The first few dates are always fun. Everything is new, you’re both blinded by attraction, and there’s no pressure to settle down or come to terms with the reality of a real relationship.
But the early days are more important than you think, according to psychologist and relationship expert Tracy Thomas, Ph.D. “What you do in the beginning of the relationship—and yes, you should see it as a relationship, not just a series of dates—sets the tone for the entire relationship,” she says. In other words, there’s not as much room for error as you expect—the moves you make now can mean the difference between moving from casual to serious or hook-up to break-up.
If you’re having trouble keeping her interested after a month or so, you may be making one—or several—of these dating mistakes.
1. Hoping she’ll make the first move
It’s the 21st century—women are allowed to ask guys out, right? Right, but that’s not a pass for you to sit back and expect her to come to you, says dating coach JT Tran. “Girls still want to be chased,” Tran says. “Hoping for a woman to make the first move is fighting a losing battle. It might happen, but it probably won’t.”
2. Not paying for the first few dates
In today’s enlightened society, the question of who pays seems complicated. But it’s not, according to Thomas. “Some things are just too ingrained in gender roles,” Thomas says. “In the first few dates, you want to set that masculine, care-taking tone.” Picking up the tab for the first three dates doesn’t mean going broke—if you can’t afford three fancy dinners, take her on a picnic, to a museum, or check out your local public library.
3. Paying for everything
Once you’ve set that “masculine, care-taking tone,” you can stop diving for your wallet. “On the fourth date, you should pause and give her a moment to jump in,” Thomas says. “You want to show her that you can take care of her, but if you pay for everything the relationship takes on a parental quality.” If she’s not looking for a sugar daddy, she’ll appreciate being able to pull her own weight.
4. Rattling off your résumé
Regaling her with tales of the amazing things you do or have done may seem like a surefire way to impress her—or not. “Guys are socialized to believe that their value lies in what they do,” Thomas says. “But she wants to date you, not employ you.” Women find it difficult to connect with men who are constantly selling themselves, Thomas says. Instead of talking about what you do, tell her how you feel about things, how you experience life, what makes you tick, and what inspires you.
5. Not having a plan
Women like decisive men, and the best way to show her you’re capable of stepping up to the plate is by planning good dates. The key word being ‘planning,’ not just ‘winging it.’ “Good dates are planned, and all situations are thought of—nothing is left to chance,” says Tran. “Try planning a date day, not just an event. This allows you to see her in multiple situations and both feed and entertain her, instead of just one.” That said, it’s better to think of your ‘date day’ as being on an Italian timetable: Flexibly romantic and never on time.
6. Having too many plans
Wait until you’re exclusive to start hitting her up as your go-to plus-one, says relationship expert Anita Chlipala. “Asking her to attend your cousin’s wedding four months down the road can scare her off,” Chlipala says. “It puts too much pressure on both of you.” Bottom line: Plan your time with her, but don’t make plans for your future until you’re both ready for that step.
7. Putting on an act
Think you can sweep a girl off her feet with well-executed lines and a fedora? Wrong, says Thomas. Even if you manage to pick her up initially, she won’t stick around for long if you’re putting on an act. “Pretending to be something you’re not is fear operating,” Thomas says. “It implies a defectiveness with who you are—it says you’re afraid of who you are.” Thomas points out that humans have an important, intuitive ability to sense fear (survival instinct, and all that), so you’ll only be able to pull the wool over her eyes for a couple of dates, max.
8. Mistaking a good work relationship for attraction
Dating a co-worker is never a great idea, but hey—it happens. But before you take the plunge with a sexy colleague, you need to step back and recognize what’s really fueling the attraction. “People in offices often bond out of survival,” says Thomas. “Say you both have an awful boss, or your company is going through changes. Don’t mistake that closeness for attraction.” Your move: Ask her out, outside of the office.
9. Going all in, right away
Some women love over-the-top romantic gestures; some don’t. If you’ve just started dating a girl, you probably don’t know which category she’s in. So hold off on those epic sweep-her-off-her-feet moves, Tran says. “If you invite her out on a fancy dinner date and show up with arms full of roses, chocolates, and teddy bears like you’re celebrating the biggest Valentine’s Day ever, you’re putting a lot of pressure on her if you two aren’t already an item,” Tran explains. “You’ve taken care of her, so she’s going to wonder what you expect her to do to take care of you.” Upping the ante so quickly forces her to make an uncomfortable choice: Does she go along with your crazy charade, or does she bail?
10. Talking about yourself
Everyone loves to talk about themselves. That includes you. It also includes her. “Women in my office complain all the time that the men in their lives don’t ask any questions, and aren’t actually interested in the answers when they do,” says Thomas. True story: If you ask her something about herself, be prepared to actually engage—if you don’t, you look like a jerk who’s only interested in himself and his own agenda. And if she’s so boring that her answers can’t hold your interest, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the budding relationship.
11. Not being present
Your 348 Twitter followers can wait: If you’re on a date, you have no business tweeting, texting, checking in, or Instagramming. “Shut down whatever else you’re doing—that includes electronic devices, but also just the noise in your head—and show up,” says Thomas. “There isn’t anything more important than the connection you have with your date, and that comes from being truly present.”
“Women get a bad rap for overanalyzing, but men do it too,” says Chlipala. “Reading too much into her words and actions can do a lot of harm.” You’ll end up assigning negative meanings to the things she says or does. Chlipala suggests making an effort to take her actions at face value (her waiting three hours to respond to your text means nothing more than that she waited three hours to respond to your text) and play devil’s advocate with your negative thoughts.
13. Giving up too soon
You asked her out, she said no, you cut your losses and move on—right? Not exactly, says sales expert Grant Cardone, author of If You’re Not First, You’re Last. “It’s like trying to land a multi-million dollar account,” Cardone says. “You have to be creative, confident, and positive.” Pursuing a girl like you’d pursue a client might seem desperate, but Cardone disagrees. “You only come across as desperate if you try the same thing more than once,” he explains. “Don’t call her twenty times and ask her to dinner. Nobody wants the life sucked out of them.”
14. Not speaking up
Here’s how to avoid the dreaded friend zone: Speak up. “Guys get stuck in the friend zone because they don’t make their feelings clear,” Thomas says. “They don’t want to mess up the relationship by putting it all out on the table, but it’s their unwillingness to stand up and claim their truth that turns women off.” She may not jump into your arms the second you speak up, but she’ll definitely respect you for owning it.
15. Holding out for the perfect woman
She doesn’t exist. “Every woman comes with faults and problems,” says Chlipala. “Don’t dismiss her too quickly. Date from the perspective of what she offers and what her good traits are—unless you want to stay single forever.”