Nine First Date Rules That May Surprise You

Updated April 11, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

A great first date can be an exciting step toward a relationship, but a bad first date can be difficult to overcome. You want to be yourself genuinely, but you also want to impress your date. Since communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, a boring or overly negative conversation can sink a first date, as can other factors you may not have considered.

Do you know the importance of body language on a first date?

If you're no stranger to dating, you've probably had many first dates after meeting people through dating apps, mutual friends, and chance meetings, most of which didn't lead anywhere. Not every first date will spark something more, but knowing certain first date tips can help you make the most of a date with the potential for connection. 

While the following “dating rules” may apply to certain people in dating scenarios, they are not meant to be limiting. When you’re dating someone else, you both are responsible for determining the “rules” of your relationship. What works for one couple might not work for everyone else, and that’s okay – that’s the beauty of dating!

Is it a date?

While it may seem silly, the first question to ask yourself when dating a new person is, "Is this actually a date?" You want to be very clear on this one to avoid getting your hopes up. You don't want to assume it's a date and then realize that the other person is just looking for a one-time hook-up. Modern dating practices have been labeled “hook-up culture” practices, which can make clarifying expectations upfront an important part of setting up a date.

In the past, it was typically frowned upon to hookup, or engage in anything past a kiss on the first date. Many of these views are antiquated, however, and modern health advocates place a much greater emphasis on comfort, self-respect, and consent, rather than placing arbitrary rules on physical involvement and the number of dates a potential couple has gone on.

Instead of relying on first date sparks, hints, and speculation, don't be afraid to ask whether or not it's a date directly. Dates usually involve more planning and structure than hook-ups. Also, communication is a make-or-break factor on a first date. A first date conversation is often structured to optimize getting to know one another and gauging compatibility, while hookups are designed to provide both participants with pleasure, rather than the weighty expectations of a potential relationship.

Although dating and hooking up are the most likely possibilities, there’s also the possibility that it's just a friendly get-together if they invited you out. Ask if there will be other people there if you're aiming for a romantic night, to avoid embarrassment or confusion.

Should you kiss on the first date?

Should you kiss on the first date or not? The answer to this one is highly individual and dependent on multiple factors: the chemistry you have together, your comfort level and that of your partner, and the opportunity to engage in a kiss. One study showed that 70% of participants had kissed on the first date.

Nerves can lead to the first kiss being awkward, but passing up the opportunity to kiss may indicate to your potential new flame that you are not interested. Open communication can prevent misunderstanding between the two of you. If you do not feel comfortable kissing on the first date, let your date know! If you would like to kiss, let your date know that, too. Communication is vital to make sure you and your date feel comfortable, safe, and heard on your outing. Regardless of where you stand, your confidence in asserting yourself can either be attractive to your potential partner or possibly turn off someone who isn’t compatible with you – which is ultimately a positive thing!

The best advice is to be prepared and let the moment unfold if you're hoping for a kiss on the first date. Don't skimp on the floss and the breath mints and embrace the opportunity if it arises—but don't be too disappointed if it doesn’t. Not everyone feels comfortable kissing on a first date, and people may require a few dates to really feel the chemistry begin to build. 

First date rules you need to know

Before you go out, keep in mind the following plans for a first date to feel more organized and less anxious about having a wonderful first date. The first date is important, because it helps you assess whether you want to pursue a relationship with them, but the anticipation doesn't have to send you spiraling into a panic attack. Keep your calm and commit to making it a fun first date—even if things don’t go the way you planned.

Listen more than you talk

You may be worried about giving a good impression, mentally tallying your accomplishments, and trying to come up with witty anecdotes. Important dating etiquette suggests focusing on what your date is saying. If you can show that you're listening, it gives your date the impression that you care about what they have to say.


Communication can be used as a powerful indicator of relationship healthy. If you find yourself struggling to listen to your partner, it may indicate that you are not interested in them—and the reverse is also true. Listen as well as you can, and pay attention to how closely your date seems to be listening to you.  

Set your phone aside

If you have a habit (as most of us do) of scrolling through your phone during any free moment, you need to be aware and prepare accordingly. A glance is one thing, but if you’re flipping through your phone frequently during your date, the other person will probably get annoyed and think that you’re bored or uninterested. No one wants to waste their time, and this kind of behavior will lower your chances of a second date. After all, no one ever exclaimed, “It was a great first date! They stared at their phone the entire night. I can’t wait to see them again!”

Set realistic expectations

No matter how into this person you are or how much you want to impress them, don't drain your bank account to wine and dine them on the first date. If things work out, you'll potentially feel pressure to continually outdo yourself with each subsequent date. It’s better to start things off in a casual, fun location, doing something that allows you to chat and get to know each other better.

You can do many different things for a first date that won't burn your whole paycheck. It helps to have a general idea of what your date is interested in. Do they seem like the romantic type? Did you initially bond over your love of video games? You can also always ask them where they'd like to go. Even if you and your date don't end up connecting, you'll still have had a unique experience.

