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First Date Advice From a Dead Straight Guy and an Alive Lesbian

As a child, my father constantly threatened to send me to Dale Carnegie’s training program for social incompetents due to my complete inability to speak to strangers. By then, Carnegie was already dead, but he’d left behind the first true self-help empire, spanning books, classes and programs and setting the stage for an entire industry.

I didn’t actually read Carnegie’s seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People for another 20 years or so. At that point, I’d grown out of my childhood reserve and was more comfortable speaking with all kinds of people. In particular, I’d become a good dater — an excellent dater, if I do say so myself. For three main reasons: 1) I’m good at getting people to open up; 2) I’m an attentive listener; and 3) I find it easy to become genuinely interested.

Carnegie wasn’t a pickup artist — though some critics charge that his techniques verge on manipulation — but these are also three big pillars of his advice on how best to get along with others. And generally speaking, his (mostly) timeless advice on relating to other human beings can easily be applied to a social situation like dating.

So to help all the straight men out there, I’ve decided to combine our powers — me, a fully alive lesbian with extraordinary game, and Carnegie, a dead man with the ability to at least sell people on the idea that stronger relationships can be forged if you only try hard enough. He might have said what you’ll read below first, but with my contemporary spin, they’re as relevant as ever. In fact, with the K-Carnegie Surefire Tips for Making People Like You, a first date will never go without a second again. That’s a promise.

Tip #1: Become Genuinely Interested in Other People

Can you fake genuine interest? Carnegie’s critics think so. I’m not so sure, though. If you’re not at least a little interested in other people, you probably shouldn’t be dating; if you’re just looking for sex, well, there are other outlets available to you. (That said, this tip doesn’t suddenly stop applying if things do end up there.)

Either way, it’s important to distinguish between want and need here. Wanting to get to know someone and wanting them physically are hot. Needing to be close to someone, on the other hand, is off-putting. Need isn’t about having genuine interest in the other person—it’s about you and how the other person fits into your self-conception as a desirable or likable person.

Tip #2: Smile

Like, a regular smile. You’re happy to be here, right? But also pay attention to body language generally. This relates back to number one — if you’re genuinely interested, your body should express that through open gestures: Lean forward and make eye contact. It’s possible to overdo this, so if you’re full-on sleepover hands, you’ve gone too far.

Tip #3: Remember That a Person’s Name Is, to That Person, the Sweetest and Most Important Sound in Any Language — the First Couple of Times

I don’t know if this norm changed in the 70-plus years since Carnegie first wrote it, but repeating someone’s name over and over in 2017 makes you sound like you’re a demented warlock trying to gain control of their mind. Learn your date’s name. Learn how to pronounce it right. And maybe use it to punctuate one or two sentences. Then fucking chill.

Tip #4: Encourage Others to Talk About Themselves

In a perfect world, I couldn’t say I’d witnessed a man talking his date’s ear off about Kingdom Hearts. But alas, this isn’t a perfect world. It doesn’t matter if it’s video games, rock climbing or socialist economics — you’re not here to give a lecture; you’re here to learn about another person. If you’re genuinely interested in your date, you should be asking questions of her: What’s she into? What are her favorites? What’s been occupying her lately? Things will come back around to you — that’s another promise. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a little mysterious.

Tip #5: When You Do Talk, Talk in Terms of the Other Person’s Interest

Again, ask questions. Here’s a tip from my past life as a social scientist: “Why” questions tend to put people on the defensive, like they have to justify a decision. Try using “how” instead. For example, “Why did you decide to get deep into the lore of the 1992 Ralph Bakshi film Cool World?” becomes, “So, how did you get deep into the lore of the 1992 Ralph Bakshi film Cool World?”

Tip #6: Make the Other Person Feel Important

A friend once had a date with a guy who explicitly and unfavorably compared her to his ex. He didn’t do this maliciously — he was just so self-absorbed that he didn’t seem to realize how awful it would make her feel.

This is an extreme example, right? But there are all kinds of smaller, less obvious ways in which we make people feel unimportant — e.g., peeking at your phone, stealing glances at other people and zoning out when your date is talking. Some of this stuff is just habitual and you have to work against it, but it can help to remind yourself of why you’re there in the first place.

I leave you with one last note, which I’m loath to admit but which journalistic integrity compels me to relay: The bar for straight men is still incredibly low. Gay women hear the wildest shit from our straight female friends about their dates — to the point where it sometimes seems like the guys aren’t even trying. So maybe you don’t need my advice. But always remember, at any point, a girl like me could really clean up out there.