Connecting Emotionally On A First Date  

By Yangki Christine Akiteng, Love Doctor 


We live at a time when forming sexual relationships is getting more and more complicated. We're bombarded with information and statistics glamorizing dating and making it look so easy. TV shows such as "Sex and the City," ‘The Bachelor” and many other “hook up” shows are all filled with images of pseudo-witty, independent and sexually "liberated" wannabes all wrapped up in Gucci, sipping pink cocktails and exploring Kama Sutra with a non-stop string of well to do suitors. But for many of us it's not happening that way in real life.

Not only is dating frustrating, it appears we are quickly forgetting how to connect with the opposite sex in a meaningful, fulfilling and lasting way. We're playing the Dating Game but no one seems to know what to do anymore.

Just the other day, a client described to me how she found herself arguing with a guy she really liked over who should pay for the meal. The ridiculous situation came up because of all the confusion over who pays for what and when it is a date. Often a man or woman will ask someone of the opposite sex out for coffee or to the movies thinking they are just hanging out. Then he or she offers to pay and the whole outing becomes “confusing” because the person begins wondering if it’s a “trick date”.

Why does something as natural as finding someone to be with have to be such a struggle?

Both men and women I have talked to tell me they think that the feminist revolution which ushered in so many great achievements and remarkable progress in gender equality also brought along confusion between the sexes leaving many vulnerable and confused. We seem to know our gender rights and boundaries in all areas except when it comes to sexual relationships. Here the boundaries become fuzzy and even keep shifting depending on the circumstances. I agree that there is so much confusion as to who does what, to who, for how long and when, I also think that there is an additional dynamic driving today's dating game.

In the old days, men and women spent time getting to know each other often becoming good friends before the relationship became romantic and/or sexual. During a date, the man consciously tries to make a woman happy, doing everything he does to gain her attention and affection. The woman on the other hand encourages him with admiration, respect, and appreciation for even the smallest things he does for her. But these days it sort of works backwards. It starts out with mostly romantic dinners, romantic emails, expensive gifts and sex and then it builds into a friendship - that is if a couple even ever gets to the friendship level.

There are many couples today who get married and have never developed a friendship at all. They live like two perfect strangers who occasionally find something in common to say to each other or do together. Intimacy is a task instead of a given; accountability and responsibility are burdens rather than freedoms; creativity and humor is lacking in every aspect of their lives and relationship. It is practical prison!

In today's dating arena, both men and women tend to seek after commitment first and foremost. Before they even go out with you on a date, they want to know if you are willing and ready for commitment. Because commitment is very high priority on the agenda, there is an enormous (and unnecessary) pressure on the date to progress in a certain way. Sometimes one or both parties have expectations but these expectations are never explicitly discussed and both parties are left second guessing each other.

Asking someone out is really hard for both men and women. Getting to know someone on an intimate and meaningful way is even harder. For someone interested in more than just superficial, self-absorbed, egotistic, selfish and manipulative dating, you may have to figure out new rituals of connection and intimacy that make it possible for you to connect and stay emotionally close to your date.


Let's say you are attracted to the teller at the bank. You could flirt, deliver your best pick-up line, and ask what time he or she gets off, but you anticipate (rightly) that they may not be comfortable mixing business with pleasure.

So, what do you do?

I have listed here a few suggestions that might make it a little easier to ask someone out and actually manage to have a "fun" date. These suggestions can be used equally by men and women, however, I do realize that individuals need to make their own decisions about how they want to date and I do believe that it’s important that each individual make his or her own decisions. Please look at these only as guidelines and NOT "rules".

1. You smile, make eye contact, introduce yourself, ask their name, make small talk, pay a compliment, anything you would do to be friendly with anyone in any setting. The purpose of this first contact is to walk away having left a positive impression.

Return to bank within 48 - 72 hours. The purpose is to try to discover whether he or she is even slightly interested. Now that you are on a first name basis you can start with small talk and add some personal "I was sort of hoping that you'd be here when I came in". Note their reaction- positive, negative or neutral. Towards the end of the transaction say "I really enjoy talking with you." Leave another positive impression, this time based upon something real about you.

