Whether a date’s spontaneous or planned, the first or the last date, or you’re young or old, sooner or later, going out with someone comes to this: Somebody has to ask for the date.
No matter how much or how little you plan (and regardless of your reputation, your Aunt Sylvia, the knot in your stomach, the advice of your friends, your New Year’s resolution, or your success with dating or lack thereof) nobody, with the possible exception of Adam, ever made a date without asking for it. I bet that even with God as the go-between, sooner or later Eve expected Adam to pony up and find the courage to ask if they could take a walk in Paradise, and if he didn’t, well, it explains a lot about the snake, don’t you think?
Face it, the only thing scarier than the first date is asking for the first date. But if you can remember that you’re not looking for a cure for cancer, that you won’t die even if he or she says “yes,” and that life as we know it will continue no matter what your potential date’s response, you may relax enough to actually (gulp) ask for a date.
Gazillions of perfectly normal (and lots of less than normal) people have all gotten nervous about asking for a date. You and I and everybody else are connected to a long line of sweating, nervous, stuttering, tongue-tied souls, and even the slick ones feel anxious on the inside about asking for a date. Do you feel better? No? Well, I was afraid of that. Never fear – in this chapter, I tell you some things that should comfort you in the asking, help you in the consummation, and protect you from any possible devastation beyond a teensy pinch on the ego.
The First Rule to asking for a date is this: No guts, no glory. The worst-case scenario is that the prospective date says no. At that point, you’re no worse off than you are at this very moment.
Rejection is definitely not fun, but a rejection is only one person’s opinion of you. You don’t like everyone, and not everyone is going to like you. If someone says no, then he or she misses out on getting to know how truly terrific you are.
Rejection can be the beginning of opportunity. Scads of hugely successful people just wouldn’t take no for an answer. Think about Fred Astaire: When he first went to Hollywood, a talent scout wrote, “Big ears, too skinny, big nose, can dance a little.” Many famous beauties and stars in many fields had to cope with someone’s negative opinion of them – nobody hasn’t faced rejection.
The question is: Are you going to let it get you down? Of course not! Alexander the Great probably conquered the world by the age of 30 because some shortsighted lass turned him down – maybe because he was too intense or short or something. Maybe that rejection made him want to make more than most
Grecians earn. (It’s a pun; say it out loud – but definitely don’t use it until the fourth or fifth date or after you’re married or your last kid leaves for college or your hearing has gone.)
Rejection means that that person says no but not that everyone will. You need to realize when no is no, when someone’s showing absolutely no interest. If someone consistently says no when you ask for a date, it’s okay to say, “Look, I hear that you’re not interested, and I don’t want to be a pest. If you ever change your mind, here’s my number,” or “I’ll call you in a year,” but then for heaven’s sake, don’t call any sooner than that. With time, the sting really does go away.
Conversely, if you really don’t want to go out with someone, don’t say, “Maybe” or “Call me next week.” Just say, “Thank you for asking, but it’s just not possible.” Remember that the world is a very small place. You may change your mind, or that person you turn down may marry your best friend or be in a position to hire you someday. There is no reason to ever hurt someone whose only sin is being interested in you, so be gentle but firm.
Rejection isn’t gender specific. It’s not any easier for guys to face rejection than it is for women. We’ve just programmed men for power, and asking someone out is boss, even if the whole experience is tinged with fear. Either sex can feel more powerful by taking the initiative and asking someone out.
A brush-off with style
The coolest rejection I ever got was from a guy who told me that he’d just gotten a call from an old girlfriend. He said, “She’s reemerged in my life, and I need to see where it goes. I’ll either marry her and invite you to the wedding, or I’d like to finally put it to rest. No matter what happens, I’d like to be able to call you.” Cool, huh?
Biology has nothing to do with the ability to tolerate possible rejection. Women, if you’ve never asked a guy out, you should do it for your own liberal education. Guys love it. However, they may think you’re hotter to trot (sexually) than you really are, so take that into consideration.
If you’re afraid of rejection, you may miss out on a lot in this life, which is pretty darned short as it is. See if you can put that angst away, take the chip off your shoulder, and go for it.
Improving Your Odds
When asking for a date, having a plan is crucial, but you’ve got to stay a little loose. The more structured you are, the more dependent you are on meshing well with a stranger. Therefore, you need to read the signs, stay loose, and keep things light, flexible, and open. You can seriously improve the chances of getting a yes if you keep these tips in mind when you ask for a date.
Never ask for a first date for a Friday or Saturday night
These two main, big, serious date nights are too important a place to start. Asking for a first date on a Friday or Saturday is like playing at Wimbledon without a tennis lesson or having ever played on grass or at all. Even people who don’t have dates and haven’t had one for ages are often loathe to admit their plight to a stranger (and if you haven’t had a first date, you’re still strangers).
