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I was wondering if you could give me any guidance for a first “date” with a new friend. Someone found my blog through a referral on another, and turns out, she just moved to my city and writes a fun blog as well. Do you have any advice on what to do? Where to go? I haven’t had to make new girl friends in such a long time without a connection like work, school, or a sorority. Any advice would be great.
Great question! I’ve met a fair amount of bloggers and other online acquaintances in real life, and I’ve also met a lot of other people that were basically “blind friend dates,” as in, “Oh, my co-worker’s niece just moved to your city, could you have lunch with her to show her around?” As with any blind date, sometimes they work out wonderfully—and sometimes they do not.
New potential friend dates are usually more ambiguous than a networking date (which usually has a clear, job-related goal) and real first dates (which usually have a romantic goal). Besides the advice that sharing a meal with a stranger gets easier over time, here are some tricks I employ on blind (or almost-blind) friend dates:
Know What She Looks Like
If you only know this person from the Internet, make sure you’ve looked up her picture on Facebook or LinkedIn, so you have some rough idea of who you’re looking for when you arrive.
Also make sure to exchange numbers beforehand. This way, you can text if one of you is running late or having trouble finding the other. If you haven’t spotted your soon-to-be-friend by the appointed time, it doesn’t hurt to send a quick text with your location and outfit (i.e., “sitting by the bar in a red skirt”).
Choose an Appropriate Venue
A coffeehouse is a great location for the first time you meet someone new. Try to pick a place with lots of seating to avoid the awkwardness of of standing around, frantically willing a table to become free. The second floor of a coffeehouse is usually a great place to chat—it still has the relaxed vibe but it’s a touch quieter without the noise of people ordering.
If we’re doing dinner, though, I usually suggest sushi because (most) people like it, it feels special, and it’s relatively easy to customize your order based on preferences. Some people do drinks for a first blind friend date, which can totally work, but I always worry the person I’m meeting might not drink and will feel awkward if I suggest it first. I recommend starting with caffeine and working your way up to cocktails.
Focus on the Connection
I’ve found that the first half of these meetings is usually spent taking about what you have in common, and then the second half becomes more relaxed and informal. If you’re both bloggers, come prepared with lots of questions: How did she start her blog? What hosting does she use? What camera does she use for photos? What other blogs does she read?
If you truthfully have no real connection, and it’s just a blind date because you live in the same city, spend the first half of the meal talking about why you each moved (New job? Just graduated? Boyfriend? Other?), and the second half about must-do activities in your city (it helps to come prepared with a mental list of places you can suggest).
Keep Things Balanced
The conversations that flow most smoothly are always balanced. So if you’re a talker, pause every once in awhile to take a sip of coffee and let your newfound friend speak. And if you’re super shy, prepare some topics of conversation in advance. If you find yourself answering a lot of questions, but haven’t asked one yourself, it’s is your turn to think of a question to ask. This way, both people have an opportunity to talk about themselves and ask questions of the other.
Make a Graceful Goodbye
Unless the person is offensively awful, you pretty much have to commit to staying and chatting until the coffee is gone (drink fast if you’re really miserable!) or the meal is over, before making your exit.
But assuming you’re having a nice time, the next step at the end of the conversation is to loosely plan another date based around something you have in common (i.e., “I am so thrilled to find someone else who likes that band—I think they’re playing next weekend, so we should go!”). Then follow up with specifics via email or text a few days later.
As a final tip: I never know how to greet someone for the first time if she’s someone I met online or a friend of a friend. A handshake feels weird, but so does a hug. I usually do the handshake at the beginning when we say hello, and the hug at the end.