Seven things smart women should never do on a date

I believe that smart, fabulous, successful, attractive women deserve fulfilling, deliriously happy love lives.  Sometimes, though, unintentional behaviors ruin our chances in courtship.

In compiling this list, I’m speaking as an author who’s been on the receiving end of hundreds of guys’ letters on their dating woes — and a single guy who’s been on a bad date or two. So what I’m telling you here is straight from the horse’s mouth — if horses had graduate degrees and spoke in complete, remarkably coherent English sentences.

Also note that the subject of this article was framed negatively to get your attention. Now that I have said attention, I will frame the items positively — things you should do. Tends to be even more useful.

So, you’re ready? Here they come:

1. Do everything in your power to keep the first date.

So your guy met you at a party somewhere. He stuck his neck out and wrote the first email, made the first call, and set up the first date.

Sure, you hit it off when you first met, and it was fun talking to him on the phone.  But right now, as the moment of truth draws near, you just feel like you need to cancel or postpone. Excuses to cancel seem to be cropping up by the minute.

And you know what?  That’s normal.  The temptation to cancel the first date at the last minute is going to come up nearly every time you have one.

Why? Because first dates are stressful! You’re going on an evening-length job interview that costs you money.

But if you want the job, you will show up to the job interview, as stressful and un-fun as it may be. You will dress up, you will do your homework, and you will do your absolute best.  If you want the job.

And if you like this guy at all (whose name may or may not be Job) and want that second date, the third date, and the glorious, passionate, mutually-fulfilling relationship with moonlit walks, nights at the ballet, sheet-ripping sex, extended Sunday morning cuddling and brunch, and a magnificent white wedding on the beach…

You’ve got to have that first date.

There’s no way around it. So you don’t cancel. You keep the date and show up. If you like the guy even a little bit, do everything in your power to keep the date.

Because if you cancel, you’re basically telling him through your actions (which speak much more loudly than words) that he’s second best.

Sure, legitimate excuses do come up — illness, family emergency, blocked airway, severe hemorrhage.  But short of those, he’ll take it personally, and if he has a shred of self-respect, he’s going to be very reluctant to ask you out again.

Perhaps more important, you are unconsciously going to start disliking him.  Why?  To avoid cognitive dissonance.  A little voice in your head will say, “Well, if I canceled on him, it’s either because I’m an awful person — or because I don’t like him!”  Now someone who was perfectly attractive yesterday is suddenly less appealing.

So the whole edifice of romance comes down crashing in a heap of disappointment. He’s probably not going to re-invite you. And you’re certainly not going to ask him out. End of story, and a lost opportunity for both.

On the man’s side, flaking wreaks emotional havoc on a guy (yeah, we have feelings, too).  It’s basically an invalidation of who he is.  So you have no idea how grateful guys are when a woman keeps her word and shows up on time. His respect for you goes up tenfold, and that’s a much better setup for a potential relationship.

2. Give him your full attention.

Once you show up on a date, the best thing you can do is to give him your full, undivided attention. More than tight dresses, and yes, even more than cleavage, giving a man your attention is the most attractive thing you can do in his presence.

Avoid the temptation to fiddle with your nails, flip through a magazine, or flirt with a waiter. This is pretty basic, but you shouldn’t be flirting with guys other than the one you’re with.  Dance with the one who brung ya.

Every once in a while when you’re out on a date, you’re going to bump into friends. It’s polite to say hi to them, but keep the interaction brief. Avoid the temptation to spend more time and attention on them than on your date. He’ll be very grateful for it.

3. Turn your phone off.

You’re probably very attached to your phone and carry it with you everywhere. Especially if it’s a Blackberry, you check it dozens of times a day. And if it rings, you jump to attention, stop whatever you’re doing, and answer it immediately.

The whole point of the phone is human contact. Calls, messages and emails are all just proxies for face-to-face human interaction.

But you know what? On a date, you’ve got real human contact right in front of you — the intended result of all those calls and messages.

When you pick up the phone and speak to a third party right in front of a guy you’re out with, you’re saying loud and clear: “This call is more important than your company.”

No self-respecting man wants to feel second-best, so if you’re into him and answered the phone, you just ruined your chances big-time.

So just turn the phone off to remove temptation altogether. Besides, the date is for you, too. You’ll enjoy it more with your attention focused on your fabulous company.

4. Elevate your date.

If you’ve ever wondered what to talk about on a date, here’s an idea: give him a compliment. One well-placed compliment is likely to have him floating for weeks. And wanting to come back for more.

You know how powerful compliments are. You can probably remember a compliment that someone gave you as a girl, years ago. Remember how good it made you feel? Well, you can do the same for this man.

You also know how powerful a cut-down can be, and how long those last. A little bit of playful teasing is okay, but avoid the temptation of making any kind of put-down, cutting remark or sarcasm altogether.

