I was out on a first date with a guy, I’ll call him Iz. I had met him at a Morrissey speed dating event, and really liked him. I was so nervous for our date — this time, as opposed to the situation of our introduction, I had to hold his attention for more than the length of one Morrissey song (November Spawned A Monster, 5:23.) 10 minutes into the date, I felt like I was so nervous that I couldn’t talk, and was out of conversation topics. So I brought up “Shower Belly.”
Shower Belly is something that, until that moment, I had kept a secret from everyone in the universe. Ever since I was a little girl, I have enjoyed rubbing a bar soap on my belly while showering, until there is a thin layer of soap, and then I draw in the soap with my finger. Pictures of Mary Poppins or my name or sandwiches, really random things. But you see — this isn’t something I had shared with anyone before, not even my mother. It’s not something I should share with anyone, even now. And it’s definitely not something I should tell a guy I have a crush on during our first real date. But I had choked on my own nervousness. Iz was not impressed. He looked confused and turned-off, as if he had just been informed we were from different planets. He didn’t like it, and I don’t think he liked me. I lost my footing and couldn’t climb back up.
I am sure that is not the only reason we didn’t work out, but I left that date thinking, Jesus Lauren you have to get your life together. You have to stop this shit. If you can’t think of anything non-ridiculous to say, don’t say anything at all.
But it’s hard. You can’t talk about your parents too much, even though they are a huge part of your life, because your date might think they are the only part of your life. You cannot talk about the cat. Or complain about your hair or your morning commute. Talking about vacations sounds like bragging. (“Oh you know, I just flitted over to Europe the other day!” “I love trekking to Belize when I get a chance!”) And you can’t talk about other dates. But you want the other person to get to know you and how awesome you are! And really, what else is going on in your life other than dating random people, your parents, and your bad hair days? (I asked myself this more than I’d like to admit.)
So I sort of made this list for myself of things I was allowed to talk about on first dates. They are things not too embarrassing, that weren’t self-deprecating, braggy, revealing, deep, offensive, and they didn’t sound staged. But I felt comfortable discussing them and felt like they didn’t make me look like a total whack-job. I needed this list. Maybe you do, too.
[Note: after letting Shower Belly out of the bag, I decided to share it more freely, and I have not regretted it. It has spawned many interesting conversations about embarrassing shower behavior that has made me feel better about myself and in some cases, bonded me with my date. One date recommended that I start a blog called "Shower Belly" in which I take a picture of my Shower Belly artwork creations every day. (In case you are wondering, this is not a good idea.) I still believe, though, that it's a more appropriate second date conversation.]
So here! You can talk about…
What you love about your job. If you go out on a first date with someone and they immediately are bitching about work, you are already in a bad place. It can only get worse. You are one date away from him taking out a stressful meeting on your sex life. I have always loved my jobs, even when my jobs involved whiting-out ink on thousands of pieces of stationary or covering ham radio conventions for my local paper. So talking about the good things about your job is a safe, easy way to show you are a positive, energetic, driven person. Even if you are just positive, energetic, and driven about whiting-out stuff on stationary. And you have to love something about your job, right?
What you do on a typical Sunday. You can lie here. It could be “what ideally, when you picture yourself in fantasy land, you envision that you do on a typical Sunday” — because that is a reflection of yourself just as much as the actual truth is. I always dreamed of being the kind of person who went to the Farmer’s Market and read books in parks and played sports and left the city and had dinner with friends downtown on Sundays, when in truth, the day would begin and end with me sitting in my apartment, in my underwear, eating food. I’ll let you decide which of those scenarios is more interesting to hear about.
An album that made you pretty much lose your mind. Sharing an album you have loved is one of the most relatable things you can do — everyone has had that one album they can’t over-listen to. This is one of the only things you can talk about that will cause your date to say “yes, I share that experience with you, too, earthling.” As opposed to “what the hell are you talking about, psycho?” (Like when you bring up Shower Belly.)
The last movie you saw, whatever it was, and why. Now is a time to be honest. If it was the Care Bear’s Christmas Carol with your four-year-old cousin, that is adorable. If it was some French film with your grandmother, you just got some points (for something — caring for the elderly/being high-brow?). If it was Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, that is hilarious. The only time you should lie is if it’s porn. We can file that tidbit into the “second date” category.
Why you’re interested in the book you’re reading. If you get really into the books you’re reading, it’s an easy way to spark passion. And that’s sexy. Even if you’re reading Helter Skelter and you’re jazzed about Charles Manson, or if you’re reading Salt and you are just jazzed about… salt.
Your genius idea that will make you $10 Billion. Everybody has one. And they are all so interesting. Do you want to start a pornographic version of Pandora called Porndora? Do you want to start a mashed potato food truck? Do you want to create a car insurance jamboree ride at Walt Disney World? These ideas are great conversation starters, will reveal a lot about you, and they’re usually hilarious.
That time you were still drunk from the night before and, walking to work, you flashed your buttcheeks to about 2,000 people. Or whatever embarrassing story you have. These stories are humbling, and will remind your date that, “yes I look hot as hell in this dress and I’m f*cking awesome and a catch and you should want to date me, but I have my big slips, too. Now hold me, please.”
The bar you go to all the time. I think it’s good to discuss the bar you go to where everybody knows your name, because it shows you are loyal. (To drinking establishments.) That you care about tradition. (To drinking.) That you value family. (In bartenders.) It all runs over into relationships stuff, right? Plus maybe they know somebody who works there that can get you some free stuff.
The funniest thing you’ve ever seen in public. Now is a good time to tell that story about the time you saw someone get engaged on the Subway or you started crying because you thought you saw a dead dog in a busy intersection but it was really only a brown paper bag with a smashed water melon in it. Those stories are funny! But here’s the catch: pretend like that thing happened that very day. As in, “you won’t believe what happened to me on the way over here!” You want your date to think that you are an awesome magnet, and that kooky things happen in your vicinity daily. Not that you’ve been hanging onto that subway engagement story for two years, telling every single first date. Even if maybe you have.
What your friends did for you on your birthday. This will reveal important information to your date about what you do for fun, what kind of social crowd you run with, what you do for fun, and it will make you look good, indirectly. You aren’t bragging about anything you did, the birthday party your friends threw for you is just evidence of what a wonderful person you are! Finally, talking about your friends and your birthday party will make you smile big to think about your awesome friends, especially when you’re out there all alone on the sometimes dark-and-scary dating scene. And that smile might just be the best thing you did, with all this talking. Sometimes smiles are hotter than anything you can say.