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How Long Should a First Date Be?

I have suffered through some terrible and hilarious dating and friend experiences, and came away with some advice that I'm happy to share.

Anyone who has ever been on a date has had to tackle the inevitable question: how long is a first date supposed to last?

In a perfect world, your first date will be all moon and stars, peanut butter and jelly, rain boots and puddles, or any two things that mesh well. At the end of the date, you will want to see each other again, and soon. Plans are immediately set for your next date! You are both excited! You form a positive and loving relationship and you two live happily ever after.

But dating ain’t no fairy tale, baby, so listen up.

What is a First Date?

Let's be realistic here. The purpose of a first date is not to fall in love. If that happens, ok, that's all well and good, but it’s really not the goal. The real purpose of a first date is to determine three easy things:

  • if the other person is a jerk or obnoxious in some way;
  • that you are indeed attracted to them (and if they are attracted to you);
  • if there is potential for romance or at the very least, friendship.

A Short First Date?

Don’t make your first date too short.

A 20-minute cup of coffee or glass of wine is way too short. Remember when supermodel Linda Evangelista infamously stated that she doesn’t wake up for less than $10,000? Well, knock it down a couple of notches for us non-model folk and it corresponds to not bothering to meet someone for shorter than one hour. (Consider the shaving and shower time, or makeup and hair time, or the push-ups or daily affirmations or whatever the heck you personally need to psych yourself up. I don’t know about you, but gorgeous as I am, I still want to bump up the fabulous factor as much as possible.)

The only way a 20-minute date could be successful is on a lunch break, if you happen to work near each other. A “meet and greet” type date to make sure he or she isn’t a creep is a good idea in theory; however, in practice it doesn’t always fly. For example, finishing a glass of wine in twenty minutes is bound to get you drunk, and drunkenness is rarely a good date look.

A Long First Date?

But don’t make your first date too long, either.

Recently, I went out on two first dates, both seven hours long. Yes, seven hours. That's almost a full workday! It was toooo long, and I should have learned that from seven-hour-date-#1.

There is a positive, though -- seven hours is definitely long enough to figure out if you have enough to talk about, or if you constantly revert to a singular topic… say, the benefits of green tea or heaven forbid, politics. Maybe you did not realize that your date is a militant vegan while the only vegetable you enjoy on a regular basis is the tomato slice on your bacon double cheeseburger. Or perhaps the guy you went out with is such a cycling fiend that can’t shut up about this hobby, and every single conversation comes back to a ride he once took, or something about his bicycle that he finds special. Meanwhile, the last time you enjoyed a bike ride you were 11 years old.

If the topic bores you now, it’s not likely to become any more interesting later. Please take my word for this. Better to find out sooner rather than later, before you begin having fantasies of setting his bike on fire.

An Hour and a Half is Fine

For a first date, remember the rule of KISS: keep it simple, stupid.

You will know immediately if there is some chemistry between you two. And one and a half hours is really all you need to figure out if that chemistry can sustain itself through date #2. It's great if you two decide to extend the date to the three- to four-hour mark. But once you get to hours four and five, if you’re not feeling the snuggle or hug factor and moving toward that, it’s probably not going to happen for you two. And the longer you spend together, the greater the chance one of you will bumble into an awkward compliment. So end the date accordingly.

In other words, imagine yourself as Goldilocks… the date length should be juuust right.

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Things to Consider When Determining Date Length

  • How long did the other person travel to meet you?. If your date had to take a train or bus to meet you (hey, it could happen. In fact, it has happened, to me at least) and you easily arrived by car, give them enough of a chance to relax from the commute to see you before you start your "date clock". You want to get to see the real person, not the frazzled traveler.
  • When you're trying to build a relationship, you must let it happen organically. Don't push for too much time, too early. If you both want to see what the other person is all about, it will happen. If it doesn't, well then, there are plenty of cookies in the jar. Go find yours!
  • Consider a nighttime date, or schedule your first meeting for after work. The night will come to a close, and you can both exit gracefully. Both my seven hour dates were on the weekend, and involved driving to and fro and long activities. Fun as both those dates were, it was simply too much time to spend on a first meeting.

These timing tips can also apply to friend dates, so if you find something fun to do with a new friend, add some time to the hangout and enjoy yourself!

Oh, one more thing...there may be times when you’re not sure if you are romantically attracted to your date, or are just enjoying their company because they are appealing. When that happens, bring it back to the snuggle factor question… have you been sitting or standing more closely now than you were at the beginning of the date? It’s ok if you have determined during this time that your date feels more friendly than romantic.

That said, do not waste the other person’s time once you have figured this out. If they seem more interested in you than you are in them, be an adult about things and come clean. Honesty is really the best policy, even though it may not always feel good.

Otherwise, you could end up going cuckoo!


Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on October 23, 2013:

YAY! Leslie, you have just made me smile! :) I love stories like yours. Congrats on finding love, from wherever it came. I have met some of my favorite people online, too...

Thank you also for reading, for the compliment, and for leaving a comment. Best of luck with your love and remember to always be yourself! :)

lesliebyars on October 23, 2013:

I fell in love with the guy I met on an online dating site. I always hesitate in telling people how we meet because, I don't want them to think that we are some kind of fruit cakes. We have been together for 2 years in which we have been through a lot. We are still together despite insurmountable odds and are planning to get married in a few years. Great hub!

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on September 25, 2013:

Minnetonka Twin, thanks so much! Dating can be a crapshoot, so a sense of humor is a must. :) I'm glad you enjoyed the hub, and thanks for the follow!

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on September 25, 2013:

What a useful and informative hub on the whole dating thing. Love your sense of humor with this topic-that can go a long way when your dealing with dating. LOL

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on June 05, 2013:

Thanks, Amanda! I hope out comes in handy for readers. :-)

Amanda Jones on June 05, 2013:

Very interesting and useful tips. Thanks!

Great job on this hub, keep up the good work!

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on May 14, 2013:

Thanks, lightmotifs! Ideally, whatever length the date is, it goes well. :)

lightmotifs from Orange County, CA on May 14, 2013:

While each situation is unique, the 2-hour first date is a good rule of thumb. Thanks for a fun article, as always!

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