Co-authored with Jeremy Sherman, Ph.D
Love at first sight is lovely, but if you've been on more than a few first dates, you know the initial heat may quickly cool. In that first meeting you look for clues or "tells" as to whether that person across from you is worth seeing again. Still, it's easy to overlook some crucial signs:
1. Is your date still bouncing back? After being hurt in a breakup, people are both eager and wary about getting back in the game. Those still recovering tend to dash forward and back, desperate for a shot at romantic redemption and yet afraid to engage again. Worse, they don't see their own ambivalence. They can switch between blaming you for expecting too much and for not wanting more--depending on their mood at the moment. Beware of this romantic inconsistency and read it as a possible sign that they can't go deep right now -- no matter how good the match might be.
2. Is your date making an advertising pitch? I'm honest. I'm romantic. I don't play games. I have a big heart. View these statements as you would any form of self-promotion -- with a heaping dollop of skepticism. Look for evidence. How does your date interact with you and others? Does your date bully the waitstaff or speak disrespectfully about their ex? Does your date seem to be drinking too much or show little interest in you? These behaviors provide a lot more information than their self-promoting declarations.
3. Can your date jam with you? First date conversation is often filled with pre-recordings, the things you've said repeatedly about yourself that may have garnered a chuckle or a sympathetic nod in the past. By the second date, you should get beyond these sound bites and into real duets in which you build creatively on what the other person says. Listen for evidence that your date can improvise with you. For example, "I was thinking about that thing you said, and it got me wondering about such and such."
4. Does your date expect you to follow their script? Some people never get over the dream of an adaptable partner with no needs of their own. In this fantasy, they get to do everything they want and their partner supports them, no matter what. At its worst, this can develop into a relationship of coercive control. If your date is overly rigid about where, when, and how to meet, or if your date pushes you into discussions or activities before you're ready--these might be signs that your date is casting you for a bit part in a movie they intend to direct.
(Drawing by Liz Bannish)
5. Does your date have a checklist? Beware of a date who seems to be running you through a list of specifications, rather than trying to get to know you. This may be a sign they are looking for a certain "type," rather than for a genuine individual. For instance, a date who asks, "Do you like Beyonce?" rather than "Tell me about the music you like," does not appear open to exploring your music. A date who asks, "Do you cook?" or "Are you handy around the house?" may be on the lookout for household help more than a soulmate.
6. Does your date point a finger of blame at everyone else? Some folks automatically translate "ouch" into "shame on you" and "I want" into "you owe." In conversations, they'll scramble into the judge's seat, and declare what the rules are and how you've broken them. They might claim they are open to feedback but that's not what you see, as they blame others (including you!) for everything.
7. Is your date dating by the dozen? If any interaction feels like they're just going through the motions, remember that people you meet on dating sites are often juggling multiple potential partners at a time. It's safest to date someone who is dating about as many people as you are, but how do you find out? It's okay to ask after a couple of dates. If you and your potential partner are not compatible in this regard -- you want to play the field while your partner wants to be with one person at a time (or vice versa) -- you may as well know this sooner rather than later.
8. Are you having fun? This is the only sign on this list that concerns your own behavior, rather than your date's. If you're checking your watch, faking a smile, and feeling uncomfortable, you have information about the success of the match. People often override their impulses in this regard, thinking, "It takes at least three dates to get to know someone." While this may be true, extreme awkwardness early on does not bode well for the future.
Jeremy Sherman, Ph.D., has written over 1,000 blog articles on practical decision-making at Ambigamy: Insights for the Deeply Romantic and Deeply Skeptical at Psychology Today.