Here's How To Break The Ice On A First Date When The Conversation Feels Stilted
So you've had your meet-cute or your swipe-right, you've hit it off, and now you've made it to the first date. You've put on your Tuesday night best, listened to your pump-me-up playlist, and have made your way to the restaurant. Maybe there's an awkward wave or embrace before the surrealism of being face-to-face (again) sets in. And then you're wondering just how to break the ice on a first date. Maybe it's going swimmingly: You hit it off again and can barely pause your convo to order food. Or maybe your waiter coming over to see if you're ready to order was a life preserver, since you two were drowning in painful silences and stilted small talk.
Luckily, if you've found it hard to move past first-date moments like these in the past, you're not doomed to flounder at sea. There are no awkward silences you can't recover from, says Akua Genfi, mental health counselor and co-host of queer black sex ed podcast Inner Hoe Uprising. "If you are determined, you can bounce back," she says. Along with prioritizing having a good time, here are some tips and tricks you can keep on deck help first dates sail a little smoother.
Draw Out The Details
The main key to bouncing back is asking thoughtful questions — all kinds of them. Dating coach Clara Artschwager says that this is what she leads with. "I'll ask about anything: why they ordered a particular drink, the story behind their tattoo, what they did today. I just try to get someone talking."
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Genfi echoes this by saying specifically that she gets the convo flowing with open-ended questions — ones that can't be fully answered with a "yes," "no," or any other kind of one-word response. "They call for replies that are thoughtful and include more information, including perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes," Genfi says.
For example, you can ask your date, "How was your day?" And their answer can just be, "Good." On the other hand, you can ask them a question like, "What was the highlight of their day?" The possibilities now are endless: their bomb lunch, a presentation that went well, a staff meeting that went south, a going away party for a beloved coworker, etc. This question gives them a chance to provide a back story, Genfi explains, and the opportunity for detail and points of further discussion.
Find Out More About Them As A Person
You don't just have to stick to asking Qs about the present. You can also ask questions about their past and few future, which in turn, helps you get too know your date better. "I also like to ask questions — still open-ended — that allow me to get a deeper understanding of my date’s personality. People enjoy talking about themselves, as it’s a topic they know so much about," Genfi says. "Direct questions of this nature will get anyone rambling."
Some easy go-to's Genfi offers are:
- How would you describe yourself in three words?
- What’s the most daring thing you have ever done?
- When was the last time you laughed until you cried?
But there are loads of thought-provoking questions you can ask on a date if your conversation is in bad shape and you need an extra special conversational rescue. Some good ones include:
- Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
- What's on your bucket list?
- What's something you can't let your parents know about you?
- Who would play you in a movie?
- What can you eat an entire carton of?
You can even ask your date a few sex and dating questions — subjective to the situation or in general, if you feel comfortable — like:
- How far back have you scrolled through my Instagram?
- What's the best and worst kiss you've ever had?
- Who's your celebrity crush?
Next to keeping the questions open-ended, the main bit of advice here is: Do not treat the date like an interview. "Be mindful to not fire off questions, and take time to listen and process your date's replies," Genfi advises. Don't think too hard about your answers to these questions either, in the event your date poses them to you, too. Having pre-thought-out responses "may lead to you to come off as disingenuous and robotic," Genfi says.
Use Your Body
This does not mean touching your date, even though society has normalized small touches, like putting your hand on theirs or playing footsie. "You don’t know anyone’s previous experiences or trauma history, and do not want to violate someone’s personal space/bodily autonomy," Genfi reminds us. First-date body language hacks, on the other hand, are OK.
This includes little moves such as facing someone when speaking to them, or maintaining open and positive posture or intimate spacing. Of course, smiling, eye contact, and appropriate facial expressions don't hurt to put your date at ease, either.
Crack A Joke
This can be tricky, but only works if you're on the same page, humor-wise. Knock-knock jokes should be tabled unless it's a crowd-pleaser or your specialty. And know your audience. These means probably avoiding problematic or offensive jokes, and NSFW content if you've got a strong feeling it wouldn't go over well.
Joke-telling can also only works if it feels good for you. "I'd say only crack a joke if you're confident in your joke-cracking — if it's authentic to you. I, personally, don't really tell jokes, so telling a joke wouldn't feel like a false version of myself," Artschwager says.
One easy way to break the ice is to quip about what's going on in your surroundings. "Observational comedy can be a hit. Finding humor in the present environment around you engages your date and increases experiential intimacy," Genfi says. Ultimately, mixing up the convo with a joke can be a sweet, feel-good way to get the first date convo flowing.
Address The Awkwardness
Pointing out the discomfort is a way to keep things real. Artschwager says, too, it's more so about communicating how you're feeling. "If things aren't jiving, a simple, 'I have to be honest, I'm struggling in this conversation,' or, 'I have to be honest, I'm not sure we're enjoying each other's company' [can work]," Artschwager says.
Keep it short and work on redirecting the convo. By doing that, too, you can also reduce the anxiety that the dead air in your conversation had created.
Remember: First Dates Are Bound To Be A Bit Awkward
"Don't let the awkwardness of a first date deter you – they're meant to be somewhat messy! Even as a dating coach, when I'm first meeting someone I'll often say, 'Ah, I have to be honest, these first dates can be a little tough for me!'" Artschwager explains.
And no matter if it's the first date or the fifth, always stick with being your whole self. "Eventually your whole self will emerge and you still be facing rejection — or you’ll spend the rest of your interactions with this person suppressing parts of your personality and walking on eggshells. Abandoning aspects of your persona to attract someone else is a disservice to yourself and the relationship," Genfi says. "It is inauthentic and won’t be sustainable."
If you two are a good fit, that won't be derailed by 30 seconds of staring at each other and fiddling with silverware. As Artschwager says, "There's power in leading with vulnerability."