First dates. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re something you’ve just gotta put up with if you’re single and seeking a relationship. However, meeting up with a virtual stranger can feel terrifying—it can feel as though you’re putting yourself out there to be judged. One of the most common things that would run through my mind when I was navigating the dating world was the question of what to talk about on a first date. What questions was I supposed to ask? Where was the fine line between vulnerability and over-sharing?
Despite having been on many first dates, I’m no dating expert so I consulted a bunch of actual experts for their top first date conversation tips, best first date conversation starters, and advice on what not to talk about on a first date.
In this article:
- What are the most important topics to discuss on a first date?
- 15 things to talk about on a first date
- How to deal with awkward silences on a first date
- What not to talk about on a first date
Related: What to Wear on a First Date
What are the most important topics to discuss on a first date?
I don’t like to compare the first date to a job interview, but in some ways it really is similar. As unromantic as it sounds, dating is a process of filtering through incompatible people until you find someone who is compatible with you, and this process can be sped up by discussing the right topics and asking the right questions on a first date.
Licensed psychologist and in-house dating expert for EQ Magazine/Iris Dating, Marina Harris, Ph.D. recommends covering all the basic topics on a first date. She suggests that you “Get to know someone’s current job, relationship with family, and where they live. The answers aren’t as important as the context and vibe. Through the conversation you want to get a feel for how the person communicates, how [the] conversation flows, and your date’s interest level. Small talk can seem superficial or tedious, but it has important social functions like structuring the date or improving comfort around a new person”.
Values and beliefs
“The most important topics to discuss on a first date are what’s important to you,” suggests Michael Kaye from OkCupid. “If you are looking for a partner to spend the rest of your life with, you want to make sure your date checks off most of your boxes. And no, I do not mean that they are tall, dark, and handsome. Are they ambitious? Are they fiscally responsible? Do you have similar political beliefs and values? Now, you don’t have to come right out and ask how they voted, but you can bring up relevant conversations about the coronavirus pandemic, or recent threats to reproductive rights and see how they respond”.
While these might sound like terrifying talking points to discuss with a virtual stranger, it helps to remember that dating is a filtering process. You won’t marry everyone you go on a first date with, and that means broaching riskier conversation topics and dealbreakers on the first date to help eliminate the wrong matches faster. After all, the more time you invest in the wrong person, the less time you have for the right one.
Relationship expectations and goals for the future
As well as values, it’s also important to discuss relationship expectations and goals for the future. If these things are misaligned then, no matter how much chemistry you have, you won’t be a good match. In short, these are some of the most important questions to ask on a first date.
Dr. Krista Jordan, PhD says, “if you are looking for a partnership then it’s important to get some deal breakers on the table so that no one wastes their time. The art is in how to do this without sounding rude. Things like what they are looking for in a relationship, for example, are they at a phase of life where they want to date for fun, or are they interested in settling down soon with a life partner? If a person is interested in settling down soon then the question of children is also relevant— are they interested in having children in the future? Some people shy away from asking these kinds of ‘big’ questions on a first date but they need to be tackled at some point so getting them out of the way can be helpful”.
Talking about whether you want children might sound like quite a full-on topic, but it saves you from the scenario where you get invested in a relationship and only discover three months down the track that you’re not on the same page about your future goals.
15 things to talk about on a first date
While it’s a good idea to cover the important topics on your first date, the conversation doesn’t need to feel heavy or like you’re interviewing a potential candidate for the role of life partner. That means covering other, more enjoyable talking points that help you learn more about each other and gauge your potential compatibility.
One of my biggest tips for a first date is to take it less seriously—which can be hard to do when you’re terrified you’ll run out of things to say. Thanks to the help of our dating experts, I’ve compiled a list of things to talk about and some good questions to ask on a first date. There’s no need to try and memorise this list—let the conversation flow naturally, but keep one or two of these ideas up your sleeve in case you run out of things to talk about.
Sharing your short-term and long-term ambitions with your date presents an opportunity to know each other better. Whether learning a new language or skill, discussing what you wish to accomplish helps put your priorities and interests forward.
2. Favorite movies/shows
Like music, your partner’s favorite movies and TV shows can shed light on their personality. It can also help identify sparks between you and your date on top of offering new conversation starters to keep the date flowing.
(Tips provided by Rachel Sommer, Ph.D., clinical sexologist and co-founder of My Sex Toy Guide).
