Monday, August 25, 2008

Narrow down the restaurant list even more

After you narrow your list of potential restaurants down to those that meet your economic and ambiance requirements, narrow the list down even more by doing the following:
  • Pick a place you know. Menu familiarity reeks of confidence. You’ll sound like Cary Grant if you lean over and say, “Try the duck. It’s out of this world.” Also, knowing a restaurant well means that you’re comfortable with the service, the all-important table spacing, the lighting, the wine list, the taste, the presentation, and payment procedures. It’s the way to ensure you’ll have a good time. And if you’re happy, your date stands a better chance of being happy, too. Avoid trendy new hot spots. Number one, they are often very difficult to get into, and number two, they can be very expensive — you don’t want to put your MasterCard into meltdown. Number three, these days, they tend to be noisy! It isn’t the type of place you want to be on a first date. Save the trendy, expensive hot spots until the two of you know each other better. Scout out some very nice quiet restaurants that will not keep you waiting. Getting drunk at the bar while waiting for your table will not make you look suave. Another added advantage of by-passing the bar wait is that you’ll find yourself with money left over for your college education or braces on your eventual children’s teeth. Most importantly, make it someplace quiet where you can talk.
  • Pick a place that knows you. What could be cooler than a maitre d’ smiling widely when you walk in or a waiter saying, “Nice to see you again!”? Better, though, is the fact that regulars usually get the best tables and most prompt service — both of which go a long way in creating a great first date.
  • Pick a place where your date can eat. There’s the obvious (don’t take a vegetarian to a steak house) and the more subtle (if his cholesterol count is above 300, steer clear of the Wisconsin Cheese Fest). Chances are, unless you already know each other well, you won’t know the intricacies of your date’s dietary preferences. Simple solution: Ask ahead of time. Less simple: Keep everyone’s options open by selecting neutral territory, such as a restaurant with a large menu or a coffeehouse with a small one.

Doing the restaurant thing

Going out to eat is one of the most common first date activities. But it doesn’t have to be routine. To make your date a notch above ordinary, put a spin on the restaurant theme:
  • Go to a coffeehouse. Unless you’re meeting at a Starbucks and ordering two grande skim lattes and roasted pepper and goat cheese sandwiches (which is about the same price as the national debt), compared to a traditional restaurant, this is a pretty cheap date. It’s the ’90s version of a singles bar: relaxed, casual, and no time pressure.
  • Go to an interesting restaurant. Food is good. Good food is even better. Good, unusual food is the best and often less pricey than the usual, boring steak or fried chicken. It doesn’t have to be the culinary experience of your life, but fun and interesting food (maybe ethnic, but easy on the spices) on a first date is a cool idea. I’m partial to weekend lunch and brunch dates, myself. It’s relaxed, liquor’s not required, there’s plenty of time to get to know each other, and it’s in the daytime.
Food can be incredibly sexy and fun, as Hollywood readily attests: Rent the videos Like Water for Chocolate, Babette’s Feast, Big Night, or even 91⁄2 Weeks.
There are some way cool ways to enhance the enjoyment of a restaurant date. First, for any restaurant you consider, think about the following:
  • Noise level: You got together so that you can get to know each other. It makes sense to be able to hear what your date has to say and talk without seriously harming your vocal chords.
  • Price: Go to a place you can afford. You can’t enjoy yourself if you worry about your date ordering an appetizer and a dessert.
  • Service: You want the service to be attentive, without hovering. And who wants to be rushed out the door?
  • Spaciousness: Adequate space is an animal need. That’s why we all feel a little uneasy in a packed elevator or an overcrowded restaurant.
  • Lighting: You don’t want it too dark or too light. Too dark and he can’t see the great job you did on your makeup, or she won’t notice that your tie matches your eyes; too light, and no matter what you did, you’ll still end up looking like a delivery to the morgue.

