An introvert's guide to not completely ruining a first date

In the list of Things in Life That Are Hard, dating is right up there with becoming a rocket scientist.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Lynn La
4 min read

This is part of CNET's #adulting series of stories to help you figure out how to live, work and play now that you're all grown up. 

There are about 8 billion people on Earth. If you whittle down that population to all the people you genuinely clicked with and romantically liked, that number goes down to, like, four. So the idea of meeting someone new and dating them -- as in, spending time with this person; sharing a meal with them; perhaps holding their hand or whatever you crazy kids do these days -- is nerve-wracking.

As such, I put together this guide to help you all (and myself?!) on how to date in real life. Because we all know the best dating advice comes from 1) writers, who are known for being social and not weird at all, and 2) tech nerds who are super cool and dated all the time in high school. All the time! So many dates!

Do your research

If this is your first time going out with someone and you aren't already connected on social media, it never hurts to do some online digging to learn more about the person. (I'm a journalist, OK? I look up everybody. I'd look up my retired violin teacher if there was a social network just for that.)

This could be considered "creepy," but it's fine if you don't slip up (as in, you're 56 weeks deep into his or her Instagram and your fingers are steadier than a neurosurgeon's hands because you don't want to accidentally "like" something at 3 in the morning). And while I hesitate to actually friend someone through these sites (especially in the early stages), you can turn the info you've learned into conversation starters.

And really, how is this different than prepping for a job interview? It's like that time you were on LinkedIn and found out your prospective boss played varsity volleyball, so of course, now you did too. It's the same thing. It's called being a self-starter -- leave me alone!


To calm your nerves, you can do a practice-run of the date by yourself!


Have an itinerary in mind

If you're the person who asked the other person out, have an agenda (the scheduling kind, not the scheming kind). An itinerary keeps the night flowing and can be as simple as getting dinner and grabbing drinks at specific places.

"Playing it by ear" usually means you didn't really put a lot of thought into the date. Next thing you know, you're in the DVD aisle at Costco wondering if you should buy the "Planet Earth" Blu-ray even though it's been out for 11 years, and your date's standing around the pile of Champion sweats looking bored.

On the flipside, be flexible if plans change. This is the beginning after all, and you want to appear like the chill person who "goes with the flow." Even if you had everything planned on a Google Doc, scheduled in Calendar , and mapped out in Maps, it's OK. The other person doesn't have to know you're a Type-A person deep down. Because you're not! You're chill, remember?! Ha! Ha! Ha! ::sobs::

Try listening

The prospect of making conversation can be stressful. What if you have nothing to talk about? What if they're boring? Or worse, what if you're boring? But the best lesson I learned about talking is really an antidote: listening. Stop worrying about what to say next and listen to what's being said. Once you do that, the conversation should keep flowing. And people do notice when others take a genuine interest in what they're saying. It's a funny thing, not being self-involved.

Also, remember to relax. Assuming you're a decent person and you didn't say anything flagrantly offensive, you're probably in the clear in terms of saying embarrassing things. The other person is likely just as nervous. He or she won't care about the time you were talking about your interests and wanted to say both "art" and "food" so you said "fart" out loud instead. (We've all been there.)

There are some topics, however, that can signal the date isn't going so hot. The weather, for example, or listing Netflix shows you've been meaning to watch for 15 straight minutes. If it comes to that, try and reel back the conversation to each other. This isn't a complete list, but some topics that have me mentally checking out every time it's brought up include: what credit cards have the best rewards; "Oh my God, why don't you have Venmo?!"; and whether or not it's pronounced with a hard G or soft G.

Take rejection in stride

Things will be OK.

Nic Henry/CNET

Sometimes people don't jibe with one another, or they lose interest. That's OK. It's like that pineapple thing on Oprah. Some people like pineapple and some people don't. It would be a total waste of the pineapple's time to worry about all the people that didn't like it. Instead, the pineapple should be happy about all the people who already like it. Then it can be happy and get eaten and die -- wait, this metaphor is getting away from me, but you get it.

People are going to like who they like, and you can't convince anyone otherwise. As long as the person rejecting you did so in a straightforward and decent way, there's nothing you should do about it.

Think about all the secure people you know in your life. They probably wouldn't flip out just because another person rejected them, and that's something you probably admire about them. So even if you know you're not secure inside, be graceful about your rejection. It'll help others perceive you as secure, and most importantly, help you perceive yourself as secure. 

And if it helps, keep in mind that every rant you text to your ex can totally end up online or in the /niceguys sub-Reddit.

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