3. Your hobbies
Discuss your interests and hobbies. Do you have a passion for gardening? Share anecdotes with your date and ask them about their interests. Look for things in common. Avoid discussing politics and religion on a first date. Keep topics neutral and light-hearted.
4. Your childhood
Share funny stories or memories from your children. Talk about where you are from to form a bond. You may have grown up in different circumstances or environments, but it gives you insight into the other person and see them in a different light. However, it is best to refrain from mentioning past relationships and hookups. Focus on building a bond and maintaining rapport.
(Tips provided by Sonya Schwartz, founder of Her Norm).
5. Your favourite things
You can talk about your favourite food, favorite genre of movies, or sports. You will see how compatible you are based on your answers. Also, it doesn’t require critical thinking, so somehow you can’t be embarrassed to share these things.
6. Your acquaintances
See if you have common friends or schoolmates you both know, and from there you can share your experiences and randomly share fun memories you have.
(Tips provided by April Maccario of AskApril)
7. What’s your favourite way to relax?
Whilst it’s typical to ask someone what their favourite hobby is, that can sometimes be a dead-end question if, like many people, your date doesn’t have a hobby. So, instead, you should ask them how they like to relax as this will provide a better insight into their characteristics. If their downtime involves relaxing with a book, you will be able to understand if they are happy in their own company. On the other hand, if they mention friends or family in their relaxing activities, they might prefer socialising with people. Showing an interest in idle time will open further conversations to find a mutual interest.
8. What was the last show you binge-watched?
Given the pandemic, everyone will have binge-watched a TV show in the last two years so why not use this as an opportunity to tap into their interests. Asking about their most recent or interesting watch will provide you with an understanding of their genre preference and their reasoning behind it. People tend to relate to characters they aspire to be like. You can exchange show recommendations and you could find you have more in common than you think, especially if you dig deep into plot twists and start to discuss how characters coped in certain situations.
9. What is something you want to learn?
Now, this is the question you must ask on a first date as you’ll see if you have similar interests, goals, and levels of ambition. If someone doesn’t have a desire to learn, it might be a turn-off. It can be anything from learning a language to developing confidence for public speaking. It allows you to see if their interests match with yours alongside their current priorities. And hey, if the date goes well, your second date could be learning something you’re both interested in, together.
10. Do you have a signature dish you love to cook?
Asking this will show if the person is an avid cooker, or if they prefer eating out. If they admit to not cooking, you can use it as a suggestion to learn together on a future date and if they do have a dish in mind, they could indicate to make it for you one day. You’ll then open the conversation to food preferences and any allergies they might have. Or, if you both prefer eating out to eating in, this could also kickstart another conversation about the best restaurants in your local area.
11. If the world was ending tomorrow, what would you do?
Whilst this question is best saved for later on in a date, once you’re feeling more comfortable with one another or have had some Dutch courage, it’s still an important one as it can go several ways. It could invite humour into the conversation or shine a compassionate light with answers such as “spend time with my parents”. It allows you to get a real feel for their personality and an insight into if they’re spontaneous or a planner, and whether that makes a good match with you.
12. What is the best thing that happened to you this week?
Asking about something recent is a nice way to break the ice. The broadness of the question allows the person to gauge what they perceive as the ‘best’. It shows if they appreciate the smaller things in life or events on a bigger scale. Plus, talking about what’s happening in your life currently is a good way to get to know someone, as often people only talk about their most impressive, core memories as a means of flattering.
(Tips provided by Pippa Murphy, the sex & relationship expert at condoms.uk)
13. Recent TV shows
A great icebreaker is bonding over the newest tv show. Ask them questions about what they are watching at the moment and if you are watching the same, try to ask for opinions on the characters, plot, or favourite scenes. Finding something you can both relate to is the ideal ice breaker in awkward silences.
14. Talk about the location you are at
This may be a restaurant, bar, cinema, or even your house. Be open-minded and ask questions about the venue and interior and you may find they ask relevant questions back. A great one for thinking on the spot.
15. The second drink or meal
It is a good idea if there are any awkward silences to ask your date what drink they may want next or what they are ordering for their next dish. This opens a conversation about what you both would like to order and from there, questions will spark.
(Tips provided by Charlotte Johnson, Sex and Relationships Expert at Mega Pleasure)
How to deal with awkward silences on a first date
The best way to deal with awkward silences on the first date is to avoid them in the first place. Rachel Sommer, Ph.D. says, “my go-to solution to awkward silences during a date is talking about feelings and opinions instead of facts. People’s opinions are more exciting and in-depth than facts. In addition, asking general questions can lead to awkward silences. So, instead, ask questions that your date connects emotionally with”.