If you are one of those women shy about asking men out, say "I really enjoy talking with you. Here is my card. I would love for you to call or e-mail me sometime". The problem with this is that now you can not call or email him without appearing "desperate" or "coming on too strong".

2. Preplan what you want to do - where you want to go, and when you want to do it, before asking the person out. And I think this is true whether you ask the person out in person or over the phone. If you do ask someone out over the phone it’s important that you make clear just who you are. There are a lot of John’s or Mary’s in the world and it’s hard to distinguish who you are just on the basis of a first name or the sound of your voice.

Make some sort of personal connection by reminding them of the conversation you’ve had in the past - or in what other context you know them. This makes it a little more personal.

Ask someone to do something casual as opposed to a more formal date. With something casual, there doesn’t have to be a lot of heavy planning. Examples would be to ask someone to have coffee after work, to look at pictures in a gallery or go play tennis at a public park. That kind of request may be easier for someone to say yes to than a more formal kind of date like going to dinner or a concert.

3. Tell the person what you plan to do. For example, saying "Would you like to play tennis on Thursday?" lets the person know what he or she might be saying yes to—both INTEREST and AVAILABILITY. Asking in this way is typically construed as friendly, non-threatening, and respectful. You are giving him or her lots of room to decline easily and gracefully. This more direct approach is more likely to be successful than something as indirect as saying, "What are you doing Saturday night?"

It’s also good to let the other person know why you want to go out with him or her. For example, " you seem like a really interesting person" or "it seems that we have a lot in common". You're just being authentically, benignly and innocently friendly. It is very helpful for you and for them to know why you want to go out with him or her and most people would be flattered and positive; don't worry about the people that take you the wrong way, they are simply screening themselves out.

4. If the other person says “yes” and you end up out on a date (I prefer to think of it as doing something together), do not to start by asking a lot of questions about the other person because this tends to put him/her on the spot. Instead, it’s best to start by giving information about yourself. Very briefly talk about what you’re interested in, what you are into and then ask a question or two about them to get the conversation going.

Once the conversation takes off, try not to talk too much about yourself instead focus on the person before you and you might just discover how good you are at picking up other people’s vibes. Most people are often too concerned about what they’ve said or what they’re going to say next that they don’t really pick up what it is that is being conveyed to them. Listening involves paying attention to what the person is trying to tell you verbally and what he or she is actually saying non-verbally. It’s important to let the person know they’ve been heard and understood. Ask a meaningful questions about what was said, how a person feels about what he or she did etc. Finally, you can talk about yourself, either how or when you felt in a similar situation – maybe it was the same as they felt, maybe different. This allows you and your date to communicate on a more personal level.

Another way to get the conversation going on a personal intimate level is to share the feelings that you’re having at the immediate time. For example, if you’re at a movie that’s boring, you can turn to your date and say, "This is a really boring movie," chances are they are going to respond by agreeing with you. In this instance, it’s best to be honest even though sometimes honesty may make you uncomfortable. This might even provide a good laugh for both of you and really ease the experience and make it more pleasurable.

5. If the person says "no" to your request for a date, don’t necessarily think that it means that he or she doesn’t ever want to do something with you. Take into account the tone of the conversation and the sincerity in the excuse they give you. For some people, the timing isn’t right because of other commitments or because they are preoccupied or stressed about other things. For some, the activity you are proposing might not be something they have interest in. So if you presume that the only reason you’re being turned down is that there is something wrong with you, you may be making a very big mistake.

It is true, however, that some people just don’t hit it off together and there may not be anything you can do about that except to look for someone whose interests are more like your own. You also need to keep in mind that a person’s accepting a date may not mean anything beyond the acceptance of that given date. You should keep your focus on having an enjoyable date rather than planning for any particular future with that person based on their accepting the date.

That said, nobody is perfect at this process, but you can have a lot of fun meeting new people, so the effort can pay off if you give it a try. And, like with any skill, you can get better at it with practice.

I hope that these suggestions will empower you to take more initiative and be a successful single.