I was watching a rerun of the FX show Louie recently. It was one of the ones where Louie is on a first date from hell (if you watch the show, you’ve probably gathered that such dates are a recurring theme, for Louie). He winces and bumbles his way through an afternoon of stilted conversation, thwarted plans and rejected advances. Like an episode from Kafka, everything that can go wrong does, culminating in Louie’s date fleeing in terror when he misinterprets her signals and leans in for a kiss.
While outlandish and grotesquely hyperbolic (a style we’ve come to expect from the New York City comedian, three seasons of his show now having informed viewers of his rather cynical sense of humor), moments of the sequence are painfully relatable, at least to this male dater — and I suspect many others, as well.
Despite the fact that leading men have typically been portrayed as models of social elegance and supreme self-confidence since the day Humphrey Bogart blew his first smoke ring, the truth is that the majority of us identify much closer to Louie than Bogey when in the presence of a woman we find interesting. We want so badly to impress you that relaxing and quote being ourselves unquote is simply out of the question. And while I know you single ladies aren’t immune from social anxiety either, you — like Louie’s effortlessly condescending date — have a way of feigning composure that is lost upon the more boorish gender.
Of course, Louie has his moment of redemption, as people who star in their own sitcoms are wont to do. “Why am I trying to impress you?” he implores his younger, flatter-stomached counterpart. “Why don’t you tell me about your goddamn life and try to impress me? Why aren’t you nervous around me?” For a beat, she is taken aback, and Louie — in his outburst — has, it seems, impressed his date.
His little triumph resonates with every guy who’s been there before. Like it or not, there exists a societal norm that demands that a man prove himself to the newly befriended girl sitting adjacent him. And I don’t think it’s totally unfair for the roles to be thus; after all, the man probably proposed the date in the first place, so why shouldn’t the burden of proof fall on him?
That said, there are some things you (aka all the single ladies) can do to relax a man’s inherent nerves on a first date. Here are five:
The three words no one wants to hear on a first date: “I don’t care.” And yes, guys are guilty of this as well. We all want so badly to be compatible with that cute girl/boy that we withhold certain opinions and preferences in the early stages, wary that voicing them could incite controversy or disagreement. And so we all default to indifference.
Do you want to take the subway or hop in a cab? I don’t care. What kind of food do you want to eat? I’m up for anything. Beer or wine? I like both.
Please, I’m begging you: put an end to all this indecision! If you’re a vegan, celiac wino, let him know. If you hate a certain neighborhood, tell him so. Most guys go through considerable trauma when picking out the right location or activity or restaurant for a first date. You can help them out by narrowing down the options.
Dress for the Occasion
When it comes to appearance, most guys (though certainly not all) value function over form. If a guy asks you to a street fair and the mercury is pushing three digits, he will not be sporting jeans and a button-down, much less something that qualifies as formal. Unstained and not issuing a strange odor are usually the only two prerequisites. Should you show up in stilettos and taffeta, he will feel underdressed. But really, you are overdressed. Or you came from a horse race.
Seriously, though: consider your destination and itinerary when preparing for a date. Most guys will have formed their opinion about your appearance within a few minutes of meeting you, and even the most skillfully applied eye shadow in the world is probably incapable of changing that. Wow him with stimulating conversation and overt flirtation instead. Save the special dress for a special occasion. He probably doesn’t deserve it yet, anyway.
Be Forward About Your Stance on Chivalry in Modern Times
My grandfather is a staunch, Southern-stock conservative who served in the Air Force for three-and-a-half decades. Needless to say, he taught me to pull chairs and open doors for women.
But now I live in New York City, birthplace of the modern, independent woman. And she doesn’t always appreciate these gestures. In fact, she might see them as symbols of a bygone era when women were denied secondary education and sexual harassment accusations were met with a chuckle and a firm slap on the ass. Not everyone feels that way, of course. Plenty of young, employed and successful women believe that “chivalry” and gender equality can coexist.
Frankly, I don’t really care one way or the other. I see room for both arguments, but I also see the question as one that is not mine (or any man’s) to answer. So let me know if it bothers you that I race around the cab to open your door when we arrive at our destination, or if you really enjoy walking on the outside of the sidewalk. Your honesty is something most men will find refreshing, perhaps even attractive.
Respect the Uncomfortable Silence
You know those unbearably tense silences that you inevitably encounter between five and ten times on your average first date? They happen. It’s life. But for some reason, on a date in 2012, we’ve come to regard this negative space in conversation as “awkward” or “uncomfortable.”
Why? Don’t brief pauses and ellipses break up your dialogues with friends, colleagues and parents as well? Of course they do. These silences are natural; they represent an opportunity to reflect on the (presumably) fascinating conversation you were just having, as well as time to brainstorm a new topic of discussion.
Yet when they occur on a date, many people find them insufferable. People will go so far as to interrupt such silences with some innocuous, self-conscious comment: “What are you thinking about?” or, more often, a tense, abrupt “What?” I contend that such a reaction is what is unnatural or uncomfortable — not the silence itself. I believe that our relationship to the common conversational pause (CCP) is a matter of choice. And I implore everyone out there to respect, even own the CCP. It only becomes awkward if you decide it thus.
Make a Move Once in a While
One of the great paradoxes of the aforementioned modern, independent woman — in my experience — is that she will at once decry the merits of gender-specific roles while also (and perhaps unwittingly) conforming to them when it suits her. Never to me has this been more evident than in that moment before I kiss a girl for the first time.
Notice I did not say “before we kiss.” That was intentional, because frankly, I can’t remember a single first kiss in my life that wasn’t technically initiated by me. Yes, she may have shown me signs (a bat of the eyelashes, a nibble at the corner of her lip, a lingering hand in mine), but ten times out of ten (OK, maybe nine times out of ten, but the one was likely inebriated), it is the guy who goes through the excruciating process of actually placing lips on lips.
I understand why so many girls are loath to commit: having a kiss rejected leaves the pride-bone seriously injured. I would know. And I also know that most girls probably think they are making it painfully apparent that they want to be kissed. Newsflash: men are clumsy beasts when it comes to correctly interpreting most forms of non-verbal communication. Your idea of “painfully apparent” is more like “cryptic and unintelligible” to most of us.
So don’t be afraid to make a move once in a while. If you want to kiss him, or hold his hand, or go down on him in a public restroom … just do it. We kind of love it when you break the rules.