Dinner date ideas to spark romance:

  • An obscure, small restaurant that your date has never been to

  • A home-cooked meal and a rented movie

  • A restaurant with live music (as long as you can still hear each other speak)

  • A stroll through parts of the city where you can order an enjoy street food

  • A restaurant serving ethnic cuisine you or your date has been wanting to try

  • A picnic in the great outdoors

Cute date ideas to keep it casual:

  • Taking a cooking or dance class together

  • Participating in a karaoke night

  • Sightseeing in a nearby town

  • Taking in a comedy show

  • Exchanging silly first date gifts

  • Listening to live music in the park

Don't give them the impression that you're a stalker

Even if you're interested in your date and have already scanned through their public social media profiles out of innocent curiosity, don't bring up something you saw on their profile if you want to make it a great first date. The same goes for any information you may have discovered while searching their name on Google. There’s no shame in looking up someone, especially if you’re prioritizing your safety and well-being. Bringing up these findings on the first date, however, might make them uneasy, since it's just the first date. They may feel concerned that you’ve based your first impression off irrelevant or inaccurate information, or they may feel defensive because they weren’t privy to any of your social media information prior to the first date. While it's perfectly normal to scope out your date, you don't need to talk about it unless you want to come off as a snoopy. 

Wear comfortable shoes

This advice isn't just regarding your height in relation to your dates. Since dress shoes make it more difficult to walk comfortably, wearing them can limit your mobility and irritate your feet if you end up going for a stroll or dancing. It's best to wear comfortable shoes since your date probably won't be paying much attention to your feet and you want to feel as comfortable as possible.

Maintain a dialogue, not a debate

If you're passionate about your political beliefs, you may be tempted to bring them up during a first date. After all, you don't want to start getting invested in a potential love interest, only to realize you two have conflicting views on issues that are close to your heart.

It’s suggested to keep controversial, emotionally fraught topics and strong political opinions for at least the second date. The only exception is when you're sure that you and your date have the same political views. However, if things begin to get heated, it's probably time to switch subjects, as few people consider a heated, contentious debate a great first date.  

Minimize alcohol intake

A drink can settle anxious nerves and loosen your tongue, but several consumed within a short time frame can prove problematic. You want to maintain control during a first date and not be too impulsive in what you say or do. You also don't want to give the impression that you have a substance use problem. Keep the drinks to a minimum and practice slowing down your breathing, instead, if you are searching for a way to soothe your nerves.

Mirror their movements to appear interested

Body language is universal among human beings, no matter their backgrounds. Up to 93% of our communication as humans may be non-verbal. One way to make your date feel at ease and engaged is to mirror their body language. You may already do this subconsciously, but you can also make a conscious effort to make your date feel heard, seen, and at ease.

You don't want to make it obvious what you're doing by directly matching huge gestures and movements. Still, subtly copying your date's body language—using similar hand gestures, returning their smile, and positioning yourself in the same way they are—can show that you're interested and help establish a connection.

Steer clear of past relationships

It's okay to mention your exes in passing, but you want to avoid spending more than a minute or two speaking about past relationships. Resist dwelling on memories of your ex, even if your breakup isn't far in your past. Not only will it give the impression that you're not over them, but you may make your date feel like you'd rather be elsewhere. If you want it to be a great first date, avoid talking about any other dates you’ve had in the past, and focus your attention on the present.

What if it doesn't work out?

Do you know the importance of body language on a first date?

Did you go on a date with your long-time crush, only to experience rejection at the end of the night? Have you been on a string of first dates without any follow-up calls? Dating issues can erode your self-esteem and optimism over time. You may begin to doubt yourself, leading to more anxiety and less motivation to seek a relationship.

A therapist can help you work through issues affecting your self-esteem and teach tools for more effective dating, including offering advice, online dating encouragement, and communication techniques. By evaluating consistent pitfalls and going over your fears and concerns with a mental health professional, you may be able to determine the source of any struggles you may be facing and work through any baggage that weighs you down. provides affordable, expert advice online (dating or otherwise) to help get to the root of your relationship woes and develop healthy tools to improve your mental health and relationships. Regain users can schedule sessions with their online therapist at convenient times, and even text them directly (like in the moments before meeting a first date!) There is also no need to travel to an in-person therapist’s office when you use Regain – you can speak one-on-one with your counselor from any location with a stable internet connection.

Multiple studies reveal how online therapy is beneficial for people whose mental health conditions may be interfering with their overall happiness in life and within relationships. After all, low self-esteem has been associated with health problems like anxiety and depression. In one recent study, participants diagnosed with either anxiety or depression went through an online therapist-guided intervention based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a kind of talk therapy that counselors employ to help people reframe negative thought processes into positive ones. After the intervention concluded, participants showed robust reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression.


Of course, low self-esteem isn’t necessarily an indicator of a mental health condition, and there’s no shame in seeking the support of a therapist without a mental health diagnosis. An online therapist can be an asset in someone’s life, acting as someone who can help you generate date ideas, come up with conversation starters, or show more confident body language. Your experience with your therapist will be completely determined by your goals. When you’re ready, reach out to an online counselor at Regain today to start improving your dating life and overall self-confidence.

For Additional Help & Support With Your ConcernsThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.