In the age of online dating, the first in-person date can be an exciting early milestone — you double opted-in on the swipe app of your choice, managed to carry on an in-app chat without forgetting about each other, and successfully navigated the scheduling gauntlet. Yet many people dial it in when it comes to planning the date, opting for a meet and greet at a neighborhood coffee shop or (even worse) the tired happy hour ritual. However, a little bit of forethought can set the stage for a rich, mutually enjoyable, and altogether more connective experience. Below are some science-backed principles to keep in mind when planning the first date.

The peak-end rule

People judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point — not necessarily positive) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. For an example, participants in a Daniel Kahneman-led research study) preferred submerging their hand for 60 seconds of 14ºC ice water followed by 30 sec of 15ºC ice water to 60 sec of 14ºC ice water alone — even though the former involved 90 seconds of discomfort instead of only 60 seconds in the latter. When designing a date, pay special attention to the peak of the experience and how it ends.

Multiple venues

This is another Kahneman-inspired one. The Perceptual Theory of Time posits that the speed of time and our perception of it is heavily influenced by how much new information is available for our minds to absorb and process. The more places you visit on any given date, not only will you be able to observe and experience each other in several situations, the longer your time together will feel (in a good way). This creates familiarity and comfort.I personally advocate a three location rule. Disclose only the first two when you’re planning to date, keeping the third optional if you both feel like the date is going well. Ideally the last location is a face-to-face frame and allows intimate conversation and connection (see below).

Changing frames

Numerous studies (e.g. Brod, 1987) have established that men are more likely to define emotional closeness as working or playing side-by-side, while women often view it as talking face-to-face. For heterosexual couples, a date that has a combination of side-by-side activities and face-to-face activities can be optimal for facilitating openness and intimacy for both partners.

Physical warmth and comfort

Our physical experience shapes emotions, opinions, and thinking. An experiment at the University of Colorado, Boulder, showed that participants who briefly held a cup of hot (versus iced) coffee judged a target person as having a ‘warmer’ personality (generous, caring). The study asserts that a person’s perceived warmth of character, along with their competence “accounts for a large proportion (82%) of the variance in people’s evaluations of social behaviors.” An MIT/Harvard study has shown that tactile sensations impact higher order social cognitive processing. In particular, hard objects increased rigidity — when sitting on a hard chair, negotiators take tougher stances but if they sit on a soft one instead, they become more flexible. Favoring environment with warm beverages and soft furnishings on a date can make both partners feel more comfortable opening up to each other.


Walking or any other type of exercise naturally releases endorphins in our brains giving us a natural high. When you’re walking and exploring, you won’t feel like you have to work to keep the conversation flowing. Exploring a neighborhood together is a natural conversation starter, so take in the beauty and flavors of the neighborhood around you and share it together. Also, a Stanford study has show that walking can improve our creativity and help deliver inspiration for new ideas.

Put away your phone

Give your partner the gift of your full attention. We can intuit when someone is distracted. If you find your mind wandering to your to-do list, a past date, or a ham sandwich, gently bring your attention by focusing on your dates voice, the feel of the sun on your face, or the sensation of wiggling your toes. Also, put away your phone. According to this study in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, “the mere presence of participants’ own smartphones impaired their [test] performance,” even when the participants received no notifications from their phones over the course of the test.

These principles may seem daunting at first, but once you’ve gone through the exercise of mindfully designing a date a few times, they will become second nature. Above all, keep it simple and stay flexible. A first date shouldn’t be a production; choose a place that’s easy to get to for both people, keep multiple locations within walking distance of each other so you don’t need to worry about transport mid-date. Try to have a plan, but hold it lightly – if she’s allergic to fish, skip the sushi truck. As the British philosopher Alain de Botton said, “A wiser culture than ours would recognize that the start of a relationship is not the high point that romantic art assumes; it is merely the first step of a far longer, more ambivalent, and yet quietly audacious journey on which we should direct our intelligence and scrutiny.”