Image may contain: Human, Person, Female, Hat, Clothing, Apparel, Face, Girl, Teen, Blonde, Kid, Woman, Child, and Dating
Imagine going on 121 dates before stumbling upon the person you wanted to spend forever with, and you have a glimpse of Wendy Newman’s life. As a dating expert and author of 121 First Dates: How to Succeed at Online Dating, Fall in Love, and Live Happily Ever After (Really!), out on January 12, Newman has been in just about every first-date situation imaginable, from meeting someone who drastically lied about his age to getting that tingly feeling that something magical was about to happen. Here, she explains 16 different things she learned in the 10 years of dating it took before she met her partner, Dave, in February 2013.
1. Use realistic photos if you’re online dating.
This is technically something you do before the first date, but it can definitely inform how well it goes. “I’m a size 16, so I was always nervous to represent myself as me,” says Newman. At first she’d included an admittedly awesome photo of herself on her online dating profile, but it wasn’t 100 percent representative. She realized that may have been a mistake when Date Nine looked her up and down then frowned, very clearly surprised by what he saw. “We had a torturous three-hour dinner where he didn’t talk to me but kept ordering more food,” she says. Of course it’s smart to use attractive photos, but they’re going to see you anyway. No point hiding the real you!
2. Reframe your idea of”So, why are you single?”
Is high on the list of date questions that double as minefields. It’s all too easy to work yourself up over crafting the perfect answer when really, being single isn’t some terrible affliction in need of explanation. It’s everyone’s default status, after all. “I stopped asking people why they were single and assumed it was for valid reasons,” she says. And if someone asked her the question? She’d respond with, ‘I was married for 10 years, and we separated for totally valid reasons that I’ll tell you about when I know you better.” Her dates usually respected that boundary.
3. Know that it only takes one.
Sometimes the idea of going on yet another first date with yet another person to see, yet again, if something’s there gets to be too much. In those moments, remind yourself of this crucial fact: all you’re looking for is one person who’s a match, and that can happen at any time. “Also, if you’re dating online, the pool is constantly refreshed,” says Newman.
4. But maybe reconsider the idea of “The One.”
Knowing that it only takes one doesn’t automatically mean there only is one. “In all that dating, I met 121 different men, and I saw 121 different futures,” says Newman. “I found my person, but I met a lot of amazing men along the way.” Looking at your odds—there are so many people out there, so of course more than one might make you happy!—can help reduce some of the pressure to force something when it may not be there, and some of the disappointment if it isn’t.
5. Wear something that makes you feel bomb AF.
Newman loves high heels, so she continued wearing them even though they sometimes threw a wrench into things. “We all know ‘6 feet’ can be code for ‘5-foot-10’ on dating profiles. I’m 5-foot-7, so I kept showing up and towering over my dates, which wasn’t fun for me,” she says. But did she stop wearing the heels? Nah, because that misrepresentation wasn’t on her, and they made her feel confident.
6. Put thought into immediately agreeing to dinner.
Grabbing a drink or coffee is often a safer bet. “If you’re going to dinner, there needs to be enough material to have about a good hour and a half of conversation,” says Newman. And if there isn’t? Prepare for awkward silences and escaping to the bathroom to send your friends a rushed “WTF do I do?!” text.
7. Show up as yourself.
At first, Newman tried to determine what a guy wanted and conform to that. Once that tactic wasn’t successful, she reevaluated and discovered the benefits of being authentic. “It’s exhausting to try to figure out what someone wants instead of being yourself, and really, you don’t need to be a fit for everybody,” she says.
8. Ask the simplest question in the world.
“Something like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ or ‘How was your weekend?’ immediately gave the date a sense of familiarity and made the guys feel more at home with me,” says Newman. “It was an organic way to make things feel more natural, probably because it helped show that I was looking at them as people instead of just trying to get the right answers out of them.”
