3 Surprising First Date Conversation Tips

You’re on a first date, and you really want to make it to a second date. Should you:

  1. (a) Talk about him, or (b) talk about yourself?
  2. (a) Ask lots of questions, or (b) not ask questions?
  3. (a) Play it cool, or (b) get excited?

I’ll give you a clue. The answer is either all a’s or all b’s.

Before I tell you which one it is, let me tell you how the scientific method was used to discover these answers.

Two scholars from Stanford and one from the University of California wanted to know what makes two people click.

So they sent graduate students on more than 1,000 4-minute dates. Each student wore an audio recording device. After the date, the participants rated their experience.

The researchers encoded thousands of minutes of first-date conversations. The results, published in the May 2013 American Journal of Sociology, provided some surprises as well as confirming some common-sense truths.

For example, women are much choosier than men. They look for men who excite and engage them in conversation.

Men, on the other hand, express interest in a number of women. They’re less focused on the quality of a conversation and more focused on physical attraction.

I’m sure none of that surprises you! Next, the researchers tried to nail down the signs that a date was going well.

When a man is feeling a sense of connection with a woman, he’s more likely to laugh. His voice evens out into a monotone, presumably because it sounds more masculine.

Women display different signs. When they’re feeling connected to a man, they tend to speak more softly, at a higher pitch. They take shorter turns while speaking.

The best dates, the researchers found, are those with a high level of excitement. Both parties are enthusiastic, engaged, and swap stories instead of swapping questions.

So far, so good. Now comes the part that turns conventional dating wisdom on its head…

The most successful dates are those in which the woman spends a lot of time talking about herself.

The more she says I, me, and myself, the more successful the date—both in terms of how connected she feels to him and how connected he feels to her.


Talking about yourself to a man who’s supportive and understanding creates a feeling of intimacy. As he expresses appreciation or sympathy, you feel that he “gets” you.

Even if he interrupts you to share an insight or his own story, your connection won’t suffer. His interruption demonstrates that he’s just as caught up in the conversation as you are.

However, this shared connection won’t happen if you’re talking about yourself because he’s asking you lots of questions about your life.

The more questions you ask each other, the more it’s a sign the date isn’t going well. Here’s how the researchers explained it:

“We found that questions were used by women to keep a lagging conversation going, and they were used by men who had nothing to say.” [1]

Does that ring true in your experience?

So what you want to see is a first-date conversation where both of you are passionately swapping stories about your lives.

He is listening to you carefully and responding appropriately. He’s taking a supporting role so that you can shine. He’s not changing the subject to talk about what he’s interested in.

You may have heard advice that says just the opposite … that women should talk about what men want, not show too much enthusiasm, and let him lead the conversation. But the evidence suggests that strategy is not a winner, at least for a first date.

It may be that asking him lots of questions is a successful strategy for a second or third date. This particular study didn’t go that far.

One last tip:

Avoid ambiguous expressions like maybe, kind of, or about. When you use a lot of hedges in your speech (words and phrases that express uncertainty), it’s a sign that the date isn’t going well. Men click most with women who speak definitively.

With all that fresh in your mind, let’s go back to the question that opened this article. On a first date, should you:

  1. (a) Talk about him, or (b) talk about yourself?
  2. (a) Ask lots of questions, or (b) not ask questions?
  3. (a) Play it cool, or (b) get excited?

You tell me: which strategy are you going to try next time?

[1] https://nlp.stanford.edu/pubs/mcfarlandjurafskyrawlings.pdf

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