Reading articles about dating these days, you might get the impression that pretty much all of it happens online. Between headlines about the newest dating apps, Tinder’s latest update, and screenshots of people’s best and worst flirtations going viral, it can be easy to forget that up until very recently, meeting someone through friends beat out online dating entirely, according to this Stanford University study—and that more old-fashioned method is still in the top three.
In addition to other analog methods like meeting at a bar, at work, at a house of worship or in school, meeting through friends is a time-tested means of finding your next significant other. And while often that takes the form of a chance encounter, sometimes it’s intentionally set up—in what’s typically known as a blind date.
What is a blind date?
But what is a blind date, exactly? Traditionally, it was a term used to describe a date where the two people in question had never met before, almost always set up by a mutual friend or acquaintance.
Because most dates occurred between two people who had at least met at some point (or else how would one even ask the other out?), blind dates stood out from the pack as being especially nerve-wracking.
Sometimes these blind dates were set up because people saw a distinct commonality between the two people; other times, it was out of a spirit of, “Hey, these two people are single—why not?”
Given the way online dating has totally shifted the landscape of how we meet, flirt and fall in love, though, it’s worth reconsidering the role of the blind date in the new digital era.
Are online dates blind dates?
Depending on how you look at it, you could argue that either every date with someone you meet online is effectively a blind date—or perhaps none of them are.
Your response will likely hinge on what you think a true blind date’s meaning really is. Is a blind date “blind” because you’ve never met the person before, or because you don’t know anything about them?
Unlike an old-fashioned blind date, if you met them online, you might actually have a pretty good idea of what they’re like—appearance, interests and political leanings are all things people often share on their dating profiles—without ever having met in real life.
That being said, whichever you believe to be the case, blind dates and the majority of online dates both involve going on a date with someone you’ve never met before—so tips for one can often double as tips for the other.
Blind date tips
When it comes to blind date tips, you can essentially break them down into two subcategories: tips for helping you have a great time, and tips for making sure meeting up with a total stranger doesn’t end up being something out of a horror movie or thriller. To that end, consider the following advice from two leading American dating experts.
Tips for a successful blind date
Chat on the phone
In today’s smartphone-obsessed age, it might be tempting to lean on text messages leading up to the date—but that might be doing you a disservice, according to Laurel House, 41, a Los Angeles-based matchmaker and relationship expert.
“Use text as a way to schedule a phone date,‘” House said. “This way, you’re creating a baseline foundation of things to talk about.”
“Having a blind date can dial up predate jitters,” said New York-based dating coach Connell Barrett, 48. He suggested arriving 15 minutes early and chatting up strangers or waitstaff with some small talk. “This gets you out of your head and into a social mode.”
Acknowledge the awkwardness
If you hit a few snags in the conversation, House suggested leaning into the awkward pauses: “You can say, ‘First dates can feel so awkward since we don’t really know each other at all. So, what if we play a game of asking random questions that we both have to answer? I’ll start…’”
Perhaps the best blind date advice you can follow? Try to enjoy yourself. “A big mistake people make on blind dates is trying too hard to impress,” Barrett said. “Instead, focus on fun. Crack jokes. Share a side-splitting story. If you want to impress your date, have fun with your date.”
Tips for staying safe on a blind date
Research your date
While it may dilute the ‘blind’ aspect of a blind date, knowing a bit about the person you’re meeting—and their connection to the person who set up the date, if any—isn’t a bad idea. “Make sure you’re being fixed up by a person you trust who knows you both. When someone you trust is your matchmaker, you can be much more confident that you’ll have a safe night,” said Barrett.
Meet at a restaurant
House said meeting at the restaurant—or holding the date at another well-lit and public location—is a must. “Not a cute private park or a secluded romantic beach,” she said. “Yes, those are wonderful and great for future dates, but in order to feel safe and protect yourself on the first date, go to a place that has other people.”
Watch your drink
Unfortunately, drugging people’s drinks in bars is still a thing. “If you’re a woman on a blind date, never take a drink from a beverage you left unattended,” said Barrett. If necessary, he said, it’s better to order a fresh one. “Say you’d like to sample something new from the bar.”
Plan your return home
Barrett suggests having a plan for getting to and from the date on your own. “Either drive yourself to your blind date, or use public transport,” he said. “Don’t let your date pick you up or take you back home—you don’t yet know them well enough.”
Are blind dates safe?
That being said, while meeting up with a stranger can seem scary, there isn’t necessarily anything to be worried about.
Particularly if it’s someone that your friends have set you up with in a traditional blind date manner, you can put your mind at ease. Chances are, the person is not a murderer. Also, statistics show that people are more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger. How’s that for reassuring?
However, if you’re meeting someone from the internet, doing a little bit of background research using Google or other people search services might not be a terrible idea—at least to give you an idea of who the person is and some likelihood that any details you know about them line up with what’s on the record.
Though online dating has muddied the waters a little bit to the point where it can be hard to know whether something counts as a blind date or not, the principles of blind dates remain more or less unchanged—sometimes, people go on dates with relative strangers. That can be fun, stressful, surprising or horrible–depending upon your perspective and how you tackle it.
But if you’re at least somewhat prepared, odds are good that you’ll have a great time.