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Sex + Relationships

How to Decode Him on a First Date: The Revealing Details to Watch For!

Although a college girl’s love life may be bountiful, not often does it consist of those traditional “first dates” that we see over and over again in the movies.  However!  Along with the start of summer comes the start of fresh, new summer romances, and some of us will be entering the dating world in full force. 

If you are one of these brave few and find yourself a little rusty from a school year full of wishy-washy, digitally-saturated interactions with the male specimen, do not be discouraged.  Her Campus is here to walk you through a first date from start to finish so you can read those subtle, yet very telling details!  Because even though the dating world isn’t completely dead, you will know exactly how to tell if a future relationship with your first date will be.

We’re going to follow the real-life first date of Elisa* and Matt* from beginning to end to get an idea of what to look out for.  Helping us decode the mysterious male psyche will be dating doctor David Coleman.

Phase 1: Location and Arrival

Choosing the location of a first date can get a little stressful.  Is it too fancy? Too romantic? Too loud? Is the food too messy? Too expensive?  Too garlic-y?! If he lets you pick, click here for some summer date ideas, but more importantly, what does it say about the guy if he lets the girl pick?  Let’s see how it played out with Elisa.

“He told me to pick a place, but we all know I’m indecisive when it comes to choosing for other people, so I gave him the options of Mr. J’s, IHOP, Bob Evans, and Panera. He then said ‘How ’bout Chipotle?’ I guess he didn’t like my options,” says Elisa, laughing.

According to “Guys First Date Behavior Decoded” from The Dating Blog, Matt was on the right track by letting her pick the place, but may have strayed off the path when he chose a place she didn’t list.  “When it comes to a first date, a woman should always be able to make the choice on where to go…to choose a place that is comfortable for them. A guy that insists on where to meet disregards his date’s point-of-view,” says The Dating Blog.

However, a lot of girls feel more at ease when the guy has a plan, or admire a man with decisiveness.  So, this detail may be up to preference.  As for the arrival, these days it doesn’t have to always be the “I’ll pick you up at eight” option.  Elisa met her date at the site of the location.  “We met there because I had to go straight to class after. But he did say he would have picked me up.”

Phase 2: Physical Evaluation

What is he wearing?  How is his posture?  Is he making eye contact?  There are so many things that make up a first impression on a first date.  We’ll evaluate Elisa’s guy to see what his physical clues revealed about him.  First, let’s go with clothing.  She said he was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a hat.  Pretty classic.  Pretty acceptable for a Chipotle date. As long as the guy doesn’t show up looking like the Peanut’s character, Pig-Pen, I think they’re in the clear.

Posture.  “He was a little nervous in the beginning…sitting up straight and not relaxed, but he started to lean over a little bit more and eventually had his elbows on the table,” says Elisa. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad!” she jokes.  Let’s ask the experts. “It all depends on how his posture is on a daily basis,” says dating doctor David Coleman.  “If he is the kind of guy who normally slouches, angles his body away, and avoids eye contact, but he seems more direct, animated and alert on the date, that is a very good sign.”

However, posture isn’t the only thing that gives off important signs. David Coleman says “tapping fingers, playing with his watch or any type of ring, constantly touching his face, or short bursts of laughter (that allow him to laugh away uncomfortable moments) can be seen as coping mechanisms [for being nervous], as well.”  Elisa mentioned evidence of this laughing mechanism in her date.

“There was like a pause in conversation a couple of times, and we’d both look up at each other from eating at the same time and it was kind of awkward, but we both laughed it off. He was kind of smooth/corny and said that he couldn’t help but smile and laugh. He said that my smile and laugh ‘were contagious like a yawn’,” says Elisa.

Speaking of “looking at each other”, eye contact is one of the most important things to take note of on a first date.  According to image consultant Dianne Daniels in Norwich, CT, “a man who focuses on your eyes when you’re talking may be looking for a deeper connection,” she says. “By paying particular attention to your face and therefore giving himself the ability to pick up your verbal and non-verbal cues, he’s telling you that understanding you is important to him.”