The most effective compliments address a quality that a man has obviously worked on.

For example, complimenting him on his height is nice, but noticing his graceful bearing as a result of two decades of martial arts training is better. Saying “gosh you’re so smart” is good, but noticing his expertise on English Romantic poets is even better.

When you address the compliment to a noble aspect of a man, it makes him grow even more in that area. So with your compliment, you’re actually helping this man’s evolution. A good man knows how rare that is, will appreciate you and come back for more.

5. Ask for information judiciously.

Good fences make good neighbors, and in relationships, there are information fences around certain parts of our lives. So if a man seems reluctant to proffer certain bits of personal information, respect that.

Now some questions you’re entitled to have an answer to, especially on a first date. ‘Are you married?’, ‘Do you have any kids?’, ‘Are you gainfully employed?’, ‘Have you ever been to prison?’, ‘Do you do any drugs?’ deserve a straight answer, and if you don’t get one, there need not be a follow-up date.

But if he says he’d rather not talk about his parents, his work, his atheism or his missing pinkie finger, respect that. If you like each other enough, you’ll meet again. And with greater rapport and familiarity, the important information will come out eventually.

On a personal note, I’d rather talk about anything besides other people, especially when they’re not present. So when a woman presses me for juicy gossip, it’s a big turnoff. Our company is sufficient — no need to bring other people into our space.

6. Give out information judiciously.

When I was in England, I struck up an email correspondence with a friend of a friend who was very smart and attractive. In the third email, without any prior warning, she sent me a 5-page novella describing her love travails in intimate detail. All before ever meeting face-to-face.

Needless to say, whatever romantic interest I had in her extinguished, never to be rekindled. Had she revealed that stuff in an appropriate manner, it could have been a different story.

As a general guideline, privileged information about breakups, bodily functions, drug use, finances, politics and religious preferences are best left for later (or never) rather than sooner.

Sharing privileged information is the currency of intimacy, so do share some juicy stuff — tactfully. At the same time, leave a little mystery, too. Missing information is what draws people in. Keep him curious and wanting to know more.

7. Keep your wits about you.

Many a great first date happens around a civilized libation.  And a nice buzz is a good cure for the overthink.

However, turning into a slobbering, slurring boneless mass incapable of walking is something else altogether. It says so many wrong things about a person that nothing is less attractive.

Moreover, it puts you in a position of compromised judgment and coordination, which opens up a whole Pandora’s box of problems — and real danger.

So even if you completely trust the guy you’re with, do yourself a favor and stay mostly sober. Drunk people say and do things they don’t really mean, which puts a decent guy in a position he’d rather not be in.

6 Comments on “Seven things smart women should never do on a date”

  1. Nicole

    Hi Dr. Ali,

    Thanks for all your posts. I really appreciate reading what you have to say.

    It’s pretty common knowledge to stay away from the topic of religion on a first date, but I wonder why that is. It’s come up (naturally) on a couple first dates. So, when asked about my religion, I always answer with candor. To be honest, I like to have this discussion early. It’s important to me to be on the same page as my future husband in this regard. So, why waste each others’ time if our values and ideas are different? Also, does spirituality fall under the umbrella of religion?

    Thanks for your thoughts on this!


  2. kofybean

    If men have to approach, court, plan, drive, entertain, and pay for dates… what exactly do women do besides show up?

    1. You have daddy issues

      Welp. Last time I went on a date, I bought a new dress, all new makeup, new shoes, new perfume, self tanner, new jewelry, and spent a long time making myself look beautiful so that he could be proud to have me at his side. The total of that came to abooooout 250 dollars and two hours. Dinner came to less than 100 because neither one of us wanted to drink and ruin the experience. Oh, and I looked him in the eyes, laughed at his jokes (because he was funny and awesome), asked him questions, answered his questions as honestly as I possibly could, drug out dessert as the restaurant closed behind us so that we could keep talking because I was having such a wonderful time, and gave him a kiss at the end of the night. He paid for dinner without question, didn’t expect any kind of sexual activity, and he asked me out a second time. I happily accepted, and we did it all over again. Not all women use men for free food. I have plenty of food in my house that I can eat like a mannerless maniac whenever I want without the awkward niceties of going on a date with a guy whom I don’t even like JUST to get fed. Give us a break, please.

      1. Samy

        I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not a makeup or serious fashion person. However, on my last first date, I bought a new shirt and new boots and spent a lot of time getting ready. I also told entertaining stories that kept him laughing for most of the evening. Then, he asked me out for the next night and tried to kiss me goodnight. Even though it was a fantastic date, I freaked at the end. I think he felt brushed off and now I am sad. That is what I hate about dating. It makes me feel bipolar.