music do you like?
- What kind of restaurants do you like to go to?
Maybe those awkward first date conversations aren’t so bad
According an article in The Atlantic:
“Humans are usually pretty good at syncing their response times with those of their conversation partner; some researchers believe that our brains actually fire relevant neurons at a rate synchronized to the other person’s speech. But sometimes we fall out of step—and if that disjunction lasts for too long, we tend not to like it.
In one study, a researcher tried to measure what she called the “standard maximum silence,” the longest lull people can typically tolerate before they begin to itch to say something. For most participants, that came after only one second.
A hatred of awkward silences could also derive from overthinking them, wondering if they signal some displeasure or lack of interest from the other party. Studies have found that smooth conversations—those free of pauses and filler words like uh—can boost people’s self-esteem and sense of belonging, creating a feeling of collective harmony. Disjointed conversations, meanwhile, tend to make people feel rejected.”
The article goes on to describe how those anxiety-ridden silences are even more pronounced when you’re on a date, usually with someone you have little common ground with to fall back on.
And the stakes are high, or they can feel high, when you’re on a date. People devise all kinds of tricks – subtle and not-so-subtle – to keep silence at bay.
Something to keep in mind when faced with uncomfortable silences on a first date:
Some people, especially introverts, may need a beat or two to come up with something worth saying, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
We’ve become so conditioned to worry about silences that we’re fearful of them and overly focused on avoiding dead air.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with sitting in the silence for a bit. And that’s where a warm smile can bridge the gap and put both of you at ease.