Tonight is the night: You’ve dressed in your finest, popped a breath mint, and are headed off to meet someone who could be The One. Few moments are as pivotal as this initial rendezvous, and that holds true whether you met online, were set up through friends, or swapped numbers at a bar last Saturday. So: How do you get that all-necessary chemistry crackling between you as quickly as possible? Believe it or not, it’s not all up to fate. Anthropologists, body language experts, and other pros say there are plenty of strategies you can use to help your date relax, to build rapport, and even to instill a flutter of excitement. Try these tactics for a few instant sparks.
Tip #1: Plan an activity that’ll get their heart racing—literally
There’s a reason scary movies make for great dates other than the excuse to squeeze someone’s hand: Frightening experiences get your pulse racing, adrenaline flowing, your face flushed—and these physiological responses bear a striking resemblance to sexual arousal. “The mind mistakes any sort of arousal for sexual attraction, and will attribute this excitement to whomever you’re with,” says David Givens, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the Center for Nonverbal Studies. “In fact, in one study where men met women on a bridge high above rushing water, subjects were more attracted to each other than those who met elsewhere.” Not that we’re recommending you meet there exactly—roller-coaster rides or a hike up a steep woodland trail should do the trick. Even the sweat you work up while eating spicy food can get you hot under the collar for each other, so consider suggesting Mexican or Thai for dinner.
Tip #2: Mirror, mirror…your date
Want to convince the person sitting across from you that you two are totally on the same wavelength? Easy—just make a point of subtly mimicking their body position and the pacing of their movements, recommends Jay Arthur, author of Attracting Romance. “Sit the way your date is sitting, tilt your head the way he or she does, talk at the same speeds,” he suggests. On a subconscious level, people find similarity comforting, which paves the way for a stronger connection.
Tip #3: Dwell on pleasurable experiences
Sure, engaging your date in a lively debate about the pros and cons of the Patriot Act may be intellectually stimulating, but an intimate conversation isn’t about impressing someone with your smarts: It’s about getting your date to tap into his or her sensual side. So, steer clear of topics that involve facts and figures and get your honey mulling over more pleasurable thoughts instead. Questions like “Do you have any summertime vacations planned?” or “What would you say is the best meal you’ve ever had in this neighborhood?” will easily get you both in a better frame of mind to bond. “Talking about awe-inspiring experiences and the attached emotions—seeing the Grand Canyon, for instance—lets you relive them,” explains Givens. “People get hyped up talking about something that excites them, and that emotion gets transferred to the person they’re with.”
Tip #4: Master your eye movements
Staring into someone’s eyes: It’s the oldest rule in the book. It indicates that you’re confident, honest, and interested in this person—all of which can make a date’s heart skip a beat. And yet, it can be hard for daters to do this move with finesse. Don’t worry, no one’s asking you to engage in a staring contest. In the world of eye contact, less is more. “Don’t immediately look away when feeling awkward,” says Laurie Puhn, J.D., author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. “Hold their gaze for one extra second—that’s all you need to do.” If you’re having trouble, try shifting your attention to their eyebrows instead; it’s close enough that your date will still feel like you’re focused on them. Next, try this advanced technique: Let your gaze occasionally “dance” from one of your date’s eyes to the other, back and forth, which conveys excitement and creates a flirtatious mood.
Tip #5: Don’t feel compelled to get touchy-feely
Eventually, if all goes well, physical contact—hand-holding, hugging, kissing, and much racier stuff—will naturally happen and will cement a bond between you. But at this early stage, all too often it can backfire. If your date isn’t ready for contact yet—either stiffening when you move in or turning the dreaded cheek when you go for a kiss—it can be hard to recover your composure and the date’s good vibes. The key is to let your date know you’re “in like” but not push too hard on the physical front. Your best bet for your first encounter is something sweet but not gropey. If a handshake’s your style, put a cozy twist on it by clasping your date’s palm in one hand and putting your other hand on top, warmly encircling their wrist. Or, try a seamless handshake-to-hug combo by grasping your date’s hand, pulling him or her slightly toward you and encircling your other arm around your date’s torso. To further cut the tension, say something like, “I had such a great time and am so glad we did this.” And unless you’re getting clear signs your date’s dying to be kissed—as in, he or she remains in your personal space with a smile and lots of direct eye contact—resist the urge to plant one on the lips or even the cheek. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time for that later. And hey, you’re always better off leaving your date with something to look forward to.
New York-based freelance writer Matt Schneiderman has written for Stuff and Sync magazines.