Start off with a Wednesday or Thursday night, which are nights when people generally don’t have much planned. Also avoid Mondays like the plague. Everybody hates Mondays.
Never say, “Would you like to go out sometime?”
If you phrase the invitation like this and the askee says “no,” you’ve left yourself absolutely no out except to be swallowed up by a prayed-for earthquake.
If the person says “yes,” you still have to ask him or her out. Yikes. Instead, be specific. It’s much better to say, “I’d love to see the new exhibit at the museum. Any interest in going either Wednesday or Thursday?” You offer a specific opportunity (as well as alternative days) and at the same time, you give your potential date a great deal of room in which to negotiate without sounding wishy-washy or desperate. Giving specifics also allows your potential date a couple of seconds to think about it, rather than getting caught completely off guard.
Always offer options about the date
Options can include the day, time, activity, and transportation. Options make you sound organized without being bossy or rigid, as long as you keep them limited. Offering a few choices at the outset makes you sound less panicky than you would if you were to offer them after the potential date says no to your initial suggestion.
If you’re specific about the date and your potential date doesn’t like the suggested activity but does like you, you can modify your plan.
Also, although a plan with several separate possibilities requires more work on your part, it offers a better chance of success – and a chance to figure out whether your potential date has any interest in you. After all, if you’ve offered all options regarding place, time, date, activity, and so on and the answer is still no, the problem is as clear as the writing on the wall, and you’ve hit the wall. Take a deep breath and move on. It’s not the end of the world, just this potential date. Scary but efficient.
By offering to meet there, go in separate cars, or pick her up, you instantly show yourself to be considerate, capable, and sensitive to the fact that females have heard horror stories about being abducted by a date and never seen again.Although you’re not Jack the Ripper, understanding that she may feel a little uneasy about being in a car with a stranger makes you a liberated and cool guy for thinking like a modern woman. You will score major points.
In the initial stages of dating, people sometimes want so much to be liked that they agree to things at the expense of their integrity. If your potential date has enough sense to say, “I’d love to do something with you, just not mud wrestling,” then give that person a gold star. Don’t be offended – be pleased. You have just found someone with brains, courage, and honesty.
Remember that timing is everything
Don’t ask for tomorrow or next year. A basic rule is to ask for a first date a week to ten days in advance, but you can break this rule with impunity as the need arises. You can ignore these guidelines if the spirit moves you to be spontaneous. For example, “Hey, got time for an ice cream cone?” can get you an immediate yes; you can also expand this invitation to a “maybe next week” if you get a no.
Now is always a better time to ask than later because your courage may diminish over time. There are some obvious exceptions to this rule: Don’t ask someone who is in a crisis (never ask for a date at a funeral), just getting out of a relationship (never ask for a date at a divorce hearing, even if the person isn’t one of the parties involved; it’s bad karma), or going through any other experience when you may appear to be exploiting a weakness. You need to take the other person’s life situation into account as well.
Always go for it if you’re having a good hair or anything else day
You’re cuter when you’re happy, and self-confidence is sexy. Don’t get into the “well, today is a write-off, I may as well ask, get rejected, and make it a perfect score” mentality. You can tolerate being turned down more easily when you’re feeling strong – not to mention that rejection is a lot less likely.
Asking someone out for a first date isn’t the time to trot out your best anything, including your imagination, checkbook, or best friend. This is a time to think KISS: Keep it Simple, Sweetie. All you want to do here is send a clear and gentle but important message: I’d like to spend some time getting to know you better. Are you interested?
The Invitation: Sending the Message
You have several options when actually asking for the date. The choices may be influenced by circumstances (like distance), personality, and personal style. In general, the closer you are when you ask, the better. When you’re close to the person, you get more information, you appear more courageous, and you get some practice for the date.
Answering machine etiquette
An answering machine message, unlike an offthe- cuff remark or rumor or discussion, can be saved and replayed and misinterpreted and overanalyzed and overreacted to and thrown back in your face. Not only that, but you never know who’s going to be listening on the other end. Here are six messages never to leave on a date’s machine:
1. You’re the best I’ve ever had.
2. I never want to see you again.
3. It’s me. Give me a call.
4. Next time, we’ll go out.
5. Your mother is hot.
6 Can I have your friend’s phone number?
You can adapt any of the following methods for sending the message to your level of comfort. But be careful that you’re not hiding behind your comfort level – sooner or later, you’re going to have to get out there and actually date.
