Navigating Murky Waters: The First Date Dilemma, Dinner or Drinks?

Like setting sail on the high seas, casting off for a first date can be a tumultuous journey into the great unknown. Unfortunately Facebook stalking, your drunken judgement or riotous text message banter are about as reliable as a Melbourne weather forecast for predicting date success. One minute it’s sunny, the next you’re running for cover in the ladies room, sheltering from a cataclysmic storm of clashing morals, offensive narrow-mindedness or not-so-good-looking-in-the-daylight disasters.  Our inner Napoleon wants to believe that we will return the victorious conqueror of unchartered territories but sadly, mid-sail motion sickness often forces us abandon ship as we desperately try to keep our eyes on the horizon.

Alas, the waters are treacherous in a dating pool and filled with pirates, sharks and pollution. It’s no wonder that both men and women deconstruct and analyse first date semantics in order to decode the best first-date scenario. Do you go casual or formal? Who chooses the venue? Do you split the bill? Do you kiss goodbye? How do you escape if he’s a surprise vegan life-coach?

The first date is an honoured tradition and there are certain protocols and traditions that both help and hinder our romances. Typically, dinner or drinks is the standard first offer. This leaves many stressed out at the idea of a full-blown dinner or the possible sleaze associated with catching up for drinks. Whether or not you’re eating, I find that symbolically smashing a bottle of champagne between you may bestow good luck upon your voyage (or at least launch you into smooth sailing small talk).

Where I grew up, meeting someone for a drink was usually code for “I’ll meet you at the bar at 10pm when you’ve already gotten yourself white-girl drunk, buy you two vodka raspberries and try and get in your pants” so forgive my reluctant cringe when you invite me for drinks. Call it a scar from the past (first glimpse of baggage and it’s not even the first date… Check.), but I am not going to respond with “Oh why certainly, I’d love nothing more than to ditch my girlfriends and meet you in a dark bar, half-wasted, knock back a few stiff drinks before you suggest we go somewhere quieter ‘so we can talk’.” If talking was his priority, then his level of effort was as poor as his knowledge of bar-side acoustics. Enchanté, Sailor, but I must bid you adieu as I run off into the night via the nearest 24-hour bakery.

But now that I’m older and living in a bigger city, I find myself invited out for drinks more frequently. It seems to be the convention, but I still struggle to understand the meaning of it. We probably met at a bar so the assumption that I drink is fair, but meeting for a drink on a weeknight is problematic in many ways. Firstly I am a grown woman and I have a job and somewhere to be in the morning, secondly because I expect to drive to the meeting place. The two are compounded by the fact that I’m a small woman who has only had avocado and Kruskits for dinner (since I had to buy my own) and I can’t realistically have more than about 1.5 drinks without abandoning my car and taxiing home, which judging by my budget-friendly dinner is not likely. What a kerfuffle, and all because you don’t want to get stuck at a dinner date with a relationship blogger who will probably tear you to pieces in her next post.

In theory, going out for a drink with someone is a great, low pressure situation where you can have a few drinks, loosen up and get to know someone in an informal setting. I totally understand the functionality of it; it’s just like a coffee date but at night, with alcohol and the chances of getting some action are about 4000% higher. Maybe it reflects how disinterested I am in dating at the moment, but the appeal of risking a D.U.I on a first date, on a Wednesday night (when The Bachelor is on) with a guy that wasn’t confident enough in me to invite me for food isn’t a very strong draw card. Looks like Bachie Woods will be the only one keeping me warm this winter.
I can’t help but feeling that drinks are the runner up prize. It leaves uncertainty as to his intentions:  were you not worth the outlay for actual dinner date? Does he think you’re a two-rum strumpet?  Is he Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid, Love (pre-Emma Stone entrance) with more dates this year than a calendar? Drinks tend to be deployed as a bit of a “cool guy” calling card, showing that they are easy going and confident but it doesn’t do much to reassure the chronically insecure female that whispers bitter cynicisms in the back of our mind.

Dinner seems more comforting because the likelihood they are dining out with a different girl in a different port every night is unlikely. Obviously he’s not a serial dater because taking every girl out for Teppanyaki is just not economically viable. On the other side of the coin, however, when a guy takes us out for a too-fancy-for-a-first-date dinner it can be just as concerning.  The good thing about dinner is that it shows effort, planning and that he trusts his own judgement.  Alternatively it might mean he’s desperate to impress, he has no friends of his own to dine with or he simply wants some nice eye candy to entertain him while he sets sail on a food safari across the city.

So by my calculations you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. No matter how you approach it, first dates are always going to feel like walking the plank into shark infested waters.  Slightly safer options include coffee dates, brunches or delightful strolls in the park but they occupy prime hours of daylight in the weekend. The chances of drunk driving or sleazy pick-ups are much lower, but  you are going to end up in the water either way, so you can choose whether to jump in the deep end or wade through shallower waters. Some days, dating feels like throwing yourself in an ocean of awkwardness and confusion, and wondering how can you opt out (Text “STOP” to 13 13 11, throw your phone in the ocean, quit your job and go be a pirate).

Yes m’hearties, this is what goes through our heads. Happy sailing.

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