Just a Simple Cup of Coffee?
Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at the Guardian HQ again, as part of the 10 years of online dating celebrations. The talks, and the questions I’ve been asked afterwards have been particularly interesting, because often the people who ask me the most questions are a lot older than me. The reality of divorce after a long marriage, is that often daters have been ‘off the scene’ for so long, that it’s like entering a whole new world.
As a result, often the questions I’m asked by older daters are very basic. This is by no means patronising – often, they are less shy to ask basic questions which younger daters puzzle over too.
One thing I noticed a lot of the older daters I’ve met talk about is ‘meeting someone for coffee …’
Now, I can categorically say, I’ve never met someone for a coffee date.
In part, this is because I don’t drink coffee! But I’m not trying to be pedantic. I’ve never met anyone in a coffee shop for a date, and just because I don’t drink coffee doesn’t mean I don’t frequent places like Starbucks and Costa every now and again!
A coffee shop date is just something that’s never really appealed to me. In the same way that I tend to avoid pub dates, unless it’s a particularly unique bar, a cocktail bar, or there’s pub lunch involved.
Frankly, I find it a rather dull way to date.
But as I chatted to some of the midlife daters at the Soulmates event, I realised something else. The reason I don’t do coffee dates, is because actually they can be far more intimidating than you intend.
The reason people choose coffee as something to do on a date, is because it’s simple. It gives the suggestion of a low-key meet up. Not too much pressure. A relaxed environment, where you can have a good chat. And yes, it should be like that.
But not every dater is comfortable and confident, particularly not on a first date with someone they’ve met online, who they really rather like.
And actually, sitting across a table from someone, with little more to concentrate on than a mug of hot drink, is intimidatingly like an interview.
I think it was the Original Pimpernel, on our date to the Zoo, who remarked that his Mum always liked to have conversations with him in the car when they were driving, because she always got more out of him. He’s a shy person, and admits himself to not liking to chat to people face on. Side by side, he finds it easier to open up, something his mother had picked up on in the car. By the same token, our date at London Zoo worked well, because we were walking side by side, and there were conversation starters everywhere we looked.
That doesn’t happen in a coffee shop.
Unless you choose to sit oddly at the table, or you spend the entire date people-watching, you have little distraction, and you’re likely to be sitting facing each other front-on. Yes, I appreciate not everyone is daunted by that, but you’ll be surprised how many daters do find this interview-style layout of dating intimidating. One woman I spoke to last night suggested men prefer talking side-on, because they were bred as hunters back in the day, and this was how they would communicate whilst on a hunt! Who knows!
What I do know, is on a coffee date, there are few ice-breakers, few conversation topics, and the one-on-one question/answer session can feel far too much like a job interview. Add in the fact that coffee on its own really isn’t all that much fun, it places far much more emphasis on the entertainment value of your conversation.
So why not give yourself a bit of a break?!
Relaxing as a first date coffee may seem, why not choose a more active date instead – an exhibition you want to see, or a museum you want to visit. By choosing something more active, you’re making good use of your spare time, doing something fun (regardless of the company), giving yourself conversation-starters, and above all, taking the pressure off conversation. Choosing an activity you love is also quite a good litmus test of compatibility. If your date doesn’t want to go see the same exhibit, or doesn’t like the activity you’ve chosen, that will tell you far more about your real-life compatibility than which hot drink he orders!
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx
As a supertaster who cannot stand bitter, I’ve had the “Sorry, I don’t drink coffee.” and the “Sorry I don’t drink.” conversations before. But I don’t think it’s just about undue pressure and lack of topics. I find that – at least around here – people see coffee or dates as a quick chat that has little commitment to it. I’ve even seen dating advice articles that recommend a coffee date that specifically doesn’t allow too much time to talk – like in the last 30 minutes of your lunch break. It’s treated as a “starter date.”
To me, any date that is short of 2-3 hours, isn’t long enough to learn much about another person, or how compatible you are. And I absolutely agree, that finding a mutually enjoyable activity is key, My dream first date would be at an beachside boardwalk (if I lived in reasonable traveling distance of one), with a carnival/amusement park on it. I think such a venue allows a lot of time to get to know one another, quiet spots nearby to have more in depth conversations – if things go well – and encourages people to be comfortable being playful. The last element being something integral to any long-term relationship I’d seek.
Plus, it usually is a great place to see how someone deals with people. At a boardwalk you’re going to run into all kinds, including kids, older people, etc. If someone is snooty and superior, shy and non-confrontational, impersonal and cold, you’re likely to see it in such a place.
A zoo is also a great idea, if you have a decent sized one nearby. Unfortunately our local zoo takes an hour at most to do the circuit, and the nearest big zoo is in the Chicago area. Like most places I’d encourage for first dates, they aren’t viable options around here – here’s hoping the promise of late 2015 passenger trains to the city, actually comes to fruition. . 🙂