You’ve been listening to Bitch Better Have My Money on repeat for the last twenty minutes, and your heart is beating as hard as it would if you didn’t have Rihanna’s money. You’ve carefully disheveled your hair and, on the chance that there’s a lull in the conversation, you’ve rehearsed a nonchalant recounting of this super funny and random thing that happened to you in line at Starbucks this morning.
Guns blazing and expectations as high as your heels, you walk into the first date. Maybe he’s an absolute gent and spent his early twenties learning the Irish fiddle in County Clare. And maybe, if you met online, he looks exactly nothing like his pictures and makes a slurping sound as he chortles. When you carve out time to meet someone one-on-one, there’s an inherent awkwardness, and the dynamic can be a bit of a gamble. If you’ve reserved the entire evening, you might be in for a long haul.
What would happen if you just stopped going on first dates? If you framed an initial meeting as more of a “meet up” and didn’t allot very much time for it? Would Bath & Body Works go out of business? (Let’s be real, who uses body mist on a second date?) Would chivalry rear his well-groomed head from the grave and die once again?
Research conducted by E. Jean Carroll, love guru of Elle magazine and cofounder of the matchmaking company Tawkify (disclosure: I am a matchmaker there), reveals that the two optimal times for first dates (that lead to second dates) are Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons. There’s way less “date” pressure on a Tuesday than there is on a Friday, and way less rom-com-instilled expectation at a brewery at 2pm than there is at a jazz bar at 8pm.
I’m all for gestures and romance and holding boomboxes over your head and not putting Baby in a corner and making out with Ryan Gosling in the rain. But in order for a gesture to feel romantic, it has to feel earned. It has to feel like a choice rather than a default. It has to feel proportionate to the level of intimacy you share. It’s one thing if your girlfriend of a year climbs through your window to surprise you with breakfast in the morning, it’s another thing if a girl you’ve gone out with twice does it.
The idea of a first date is just to see if there’s enough intrigue to merit seeing each other again. That’s it. It doesn’t need to be highly curated, expensive, or ceremonious. You don’t need to exchange every detail of your life and background, and you don’t need to go horseback riding.
Those pairs who go on first dates on Friday or Saturday night, prime real estate for dating, might have just as much potential for chemistry as those ones that go out on random weeknights. But in the early stages of courtship, expectations have a habit of getting in our way. When we expect profound connection and trust to be there instantly, we shortchange connection and trust from building. When we design a romantic oasis before those feelings have had a chance to develop, we draw attention to the absence of those feelings.
I’m not suggesting that you only meet dates over PBRs on Tuesdays, or that you wait to be thoughtful and sweet until a specified number of dates have occurred, just that you take off the pressure from the “first date” and save the middle-school-style slow dancing to At Last for down the line.
It seems counterintuitive, but some of the best matches I’ve made have resulted from casual last minute day dates, and some of the the most magical dates I’ve gone on myself have been second dates that followed first dates so low-key that they felt like an afterthought.
On a second date there’s more space for genuine gesture because you’ve both chosen to be there based on a grounded assessment of each other, rather than a preconceived abstraction of who the other person might be, or an Instagram perusal. You heard it here first: second dates are the new first dates, and first dates are for middle schoolers and guys who still wear hair gel.