DATING 101: From First Date to Perfect Mate

Step 3: First-Date Success

First dates are a time of whines and sometimes roses. They're a time of conjuring up a flattering facade, of battling nerves and unrealistic expectations, of making judgment calls often so charged and delicate they would test the wisdom of Solomon (''Should I offer to pick up the check? If I do and he says okay, I'll think he's a cheapskate and never want to see him again. If I don't offer, he might think I'm just out for an expensive meal ...''). Yet first dates are a necessary evil in the lives of singles. Handle them correctly and you might just find yourself on the verge of a relationship. For that to happen -- or just to make it to date #2 -- you need to know how to make a good first impression, what topics of conversation to avoid when you're just getting to know someone and how to ease the pressure so that you can (both) shine.

Dating pressure be gone!
Let's face it, first dates bring lots of anxiety. If you're not your best under pressure, you need a way to make that first date feel less date-ish. The solution: Go on undates. When someone asks you out, tell him you'd love to accept his invitation but only if your get-together is not officially labeled a you-know-what. More pressure-alleviating tactics: Don't make the get-together on a Saturday (date) night; do center your plans around an activity both of you enjoy. The more fun you're having, the more apt you are to forget that, semantics notwithstanding, you're -- pssst -- on a date.

The key is to alter your attitude and lighten up about the whole date thing. Whether it's a date or an undate, all you're doing is hanging out with a new acquaintance for a few hours. Your life does not hang in the balance if one or both of you decide this afternoon or evening is all she wrote for the ''relationship.''

Next page: Find out how to make a good first impression. Plus, important discussion do's and don'ts.

Make a good first impression
Although acting completely natural on a first date is about as possible as acting natural at a job interview, it's important to act as if you're having a good time. Put on an Academy Award-worthy performance if you must. Men enjoy being around someone who is smiling, friendly and entertaining. For some warped reason, they do not enjoy being around a depressed, codependent, quivering wreck who is wearing the visual equivalent of a ''kick me'' sign (for a reminder lesson in self-confidence, peek back at step 2).

Discussion Do's and Don'ts
I'm not suggesting you act like someone you're not on a first date. It's important to be yourself -- at your most sparkling and self-confident, of course. Trot out your most entertaining tales -- the sure-fire crowd-pleasers; save for a rainy day those sad confessionals. On a first date, the object is to put your best foot forward, not put your foot in your mouth. Which stories should make the first-date cut? I'd relate the time your knowledge of the Heimlich maneuver saved your brother from choking on a sausage. I'd keep mum about the devastating extent of your emotional crack-up after your bridegroom left you at the altar. Other topics to avoid or approach exceedingly gingerly include sexual and romantic confessions; exes; your recent gynecological (or other medical) problems; or any sign that you're interested in speedy commitment or the size of your date's wallet.

Your challenge: Go on a great first date. Have fun, try not to stress and, please, stay vertical. Warning: If you hate being lectured to, ignore the rest of this paragraph. Otherwise, here's my speech on first-date sex: Although doing the bedroom boogie when you've barely said your how-d'ya-do's won't necessarily doom a relationship, neither will it jump-start intimacy (well, not in the way you most desire). Sex too soon can cloud your judgment about your partner's character and compatibility, as well as leave you feeling vulnerable, emotionally needy and entitled to commitments from him that he's not ready to make. And nothing makes a man run quicker than a woman who's clutching at him.

Remember, first dates are for making yourself seem like the sexiest, smartest, most wonderful creature alive -- without stretching the truth too much. Be open, be honest, but be sensible. Slowly, slowly reveal your quirks, flaws and neurotic needs. And try to be accepting of his.

Talk about this workshop on the Dating Doyenne message board.

What (and who) is your ideal date? Figure out what kind of date suits your style. Plus, share your dating success stories!

Adapted with permission from The Q&A Dating Book by Sherry Amatenstein. Published by Adams Media Corporation. Copyright 2000.

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