Going on a first date can feel like walking a tightrope: You’re trying to impress her without coming on too strong—or worse, looking desperate.
As a result, lots of guys wind up making the same mistakes. A new survey by activity-planning site Vimbly identified the top pitfalls that turn women off. Some of them might seem trivial, but let’s face it: It’s a first date. You don’t get a lot of leeway to mess things up when there’s no established relationship.
Here’s how to avoid the 16 common missteps in the survey so you can ace your first impression—and schedule a second date before the waiter brings out dessert.
1. Offer a Polite Compliment
If you start off with some comment on how great her legs look in that skirt, she’s not going to be into it. She will be immediately put off. Comments on appearance have to be given with finesse or you’ll start the evening (or end it) on the wrong note.
Avoid the pitfall: Stick to gentlemanly compliments. You’re safe with, “You look really nice tonight.” or “Wow, I know we’ve been out a few times already, but it feels like you get more beautiful every single time I see you.” If your date is not a person who enjoys compliments on her appearance, go for a cool line like, “You have the most amazing smile” or “I can’t get enough of your laugh.” Everyone likes to know they are appreciated, but you have to be self-aware enough to offer the right phrasing.
2. Don’t Be a Schlub
It’s not as harsh as it sounds: Chances are she just thinks you need to work on your grooming. Most guys can look decent if they invest in a good haircut, do some man-scaping, and dress well, Masini says.
Avoid the pitfall: Take heart in the fact that you don’t have to work nearly as hard as she does to prepare for a date. But that doesn’t mean you can skip the basics: showering, shaving, and spritzing on cologne. Wear a simple-yet-polished outfit like dark jeans, a blazer, and loafers, and you’ll look put-together without seeming like you’re trying too hard. For more guidance, check out what to wear on a first date.
3. Resist Bringing Your Resumé
Arrogance is really just your insecurity showing, Dr. Lieberman says. You may feel like you need to emphasize the parts of your background that scream “elite” to impress her. But flashing possessions or dropping “one time at Princeton” into the conversation too many times just makes you look like an A-hole.
Avoid the pitfall: As a general rule, first-date conversations shouldn’t include talk about anything too superficial unless there’s a good reason for it to come up. For example, it’s fine to tell her you went to Harvard Law only if you’re talking about how brutal Massachusetts winters are.
4. Skip the Money Talk
Talking about money is tacky—whether you’re gloating about your bloated bank account, or lamenting how little you have. “Although money is often on people’s minds, it makes her uncomfortable to hear you talk about it when you’re just getting to know each other,” Dr. Lieberman says. “She doesn’t want to hear that you’re worried about it, or to hear you bragging about how much you have.”
Avoid the pitfall: “Just cross money off the topic list completely and casually pay for the date like a gentleman,” Dr. Lieberman says.
5. Go for (Non-Offensive) Jokes
Joking around with your date is a great way to break the ice. Women like funny guys. Men like funny guys. Humor is an excellent tool. But, don’t go overboard. If you start getting heavy into politics, non-PC humor, or negging, she’s going to ask for the check and run like the wind.
Avoid the pitfall: Keep the humor light. Find out something you both agree on. For instance, maybe you both think Frasier is a pretentious and terrible show. Joke about that together. If she loves Colbert, make some Colbert-style jokes. If she likes your funny voices, joke with her. Don’t get out of control and start ranting and raving about Jill Stein or how much you love Bernie Sanders on a first date. Funny can quickly spiral into “bonkers” territory.
6. Curb Your (Excess) Enthusiasm
Giddiness doesn’t read as enthusiasm on a first date—it reads as anxiety, according to psychologist Tracy Thomas, Ph.D. “You end up sending the message that you’re uncomfortable with yourself, and unable to self-regulate,” Thomas explains. In other words, you look like a nervous wreck and she’s going to bail.
Avoid the pitfall: If you tend to get too giddy, plan a date with a distraction so that you’re not on the spot for suave conversation the entire time, Dr. Lieberman says. Some good options to take the pressure off: a play or a concert. You’ll still have the opportunity to talk, just not as much.
7. Be a Gentleman
Women today don’t need over-the-top chivalry, but that doesn’t mean you should slack on your manners. Letting the door slam in her face, talking down to waiters, and spending the entire date glued to your phone are all behaviors that she won’t find attractive.
Avoid the pitfall: “No matter how modern she is, a woman wants doors held open for her,” Dr. Lieberman says. “She also wants you to have good table manners.” At the very least, you should try to be the gentleman your mother raised you to be. And a general rule for every date: Stay off your phone.
8. Leave Your Rolodex at Home
If you spend the date dropping names, as in: “I know the guy who created Angry Birds,” or “I text Kanye West,” then you sound like a try-hard who needs celebrity clout to impress her. (But hey, could we get Kanye’s number?) And if you tell long stories about your friends and their shenanigans, you’ll bore her to death.
