Dear Rabbi Bernath,
Every time I start going out with someone, the first date seems more like an interview than a date. How do I avoid having the date feel like a business interview?
Thank you for your question. I like getting into the nitty-gritty of dating and this is a question I hear a lot from people who go out on blind dates, or get set up by matchmakers.
When you meet someone for the very first time, and it’s a tête-à-tête, rather than a social scene with other people around, it’s very easy for things to devolve into an interview. After all, you may know very little about this other person, and you may be nervous.
In any case, let’s take a moment and play devil’s advocate: maybe it’s not such a bad thing for the first date to feel like an interview. Perhaps it’s important to get all the hard facts and ask all the questions you really want to ask right off the bat.
That said, I don’t think the first date should feel like an interview. Even though you need to get the answers to your burning questions, that’s not the primary purpose of the first date or two. The main goal of these dates is to answer the question: “Do I enjoy this person’s company?”
Obviously, nobody enjoys being interviewed.
I’m going to take a moment to delve into why these interview-style dates happen and offer two solutions.
Like I said, people don’t enjoy being interviewed. Imagine the last time you interviewed for a job. You, the person applying, had to answer all the questions. You were vulnerable; you had to speak with substance. But the person asking the questions wasn’t taking any risks or having to communicate all that much (unless he or she was a really great interviewer).
When you’re on a first date, you naturally don’t want to feel vulnerable or take risks. So you ask questions instead. As does the other person.
How do you stop the cycle of interviewing?
First of all, whenever you have the itch to ask a question, as it’s forming in your head, practice this technique: turn the question into a statement about yourself. (We could have a long digression here about the cliché of people talking about themselves too much on the first date, but this is the opposite problem.)
So if you want to ask, “What is your job?” you would instead say, “I’m a lawyer. I love doing my job. What about you?”
What this does is force you to be vulnerable first – before asking the question. This helps break the cold, interview-type atmosphere you are trying to avoid.
The second trick comes from an interesting source. A friend of mine was participating in educator training for special needs children. One of the sessions was given by speech therapists and it was all about how to elicit speech from children who aren’t very verbal.
The gist of it is that most people approach unfamiliar children – whose motives and thought processes are opaque, due to their lack of speech – and start by asking them questions about what they’re doing (“What are you playing with? What is that for?”).
Inevitably, the children do not say anything. They don’t like being interviewed.
What good speech therapists do is observe and listen carefully – they don’t immediately try to fill in the awkward silence with questions. Once they’ve observed something, they comment. For example, “That Play-Doh looks like a cow!”
Inevitably, the children speak.
This is a powerful trick for any human communication. Observe, comment and wait for a reply (“It seems like you really enjoy your job”). It shows a lot more care than tossing out questions.
I hope this helps, and happy dating!