I finally downloaded Hinge on March 1, 2020, when I was ready to give dating another try after a messy relationship had ended. We all know what happened about two weeks later: COVID hit, and dating had to take a pause. But as we learned to adjust our lives to an ongoing pandemic, dating changed to fit with the times.
It’s easy to feel like the pandemic stole away valuable time to find a potential partner, especially if you had certain milestones in mind, like getting married or having kids in the near future. My dating life during the early days of the pandemic was mostly virtual and involved multiple instances of ghosting. But once I was vaccinated, I was ready for something more serious and purposeful.
Turns out, so are a lot of other people. Two of the biggest dating trends of 2022 so far are choosing priorities — deciding what you want and being honest and upfront with potential partners from the jump — and increased vulnerability and mindfulness — actually being open and letting people in, rather than jumping from situationship to situationship. In other words, people are choosing to date more efficiently.
Dr. John De Oca, a relationship expert and nurse practitioner, says the first step in efficient dating is defining your goal, whether it’s that you want a casual relationship, you want to date to learn more about yourself and what you want for your romantic life, or you’re ready for commitment. “So, going down one of those avenues and being very clear about it, both in how you interact with people and in your own mindset as well,” De Oca said.
As for any supposed milestones, De Oca discourages his clients from chasing them and instead promotes dating in terms of what feels right.
“We want to make sure that we’re dating people that meet our relationship goals vs. just dating people that are going to get us to our goals because we want to be in longterm relationships,” De Oca said.
To execute an efficient dating life, De Oca suggests taking advantage of the time before you go on a first date — especially if you’re online dating. He says to talk on the phone, have a FaceTime conversation, and be deliberate with the types of questions you’re asking. For instance, says De Oca, if you know your love language is physical touch, ask the person how affectionate they are. Use this time to pre-screen the person and actually get to know them vs. mindlessly talking to people and just saying, “Good morning” and “What’s up?”
Once you do get to that first date, you have the opportunity to get tons of insight as to whether or not the person is a good fit for what you’re looking for. You don’t want to go on just any first date, though, if you’re trying to date efficiently — some dates are much better than others when it comes to getting to know people quickly.
You won’t be able to get the absolute complete picture of a person just from one date, but if you know what you’re looking for, what personality traits you want in a partner, and what gives you the ick, these first dates can help you dig that up faster. Just remember to set your dating goals and keep them in mind as you go out on dates.
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Dinner and/or drinks
Dinner and drinks is a classic date for a reason. De Oca says “anything that stimulates conversation, any kind of environment where you could lean into one another and get to know each other” makes for a great first date if you’re trying to date efficiently. Informationally, it’s a treasure trove: You’re seated across from each other, and all you really have to do is talk (and eat). If you want to find out how the person carries on a conversation, get the chance to ask about their childhood, see how they eat (hopefully with their mouth shut), and learn how they treat a waitstaff, dinner and drinks is a stellar choice.
People-watching at the park
Credit: Bob Al-Greene / Mashable
People-watching is fun, but it can also be a great test. You’ll see how your date speaks about other people, what they’re judgmental about, and if they have funny commentary or are a straight-up bully. (Look for a person who has something quippy to say about how someone’s interacting with their dog vs. something that’s simply mean about someone’s appearance.) Plus, observing other people automatically gives you a jumping-off point for conversation, whereas sitting across from each other at a dinner table can lead you to feel like you have to pull conversation topics out of your ass. You still get the close-up talking, but without the awkward silences when you’re trying to slurp spaghetti without looking feral.
A game like mini-golf or bowling
Doing an activity helps prevent awkward pauses. And you get to see the other person’s competitive side and if they’re a real-life version of the Hinge prompt red flag, “I’m overly competitive about: everything.” De Oca says, “I think an activity is always good because it kinda gets the adrenaline pumping.” But you also want some down time where you can actually have a conversation, he adds, so don’t focus too hard on winning, and remember to actually vet your date’s personality along with their sportsmanship.
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Intelligence is up there on the list of qualities people look for in a partner, and while trivia is not the most accurate test of intelligence — I mean, who actually knows what cynophobia is? — it’s a good test of common sense and problem-solving. (Cynophobia is the fear of dogs, btw.) You can learn how the person handles stress, if they get frustrated when they’re wrong or don’t know an answer, how well they listen to you, and how the two of you work together as a team. Go for a drink afterward to digest the questions and talk about something other than random facts you’ll forget by the end of the night.
