Ask Elana: Successful First Dates


Everyone has expectations for first dates. Some singles expect Hollywood levels of romance with a tangible feeling of electricity in the air, magnetic sexual attraction and a sense of having been made for each other. Others expect disappointment, a lack of chemistry, connection or excitement.

The reality is that although most first dates fall short of both these high and low expectations, they can be time-consuming and tiring. Fortunately, a research team at Stanford University (MacFarland, Jurafsky and Rawlings) has identified the key ingredients for a successful date through scientific analysis.

The researchers recorded and examined 1,000 speed dates between graduate students to learn what flies like El Al, and what flops like an overly dense latke. Here is what they found:

Advice for men

  • Pay attention to her. A common mistake is for men to think that they will win women over by impressing them with their accomplishments. In fact, the women in the study elected to go on second dates with men who let them speak and who showed interest in what they said. The men who scored the most dates expressed support, empathy and interest.
  • Interrupt her. Obviously, don’t be chutzapdik and overpower the conversation, but men who interrupted women to voice agreement or understanding fared better than those who listened passively. Some men were so in sync with their dates that they even finished their sentences. Here’s an example:

Ruth: I love lox and bagel –

David: With schmear. Who doesn’t?

Ruth: I’m feeling a little silly. This is like –

David: A little silly. It’s fun. Here, take this bagel.

  • Laugh with her. Women are often instructed to laugh at men’s jokes, and it turns out that the opposite works just as well. If you think she’s funny, let her know. Also, pay attention to your environment on the date, and find humor in situations together, like every Seinfeld episode, ever.
  • Compliment her. Unsurprisingly, the women in the Stanford study liked when men made flattering observations about them. On a first date, try to compliment her appearance and her personality. Don’t overdo it, or she’ll feel like you’re eyeing her like a knish on Yom Kippur, but a few well-timed remarks can go a long way.

Advice for women

  • Speak with confidence. A common mistake is for women to act passive and agreeable. In fact, men in the study chose to go on second dates with women who spoke with authority. Men were less interested in women who seemed hesitant and used verbal hedges, such as “maybe,” “sorta” or “kinda.” Women who expressed enthusiasm seemed more engaged in their own lives – and in the date.
  • Talk about yourself. Yes, seriously! Don’t spend the whole date tooting your own shofar, but do share your interests, like playing your horn. Men and women agreed that they clicked best when the woman took the lead in conversation and used words such as “I,” “me,” and “myself.” Definitely spend time learning about him, but don’t shy away from sharing stories from your life or filling him in on your passions and hobbies.
  • Raise and vary the pitch of your voice. The researchers found that men and women vary the pitch of their voice on a good first date to highlight their gender – women alter their pitch to sound more “feminine” while men deepen their voices to sound more “masculine.” This vocal change is subconscious, and serves as a subtle indication of attraction.
  • Find connections and shared values. Men seek out partners who share their interests and values. One of the best parts of dating a fellow Jew is sharing a cultural heritage and traditions. For example:

Jonah: I play the violin –

Sara: You do? Me too!

Jonah: That’s great. Let’s start a klezmer band.

If you follow those four simple guidelines on a first date, you will turn up the chemistry and be standing under the chupah in no time. js

Elana Averbach is passionate about helping people find love. As a dating coach and licensed therapist, she helps clients optimize their online dating profiles, overcome approach anxiety, challenge self-defeating beliefs and develop skills for building attraction. Learn more at

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