While the perfect outfit and ideal location can often seem like the most important components of a good first date, it’s really the conversation that counts. No matter how amazing you look or how delicious the restaurant’s food is, there’s no substitute for connecting with a potential partner in a genuine and satisfying way. It’s an engaging interaction — not a great cocktail or flashy accessories — that’s going to leave you daydreaming about your future with the person you just met.
With this in mind, dating site PlentyOfFish (POF) recently released the results of their second annual Conversation Nation survey, in which they surveyed 2,000 American singles about dating and discussion. They covered the good, the bad, and the ugly — including determining the five things most likely to kill an otherwise great conversation. Conversation expert Celeste Headlee says that the buzzkills didn’t surprise her, especially because of what they really represent in the grand scheme of things. “Dating is often focused on answering one important question: Could I live with this person?” she reminds us. “You may be able to tolerate someone who doesn’t like the same music you do, but it’s hard to cope with someone who, for example, never lets you talk.” Keep scrolling for more details about the top five buzzkills to avoid.
1. Negativity: No one likes a downer, so it should really come as no surprise that negativity was the number-one buzzkill for the participants in POF’s survey, with just over two-fifths agreeing it’s the worst. Headlee notes that negativity can be especially problematic in the early stages of a relationship, when your date really has no context for the bad day you had at work or the upsetting conversation you had with your mom. If you feel yourself treading into negative territory while on a date, it’s important to switch tracks ASAP — and not just because you want to avoid the other person getting the wrong idea. “Research show people who complain often are not only having a negative effect on those who are listening, but they’re making themselves miserable as well,” Headlee tells us. “If you hear yourself going on about your job or your commute, stop and change the subject.”
2. Not Letting Your Date Get a Word In: Whether on a date or simply talking to someone at a party, we’ve all been there, trying our hardest to put our best conversational skills to work, only to be constantly shut down by a chatterbox who can’t imagine that we might have something interesting to add. A full fifth of Conversation Nation respondents noted this dynamic as the biggest conversational turnoff for them on a date — quite frankly, we’re surprised the number isn’t higher! While Headlee points out that this behavior can often stem from nerves, it’s still a pretty big red flag, as it could be a symptom of a larger issue of self-centeredness. If you know that you have a tendency to ramble (and interrupt) when you’re nervous, Headlee recommends that you get comfortable owning up to it. “The best thing you can do if you hear yourself talking too much is say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m nervous, so I go on and on. I’m going to be quiet now and listen to you,'” she encourages. “Then, ask some questions — and really listen to the answers.”
3. Bringing Up Controversial Topics: “Your date might think you’re spoiling for a fight,” Headlee warns. “Because we see people yelling at each other on cable news and online and all around us, the last thing we want is to start arguing with someone we’re seeing.” Of course, just because big topics like politics or religion can be buzzkills doesn’t mean you should avoid bringing them up entirely, especially since research shows that they’re often critical to the process of deciding whether or not to continue a relationship with someone. There is, however, a “right” way to discuss controversial subjects, especially on those first few dates. If one of these topics is especially important to you, try being honest and introducing it in a way that makes it clear you’re not stirring up an argument: “One of the things that’s important to me is [insert controversial subject here]. I’m not going to debate you if we disagree, I promise, but can I ask you about your thoughts? I promise I will let it go and we’ll talk about something else.”
4. Leaning on Cheesy One-Liners: In pretty much every romantic comedy, there’s a creepy or otherwise overbearing character who’s basically defined by their tendency to use inauthentic scripted lines. Take this as a lesson that they’re really not so great for use in the real dating world. Fifteen percent of Conversation Nation participants say that lines like this are a major turn-off on a date. They’re annoying, obviously, but Headlee explains that at a deeper level they also point to a general lack of authenticity — and even a tendency to use the exact same rehearsed “lines” on everyone. While some people with difficulty verbalizing can find a certain degree of scripting helpful, be sure the words you prepare and those you use are aimed at the individual you’re with and how you’re interacting with them and not a scattershot attempt to indiscriminately hook just anyone.
5. Overusing Big Words to Seem Smart: Look, there’s absolutely nothing unfortunate about actually being smart. Intelligence is attractive, and if you pretend to be any less brilliant than you actually are while on a date, we’ll be incredibly disappointed in you. That being said, POF’s survey results suggest that trying too hard to sound smart — rather than just being smart — is less than popular with daters. Going this conversational route can backfire in more ways than one. “One of the dangers of using big words for the express purpose of sounding smart is that you’ll use them incorrectly,” Headlee cautions. “But the biggest problem with this is that you’re pretending to be someone other than who you are.” Since the whole point of dating is to get to know someone at an authentic level, this route is extremely ill-advised.
What’s your biggest conversational pet peeve on a first date? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)