If you want to see how someone holds their liquor, pump them full of mimosas at 11 a.m. Brunch holds less pressure than a dinner date, but still promotes conversation and lets you see how they act toward service industry workers (and if they offer to pick up the tab, or how well they tip). De Oca is not a big fan of coffee dates because they tend to be very quick, but brunch fits the daytime bill, is more fun, and gives you time to get to know your date. Just don’t get so boozy you forget to ask the right questions to suss out whether this person fits into your goals.
One of my personal favorites, a comedy show is great for weeding people out if a compatible sense of humor is important to you. If you aren’t laughing at the same jokes, a second date probably isn’t even worth it. And if they’re laughing at some questionable jokes, you get a sense of their morals pretty easily. You won’t have much opportunity to chat during the show, so plan to do something else afterward to talk about the acts and about yourselves.
If you like romance novels, a bookstore date will have you feeling like the main character of one. Browsing the aisles can spark conversation about your interests and topics you might not think to bring up on your own. Plus, you can see if they’re pretentious about what they read and if they dog on a genre you love. If you feel a connection on the date and want a second, you can buy each other a book to read so you already have something to discuss when you meet up next.
Credit: Vicky Leta / Mashable
Cooking can really show people’s true colors. Like trivia or an activity, making a meal together shows how you work as a team. And, in the kitchen, you have the added bonus of seeing how well they follow instructions, how they communicate (extra points if you’re working in a small space), and how they clean up (which may be useful information for the future). There’s also plenty of room for personal conversation as things cook and as you sit down to eat the meal together. Of course, this will require one of you to go to the other’s home, so only do it if you feel safe and comfortable.
Skating (ice or roller)
One of my favorite first dates involved rollerblading around a park in Brooklyn; it showed me that the guy was down for anything, and we were both comfortable with the potential to make fools out of ourselves. If you’re skating at a rink, going around in circles gets pretty repetitive, which can inspire you to fill the silence with talking. Skating is also an excuse to hold hands if you’re wanting to test the waters on the whole getting physical front. Like some of the other activity dates mentioned, you might want to plan a second half to this date for when your legs start getting tired. My date ended with takeaway drinks and food in the park. (While we did have a few more dates after that, unfortunately, he was one of the ghosters mentioned earlier.)
Meet up with your friends
You still want one-on-one time with the person, so don’t make this the whole date, but have a friend crash the date or intentionally plan to meet up with your friends after the main date activity. You’ll be able to see how they interact with the people in your day-to-day life and if they’d be a good fit in your other relationships. This also gives your friends a chance to weigh in and see how you act around your date and if they bring out good sides to you. If you want the chance to fully be one-on-one the first date, this is also a good idea for a second or third date. By then, you’ll know better how you feel about the person and might have specific things you want your friends to look out for.
Protest or rally
If you’re super into activism, you probably want a partner who is, too. And inviting someone to a protest for a first date shows them you’re serious about your beliefs and reveals whether they’re into the same causes as you. It’s almost impossible to not talk about deeper issues on a date like this, so you’ll really get to the core of who they are as a person. We suggest continuing the date with something a little less intense, so you can both show off your lighter sides as well.
Regardless of what type of first date you go on, De Oca says to pay attention to the kinds of behaviors you’re seeing in the other person. Are they consistent in how they talk to you over text and in person? Are they giving off red flags that are only going to get worse as time goes on? Or are they showing total go signs that warrant a follow-up date?
When it comes to dating, one of my friends once told me, “If it’s not a ‘fuck yes,’ it’s a no.” But De Oca has some different advice: “If we’re not overwhelmed with the amount of dates we’re getting, let’s have more second dates than not second dates,” he said. “If it was not a hard no, let’s have a second date.”
De Oca encourages giving people the opportunity to reveal themselves slowly; after all, some people take more time to come out of their shells, and you might miss out on someone great if you’re in too much of a rush.
Just because you’re dating efficiently doesn’t mean you have to speed through people. Take your time and have fun figuring out what works for you.