The Dating Blog also agrees that eye contact is crucial.  A guy with wandering eyes may mean he’s losing interest or even checking out other women (Yikes!).  “If a guy seems bored while you struggle to keep the conversation going, imagine how difficult it would be to keep him entertained while the two of you are in a relationship.”  However, in my personal opinion, I think that weak eye contact could simply mean an extra nervous or low self-confidence date.

Phase 3:  Restaurant Deets

Okay. There are two key things to pay attention to if your first date is at a restaurant: 1) How he treats the wait staff, and 2) If he offers to take the check.  Let’s start with the P’s and Q’s.

We asked dating doctor David Coleman if it matters how they treat the wait staff or cashier on the first date.  “Absolutely!  What people practice, they become very good at.  If he is rude to them, he will ultimately be rude to you.  Bank on that.”

Elisa said her date was polite and said “thank you” to the people at Chipotle. “A man who can treat people well no matter what their income level or ‘station’ in life will treat you in a more considerate way, no matter what your profession,” says Dianne Daniels. Keep up the good work, Matt! 

Elisa also said that he paid for her even though she said he didn’t have to.  This is a common little detail of a first date.  A lot of people use this gesture to judge whether or not “hanging out” with someone is actually a “date.” 

“I am a believer in the guys [paying] (with no expectations or ulterior motives attached), but I am an even bigger believer that the woman at least make a gesture to go ‘dutch’ and split the check,” says David Coleman.  “It is a mutual sign of respect and a classy move that lets him know she is appreciative…It makes her a keeper! Him too.”  So, keep that in mind, ladies! Along with these First Date Don’ts.

If you do end up offering to split the check, The Dating Blog suggests taking note of how he reacts to your offer.  “If he thinks about it for several seconds or seems annoyed when he tells you he will get the bill, this is a sign that he is just going through the motions of courtesy.”

Phase 4: The Awkward Goodbye and Potential Second Date Offer

Ugh.  I start getting nauseous just thinking about this part of a date.  And the amount of TV. and movie parodies making fun of the front-door goodbye are never ending.  Here’s how to decode your guy on this part. 

“A goodbye without a hug [or] kiss and [with a] ‘I had a great time let’s do this again soon’ sends as strong of a message as, ‘You looked fat in those pants, thank goodness our time is up and I’m outta here!'” says David Coleman. 

Elisa breaks down her goodbye for us. “We walked outside together and he gave me a hug. Like a two-armed hug, not the one-arm, lazy kind.”  Seems promising. I, personally, think this is the perfect kind of goodbye.  A kiss on the cheek? Maybe.  But I think if a guy kisses a girl he comes across as too forward.  Maybe wait for date two!

So, how do you know he’s interested in a second date?  “Any brief mention of the future,” he says. “‘Do you have a busy week coming up?’, ‘Do you travel a lot for your job?’, ‘Are you on any teams right now?’ — these all give him a quick glimpse into a woman’s schedule and if there is time in her life for him.  He may also express how much he is enjoying the date and their time together and guys rarely do that without the hope that it will happen again and soon.”

Elisa? Any of this ring a bell?  “He kept asking what I was up to the rest of the day and said that he was free because he was off from work, so if I got bored to hit him up. He also said that we should meet up that night and was open to do anything,” she says.  It turns out his little hint-dropping was successful, because he came over later that day to watch a movie with her and her friends.

So, there you have it, Her Campus daters — a step-by-step guide for dissecting every, tiny detail of a first date.  Now for the hard part — WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO WEAR!?
*names have been changed


Elisa, JMU student

Dianne Daniels – Image Consultant in Norwich, CT via http://lifestyle.msn.com/relationships/article.aspx?cp-documentid=8424982&page=2

David Coleman – Dating Doctor, [email protected]



Caitlin Hardgrove is a senior at James Madison University, concentrating in Print Journalism in the School of Media Arts and Design. In combination with her Music Industry minor, she hopes to one day write for a music magazine publication. Caitlin is also a member of JMU’s dance team, The Dukettes, and their dance club, Madison dance. She has written for the university’s bi-weekly newspaper and interned at InSight, a magazine highlighting life in Montgomery County, MD (her home town). Although her study abroad trip to Ireland last summer will be very hard to top, she hopes to live at the beach this summer after she graduates and work for Delaware Beach Life magazine.
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