I’m all about spending long and leisurely afternoons that naturally lead to evening hangs with my friends and family, but when I’m getting to know a complete stranger, less is definitely more. Consider the first date as an audition for the second date. On an audition, you show up on time, succinctly deliver your best material, and go home. If you think the audition went well and you still hope to be cast, you thank the director for giving you the opportunity and wait to see if you get a callback. If you don’t hear from them again, you move on to the next audition. Ladies and gentlemen, after the first hour of a first date, make your polite exit.
If it’s clear you both want to hook up immediately after the first date, feel free to ignore the one-hour rule. But for the daters who get a bit overwhelmed and exhausted making small talk with a stranger, the one-hour rule is a lifesaver. If you’re on a dating app, you’re likely going on a lot of first dates. And many of those dates are going to be just OK. The hour commitment is enough time for a drink or a coffee, and enough time for nerves to settle enough to see if there’s a spark. If there’s a connection, fantastic — schedule a second date. If there’s not a spark, you can both get back to your lives quickly.
It wasn’t until the end of last year that I hit my limit on long first dates. The holidays are stressful and overscheduled. I didn’t want to take a break from dating, but I also wanted time to bake cookies, see my friends, and watch “Home Alone” for the hundredth time.
Just before Christmas Eve, I had a very promising first date with a super cute and witty social media director with whom I’d actually been excited to match. We made a date at a bar near my apartment for 7:30, but at 7:15 he asked if he could push it back 30 minutes. He arrived at the bar at 8:30, full of apologies. I should have told him right then that he’d spent our first date elsewhere and gone home, but he was cute. We each had a can of Modelo and chatted about our media jobs and blue-collar backgrounds. The first hour flew by and I remember thinking, I really like him. He asked if I wanted a second beer, and I hesitated. I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and I’d been sitting at this dive bar hour for two hours already. But I didn’t want to seem uninterested, so I agreed to just one more round. My second round was actually his fourth -— he’d had drinks with coworkers at his office before our date, which was why he was so late. It’s no surprise that the conversation began to deteriorate. Banter turned to him interrupting me, and he repeated the same story a few different times. I was now officially bored, hungry, and over him. When he got up to get a third round (without asking me this time), I officially felt trapped.
It was a feeling I’d felt the week before on a three-hour coffee date at Ludlow House with a professional DJ. Sure, the first hour had been flirty and fun, but two, much less three, hours is a lot of chitchat for strangers over a singular cup of chamomile. He’d moved on from telling me his entire life story to telling me all of his friends’ life stories. I kept looking for a naturally polite way to end the date, but I couldn’t find my angle. At hour three, he mentioned that he had a gig in the neighborhood after our date. It was suddenly clear that he expected me to keep him company until it started. As he told me how easy it would be to get a book about being a DJ published, I was thinking of everything I’d rather be doing anywhere else. Finally, I interrupted him to politely say that three hours was all the free time I had for the day and that I needed to call an end to the date. I ran out of the Velvet Room and back to the freedom of my apartment.
Both men asked me out on second dates, and I declined them both. Most people are courteous enough to ride out a date until it gets late enough to note the time and say a polite goodnight. But multiple-hour first dates often end up with one party lingering longer than they’d like — definitely not a sexy feeling that leaves you wanting more. I wondered how I could get away with going on first dates without a huge time commitment.
Last week, I went out with a voiceover actor. He asked me out for a Wednesday drink and I countered with Tuesday. Then he made a genius move. He told me Tuesday was fine, but he had plans to meet friends at eight. Perfection. We went into the date with an end time in mind. I was completely relaxed knowing I’d be home at a decent hour to eat dinner, catch up on Netflix, and get a good night’s sleep. The hour-long date was one of the best I’ve been on. And at the agreed upon time, we kissed goodnight and went our separate ways. He got on the subway, and I went home. If he asks me out again, I’m happy to spend more time getting to know him. And if a second date never happens, I only lost an hour of my life.