Avoid the pitfall: Check yourself before you name-drop—it almost never sounds good, Masini says. As for that story about your buddies’ epic trip to Tijuana, save it for when you get together with them.
9. Don’t Drop the F-Bombs
Some women may love bad boys, but swearing like a sailor doesn’t make you Charlie Hunnam. “Cursing gets old very quickly,” Dr. Lieberman says. “It makes it look like you’re trying to be cool.”
Avoid the pitfall: This one is easy: Curb the cursing habit now, in anticipation of all your future first dates (and job interviews, and other non-sailing situations), Dr. Lieberman says. It’s too difficult to just turn off a habit for a few hours, so eliminate four-letter words from your everyday vocabulary.
10. Ditch the Heavy Talk
You probably just want her to get to know the real you. But don’t dive right into the darkest moments of your past. Nobody wants to be brought down by another person—especially when you don’t know each other well yet, says Dr. Lieberman. Remember: First dates are about having fun.
Avoid the pitfall: First, make sure you’re actually ready to date—and not stuck in past relationship drama, says Masini. If you’re ready to get out there but feeling kind of down, skip quiet dates like coffee or museums and go straight for activities like dancing or ice skating.
11. Handle Your Liquor
Getting drunk on a first date doubles your chances of looking like a fool—and raises a major red flag, Dr. Lieberman says. She won’t know if you just guzzled your whiskey to ease your first-date jitters or if you hit the bottle too hard every night.
Avoid the pitfall: “Guys drink too much when they’re nervous,” Dr. Lieberman says. To slow yourself down, have some food, alternate your alcoholic beverages with water, and go for drinks you know you can’t guzzle. Or try a beer with a low ABV: Bud Select 55, Miller 64, and Beck’s Premier Light are all under 2.8 percent—and decently tasty.
12. Make It a Two-Way Conversation
Sure, you have to tell her about yourself, but dominating the conversation by rambling about your life will make you look narcissistic. Or worse: By not showing any interest in her, it can seem like you’re just waiting for the date to be over so you can get her into bed, Dr. Lieberman says.
Avoid the pitfall: What will impress her even more than learning about your accomplishments is seeing that you’re genuinely interested in hearing about her. If you’re not sure where to start, her job is usually a good bet. “Women love knowing that you take their work and ambitions seriously,” Dr. Lieberman says. “Ask her about what made her go into her career, and what she plans or wants to accomplish. Find out why it’s important to her.”
13. Don’t Be Uptight About Splitting the Bill
In the same vein as avoiding cheaping out on a date, don’t buckle down on not allowing her to split the bill with you. We live in a society where we can have egalitarian partnerships. We’re all making money, it’s OK for partners to split the bill. If a person really wants to, consider letting her. If you’d like to pick up the check, be polite about it.
Avoid the pitfall: If it’s a first date, let them know that you’d really like to treat her. Explain that you’re totally willing to go dutch on your next date, but since they agreed to spend her evening with you, you’d like to get this one. If they are really insistent, don’t be weird about it. Just split the bill. It’s not a test. They just wants to be equals and establish boundaries. And remember, just because you buy dinner does not, in any way, mean a person owes you anything; not a hug, a kiss, or sex.
14. Don’t Be Cheap
There’s a huge difference between being frugal and being cheap, Masini says. “Frugal” is scheduling a lunch date instead of a dinner date, but “cheap” is telling her she can’t order dessert. “If you’re cheap with money, you’re probably cheap with emotions and possibly in bed, too,” she says. “This is not the impression you want to give.”
Avoid the pitfall: The easiest way to save money—without looking miserly—is to plan the date yourself, and only take her to places where you know you can afford the dessert menu. Or get creative: A hiking trip is more fun than dinner and doesn’t cost anything. (Just don’t advertise that you’re taking her hiking because you don’t want to pay for food.)
15. Speak Up
Maybe you like to think of yourself as the strong, silent type—but all she sees is a guy who’s either emotionally closed off or super boring, Masini says. She may not mind coaxing you out of your shell, but you have to give her something to work with.
Avoid the pitfall: There’s only so much to talk about over dinner. “Invite her to do something you know a lot about, and are passionate about, like a baseball game or a concert with your favorite band,” Dr. Lieberman says. “You’ll have lots to say.”
16. Keep Your Hands to Yourself
You might think that touching her a lot on the first date shows that you’re into her. Not the case, says relationship expert April Masini of AskApril.com. What you’re actually showing her is that you’re super-touchy on every first date. Way to make a girl feel special, right?
Avoid the pitfall: “On a first date, touch should be limited and only natural, friendly, and warm—not sexual,” says Carole Lieberman, M.D., author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. In other words, it’s fine to take her hand to help her out of your car, or put your hand on her lower back to lead her through a crowded restaurant. But don’t drape your arm around her neck and hold her close the entire time.