Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column that can tell you how to lower your AT Field before getting stuck in the Dirac Sea of loneliness.
This week, it's time to look at a surprisingly neglected side of dating advice: you've managed to land that first date… now what? Just because you've managed to get your special someone to go out with you once doesn't mean you've reached the end of the game. Now it's time to take things to the next level: seeing them again.
Let's do this thing.
I've read your stuff before so maybe you can lend a tad bit of advice?
For the last year I've had a lot of first dates and no second dates. :\
This has happened pretty often and it's kind of having an adverse affect on my self image. I don't consider myself the hottest guy out there (far from it) but I'm generally very open and honest with people but most girls I've gone on a date with either don't talk to me again after the first date or their suddenly very busy. I can accept the latter without much heartache because some people just have busy lives but the lack of any kind of context or closure does mess with me a bit.
I don't really know what I'm doing wrong, and for the most part I felt the dates went well. Its happened enough times that I'm almost afraid to ask a girl out anymore. I've even tried to get my mind off it by getting as absorbed into my games and writing as I can, but every now and then I get the urge to want to pursue a relationship.
I've even had a mutual friend through Facebook recently tell me she'd like to go out sometime and I've known her a bit since highschool, but I'm absolutely terrified to accept her advances because if things go like the past it will be kinda awkward because this is a person I see almost regularly at social events such as local band gigs and our local nerd shop.
If I was the superstitious type I'd think I was cursed only to have first dates and no more...should I tell her politely I'm not sure dating is a good idea right now and risk awkward moments in the future or should I suck it up and take the chance?
-Hopelessly Romantic and Doomed
Before I get to the meat of your question, HRD, I want to start with something I think you're undervaluing: you're getting a lot of first dates. This is, in and of itself, a good thing. It means that for all the self-deprecating comments you've made early on, you are behaving and presenting yourself in a way that means many women are interested in getting to know you better and going out with you.
This is actually important because it ties into something I've mentioned before, something that a lot of dating coaches and self-help columns won't tell you: at its core, dating is a numbers game. No matter whether you're Emma Stone, Idris Elba, Kerry Washington, or Charming Tater, you are inevitably going to have false starts and dates to nowhere. There will be one-sided attractions where you think you're a good match and they disagree and vice versa. There will people you think you're attracted to until they manage to hit your personal "NOPE" button and you'll spend the rest of the date looking for an excuse to leave so fast that there'll be a HRD-shaped hole in the wall behind you. That's just how dating works, and you have to accept that going in. Womp-womp.
Yes, that seems like a downer. But here's the twist: the more women who're willing to go out with you, the more opportunities you have to dazzle them with your looks, persuade them with your personality, captivate them with your charm and - failing everything else - baffle them with your bullshit.
Now, this doesn't mean that you're down to sheer luck as to whether or not you get a second (or third or fourth or…) date. Chance does play a part - sometimes you're the right people but not at the right time or place - but you also have to help stack the odds in your favour.
You don't mention what's happening on these dates and I'm not following you around in order to observe them so I can't tell you specifically what you're doing wrong. However, I can tell you that there are some surprisingly common issues that mean your first date is often your last.
The first is: make sure you're not boring her before you even open your mouth. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they take their potential sweeties on boring-arse dates. Everybody and their dog has done dinner and a movie (congratulations, you've ensured two hours of not being able to talk to each other!) or the coffee date where sit across from one another and ask the same 10 questions everyone asks on first dates like it's a job interview.
If you want to help get a second date, make sure the first date is fun and different. As a general rule of thumb, you want your first date to be engaging and active, in ways that will help you connect with one another. A sushi-making class, for example, has the benefits of a dinner date, but means that the two of you are working together and learning something new - and the novelty is appealing. If you're going to get drinks, go someplace where you can play pool or shuffleboard and get a little competition going, where friendly smack-talk can lead to flirting. But if you really want to try dating with the cheat-codes on, do something exciting. See, humans are bad at telling why we feel the way we do; we feel the physical symptoms and assign meaning to them afterwards based on context. When our pulse is elevated and our adrenaline is surging, it could mean that we're scared… or that we're sexually aroused. The difference is in the context - is there a sabertooth tiger in the grass around us, or are we with someone hot? Activities that get the blood pumping have the same physiological effect on us as sexual arousal and we tend to associate those feelings with the people we're around. So going go-karting instead of grabbing coffee can help make the difference of her feeling like you two have amazing chemistry versus "Well that was ok, I guess…"
Remember: when it comes to dates, exciting beats pleasant hands down.
The next common mistake is not connecting on more than a surface level. Part of what we want when we go on a date (besides sloppy makeouts at the end of the evening) is to meet someone who really gets us. There's something incredible when we feel like we've made a deep connection with someone. You want to get past the surface issues - those standard 10 Questions (what do you do for a living, where did you grow up) and get to what makes your date tick. So instead of asking about their job, ask her what she's passionate about or what she'd do if she didn't have any chance of failure. And show that you're actively listening - rephrase what she said and use it as a springboard to ask more questions.
Not sure what to ask? Then ask her what makes her awesome. This is what's known as "qualification" - you're essentially asking her why you should like her, then agreeing that yes, that does make her pretty damn cool. It helps create a positive feedback loop - you're finding out about what your date has going on in their lives and validating them for being cool. Having people validate us is a powerful feeling and it makes us feel much more warmly towards them.
Take an open-ended, low-investment question - "Are you creative?" for example - and follow up on that answer with why that makes her cool and interesting to you. Then follow that up with another question - "So what do you do to express your creativity" and repeat the process.
The third most common mistake: not making sure the chemistry is there. There's nothing worse than a date where you're both just sitting there, feeling every minute slip away until you're one step closer to death. But chemistry isn't a binary thing - it's not a case of "there or isn't", it's something you create. You help build that attraction with flirting, bantering and teasing. Too many people tend to hold back, afraid that if they indicate that they're sexually interested in the other person, they will come off as a creep. But here's the thing: being interested in someone isn't the problem, it's how you express it. You can flirt, even be overt in your sexual interest while still being a gentleman. It's a matter of being willing to read her signals and respond accordingly; if you dial up the flirting a little and she doesn't respond? You dial it back. Don't make a production of it or get upset - just recognise you were starting to push the line and step away from it. Being willing to respect her boundaries and comfort levels is key to being an awesome guy and not a creeper. Just remember: when in doubt, ask what Jack Harkness would do.
And most of all: relax. You're not trying to defuse a nuclear warhead. You're on a date. Dates are meant to be fun. If you're tense, that's going to translate to how you're behaving and that will make your date nervous too.
With all of this in mind: yes, go out with your friend. One date that didn't go perfectly doesn't mean that you're suddenly a social pariah or that you're forever tainted in her sight. Did you act like a complete asshat? No? Then the worst thing that happened is that you went on a date and things didn't work out. Oh well.
Here's what will make thing awkward if they don't work out: your acting awkward around her. She's going to be taking her cues from you. If you treat it like it's no big deal, she will treat it like it's no big deal.
Take a deep breath and relax, HBD. You're doing better than you realise. Fine-tune your dates a little and you'll start getting those second dates… and third ones.
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.
Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.