Coach Kev suggests “[looking] at their dating profile to get some ideas of what you can ask. Focus on asking good questions: Questions can be lighthearted or thought-provoking, as well as open-ended. For example, ‘what do you like to do for fun and recreation?’ Or, ‘Based on your dating profile you like to travel, what is your dream vacation?'”.
Unfortunately, awkward silences are a fact of life and you’re bound to go on at least one date where the conversation has a few lulls. This doesn’t mean you’re incompatible or that the date was a flop. Some of the best dates I’ve been on have been the ones where we felt that we could relax into the awkward silence, rather than feeling as if there shouldn’t be any silences or as if we needed to fill them urgently.
What not to talk about on a first date
While I’m a big believer in being yourself and letting your true personality shine on a first date, unfortunately, there are some best practices for things you shouldn’t talk about on a first date. There’s so much conflicting advice on the internet about what you should and shouldn’t ask on a first date, so I turned to our dating experts to find out their no-go topics on a first date.
Should you talk about politics, religion, and world events on the first date?
When it comes to things not to talk about on a first date, many of our dating experts mentioned that politics, religion, and world events are a no-go, as they can be highly emotional topics.
However, Treva Brandon Scharf, ICF-certified life and dating coach disagrees. His recommendation for a first date? “Cut to the chase. Be curious, go deep, be probing, and don’t waste your time with small talk. Bring up politics or world events. It’s a bold move. You’ll either establish a quick connection, learn some interesting things, or quickly decide if the date’s not right for you. Win-win-win”.
Mel Williams agrees, adding, “Absolute no-go topics for a first date are anything touching on sex or sexual preferences because you don’t know each other well enough to be that intimate. Other than that, I say everything else is on the table! First dates are about getting to know each other. It’s gathering information. If you feel strongly about politics, religion, abortion rights, or any other tough topic it’s in your best interest to learn those details sooner [rather than] later. You can learn how to discuss the hard stuff without making the interaction a tense interrogation or sucking the fun out of it. But it’s important to not waste your time dating someone who isn’t the right fit”.
This is especially so with younger daters, like Gen Z, according to Michael Kaye. “These daters want to align on those ‘tougher’ topics right away. Our parents always taught us to never talk politics on a first date, but those beliefs are now antiquated … 3 million OkCupid users said they could not date [someone] with opposing political views. So we’re actually seeing a cultural shift where taboo dating topics are becoming first-date conversations.”
Okay, so we’re breaking the old dating rules and talking about religion, politics, and any other deal-breakers. Great. Is there anything you really shouldn’t talk about on a first date these days?
Dr. Krista Jordan Ph.D. recommends steering clear of questions relating to money—like how much they make and how much they spent on their car or their house, adding that “those are important indicators of compatibility to be sure but could wait until dates 3 or 4″.
This makes sense—finances can be quite an emotional topic and might convey the wrong intentions so early on in the dating process. Likewise, talking about your own finances might come across as bragging.
Michele Paiva recommends respecting your date’s boundaries and avoiding “any past trauma, horror stories, gossip; essentially, emotional dumping … no matter how comfortable you feel. Boundaries are a gift not a punishment to you; they protect you and nurture the relationship.”
The same goes with if your date starts emotionally dumping on you. Michele recommends that “if they begin to go deep and dark, even if they are telling you how they overcome something, still try to buffer that conversation. Acknowledge them but make it light conversation if possible. This teaches them your boundaries gently and also gives you green or red flags depending upon if they can adapt”.
Is it okay to talk about your ex on a first date?
Mary Joye says it’s not. “Absolute no-go subjects for a first date are details of past relationships or anything personal. I tell clients all the time, do not start dating anyone until you’re ready to go out and not discuss your past relationship with a new person. If you discuss your old relationship, it shows you’re still attached to the other person, and that you might not be over them yet.”
It’s also not the best time to dive too deep into their exes and past dating experiences either. According to Coach Kev, “this is not the time to question non-stop about an ex-spouse or how many times they have been ghosted. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to ask about past relationships & dating experiences, but don’t get stuck there.”
Don’t forget the purpose of a first date
Chances are, you’re probably not going to marry this person you’re going on a date with, and that’s okay. The purpose of a first date isn’t to decide whether you want to spend the rest of your life with this person—it’s simply to decide whether you like them enough, and enjoy their company enough, to want to see them again.
So, take some pressure off of the date, remember to enjoy yourself and… Good luck!