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A Gentleman’s Guide to Talking About Your Interests on a Date

‘Hi, allow me to explain the finer points of the 1972 UCLA Bruins for the next three hours’

Maybe your your last date didn’t go so well because all you did was talk about your boring ass job. Perhaps you spent the entire time ranting about what was wrong with The Last Jedi. Or maybe you helpfully mansplained the #metoo movement? Whatever it was, if you left without knowing a single thing about your date apart from the fact that she sighs a lot and her eyes are constantly glazed over, it might be time to find a new way to approach talking about your interests.

How much should I talk about my interests on a date, then?

“On a first date, you should share enough information to keep the conversation going and keep your date interested, but it shouldn’t be information overload,” says Samantha Daniels, dating expert and founder of Samantha’s Table Matchmaking. And while you might assume it’s safer to stick to safe, polite conversation, Harris O’Malley, author of New Game +: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex, & Dating, says, “Generally, I encourage people to talk about the things they’re passionate about on a first date because that’s one of the easiest ways to suss out compatibility.”

If you move forward past the first date, Daniels says, “Each date should provide the other person with more and more insight into you, your lifestyle and your interests.” So don’t tell your whole life story on date number one — just give enough to make them interested in coming back for more.

And what if my interests are a little, ah… out of the mainstream?

Whether it’s thinking minivans are just the greatest or owning 5,000 Ninja Turtles action figures, it’s true that for some people, their hobby/obsession doesn’t always paint the coolest picture of them. In these cases, says Daniels, “There are some topics that are better left for later dates. If you have an unusual interest or hobby that you’re concerned might scare off the woman, it’s better to wait to share it after a few dates when she’s more invested in the two of you.”

Don’t wait too long into the relationship, though — you don’t want it to be a shock when it occurs. “Passion is attractive, in part because so many people don’t have a passion, they just go through the motions of life,” says O’Malley, who recommends trickling this information in over a few dates. Who knows, you may even find that you share a passion, or that they at least have a related — or equally — unusual interest.

The trick when talking about these out-of-the-mainstream interests is to not introduce the subject defensively. “People will respond differently by how you pitch it,” says O’Malley. So if you introduce your interest like you’re ashamed of it, they probably won’t respond well, whereas if you’re pretty casual about it, it will likely just be taken as a part of who you are.

O’Malley cautions, though, that as you get deeper into your interests, “try to avoid talking in in-group jargon,” which can only be understood by people who are familiar with that field, as you may end up losing your date. So if you’re a hard-core Star Wars fan, say, maybe hold off on ranting about midi-chlorians for a while.

What if my hobby is my whole life? How do I not come across like it’s all I know how to talk about?

“You need to get your shit together and become more diversified!” says relationship expert Lisa White. But assuming you got the date before you became a more interesting person, Daniels says to “be honest, but also make it seem like you’re open to expanding your horizons, especially with a partner. Let her know that you love learning and trying new things and you would love to explore the things she enjoys as well.”

What other topics are best left for a later date?

Daniels offers that “serious topics are better saved for later.” So subjects like a divorce, illnesses in your family or the death of your beloved pet rabbit shouldn’t come up until a few dates in. “It should be fun and easy so that the two of you leave enjoying it and wanting to get together again,” says Daniels. She adds, however, that you shouldn’t “wait too long to share these heavier parts of your life, because if the other person does take issue with anything or can’t handle the serious stuff, it’s better to know that the two of you aren’t compatible early on, so you don’t waste each other’s time.”

What if I’m super into my job — how much should I talk about that?

O’Malley opines that the rules about your job are generally the same as your interests: If you’re passionate about your job, share that passion without overwhelming the person. If you hate your job, however, you probably want to avoid complaining about it.

What about if my job isn’t glamorous, but I’m still really into it? Are the rules different to if I had a cool-sounding career?

For Steve, an IT consultant in Westchester County, New York, he says that despite his uninteresting profession, he does find himself talking about it when out because he feels it’s “a safe topic to discuss on an early date, and allows me to steer clear of controversy. But I don’t talk in-depth about it. I usually learn more about their job than they do about mine.”

For Claude, an FM radio host in the Midwest, he says that he generally meets people at shows tied to his job, so they usually know what he does and are interested in it. On the occasion that they don’t already know, he says he’ll usually “wait until the person I’m out with brings up something related to it,” so that he doesn’t come off as bragging.

Claude mentions another thing to consider if you have a cool profession: “I like what I do and I think I have a cool job, but I’m well aware that not everyone else does.” So try not to make the contrast too uncomfortable by going on and on about how great your job is. He does add that if you’re a successful person and the person you’re with can’t be happy for you, or tears you down when you have an accomplishment due to their own insecurities, that person is likely not right for you. “You want someone who can enjoy that with you,” he says.

