No matter how you look at it, the concept of ‘dating’ is a bit strange – particularly at the beginning. You meet up with a virtual stranger for a few hours and hope to walk away knowing something about who they are, relay something to them about who you are, and get an idea of whether or not you have a possible future together. Come on, how nutty is that? Wouldn’t some first date tips be helpful?

Nutty, maybe – and often intimidating. Maybe this is why so many of us hesitate to move into a face-to-face meeting and cling to email and text conversations as long as possible. But intimate relationships do not thrive via email and SMS, so if you want to move forward, you’ve got to meet in-person. But what do you say? What do you wear? What if you talk too much? What if you embarrass yourself? What if he/she doesn’t like you? What if you don’t like him/her? The mind races with questions!

You’re overthinking. It doesn’t have to be this stressful, and one of the best ways I’ve found to overcome overthinking is to have an outline for the first date – some guidelines to follow so that I can relax and enjoy the experience. So without further ado, here are my top 10 first date tips:

1) Advance preparation: What’s the connection between the Boy Scouts and your dating life? Two words, ‘be prepared’. This motto rings true in most situations and your social life is one of them. Do you find it hard to think of topics of conversation? Then be prepared for your date by having a few ‘stories’ to share. Think of something funny that happened to you this week, or something interesting you read or watched – any personal anecdotes that will reveal a bit about your personality, interests, or sense of humor. Have a few of these in mind to share when the conversation stalls or you’re feeling tense.

2) Choose a neutral location: Don’t meet at your place, don’t meet at his/her place and if one of you traveled a long distance for the date, don’t meet at the hotel. If he wants to be a gentleman and pick you up from your home, decline the invite and either drive yourself or take a cab. Remember that even if you’ve been communicating and/or talking on the phone, this person is a stranger and your first priority is to keep yourself safe. And no matter how strong the physical chemistry may be, I highly suggest you do not go home together.

3) Dress for confidence: Clients often ask me what they should wear on a first date (full disclosure – this is usually only female clients, although some men could use the advice). My answer? Wear something that you think looks GREAT on you – something that gives you confidence and swagger because confidence is extremely attractive. You don’t have to dress ‘to the nines’, but don’t show up in sweatpants and an old t-shirt. Choose something comfortable (so you’re not adjusting it all night), and makes you feel like a million bucks. And don’t forget to ‘dress for the date’ – meaning, if you’re going to a baseball game, don’t wear stiletto heals and an evening dress.

4) Ditch technology: We’ve all been with dates who can’t stop checking their FB feed or responding to messages. Did you know that this is an addiction? FACT: messaging, FB likes, and emails are supplying us with a dose of dopamine everytime we respond and that’s why we are glued to our devices. Dating is detox time, so make an agreement either prior to the date or at the beginning that you will BOTH put aside your devices for the evening.

5) Don’t overshare: Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge how much information is ‘too much information’ on a date and we often ‘vent’ our thoughts and frustrations when we find a sympathetic ear. First dates are not the venue for this. Some people are more reserved than others, but if you’re someone with a history of oversharing, be aware of this in yourself and try to be conscious of it during your date. ‘Check’ yourself during the conversation and observe whether or not you are crossing the line between ‘getting acquainted’ and ‘sharing state secrets’. 😉

6) Ask questions: Have you ever been on a date with someone who dominated the conversation and when the date ended, you were left feeling as though he/she showed no interest in you or what you had to say? Or maybe you returned home from a date feeling as though you were the one who was talking too much? Conversation is a give-and-take where we share our perspectives of life with one another. Optimally, the dialog should be balanced so that both of you feel ‘heard’. For many, chattiness stems from being nervous so if this is your tendency, be aware of this trait in yourself and remember to ask questions. Whatever topic you find yourself expanding upon, always turn it around and ask the other person what is their experience of the subject. Most people will be able to relate in some way and will be happy to share their perspective.

7) Focus on discovering: It’s so easy to get caught up in ourselves when on a date. We worry about what the other person will think of us – every aspect of ourselves – our style, our manners, our humor, our intelligence, our beliefs, our body, our face…wow – no wonder we get nervous! But in all this worry, we forget the purpose of the date; the purpose is to discover another person – to discover the universe that is housed in each and every one of us. This is a walking, talking life story sitting in front of you with a different experience of this world than you’ve had. Be inquisitive and show genuine interest in what this person has to say. Putting your focus on the other person diminishes self-judgement and makes you a great listener (which happens to be a very appealing trait.)

8) Withhold judgement: Dating is tricky stuff, especially at the beginning when we analyze every little thing the other person says and does. I can’t speak for the guys, but as a woman, we are crazy over-analyzers – often to our own detriment. Dating is about getting to know someone and determining compatibility, but no one can stand up to such scrutiny; we’re only human, after all. People are a sum of their parts, so to speak, and no one is all good or all bad; we’re a jumble of contradictions. Let the date flow without mentally criticizing or harshly judging every move your date makes. Focus on ‘discovery’ and withhold judgement until the date has played out in full and you are back home. That is the time to reflect on the date and check in with yourself about how you feel after this date. If your overall feeling is a positive one, then be open to date #2.

9) Moderate yourself: Oversharing of personal information is one aspect that needs to be moderated, but not the only one. Do you tend to overeat when you’re nervous? Or maybe you over-drink? What about your table manners? Do you talk with your mouth full? Or chew with your mouth open? Do you get loud and raucous? Show some civility and don’t over-indulge in anything. If you feel nervous, say so – voicing how you feel usually lessons the emotion in yourself and also allows your date to relax and admit they feel nervous too. (Let me add that IMO, sex on the first date is over-indulging. A good night kiss is the most I recommend on a first date.)

10) Express appreciation: Gratefulness is a very attractive quality. This person just allotted a period of time from his/her life that will never be returned. They listened to your stories, shared a bit about themselves, enjoyed a meal or activity with you and basically accommodated some space in their world for this meeting with you. Express your gratitude. Say ‘thank you’. Even if the date was a train wreck, say ‘thank you’. Bad dates are not a waste of time; every interaction with another can teach us about ourselves, and bad dates are a reminder of what we don’t want in a partner. Embrace it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is life, my friends, the entire spectrum. Be grateful for all of it.