By Ashley Edwards Walker
If you’ve found that making conversation on a first date has been harder since the COVID-19 pandemic began, you’re not the only one. After nearly two years of being cooped up inside or only interacting with a small, close circle of friends, remembering how to converse with a new match can be tricky. “We’re just not used to it anymore,” says Liz Higgins, therapist and founder of Millennial Life Counseling.
That’s been the case for Lindsay, 38. “I ended up talking so much on one of my first post-pandemic dates because my small talk techniques were out of practice,” she says. “I thought I was killing it. But, alas, I never heard from that man again.” For Sarah, 33, the social distancing we’ve been practicing for the last few years has unintentionally translated to less small talk fodder. “On a first date, you’d also traditionally be sharing anecdotes about something funny that happened at your office or a crazy thing you’re doing that week,” she says, “But right now there isn’t as much access to those random or interesting occurrences, so it feels like there’s nothing to say besides, ‘COVID, am I right?’”
Fear not, daters. We spoke with experts, and here’s how to keep the date chatter going.
Don’t forget that your date might also be struggling with this
You’re not the only person who feels out of practice making small talk with near-strangers. So if you feel nervous about making conversation, know that they might be feeling the same. After two-plus years interacting through screens, there are bound to be some hiccups when interacting with someone new from outside your COVID bubble. “We’re all kind of having to retrain and relearn how to connect in these ways,” says Higgins. Take the pressure off yourself to make those getting-to-know-you conversations go smoothly. Instead, think of them as something you’ll figure out together.
Reconsider what feels important to you
If you feel you don’t have anything new or interesting to talk about because your personal and professional developments have been a little stagnant, Higgins suggests reexamining what feels important to you now. “Is it really that you don’t have anything to talk about?” she says. “Or maybe the things that you previously would have brought up to talk about are no longer the things about your life that you need to build a connection or relationship on top of?” Maybe work or upcoming travel plans used to be your go-to topics, but feel uninspiring at the moment. Instead, bring up your new pottery hobby or talk about the pet you adopted during lockdown.
Focus on asking good questions
This one may seem obvious, but as we get back out there, it’s a good time to remind ourselves that thoughtful, open-ended questions are pretty much a fail-safe to get your date talking. “Asking great questions and listening is key,” says dating coach Benjamin Daly. And it doesn’t need to be complicated. He suggests starting the conversation from where you and your match left off when you were talking on Bumble. If they mentioned they were going hiking over the weekend or diving into a new TV series, simply asking them how it went can get the conversation flowing.
Since we all love talking about ourselves (or at least the things that are important to us) that’s also a good place to start. “The best way to make someone feel comfortable and engaged is to figure out what they’re passionate about and ask open questions relating to that topic,” says Daly. For example, if your date mentions watching sports, ask them why they love their team. If you bonded over your shared love of dogs, ask them to tell you about their childhood pooch. Making space for them to reveal a little about who they are “will make you someone they want to be around,” says Daly. And, he adds, it should also be reciprocal. “You want to be dating someone who shows interest in you and your life, too.”
Don’t stress about awkward pauses
It happens to the best of us. Someone asks a question, the other person answers, and then the conversation just stops. No one feels good when they find themselves making weird, silent eye contact with the person sitting across the table. “It’s normal for conversations to fall flat,” assures Daly. “So don’t worry when it happens, just relax. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed they’ll be.” Just ask another question and move on.
Remember that you’ll only get better with practice
Putting yourself out there and trying to make conversation with a new person may feel foreign at first, but the more you flex those muscles, the easier and more natural these casual date conversations will start to feel. “It really is a practice,” says Higgins. As long as you keep at it, you’ll find your footing. “When you’re used to making small talk again, it’s comfortable again,” says Higgins. All you have to do is rip off the bandage and get back out there. The rest will follow soon enough.
Some names changed for privacy.