First off, I recognize these things are mostly for me as not a lot of people look at life, or want to look at life this way. Still, I hope a few others are at least enjoying reading them. If you aren’t but still clicked on this for some reason, know that the amount of math has dropped off to almost none at this point as we move from selecting out of a population to actually dating individual people. So… enjoy!
I often assume people know what to do on a first date, but it’s not true. And it’s not true only partially because a lot of people don’t go on many first dates. The other reason is that no one can agree what they want! How well do you know this person? How well should you know them before you ask them on a date (or accept)? If the answer is: “not very well” how do you pick what to do, or figure out how to make a good, first impression?
For right now I’m going to assume it’s guy-ask-girl. I don’t personally feel this is superior to the opposite, and most of the discussion can easily be reversed if needed, but it is the most common so that’s where we’ll start. Maybe it’s good to begin with the question: “what do most people do on a first date”?
Sadly I have a very limited, empirical understanding of this. I know what I do, but talk about selection bias! I’ve rarely been asked on a first date by a girl so my experience is basically either driven by my choices (and thus not good sampling) or is not first hand. Still I have some idea based on what I’ve seen and heard. My experience says that the typical first date is either a group activity (like a dance, or a large group of friends) or it’s a dinner and a movie style of date, which most often manifests itself as a dinner and a movie.
Each has its plusses and minuses. The group activities, even the dances, are pretty low-stress from a commitment level. Often times neither party is even sure it’s a date! On the downside: neither party is even sure it’s a date. Also, it’s harder to get to know someone in a group setting and easier to get lazy and end up just talking to the rest of the people there rather than focusing on your date.
The ‘dinner and a movie’ has a lot of detractors, but I’m a fan on general principles even if I don’t actually do it myself. The benefits are that it’s demonstrably a date. Though the ability of young people to confuse themselves about romance is endless, most people can tell that when a young man asks a young woman to go see movie with him either preceded by or concluding with dinner: it’s a date. Which means modes of thought and future possible paths get put into play and is immensely helpful in defining what’s going on an why, as well as being a very low-stress environment from which to begin. For those nervous about dating and particularly, nervous on first dates this can be a great thing.
Though there’s no denying its negative side as well. When you add dinner it gets better, but going to a movie isn’t exactly a chance to see the other in action or get to know them any better. And even if you’re not completely destitute, paying for a half-way decent dinner and a movie for two can be a financial issue.
I’d say the biggest thing I think people should do that they don’t when planning a date is think about what they want out of it. Are you just trying to follow the council to date more and thus don’t much care? Have you secretly wanted to date this girl for ages but couldn’t work up the nerve to ask her and thus just want a first date to get over that issue? Do you date all the time and thus need to quickly get to know her and find out if you like her, or do you date few enough people such that you can take a few dates to work out if she’s someone you want to pursue?
Of course other factors come into it too; are you friends already or do you barely know each other? Do you know what she likes and doesn’t like or have you only seen her at school? Can you afford a reasonable evening out or do you have to watch every penny? Even nominally free dates tend to cost money in some form or another, so that one can be a pretty big driver. Especially if you want to date with any kind of frequency.
In general my advice to people (not that they ask, so I don’t every actually give this advice) is make it something you like to do. If you know the person well, and know enough to plan something they’ll love fine: do that. But as a default do what you enjoy. First off, if you’re going to arrange it and pay for it, it may as well be a positive memory. Especially if the two of you are incompatible that can make you feel a lot better about your choices. But there are much more important reasons I suggest that as well.
One of the hardest factors to overcome on a date is that it’s pretty common for one or both people to be nervous or uncomfortable. There can be a lot of pressure and it will make people not themselves. Making them better or worse is not the issue: they’re different from who they really are and who they really are is who you want to get to know. Doing something you like will help at least you relax and since you don’t know what will make them relaxed, may as well make at least one person comfortable. It’s part of putting your best foot forward. In addition, if it’s something you genuinely enjoy then that helps them see who you are, and see if they’re interested in the same things. There’s nothing that says if you like to visit botanical gardens they have to too, but you have to start somewhere.
Everyone I’ve gone with one or more date on here in Wisconsin, at least one of those dates was to the Milwaukee symphony. It’s not for everyone, but it’s something I really enjoy and most girls find appealing even they aren’t really into the symphony. I’ve always had a pleasant time; a drive in to downtown, dinner, and a bit of walking the city followed by wonderful, live music and a chance to discuss it afterward. I quite like it.