A Biological Anthropologist Says That the Perfect First Date Is Pretty Simple

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The social-psychology research on romance has yielded some pretty pragmatic insights, like that it’s way wiser to frame a relationship as a journey than as destiny, and that valuing your partner as a friend — rather than, say, a soul mate — is basically the most amazing thing you can do, love-wise, since it predicts greater commitment, a greater feeling of being in love, and, yes, better sex as compared to couples that value the friendship-ness of their bond less.

But just as the proverb says that the longest journey begins with a single step, the most fruitful relationship starts with a meet-cute (or Tinder match). Then comes the first date, which, to risk putting it too capitalistically, is kind of a job interview. Maybe it’s the millennial in me, but just doing drinks — rather than making the long-term commitment of dinner — always seemed like a better move.

That’s why you have to love the advice that Helen Fisher, who’s like your cool aunt if your cool aunt were one of America’s leading biological anthropologists, gave the Washington Post. Basically, skip the pad thai. Opt for an alcoholic beverage, maybe two. “You’re going to end up being more social, more talkative, and showing more of who you are,” says Fisher, who authored Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray and gave a widely watched TED Talk on how the brain behaves while in love.

The point of the date, of course, is to talk to the person across the table from you. “The first date really should be just for cocktails, because you really shouldn’t invest a lot of money or time. It’s a look-see,” Fisher says, noting that in the space of an IPA or two you can start to ascertain important information about your potential sweetheart. Are they as good looking as their photos suggest or as you remember from that party? Are they friendly with the service staff or despicably aloof? Are you getting any clues as to if they, as one couples psychologist once strongly advised me, share the same core values about life as you do? The let’s-have-a-drink date “is extremely well built to assemble data about a potential partner,” Fisher says, in an observation that’s as clinical as it is practical.

And if the date is going terribly, you can get the hell out of there after the first round. Just remember that just like the only way to really learn how to swim is to hop in the pool, the only way to learn what you like — and what you’re like — in romance is to, as they say, put yourself out there. Even if the date is bad, you’re still getting data on what you’re attracted and not attracted to. And with just a beverage or two, that’s a modest investment that could lead to awesome returns. Or not.