1. Asking in person: When possible, this is the best way to ask by far because seeing the person face-to-face gives you the most information. You can read body language and see whether the potential date looks pleased, terrified, God-forbid-revolted, or delighted. Based on the other person’s reaction, you can then modify your behavior accordingly or run. The disadvantage with asking in person is that it’s also the scariest for the exact same reasons. But it’s still preferred and also the friendliest technique.
2. Asking on the phone: This method gives you less information, but if you get panicky, you can always hang up before they answer (although caller ID has made hanging up without saying anything a great deal trickier). When you ask over the phone, nobody can see your palms sweating; but then again, you also can’t see your potential date’s reaction.
Never ask an answering machine for a date. It’s cowardly, sends the wrong message (you’re manipulating them by making them call back before you ask them out), and occasionally, the machine actually eats the message. You never know if your potential date got the message or if it was intercepted by a protective parent, a jealous ex, a careless roommate, or the Fates.
3. Asking through a third party: In elementary school, you may have asked your best friend to ask her best friend if someone liked you. You may have even eventually gotten an answer, but after Suzy told Peter, and Peter told you, were you really 100 percent sure about the answer? Third parties are a very unreliable method of information flow. When other people get involved, sometimes they add their two cents to your message. For example, what if your best friend liked me and wanted you to ask me if I’d go out on a date with him? Can you see lots of room for sabotage and miscommunication?
Remember the story of our Pilgrim forefathers, John Alden and Miles Standish? Miles was the governor who asked his best friend John to intercede on his behalf with Priscilla Mullens. Priscilla decided she liked the messenger, and Miles was left out in the cold. Don’t ask somebody else to ask for your date. The messenger may end up taking your potential date, and then not only do you still need a date but you also need a new friend.
4. Asking with a note: Even though computers have made notes faster and sexier, notes don’t offer you much information and feedback, whether they’re e-mail or snail mail (through the post office). When you ask with a note, you also don’t know the mood your potential date may be in. In addition, a note opens the opportunity for interception, misinterpretation, a delay in feedback, and a lack of flexibility. Ask anybody who’s asked for an RSVP to a written invitation, and you begin to understand the problem with asking for a date through a note. If you’re absolutely determined to ask for a date in writing, I suggest a handwritten note via the post office because it’s classier and implies more effort and concern.
A brief note here on sending a note with flowers, cigars, wine, a baseball hat, a ticket, or any gift: Sending gifts with the note is cute but tricky. You don’t want to appear to be bribing your potential date on the first date. Gifts can be a token of respect and admiration and are okay and even valuable as you’re getting to know each other, but they can be too much too soon. Besides, you don’t want to have to top yourself later and end up buying your potential date a small country by the fourth date. Start out simply.
Getting an Answer
Okey, dokey – you’ve made plans, offered options, and asked for a date. Now what? Well, either the answer is yes, you have a date, or no, you don’t. If the answer is yes, you’re flying and ready to go on to planning the old date-aroony.
Dealing with a no
If the answer is no, you have nothing to lose by asking if another day, place, time, or event would suit them. Listen to the response carefully. Often people really are tied up working late, taking care of a sick parent, getting out of a relationship, studying, or being distracted and would be willing to consider an invitation in the future, just not now.
If you’re feeling brave, you can say, “If not now, how soon?” If you’re feeling a bit vulnerable, you can say, “Let me give you my number, and you can give me a call when you’re ready.” The middle ground is to say, “Why don’t I give you a holler in a week or two and see how you’re doing?” If your potential date says fine, then do it. If he or she says “I’ll call you,” don’t hold your breath. Who needs to turn blue?
Getting some feedback
If you get a no, you may want to take a minute to try to figure out why. Make sure you haven’t gotten into some bad habits. You may need to ask yourself some tough questions. Are you too eager, too desperate, too whiny, too silly, or too tense? Is your breath okay? Do you make eye contact?
No matter how honest you think you are, give yourself some balance by asking a willing friend to critique your approach (you’ve seen it in a million movies where the hero or heroine practices in front of a mirror – no, not Travis Bickle’s “You lookin’ at me?” line). Balance your friend’s feedback with your own opinion so that you’re not being too easy or too harsh on yourself. If you mess up your careful scenario, your friend can give you some tips and hints on improving it, and you can make sense of what you meant to say or do.
Practicing can help you get a grip on your nerves. A little nervousness is flattering to the potential date because it shows that you really want to get to know him or her. Too much nervousness can panic both of you. All things considered, it’s probably even better to be a little bit nervous than so nonchalant and cool that your potential date has the sense you couldn’t care less if he or she accepts your invitation or not, because if he or she isn’t interested, no biggie, it’s not them, you’ll just move on to someone else. It’s not a terrible idea to start a first date on an honest basis. I know – don’t tell anybody I told you, and we’ll try to keep it our dirty little secret.