In the movie Good Will Hunting, when Skylar proposes the idea of going for coffee, Will Hunting replies: “Or we could sit around and eat a bunch of caramels. …when you think about it, it’s just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.”
Aren’t we bored with the dating status quo? The first get-to-know-you-better encounter typically revolves around coffee, and the first official date is dinner and a movie. I once went on three first dates in two weeks and each time, I followed the formula. The words “coffee,” “dinner,” and “movie” habitually fell from my lips, as unstoppable as a bodily function. This approach began to feel like a chore, which clashed with the very nature of a first date.
First dates are supposed to be about discovery. They’re supposed to give us a glimpse of the other’s true persona. But will we accomplish this while eating another ho-hum dinner or awkwardly sitting next to one another while a movie blares? First dates are indeed adventures, so maybe we should start treating them as such.
Think outside the box. Take a ride in a hot air balloon on your first date. Hop in a kayak. Go hiking, sailing, or go-karting. If you want the thrill ride of your life (and you’ve got a few thousand bucks to spare), you could even jump in a fighter jet. Of course, it’s best for both parties to choose together; surprising your date with a hot-air balloon ride will go over like a lead balloon if he or she is deathly afraid of heights.
If your first meeting—perhaps over an unassuming coffee—is going well, you could brainstorm together. Break out the bucket lists and compare them; if there’s something both of you have always wanted to try, give it a whirl. The simple act of collaborating and deciding on an activity will bring you closer. If you’re especially ambitious and you’re both active types, you might want to give rock climbing a try. Rock Climbing in a Weekend by Malcolm Creasey (Lorenz Books, 2014) a step-by-step guide for beginners and enthusiasts alike, is a tremendous resource.
However, regardless of what you choose, one expert recommends that you don’t dive in alone. Said Mark Wagstaff, Ed.D., Professor of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism at Radford University:
“I think it’s a fantastic idea but my strongest advice would be to bring along a qualified guide. I used to work in whitewater rafting, where we’d take families and couples out in canoes. We used to call those canoes ‘divorce boats’ because even if a couple gets along really well, there’s this dynamic that happens when they’re out there: ‘Why aren’t you keeping it straight,’ ‘this is your fault,’ etc. And with a first date, there’s maybe a lack of confidence and you don’t want to look silly or stupid.
“That’s why you want an expert leading these types of activities; it’s worth the money and time. They can help you navigate the issues and give you a really positive outdoor experience. You might even make a lifetime sport out of it but without that guide, it’s like Russian Roulette if you’re out there with someone for the first time. Maybe it’ll be great; maybe it’ll turn out to be a ‘divorce boat.’”
I figured the active approach to a first date would tell us a great deal about our partner. Wagstaff agreed and added— “Absolutely; their personality really comes out if you participate in an adventure-based activity.” This is precisely what we need in the dating scene: A vigorous shake-up to bring our true natures to light!
Kierkegaard once wrote, “It seems essential, in relationships and all tasks, that we concentrate only on what is most significant and important.” Where is the significance in the same ol’ mechanical first date? If we’re going to embrace all that life has to offer and if we believe that first dates are essential life experiences, we need to step up. We all desire intimacy and closeness and yet, we all have stories akin to Intimacy Idiot by Isaac Oliver (Scribner, 2015). Sure, such stories are amusing but after a while, you start to pine for the Disney-esque connection. So, get out there and “do”!
Canoeing, hiking, ballooning, go-karting, laser tag; it’s out there, just waiting to be sampled. If it’s your first time, even better. One first begets another. And you might just be talking about both for years to come.
BEN S. DUTKA figured it all out too late. He got his degree in Psychology and realized years later that he wanted to write for a living. He now has 16+ years of digital and print journalism experience and currently entertains an ongoing love affair with the greatest literary classics (he savored every page of “War and Peace” and thought it could’ve been longer, and he will finish Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”). He also loves crossword puzzles, tennis, the outdoors, and working on numerous novels. One of these days, one will get picked up…and when it does, the world will make a little more sense.