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Drop the baggage: how to handle yourself on the first date

Carol Dix

Dating author Carol Dix on why you should let the past be another country when you're first getting to know someone new

Senior gentleman sitting on bench with flowers wiating for a date

There's something about dating that can bring out the irrational, terrified or even gloomy in many of us. As one very attractive woman in her late 50s said to me: 'There we all are, putting the best possible spin on ourselves to a cyberspace full of strangers, desperately hiding our warts. Then we go out to meet and we're just not the same people as we've portrayed. And, at our age, we carry so much baggage we need porters to carry it!'

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Do you have baggage?

Baggage can be made up of anything from our past. Anger at an ex, problems with children. Misery over the loss of a much-loved partner. Perhaps you've been made redundant and feel a failure. We might not dream of boring a close friend with all this, yet out on dates these are often the topics of conversation we share with virtual strangers. Why? Because a date reminds us of the intimacy we used to have with a close partner and we need to unburden our souls.

What to talk about on a first date?

Look over the profile he/she has written either online, or through an agency. If you met in other circumstances you will already have some idea of their interests. Put some ideas in writing on cards, just as you would when making a speech or presentation.

Some questions to ask about their interests and hobbies

  • Where did you last go on holiday? Is there something interesting to say about that and the place visited?
  • A couple of light stories or anecdotes to tell about yourself, your work, family or hobbies
  • Funny stories about your children or work

What not to talk about on your first date


  • Complain about your ex, the custody battle, your earnings or pension
  • If widowed, don't talk too much about your previous partner or current loneliness. It can be disconcerting for any date to realise they are matched against another
  • Get trapped into a serious or morbid discussion about your life or the world in general
  • Talk too much, not giving the other person a chance
  • Retire into silence because you don't know what to say
  • Be too flirtatious, smiling or act slightly crazy
  • Laugh too loudly, raucously or shrilly

What to wear to give the best impression

Casual rather than formal, with a leaning towards 'smart casual', is the norm these days. It's a good idea to invest in some new clothes and try to update your look - without going over the top. Men should avoid what women call the 'beige' (or comfy cardie) look. Women should steer away from being either too frumpy or overtly sexual. You don't need to flaunt that cleavage. If he finds you sexy and charming company, he'll be happier imagining what lies beneath. For both sexes, think crisp, clean, smart, lively, assured and confident.

Your body language might be giving you away

Throats and chests can flush, hands go clammy, foreheads break out in sweat. Mouths dry up and conversation becomes stilted. Take deep breaths. Wash your hands and face in the cloakroom. Bear in mind a few tips about how your body can give away your secrets.

  • Make decent eye contact. Roaming eyes hint at disinterest or weirdness. Too intent eye contact can appear intrusive
  • Don't put your hand over your mouth or sit with head cupped in hands
  • Don't sit back with your hands behind your head or with your feet up on the table in front of you
  • Don't play with your hair - women brushing it aside or away from your eyes, men pulling it uselessly over a bald patch
  • Don't jiggle your keys or coins in your pockets
  • Don't have your mobile phone on the table, nervously watching and praying for it to ring

Dating can be tiring. You're having to play a game and act at being a more confident person than you're feeling at the time. You may not be in the mood that evening or lunchtime. But it's all good practice and it's taken you out of the house and away from the TV, hasn't it?

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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