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What to talk about on a first date – and topics to avoid

Man and woman on first date in coffee shop. (Getty Images)
Make sure your first date-ready with these top tips. (Getty Images)

Got a first date lined up for Valentine’s Day? If so, and you’re bricking it, give yourself a break. It’s perfectly natural to be nervous, after all you’re meeting a stranger. But conversation can – and should – still flow, with a bit of know-how (flow-how if you will!) from the dating gurus.

What to say on a first date...

Ask questions

Asking questions is the best way to open up a conversation, advises Pippa Murphy, relationship and dating expert at Condoms.uk, giving you “more time to think about what you want to say and the other person an opportunity to share something they feel strongly about”.

Also, let’s face it, most people like talking about themselves...

Read more: Speed dating: Best questions to ask when you've got mere minutes

So what are the best questions?

– ‘How was your day?’

“It's a good way to let your date know that you're interested in them and their life,” says Murphy. “If they have had a terrible day, they'll appreciate the fact that you care enough to ask, and if they’ve had an amazing day, they'll love talking about it with someone who's actually listening.”

‘What is something you want to learn?’

This is a great question for a few reasons: a) because hopefully it reveals they are humble enough about life to want to learn something – otherwise, alarm bells! and b)It allows you to see if their interests match with yours, and if you have similar goals and levels of ambition,” says Murphy.v“And hey, if the date goes well, your second date could be learning something you’re both interested in, together.”

– What is the best thing that happened to you this week?

“The broadness of the question allows the person to express what they perceive as the ‘best’ thus telling you more about them,” says Murphy. “Do they appreciate the smaller things in life or events on a bigger scale?

"Also, talking about what’s happening in someone’s life currently is a good insight into the real them – not just the curated highlights they’d normally share to impress you."

Whilst asking questions is a great ice-breaker, to avoid coming across like Jeremy Paxman, offer your own insights and information too. And remember to listen…

Read more: Hoping for a date on Valentine's Day? These are the dating apps you're most likely to succeed on, says new survey

Two men on date, toasting drinks. (Getty Images)
Strike a balance between asking your date questions and speaking about yourself. (Getty Images)

What is their philosophy on life?

“Post-Covid we’re all looking for real connection,” says relationship strategist, Mairead Molloy. “So your first port of call should be to find out what their philosophy on life is.”

“A great way of doing this is asking them what their passions are, how they see themselves and how they enjoy spending their time.”

This is better than asking what their ‘hobby’ is, adds Murphy. “This can be a bit of a dead-end question if they don’t have one. Asking them how they relax gives a much better insight into their characteristics – do they like to be alone, or with other people, for example?”

Find out about the other relationships in their lives

“'Where did you grow up?'” is a great question," says Molloy, "because you can get some insight into their relationship with their roots. Similarly, ask them about where they live now.

“Do they love the area, do they have dreams of moving abroad or living elsewhere?” Molloy suggests you find out.

Ask them about their family and talk about yours. “Do they have a big or small family? Are they close? If you open up about your family dynamic too, you may find common ground.”

Similarly, asking about their close friendships is a good conversation starter. After all, if they have no friends … that’s a red flag!

Read more: How to tell if someone fancies you

Watch: 'I was panicking': Prince Harry arrived late for his first date with Meghan Markle

What not to say on a first date….

What to say can be daunting, however, if you steer clear of the absolute no-go topics, you’re halfway there…

Your ex is a big… X

“Especially If you’ve recently come out of a long relationship, you may find yourself starting conversations about your ex. This has to stop – immediately,” warns Molloy. “For starters, this is about the two of you – a potential love interest doesn’t want your former love interest brought up. Also, if you can’t stop talking about your ex, it’s obvious the feelings are still there.”

Similarly, saying, 'You look just like my ex' is an absolute romance killer. Besides anything else, how does your date know if you feel this is a good thing or not?

Keep it light

“Never bring your bad mood to a first date,” says Molloy. ”Emotions are contagious and when you talk about how you’ve had an exhausting week, it will bring your date down too.”

Same goes for making negative comments about the restaurant you go to or an activity you are doing. Also, “Whilst you may be tempted to have a rant especially if you go on a date after a stressful day at work, this is the ultimate turn-off as it highlights you as a cynic, and also suggests that you’re not a go-getter,” says Murphy.

Remember this is a date not a therapy session. So, avoid the following like the plague: horrid break-ups, childhood trauma, previous terrible dates or too much self-deprecation. "Equally, however, avoid the ‘I’m a bit high-maintenance’ attitude. “If you’re flagging this up,” says Molloy. “It’s because you probably are!”

“Save your traumatic experiences for once you know someone on a deeper level who will truly care and give you the compassion you deserve,” adds Murphy.

And whatever you do, don’t talk about politics, or the fact you want children – too intense for a first date.

Man and woman looking serious on first date. (Getty Images)
Don't make the topic of conversation too serious on a first date. (Getty Images)

How to tackle first date nerves

It’s natural to feel nervous – it’s usually mixed with excitement. Here are Murphy’s top tips to help you feel as confident as possible.

1. Try not to drink too much before the date

If you've had too many drinks before your date, then you might not be able to read your date's cues properly or know how you really feel.

2. Dress comfortably

You don't want to be overdressed or underdressed for your first date, so try sticking with something that makes you feel good about yourself and that won't make you uncomfortable.

3. Take a few deep breaths before you enter the room

Count them out slowly as you inhale and exhale through your nose. This will help bring down your heart rate and so that you feel more relaxed.

4. Remind yourself of your positives

If you start thinking negative thoughts about how badly it could go, then it's more likely to happen. Instead, think positive thoughts about how great it would be if it went well — even if neither of those things come true, thinking positively will create an optimistic outlook that will help to make the date go well.

5. Keep your expectations low

If you go into this date with high expectations, then it will likely fail to meet them. Instead, keep your expectations low so that you aren't disappointed.

6. Don’t be afraid to let your date know that you’re nervous

Showing your vulnerability is comforting for your date, especially if they’re nervous too, which they're bound to be. Good luck!

Man and woman on a date, with drinks. (Getty Images)
Most importantly, be yourself. (Getty Images)