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8 Solutions to Get Rid of Awkward Silence on a First Date

First dates are exciting but also nerve-wracking. Follow these steps to avoid awkward silences, and you'll be killing the dating game in no time.

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Prepare talking points

Set aside time before the date to brainstorm a few topics you’d like to cover in case the conversation runs dry. Steer clear of topics that may be too personal, such as past relationships (and avoid saying these words on a first date). According to expert online dating coach Joshua Pompey, asking questions related to travel, television, or hobbies is a great way to get the conversation flowing. If you met the person you’re dating online, you had an extra advantage. “If you’re online dating someone, you probably have a sense of what they like to do most,” Pompey says. “You have an online dating profile as your personal cheat sheet—use it to your advantage and bring up those topics that they seem to enjoy.” These conversation starters make you instantly interesting.

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Be playful and establish inside jokes before the date

Walking into a blind date without talking much prior can feel uncomfortable. To avoid awkward silences during the date, establish inside jokes beforehand—”I’ll be the one who’s 10 minutes early!” “I know you won’t be ordering the sushi!” or “I promise we’ll tip well (not like at your old summer job)”—and refer back to them during the date. Make sure to gauge your playfulness of the other person’s response. If they aren’t matching your tone, dial it back. “You don’t want to be all jokes all the time, because then you’re only showing a one-dimensional person who comes across as a clown,” said Pompey. “If you can balance playful messages with some more serious messages as well, that definitely presents a well-rounded person.” Follow these secrets of naturally charming people.

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Excuse yourself to use the restroom

If you find yourself in the middle of a terribly awkward silence with absolutely no escape, excuse yourself to use the bathroom. Briefly leaving the table may calm your nerves, allowing you to regroup and restore the conversation. If you’re feeling nervous or uncomfortable, there’s a solid chance the other person is feeling the same way. Leaving the table for a minute or two may actually be the best solution for both of you in order to get the conversation back on track. These magic phrases can save any awkward conversation.

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Recall bad date stories

When in doubt, fall back on bad date stories. “Just about everybody has had a funny or interesting dating experience,” Pompey says, whether your date showed up in head-to-toe cheetah print, asked you to split a dish from the kids’ menu, or serenaded you with show tunes the entire evening. “If you can bring those stories to the table, it can not only last a very long time in conversation, but it can also provide insight into your respective experiences with dating and put you both at ease a little bit.” Here’s what expert minglers do naturally to make small talk.

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Ask genuine questions that you’re actually interested in

If you find yourself in the midst of an awkward moment, simply ask the other person about their passions, interests, wants, or desires, or give them a compliment—about their shirt, their beard, a bracelet, or a bag—that could spark an interesting backstory. The object of the date is to walk away with more knowledge about the other person than you had before. Don’t be afraid to put shift the focus to them. “Psychologically speaking, people tend to feel like they had a better time when they’re asked a lot of questions,” Pompey says. “Everyone’s favorite topic for better or worse is usually themselves.” These are the everyday habits of good listeners.

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Relax

Take a second to remind yourself what exactly is happening. You are simply one human being meeting another human being for the first time, having a conversation and getting to know each other. There will (most likely) not be a proposal at the end of the night, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have a “perfect” date. If you look uncomfortable, the date will feel uncomfortable, leading to those awkward silences you desperately want to avoid. Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders back, and let the conversation flow naturally. These tips can help calm down social anxiety.

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Don’t treat the date as an interview

You’re not being considered for a job or interrogated for a crime. Be genuinely interested in the other person and ask thought-provoking, open-ended questions to learn what their interests and passions are. Rapid firing questions at someone when you feel an awkward silence coming on can make any date feel stiff and formal. Instead of constantly switching topics, actually listen to what the person is saying and let it lead you to organic segues that keep the conversation flowing.

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Embrace the moment

Awkward silences are not always a sign that the date is going poorly. In fact, they often indicate a raw, sexual energy between two people. That’s exciting! Allow yourself to feel those electric moments while keeping strong eye contact with the person at the other end of the table. These are the four factors that create romantic chemistry.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest