Danger Zones: 3 Red Flags to Avoid on a First Date

A first date is an opportunity to enhance existing virtual attraction in the case of online dating, or explore “something more” with an existing offline acquaintance.  Given the importance of maximizing first impressions, a first date should steer clear of some easy to manage chemistry roadblocks. 

Such roadblocks are presented here as “zoning violations” to avoid on a first date.  Each situation demonstrates partner unsuitability, because of how an inappropriate setting or insensitive behavior affects the other partner. Creating anxiety, discomfort, or insecurity is a sure fire way to make sure your first date your last.

The solution?  Avoid the following danger zones at all costs.  Here they are.

Time Zone: Living in the Past

Research by Marisa T. Cohen (2016) of 390 predominantly heterosexual participants who filled out a survey shed light on the perception of behavior on a first date.[i] Cohen found that women viewed their partner´s discussing past relationships with them as a sign of disinterest—which corroborates her additional finding that women prefer date conversation to be focused on themselves.

Reminiscing about past flames is a turn off for men as well.  A first date is not a rebound counseling session.  Along the same lines, be concerned when your date makes a point of modeling the clothing, jewelry, or even electronic devices he or she received from an ex.  Why point this out?  If you were to check online, you might also find your date has not updated his or her Facebook profile photo, which features, you guessed it, the ex.

Someone wanting to discuss or keeping souvenirs of past relationships is either still emotionally involved, or insensitive to your feelings.  You lose either way.

Construction Zone: Beware the Project Developer

At first, you might think you just received a compliment as your date gushes about your “potential.”  Wow, you never thought about your accounting background and mathematics degree as a springboard to start a new side business.  Or perhaps you are flattered by your dinner companion´s characterization of your fashion style, presented within the context of how you could develop your look further in order to look even younger/ more professional/ more approachable.

Word of warning: if you choose to spend time with this type of supportive companion, as your relationship progresses, the “encouragement” will get old.  You want to feel like a prospective paramour, not a project.  And certainly not a fixer-upper.  You do not come in a kit with instructions, or as a download on a smart phone. Perhaps your date would do better with a self-help book instead of your company.  A “build your own partner” mentality is a waste of your time. 

Comfort Zone: Boundary Violations and Space Invasion

Consider the discomfort you would feel if you agreed to have dinner with a co-worker, only to find out he booked a private, candle lit table at an expensive restaurant.  Most of you would find this both awkward and unprofessional, because this setting constitutes an environment associated with the anticipation of intimacy. 

The best first dates cultivate chemistry through appropriate scene selection.  Choosing a setting that is more relaxed than formal will avoid sending the wrong signal.  The best first dates take place in settings designed to facilitate comfort and conversation, not over-familiarity.   An environment that is casual but classy provides a non-threatening venue for upbeat conversation. 

If you are selecting the scene, also make sure you select a venue that will ensure plenty of personal space.  If you are unable to see well enough through the photos online, visit the restaurant to make sure the seating situation will not invade the personal space between you and your date. 

Couples exploring dating potential will not appreciate awkward seating with both people crammed next to each other on the same side of the table, or in a tiny booth with no room to spread out.  Uncomfortable space limitations can create both anxiety and discomfort, which can stifle a sense of connectedness. 

Finding the Safety Zone

First dates should end comfortably, with either a spark of interest in having a second, or the satisfaction of having enjoyed getting to know a new friend. Avoiding inappropriate or uncomfortable settings will allow you to cultivate chemistry, or at least enjoy conversation. 

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert.  She is the author of author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD


[i] Marisa T. Cohen,  “It’s not you, it’s me…no, actually it’s you: Perceptions of what makes a first date successful or not,” Sexuality & Culture: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 20, no. 1 (2016): 173-191. 



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