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An Expert's View on First Date Conversations

Marcelina Hardy, MSEd, BCC
The Date Doctor - Colleen Long, Psy.D.
The Date Doctor - Colleen Long, Psy.D.

If you are searching for things to talk about on the first date, read this interview with dating expert Dr. Colleen Long. Not only does she work with hundreds of couples and individuals struggling with dating and relationships, she steps out into the dating world to experience it firsthand. Dr. Long developed the program Date Doctoring by Design.

The Importance of Conversation on a First Date

Dr. Long, why do you believe it's important that people know what to talk about on a first date?

As with anything, preparation combats anxiety. If you arm yourself with an artillery of "talking points" (things to talk about on the first date), then you have a strong foundation to fall back on during those inevitable awkward silences.

When is a good time for someone to bring up conversation topics during a first date?

I don't think you should ever do something as contrived as bringing up "topics" (for example, "So next, let's move into the topic of the environment. Your thoughts?"). If you are doing a good "ping-pong" of back and forth discussion with topics of equal interest to both parties, it should flow pretty well without needing the introduction of topics.

However, there are those dates where the person is either so nervous or so inept in the art of conversation you may need this to fall back on (in which case, my hunch is that this date is likely to be your first and last). In that case, bringing up topics such as current events, interests, foods, should be done as soon as possible to avoid the dreaded awkward silence.

Finding Things to Talk About on the First Date

How does someone choose what to talk about when one person doesn't know the other one that well?

Remember the traits and things you do that make you an interesting and unique person. Use 15 to 20 minutes of your "getting ready" regimen to write down the fun and exciting things you are doing now. What's great about you? When those things are fresh in your mind, you are more likely to slip them into conversation, and these will likely spark a great first date talk. Also, remember the most memorable dates are those in which a person feels someone is truly interested in getting to know him or her as a person - so reciprocate. Once you discover something about your date, continue to ask him/her about that subject, almost as if you were interviewing your date for a show. You want to make it genuine, and convey your interest in really wanting to know what is under all those layers, and what makes him/her "tick" as a person.

What are some examples of questions that will lead to good conversation?

Any question that is aimed toward finding out more about the other person is a good bet. I call this the onion exercise because essentially, what you are doing is peeling away layers of that person.

First, the question is pretty topical - "What do you do for fun?" However, as the person answers, your questions can become more specific and targeted - "That's interesting that you like to skydive, what about that appeals to you?" or "Do you like the term adrenaline junkie?"

If you move in the direction of the "why" or "how" versus the "what," it will bring you much better results. This way the person is giving you open-ended responses versus one word answers, which could make you feel like a detective on a goose chase.

How much should people talk about themselves during a first date and how can someone achieve a good balance?

I call this the "ping-pong" test. You want to make sure that the conversation is never too one sided. You can easily measure your progress by looking at each other's plates. If your date's plate is nearly cleared, and yours is still mostly full, it may be an indicator that you have been doing too much of the talking. If this is the case, look at it as an opportunity for you to move the questioning in your date's direction, then sit back, and enjoy your meal. I love first dates because it is like a meal and a show. You get to eat fantastic food and learn about someone else.

If you realize you have really overdone it and have been on a ten-minute monologue, you might want to say, "I apologize, I completely just went on a ten minute monologue without even asking you how you felt about ____." This sends the message to the other person that you are self-aware and cognizant of your date's feelings.

Conversation Topics to Avoid

It may not be what you discuss with your date, but how you discuss it. Read Dr. Long's advice on how to talk about subjects that are not usually considered good first date topics.

Is it ever okay to bring up controversial topics such as abortion, politics, or religion?

While the traditional advice is to avoid religion, politics, and money - I disagree. I was on a date once in which the guy began talking about his religion within the first ten minutes. He then quickly asked me if I would "be willing to convert for the right person." This immediately let me know that I would not be going on a second date with this particular gentleman. Had he waited until the third or fourth date, I may have wasted much more of my time.

I think being able to talk about your personal beliefs in a way that is not offensive, is an art and a necessity on the first date. After all, you are in a way, interviewing the person who is going to be hearing about them until death do you part (death or your incessant ranting about the "socialist agenda").

What should someone NOT talk about on a first date?

Remember, you want to keep the first date fun and airy. Women tend to go right for the heart-strings and bring up hot button issues such as past relationships, fights with co-workers, or life's trials and tribulations. When you associate yourself with negative situations (even though it wasn't your fault) you tend to give your date the impression that you may be a negative person.

Keep the focus on the things that are happening in your life which are positive. You'll have plenty of time to talk about how horrible ____ was to you on date number three.

Final Advice on Good First Date Conversation

Do you have any other advice on how to spark good conversation during a first date?

Take a page from Thich Nhat Hanh, he says you should feel loving kindness towards all. Usually, people default to a sense of feeling self-conscious or nervous about what the other person is going to think. If people intentionally project loving kindness and a genuine caring curiosity towards each other, there is no room for the nervousness. Positive and negative energy cannot exist in the same space.

LoveToKnow Dating would like to thank Dr. Colleen Long for her advice on first date conversation. .

An Expert's View on First Date Conversations