Good places for a first date

Following are the cream of the first-date-ideas crop: All can feel wholesome and nonthreatening during the day and only slightly sexier after dark.
  • Museums: At a museum, you get to meander through the halls, look at exhibits, and chat about anything that inspires you. It’s a great place to get to know each other and to see each other’s tastes in art — or whatever. Also, most museums are usually easy to get to and offer a place to eat (even if overpriced for what you’re getting, they won’t break the bank). A museum is relaxed, easy, and inexpensive and doesn’t bump into any of the ten rules for first dates.
  • Amusement park: Unless it’s really hard to get to, going to an amusement park is usually fun and makes everybody feel young and carefree. The only real problems? Sticky fingers from cotton candy and rides that make you so queasy you’d give up your firstborn for an antacid tablet, but all-in-all, a good choice.
  • Walks: You can take walks (almost) anywhere: parks, zoos, botanical gardens, and so on. It’s cheap, fun, and pressure-free. Plus, you can often hold hands.
  • Street fair: You’re outside, nothing costs very much, you’re around other people, and there are a lot of things to talk about. In the winter, you can substitute county fairs, car shows, boat shows, antiques shows, and even zoos and botanical gardens, all places where you can move around, nothing is very expensive, you’re outdoors, and you can talk without interrupting people.
  • An auction: An auction is a fun date as well as long as you don’t get carried away and resist the temptation to bid. I actually had a great time at both a livestock auction and a farm machinery sell-off although I did buy a cow at the former once for a guy I was seeing — but that’s another story.
  • Outdoor activities in general: Sporting events, concerts, county fairs, zoos, and picnics are great ideas for first dates. You can talk, and because you’re outside, everything feels less claustrophobic. It’s easy and relaxed, and figuring out what to wear usually isn’t a problem.
  • Miscellaneous indoor events: When the weather turns ugly, consider car shows, boat shows, art shows, antiques shows, planetariums, and aquariums. You can talk to each other with no worries about being shushed!
It may seem that in a big city there are more options, but an awful lot of people that live in big cities don’t know how to act like tourists. Don’t assume that if you are living in a small town that there is nothing to do. Even if you live in a small town, my guess is that there is an obscure museum or park that you haven’t been to, a historic monument, a fun and unusual event, a local sporting tournament. You can certainly look into special exhibits at museums or art fairs, traveling carnivals or dances work too, because what you want a first date to be is a little unusual, a little fun, but not to make either one of you feel uncomfortable.

If you know everyone in town, what you may want to do is go to the next town over so you don’t feel like your first date will appear in the local gazette. There is no such thing as an area that doesn’t have special events, and what you need to do is become a little bit like a detective and look in the Friday or Saturday paper and see if there is an art festival going on, or if you live in a college town find out if there is something going on at the school. Don’t assume that you’ve done everything that there is to do; I guarantee that with a little bit of energy and ingenuity you’ll find something remarkable.

Mediocre Dating Ideas

The ideas in this section, although very common, aren’t necessarily your best choice for a first date. Of course, they aren’t your worst choice either.
  • Movies or plays: On the not-so-good-as-a-first-date side, going to the movies or a play doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to talk, and if your tastes differ, you may have a hard time finding a show that pleases you both. On the other hand, having seen the same movie or play gives you something to talk about afterward, and, well, it is kinda fun sitting together in the dark worrying about whether or not to hold hands. It can also give you time to calm down a bit before you actually have to talk to or look at each other. Make sure your date hasn’t already seen the planned event or loathes the genre. If you plan to go risky — horror flick, avant garde performance piece, or nude review — check with your date or save the shock technique for date four or five.
  • Dinner: A dinner out is a classic, but as the focus of a date, there is too much potential for an upset tummy: deciding what kind of food, the potential to spill, and that old broccoli-in-the-teeth thing, for starters. If you’re not the one footing the bill, figuring out what to order that’s not too expensive is also a challenge. If you’re going to eat, make it a side activity rather than the date itself, or try a casual approach rather than the Ritz. Any place that has headwaiters is going to be too expensive, emotionally as well as financially.
  • Party: How good a party is as a first date depends on who’s hosting the party and where it is. If your date will be the only person who doesn’t know everyone, and you don’t know your date, it’s a bit tricky. My advice is to make other plans for your first date. Of course, going to a party is a great date for later on.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Places and things to avoid

