Research Reveals What Men And Women Want From A First Date

Psychologist James Moran discusses the behaviors that can turn your first date into a home run.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 27, 2023

A recent study published in Sexuality and Culture delves into first date tactics and their effectiveness on making dates successful, using the Netflix show Dating Around as a basis for analyzing dating behaviors.

I recently spoke to James Moran, a social and behavioral health psychologist from the University of Florida, Gainesville, USA, to understand what aids individuals in making more informed choices during dates and potentially alleviating stress for a more favorable dating experience. Here is a summary of our conversation.

What motivated you to conduct this study? Why did you choose to analyze the Netflix show Dating Around as part of your study?

I was motivated to study this topic because I was out with friends, and we were all observing a really bad date at a bar. I was a Master's Student at the time and studying relationship science and was curious as to whether anyone had investigated behaviors that are utilized on first dates, and curious as to how we might be able to determine the effectiveness of these actions.

After finding that there was a dearth of empirical information on the topic we ran 2 studies. One study was done to identify the actions used on a first date(Study 1), and one study was done to determine how effective those actions are (Study 2).

Then, I discovered a Netflix show Dating Around, and my team and I thought that coding the dating behaviors from this show could be a good first step in trying to determine how the dating actions work in actual dates since the show was somewhat controlled.

Can you explain the methodology of your study? What were some of the significant findings?

We used a mixed-methods approach. In the first study, we asked participants to simply list behaviors that they thought would be successful on a first date. We then organized them based on consensus. We then took those consensus behaviors and asked a different group of men and women to rate how effective the behaviors would be on a date.

After that, we coded the dating behaviors in the Netflix show, Dating Around, counting how many times someone engaged in that behavior, tallied them up to create a score, and then assessed whether the actions predicted whether a second date occurred.

Can you explain the specific tactics or behaviors that men and women reported as important for a successful first date and the ones that were associated with better chances of obtaining second dates for each gender?

There were a bunch of tactics. The number one behavior nominated by men was having a deep conversation, and women reported that the number one tactic they used was telling jokes and being funny. There were so many tactics that were similar, like jokes, compliments, listening, and being nice/kind. Only women reported that they would kiss on a first date, and women reported that they would make sure they would not get too drunk on the date.

Besides reporting what they would do on a first date, there were differences in how the dates would be perceived. Women thought that when men engaged in Etiquette behaviors such as listening, being polite, being kind, and showing interest, the men would be more successful on the date. In contrast, men believed women who engaged in Involvement behaviors such as flirting, holding hands, complementing, and actually drinking alcohol, would be more successful on a first date.

These results suggest although men and women engage in similar behaviors, they ultimately perceive the behaviors to have different outcomes.

Did the study find any factors or behaviors that were consistently associated with receiving a second date across both men and women?

We only coded the Netflix show, Dating Around, and did not view actual dates. Sadly, we did not see that these behaviors were predictive of getting a second date on the Netflix show. We are hopeful that other researchers might use the behaviors we found to study dating through speed dating paradigms rather than just use a reality TV show.

In terms of perception, we do see the difference mentioned above. However, more work is needed to further solidify what leads to getting a second date.

Essentially, we still are unsure if these behaviors, or particular groups of behaviors, are more predictive of getting a second date, but we have an understanding that there are gender differences in the way the acts are perceived where women like when men are engaging in attentive, polite behaviors, and men like when women are more involved on the date.

From your study, what practical advice would you give to men and women who are looking to increase their chances of securing a second or future date?

Based on our data, I would advise men to engage in more "Etiquette" style behaviors because women might perceive them as better daters when they do so. That is, men should try and do better to listen, be polite on the date and be kind, and try and have important conversations.

Women, if they are comfortable, should engage in more "Involved" behaviors that might lead men to want to go on a second date with them. These behaviors are flirting, holding hands, complimenting him, and drinking alcohol. They are more physical behaviors, which is why I suggest only engaging in said behaviors if they feel comfortable.

Men might think that if a woman engages in these behaviors more often, it may signal some sexual interest, which has been supported by previous research.

Additionally, previous research also suggests that first dates are a really stressful experience. I think by looking at the behaviors in this paper, first dates might be able to alleviate some stress.

Having this catalog of lists could help someone think of their own actions, on a date, and which one they should engage or should not engage in, which in turn could lead to a less stressful date, and maybe a second date.