Are politics and religion no-nos, like at Thanksgiving with the in-laws?

“The last thing you want to do on a first date is to start with, ‘So, what are your feelings on abortion?’” O’Malley cautions. But these topics more generally may not be quite as taboo as you think, as O’Malley argues that, “Those are the kinds of things you probably want to find out early on.” So if you were a Bernie-Bro and you’re out with a post-truth Hannity viewer, you’re probably going to want to figure that out sooner rather than later. The same may apply if one of you only wants to date someone who shares their faith.

Just to be safe, how can I be sure I’m not ‘mansplaining’?

“Mansplaining is a bad look on any man,” says Daniels. “In today’s world, women are just as knowledgeable as men about all subjects. When you’re dating, you should go in assuming that a woman will know what you’re talking about regardless of the topic. It’s very stereotypical to assume that a woman knows nothing about football, for example, when many women, myself included, grew up going to football games, watch football throughout the season and enjoy — and know about — the game as much as most men. (Go Eagles!).”

“The easiest way to stop yourself from mansplaining is to ask the woman before you start talking about a topic if she knows about it,” Daniels continues. But obviously, be courteous about it, not condescending. “You can say, ‘I’m very interested in economics. Are you interested in economics at all?’ If she answers yes, you should assume she knows something about it — if she says no, you can ask her if she wants you to explain more about it to her.” This will prevent you from sounding condescending and presumptuous, which have always been unattractive qualities.

While we’re on the subject, White thinks it’s important to know that you should never “assume that you understand someone else’s experiences or perspective.” So if you’re a white dude and you’re tempted to interrupt a woman of color to tell her you’ve “totally experienced prejudice too!” maybe rethink that one, champ.

How can I tell if they’re losing interest in what I’m saying?

Not quite sure if your date is digging your 15-minute anecdote about playing Goldeneye on the N64? “Look for signals that show they have shut down or turned off,” says Patti Wood, body language expert and author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma. These may include turning away from you or slumping in their chair. Some people may “lean backwards and lazily rest their arm around the back of the chair,” Wood explains.

Breaking eye contact is also a big one, especially if they close their eyes for brief or even not-so-brief periods. Wood emphasizes that you want to be tuned in to their “facial feedback,” so if her mouth is ajar and her eyes are wandering, you’re likely boring the shit out of her. Another tell is a lack of head nods, as Wood explains that women usually nod their heads as a feedback cue to show that they’re listening.

It’s also probably not looking good if she goes to check her phone in the middle of your diatribe.

So then, when should I shut the hell up?

“It should be like a tennis match,” says O’Malley. If you two aren’t having a balanced conversation, it’s time to change gears a bit and start listening. Here’s the thing, though — you actually have to listen. “Women are more sensual beings and they get off on the foreplay of it it all — foreplay includes conversation and listening and knowing that they’re being heard and understood,” White elaborates. “People love it when we meet someone who wants to know what we have to say, so remember that your attention is a gift,” agrees O’Malley.

How do I show them I’m listening?

Be an “active listener,” says O’Malley, which you do by, again, actually listening and then “taking what they say and rephrasing it in your own words.” This will show them that you’ve been listening and that you understand. This also presents an opportunity for a spin-off question, which you can keep doing throughout the conversation to keep a nice flow going.

If a topic does run its course, just jump back to a previous point in the conversation and delve into that — if she mentioned in passing that she played lacrosse in college, say, go back and talk about that now. By being an active listener, this should pretty much ensure that you won’t run out of stuff to talk about.

How many questions is too many?

“You don’t want the date to feel like a job interview,” admits Daniels. Refrain from just listing question after question: “You should find natural points in the conversation to share things about yourself and your interests. For example, if your date shares something with you about her last trip or the type of restaurants she enjoys, that’s a good time to chime in and share that information about yourself as well.”

Remember, your goal is the tennis match.

And — asking for a friend here — what if my interest are mainly sexual? Like, oh, I dunno, I just can’t get enough cake-sitting? Or pegging? Or shoving things up my pee-hole?

“It depends on its importance to you,” says sex therapist Jodi Erin. “How integral to your life is your fetish? Is it something you desire to engage with often? Is it something you’re curious about? Is it a deal breaker if your partner isn’t into it? If your kink is a huge part of your life, it’s fair to both you and your potential partner to discuss it fairly early. A possible measure of when to share is after you’ve decided if there’s romantic/sexual interest, and before acting on those romantic/sexual feelings.”

Whenever you decide to intro it, utilize the same advice mentioned earlier about introducing your weird or nerdy interest: Don’t be ashamed of it. “I suggest talking about the kink in a fun, light and positive way,” says Erin.

Who knows? Maybe the two of you will be picking out a wedding cake to sit on in no time.