Following are occasions and places you want to avoid as a first date. As a rule, these events create unrealistic expectations and involve too many other people. If it’s fireworks you want, get thee to a wienie roast in a gasoline jumpsuit.
  • Wedding: Going to a wedding as a first date violates just about every single one of the ten basic rules listed earlier. If you want to quibble about Rule 6 (Do something that isn’t competitive), are you really so na├»ve as to think your date isn’t trying to figure out how to beat you out the door when the ceremony’s over? The stakes are just too high at weddings. Avoid them at all costs as a first date. In fact, because weddings are such a bad idea for a first date, I’ve made it the standard by which all other bad first date ideas are judged.
  • New Year’s Eve party: Oh, puh-leeeze, New Year’s Eve is the scariest night of the year for a first date. New clothes, high expectations, lots of booze, high-ticket others — consider this a mini-wedding. Just about the only thing it lacks is a weeping mother-in-law and a crazy uncle who thinks the ladies’ room is the coat check. On second thought, it just lacks the mother-in-law.
  • Valentine’s Day: Valentine’s Day has all the anxiety-producing elements of a wedding, all the over-blown expectations of New Year’s, plus the paper-Cupid-induced hope of true Romance. Valentine’s Day is so potentially explosive that even couples who’ve been together for years approach it warily.
  • Thanksgiving dinner: Think of how many traumas you’ve experienced at your family’s Thanksgiving get-togethers: Uncle Harry getting plastered; Sister Susie crying into the crystallized yams; brother George coming out; Mom burning the turkey; and cousin Jim wanting to bring the TV to the table to watch football. Even if your family doesn’t behave like this (what, you’re from Pluto?), it still violates Rule 9 (Don’t involve highticket others) big time. In short, Thanksgiving is truly a family holiday —all the more reason to avoid it as a first date.
  • Beach: Although a great date for later on, the beach isn’t first date stuff: too much skin, do you or don’t you apply suntan lotion, and if you do, to what and to whom? A first date on the beach also violates Rule 5 (Go to a place that’s easy to get to), Rule 10 (Find an activity that doesn’t last more than a couple hours), and often Rule 3 (Do something that doesn’t require new clothes).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Find an activity that doesn’t last more than a couple of hours

Brevity is not only the soul of wit, but it is also the essence of a good date. In Chapter Two, a Neil Simon play, the male lead (played by James Caan in the movie version) tells the female lead (played by Marsha Mason), after a tenminute introduction, that he’s really enjoyed their time together and thinks it’s time to plan a second date. He leaves and knocks on the door. When she answers, the two begin their second date, much more relaxed. The key is to leave ’em wanting more. If you both had a good time, you’ll both eagerly anticipate date two. If one or the other of you didn’t have a good time, keep in mind that one of the ways to limit the damage is to limit the time. If the date was only mildly troublesome and not prolonged agony, you may well recover and be willing to try a second date.

Do something that doesn’t involve high-ticket others

High-ticket others include friends, family, exes, kids, animals, or colleagues. Audiences are fine if you’re an actor giving a performance. They are tricky if you’re trying not to perform and just be, which is the point of a date. If your first date involves your parents, sibs, workmates, or people who know you and love you, the date is going to feel like an audition. You don’t need other people’s opinions at this point. (If you don’t have enough confidence in your abilities and think you do need the opinions of a bunch of other people, you ought not to be dating yet.) Later on, when the two of you know each other and feel a bit more solid, showing each other off and getting feedback from your friends (always a bit dicey) may be cool, but for heaven’s sake, not yet.

Leave time to get to know each other

A date that is chock-full of activity keeps you busy, but if the purpose is a chance to get to know one another, some quiet time is a great idea. Without a bunch of distracting noise, activity, or an audience, you can talk to and get a sense of one another.

Pick an activity that doesn’t involve a lot of alcohol

Alcohol has been, is now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future the major drug of abuse in this country (more Pilgrims drowned in the canals after getting drunk and falling overboard on Saturday nights than were killed by Native Americans). Both of you are going to feel a bit nervous anyway. Why add the temptations and problems of alcohol, especially if you have to drive home?

Do something that isn’t competitive

Avoid arm wrestling on the first date. Although some relationships thrive on tension, it’s hard to put competitive feelings in a context when you don’t know each other. Even if you’re not competing with each other, how you deal with someone trying to beat you while the date you’re trying to impress is watching gets pretty dicey. Beating someone on a first date means that one of you feels like a winner and one like a loser. Not a cool idea.
I walk fast. For years it was my primary form of exercise, and I still use it to keep in shape. When I say fast, I mean fast. Often, without realizing it, I’ve left my companions no choice but to carry on a conversation with the back of my head. Oops. The point is that different people are comfortable with different levels of activity. Bear this in mind before you suggest a Saturday hike, rollerblading, break dancing, or bungee jumping from a hovering helicopter.

Go to a place that’s easy to get to

Long car, bus, train, and — God forbid — plane trips may be fun once you get to know one another, but for a first date, it’s really risky. Although these trips have occasionally worked out as a way for two people to get to know one another (at least you can talk), you run the risk of using up your tolerance for one another before you arrive at your destination, and then, boy, are you both stuck. If you’d just gotten to know each other in smaller doses, however, you may have been okay.