Relationships on the Road: First Dates

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Two weeks ago I started this little series on relationships while you’re on the road. I’m not Don Juan or even Dr. Phil, but the vast majority of my romantic experiences have taken place away from Australia’s fair shores.

Posing with a pair of gorgeous Afrikaans girls

And people wonder why I spend so little time here…

Anyway, my first post about how to meet and strike up conversation with a pretty girl at a foreigner bar seems to have been met with a pretty positive reaction, so it’s time for me to share a few more observations and ideas when it comes to relationships on the road. We’ve covered meeting somebody – so now comes the roller coaster of dating somebody while you’re in unfamiliar territory.

The Fine Art of First Dates

I think it’s safe to say that I don’t do so well in a relationship situation. I’ve been in four ‘serious’ relationships and only one of them lasted beyond the four month mark.

But I’m fairly confident in saying that I give good first date, and the elements of a good first date (at least when the girl is on said date with me) remain the same whether you’re in your own backyard or exploring a crowded South Korean street.

The key elements to a CWB date?

  • Keep it simple
  • Don’t try too hard
  • Keep it casual
  • A little cheese is a good thing

Four pretty simple steps there, but you’d be surprised by how many horror stories I’ve heard about first dates that could have been avoided by following a few really simple guidelines.

Stumbled across a great little waffle place in Pungam Dong, Gwangju in 2009

Look, the romantic in you might want to go all Ted Moseby and make your first date something that you’ll tell your grand-kids about. But how likely do you think you are to get into a grand-kid making position if you scare her witless with a grand romantic gesture right out of the gate? Save it for the anniversary! Better yet, don’t even think about getting that far. Enjoy the first date, roll with the occasional awkward moment, and see where it takes you.

Keep it Simple

Your natural inclination might be to seek out the nicest Italian restaurant in town, splash out on a prohibitively expensive bottle of wine, and try and dazzle her with your knowledge of the works of Walt Whitman.

She’s likely to be just as nervous about a first date as you are, so why threaten to overwhelm her with the burden of showcasing her etiquette skills on date numero uno?

The best dates I’ve ever had have been ones with little or no planning. Meeting up for coffee doesn’t need to end when the last of the coffee’s been drained from the cup – and an impromptu walk can be both romantic and offer up a great chance to have a random detour adventure.

Those detours can be worth even the least enjoyable date. You might just stumble across a new favorite cafe or a fun place to take a future first date.

It's hard to do justice to a candlelit hookah bar without a flash...

My best memory of a first date was in Gwangju in late 2008. I met up with the pretty Kiwi girl I was sweet on with the idea that we’d have dinner. Without any idea of where I would take her, our wandering ended up taking us to Ethnic Bar – a hookah bar boasting curtains and cushions, a bubbling fountain in the centre of the room, candle light, and private grottoes to hang out in.

We ordered a pair of cocktails, a plate of cheese & crackers, and settled back into the comfortable cushions to just chat and get to know one another better.

That first kiss? The best one I’ve ever had. And there was no planning at all. Just a pause in conversation, two sets of lips a tad too close together, and that delicious tingle up your spine as those lips meet.

So rather than picking a fancy restaurant, look at the simpler options. Go bowling. Check out a cute little coffee shop. Wander a market together. Go out and see a local tourist attraction. You’re taking the pressure off of yourself and off of her.

Don’t Try Too Hard

She’s accepted the first date. Chances are, you’ve already garnered a bit of her interest. If that’s the case, it’s safe to assume she doesn’t want to go on a first date with somebody else.

Be yourself and if she doesn’t like that, then it’s her loss. Do you really want to be with somebody who likes a fake character you invented for your first date? You’re eventually going to get burned out on pretending to be that faultless, cultured rare earth trader you introduced her to.

This leads well into…

Keep it Casual

If things go well, somewhere down the line you’ll have the opportunity to open up and share more about yourself with them. But that second or third date isn’t likely to eventuate if you unload your lingering abandonment issues on her and rattle off a comprehensive list of the features you found intolerable in your ex.