9. Get them to share what they’re good at.
This especially comes in handy if you want to see if there’s a spark. “I’d say something like, ‘You were talking about how you’re really great at guitar,’ then have them explain how they got to be so good at it,” she says. When most people talk about something they’re skilled at, they turn into the most attractive versions of themselves—better posture, radiant confidence, twinkling eyes. If you weren’t 100 percent sure about the attraction but feel a stomach swoop when that happens, there may be something there worth exploring.
10. Give yourself permission to end a bad date.
Don’t suffer through an awful experience just because you feel like you owe it to someone! Newman learned this lesson with Date 54, which she summed up as “so horrendous, so bad.” For starters, her date showed up looking about 30 years older than the 48 years he’d claimed. The outing ended an hour and a half later when he offered up sex. “Apparently he’d gotten in a motorcycle accident at some point and injured his ‘Johnson,’ as he called it, so it was constantly erect,” says Newman. “He said he was a great time in bed because it would be like Viagra.”
She declined and left, forever taking with her the knowledge that it’s OK to stop a date if you can tell it’s not going to work. “As he was hobbling across the street with his cane before the date, I could have been very gentle and said, ‘Thank you for coming, I’m so glad you made it out, but I don’t want to waste your time,'” says Newman.
11. And remember lightning rarely strikes the same place twice.
As in, chances are you won’t have to go through the same exact traumatizing experience in your future. After Date 54, he of the erect penis, Newman could have been like, “Eff this, singlehood, I choose you.” But she wasn’t about to give up, because she’d probably never have to deal with that situation again. “I knew my next date wouldn’t be a 78-year-old proposing sex because of his ruined Johnson,” says Newman. “It could only get better from there as long as I was willing to keep leaving the house instead of watching Law and Order reruns.”
12. Play things a little close to the vest.
It’s always good to be upfront about what you want, but that doesn’t mean you have to get elaborate on the first date. “I would share my hopes and dreams about future relationships,” says Newman. “I realized starting with the endgame in mind on a first date with a total stranger can be too much.” It’s not about playing hard to get or trying to be something you’re not, but about taking things at a pace that really allows you to see if you’re a fit for each other.
13. Save the complaining for later.
Even if the traffic was a beast and your egomaniac sister is acting up again, being overly negative on a first date can do more harm than good. “A first date is really a meet and greet,” says Newman. “Of course you don’t want to hide who you are, but being your authentic self with a positive spin will serve you better than going down a negative road with a total stranger.”
14. Don’t necessarily shy away from taboo topics.
Conventional wisdom says not to touch on things like politics and religion on the first date. But isn’t it better to know right away if your beliefs don’t align? “It’s a good sorting mechanism,” says Newman, who got into a deep discussion with Date 121—aka her current partner, with whom she had a commitment ceremony in February 2013—about their shared pasts growing up in religious households. “He told me he knew he wanted to sleep with me when he saw me, but he knew he wanted to get to know me when I talked about purposefully trying to get excommunicated from the Mormon church,” says Newman. Well, yeah, because that sounds like an awesome story.
15. When the check comes, feel free to ask if you can help.
It’s the 21st Century! If you do the purse-reach fake-out and think it needs an upgrade, try asking something like, “Can I help?” It’s upfront but still leaves room for them to take the lead if that’s what you’re hoping for. “I saw it as a spirited way of being available in a partnership, but still seeing his level of interest and how far he wanted to take it,” says Newman. Of course, that all depends on what you want. Newman was looking for a take-charge kind of guy, but if you’re the one who wants to play that role, something more direct is probably a better option.
16. If you’re digging your date, get in touch after.
Sending a text or email to say thanks is a sweet, easy way to reiterate your interest, even if you think you did a good job of projecting it in person. Men have told Newman they went on a great date, didn’t hear from the woman, and never asked them out again for fear of embarrassing themselves. “Sometimes people just need the green light,” she says. It might freak you out, but if they’re not interested, it’s just a text. And if they are? On to date two!