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What to Expect on Your First Date

What's likely to happen, and how you're likely to feel, upon meeting someone you met online

Wouldn't it be fantastic if your next first date were also your last first date? I can't promise that, but I can tell you what is reasonable to expect from your first person-to-person encounter with someone you've met online:

Mature couple walking in vineyard, first date

Dating again? Trust your first impressions, but also be patient. — Christopher Robbins/Getty Images

1. Expect to be on edge

A first date evokes a junior high school dance: nervous people trying to look cool. But watch out for those jitters — they can make you feel so anxious that you project your own hopes on to this new person, rather than noticing his or her true nature. So be open and honest. Ask questions about the issues that matter most to you. And listen — carefully — to the answers.

2. Expect to feel 13 again

On a date not too long ago, I worried I'd been hit by lightning. My pulse soared. My thumping heart nearly burst through my chest. I felt dizzy. I couldn't form a coherent sentence. All in all it was not too different from being back in 7th grade again, summoning the gumption to ask Nancy Morris to dance for the very first time. If similar symptoms beset you on a first date, don't panic — take them as a positive sign!

3. Expect to trust first impressions

It's nonsense that you need several dates to determine the viability of a new relationship. That view discounts the possibility of magic — an undeniable resonance that a man and woman feel for each other, often right from the start. So trust your instincts; they'll tell you, on the spot, whether the other person lights you up or not.

4. On the other hand, expect you may need to be patient

Daters who are 50 and older tend to be less impulsive — and that's a good thing. By now we've collected enough life experience to know better than to fall for the first person we meet. We understand what works for us and what doesn't. We believe that it's still possible to find a fulfilling relationship — as long as we're willing to wait for the right person to come along.

5. Expect the truth

Even if your heart says, "He/she's the one!" force your mind to ask questions about such key issues as your partner's financial standing, dating history and relationship goals. Maintain eye contact — and make it clear that you expect the truth, not a sanitized version of it.

6. Expect R-E-S-P-E-C-T

If you feel like the person across the table is patronizing you — if, for example, he or she suggests you're wasting your life teaching school when the "real" money's in business — simply say, "Thanks for the coffee date" and head for the door. A lack of respect is unacceptable under any circumstances. But it's especially intolerable on a first encounter, because it's unlikely to improve with time.

7. Expect a close fit

Forget that hokum about "Opposites attract." You want to find a person who's as similar to you as possible. Here's why: Most people resist the idea of seeking out someone who's just like them because they fear that person will share not just their qualities but their faults. Au contraire: Someone who mirrors your personality, tastes and temperament is likelier to be your soul mate than your evil twin.

8. Expect to go out of your mind

At some point you'll be ready to move out of your brain (which brought you to this crossroads) and into your heart (which will show you the path to follow ahead). Trust what that second organ is telling you; your feelings are your ultimate truth.

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