A younger and more idealistic Chris chatting up a South African girl in 2008

There’s a time and a place to talk about the many facets that make up who you are. Introduce her to the more fun ones before you wheel out the big guns. Get her comfortable with that weird way you pronounce ‘chicken’ and the originally cute but eventually infuriating self depreciating sense of humor you have before she has to meet your ex and learn about how your father never really accepted your dream of someday being a professional wrestler.

She’s not telling you here life story on date #1 (and if she is, head for the hills) – so don’t burden her with yours. It’s supposed to be fun!

The Value of a Little Cheese

Cheese makes everything better. Seriously, nearly any meal can be improved with a little cheese.

More cheese than a cheese pizza with extra cheese

The same holds true of a date. A little romantic cheese is a great ice-breaker and, in a lot of cases, might be the first romantic thing the girl’s ever had done for her. It’s true that chivalry is almost certainly dead, so the odds of her ever being given a flower or having her chair held for her are slim.

I’ve had girls melt (not literally) when I produced a single rose from behind my back and put on my best sheepish grin. I’m not saying they fell straight into my bed, but it made them feel a little more comfortable to know that I was willing to put myself out there like that, and it’s just a nice gesture. There’s nothing wrong with being a gentleman, so don’t be ashamed if you feel inclined to offer her your coat or hold the door for her.

This also has the benefit of establishing early on that you’re on a date. You don’t want to be diverted into friend territory just because she missed all of the signs you sent her way.

But it’s a fine line to tread. There’s cheese and there’s creepy. Don’t break into song at the end of the date unless you’ve hit a karaoke bar together.

On the Road?

You might have noticed that a lot of this isn’t specific to being on the road. There’s a good reason for this – the rules don’t change.

Sure, a girl who is out traveling is going to be a little more open to meeting new people than somebody at home might, but she’s still a girl and you’re still a guy.

If anything, the foreign arena gives you a lot more freedom to be creative and keep it nice and simple. There’s probably a dozen restaurants you’ve never tried and countless tourist attractions you’ve never visited. That’s your date right there, and it’s going to be fun even if the sparks don’t fly.

The Differences

A first date on the road isn’t going to be identical to one back home. For one, you’re probably not going to be quite as familiar with the area as you would be in your own country.

Heather preparing to explore Busan's seaside temple with me in February of 2011

Of course, if you do happen to know the area well and she doesn’t, your expertise is going to be an attractive trait. If you can seamlessly order your food in the local tongue and guide her to a hole in the wall with some small comfort from home, she’s going to like you just a little bit more.

There’s also the added perk of being able to use one of the aforementioned comforts from home in place of a flower. You’d be surprised at the reaction I got when I brought a girl a small jar of Marmite instead of a rose. You’d think I’d proposed.

Maybe I did. I’m not too familiar on the rules of engagement when it comes to New Zealanders…

Dating a Local?

Don’t be afraid to let your local friend take control of the date. Chances are she’s going to have a far better idea of where to eat and how to get there. That’s fine. Being the man doesn’t mean you always have to be in control.

Enjoy being out of the driver’s seat for a while and use that extra bit of freedom to focus on engaging her. Ask her questions – not only about herself but also about the place you’re in – most people are proud of their homes and will feel more at ease talking about it then themselves. Roll with it.

In Summary

At the end of the day, what has worked for me in the past might not necessarily work so well for you. But if there’s one facet of romancing gals that I’m consistently happy with, it’s that I can’t recall ever having had a bad first date. Even if the girl and I didn’t click, we’ve still managed to have a fun time. I think that’s played a big part in me being friends with a lot of girls I’ve gone on a date with to this day.

I’m not Don Juan. I’m not Dr. Phil. But I’ve had a lot of swings and misses, and maybe one of my little tips above will help you turn that awkward first date into a fun experience. And if it’s fun, chances are she’ll be all the more likely to want to do it again.

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