First Dates: A Not-So-Cool Twenty-Something’s Guide

What (not) to talk about on the first date

I date a lot. (Mum, if you’re reading this, a lot is an exaggeration) By this, I mean that in the past two years, I’ve gone out on at least one date with ten to fifteen people, ranging from friends of friends to complete strangers carefully curated from dating apps, or in one case, someone I’ve run into in a cafe. These have included coffee dates, dinners, movies, bookstore visits, poetry slams, cookouts, and aimless walks or drives around town.

Now if you’re smirking at the fact that I call this “dating a lot”, well, don’t read ahead. If you’re still here, good for you. If like me, you’re less than bothered about not having Angelina Jolie-esque looks, are “not here for hookups”, have only ever awkwardly danced at weddings, and swear by hot coffee instead of chilled beer, well there’s still a date for you somewhere. So, after you’ve crafted a bio, swiped left and right, and found a person you enjoy talking to, what next? Well, you need to meet them. (In a public place, please.)

You could choose not to, of course, but most of the time, a date turns out to be fun, interesting and a genuinely pleasant experience, very different than the perception created by a stream of Romedy Now movies and our very own Karan Johar. There possibly won’t be any love at first sight, or second, but let’s be honest- don’t we often go on dates only because we’re starved of human company? Treat your first date as an experience firmly rooted in the present, instead of the beginning of a pre-planned progression and you’re likely to end up with a smile and some food for thought. (Or just some food, which isn’t bad either.)

There are a lot of articles out there that talk about dating etiquette- who pays, where you meet, etc. What I’m going to talk about here, is what not to talk about. It’s not just the obvious taboos- sex, your ex, their ex, sex (I wonder why), your baggage, their baggage, etc. Apart from my own dates (most of which have been fantastic, thanks to some really intuitive people), the following points come out of significant work experience in eavesdropping on date conversations in cafes and restaurants (Writers are a shameless breed, it’s how we make our living.) –

  1. The Weather: A sentence or two on how hot it is getting is fine, but if they really wanted a blow-by-blow weather update, they’d rather have a chat with Siri or Cortana or whichever AI they prefer.

Overheard on a first date: “When I went to Gangtok, it was October and it was 11 degrees…” “No it couldn’t have been 11 because when I went I’d to use the fan, and it was 10.5 only in February and 9.2 in January…” and so on. Unless you’re both co-workers in the Met department, no. Actually, not even then.

2. Bodily Fluids: Puke stories are funny, but only with your best friends at 2 a.m. For a first date, it’s best to steer clear of any kind of…umm…discharges, and project a really clean image of yourself. If they’re meant to know all your (literally) dirty secrets, then save it for the fourth or fifth date, or maybe even for the actual relationship if it happens.

3. Distance, Time and Speed: Unless you’re a Math teacher, and they get turned on by quantitative details, it’s best not to sit down and compute in detail how long it took your date to get from their office to the cafe you’re sitting in, and whether they could have taken a route that is 650 meters shorter. Google Maps, bro.

4. The “What did you eat for *Insert previous meal* today?” conversation filler: Yes, I understand some awkward pauses are likely, but they don’t need to be filled by this question. Save it for the “sweatpants and farts” stage of the relationship. Ask them what cuisines they prefer, if you’re that into food.

5. Sartorial Discussions: In eight out of ten cases, if someone compliments what you’re wearing, it is a polite ice-breaker(the remaining two might imply that you’re out with a fashion designer). A simple Thank You works.

Narrating your entire sartorial history and the three possible options your tailor offered before making the blouse in this cut- err, no. Trying to be casual whilst saying “ Yeah, it’s from *Insert expensive brand*” doesn’t work either, unless they’re a brand snob and you’re playing it up. (In which case, more power to you.)

6. Obscure Relations: While most people steer clear of mentioning family troubles on a first or even a second date, a funny story about a distant relative can become significantly less funny if you’re spending ten minutes explaining how it’s your mother’s second cousin’s third-oldest grandchild. “No not that cousin, the other one who lives in Gujarat.” Details. Save them for married life, period.

At this point, if you’re an introvert bordering on ambivert and obsessively plan conversations in your heads before they happen, you might be looking really pissed off wondering which weird questions are actually allowed. Yes, contrary to what those other articles will tell you, you do have the right to ask some unconventional questions if you so please, but this comes with a disclaimer.

If you end up making ordinary, polite conversation, you’ll definitely have a peaceful first date, which is what most people want, and possibly even get a second one. If, however, like me, you’re not sure whether you’ll have a second one (for me it’s mostly because I’m never in one place that long) and if you have the unabashed directness of a four-year-old on roller skates, you can ask the weird ones. The disclaimer is that this will scare away some people. But not all people.

(If anyone, at all, is reading this and wants me to do a piece on potentially awkward questions you should try asking on a First Date, please leave a comment.)


Just As Sane (Harry/Luna Fanfic Oneshot)

*Character and Quote Credits- J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll.* *No attempt at copyright infringement. More like fan love.*


“Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.”

“I think I’ll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up – it always does in the end.” she smiled as she turned towards the Great Hall.

Harry watched her skip along till the end of the corridor before he realised he was smiling too.

“Hey, Luna!”

“Yes?” she peeked back around the corner.

“Do you, I dunno, want to go get some dessert and eat it by the Lake?” Harry mumbled. He didn’t even know where the random thought had come from. But Luna’s face lit up, almost as if she’d suddenly spotted a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. She waved at him to hurry up as she continued to skip along the passageway, and Harry broke into a half-run to catch up with her, his heart light for the first time since Sirius’ death.

“Meet me near the Birch tree. And bring your cloak.” She murmured before going ahead into the Great Hall towards the Ravenclaw table. Harry followed more slowly, thankful for the fact that Ron, Hermione and the rest of his year-mates seemed to have finished and left already. He sat down next to Natalie McDonald at the Gryffindor table, half-expecting a glance of fear and disgust. Instead she gave him a respectful nod as she cleared some space for him, and then continued her conversation with her friends.

In between courses, Harry snuck a glance at Luna who looked as serene as ever as she held a conversation with two tiny first years who seemed to be worried about something. She must have felt his gaze because she flashed a half-smile in his general direction before patting the first-year girl’s shoulder and rising from the table with her plate of pudding. Harry gave her five minutes before he followed, summoning his Cloak from the dormitory just outside the Great Hall, idly wondering why the spell hadn’t worked when Hermione had tried it.

There was no one under the birch tree when he reached. He was wondering if Luna had gone back to her dormitory when he heard a giggle. “Well, hello there.” Harry looked up at the slim pair of legs dangling from a branch. He laughed again, wondering why it was suddenly so easy. “You remind me of the Cheshire Cat.” He exclaimed, before remembering that Luna was a Pureblood. “Well the Cheshire Cat is -”

“…a character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And I’ll take that as a compliment. After all, we are all mad here.” She answered as she jumped down from the branch, landing nimbly without her pudding so much as wobbling.

“Wait, you read Muggle literature?” Harry was surprised.

“Yes. Alice was one of my favourite stories as a child- I made Mummy read the book every night. And after she died, I’d read it myself.” Luna stated matter-of-factly. Harry gazed out at the Black Lake, still unsure of how to behave around the concept of death.

“Does it still hurt?” he asked abruptly.

“Oh yes, it does. Some days, when the sun shines really brightly, or the first day of snow, or on days when I get a spell right on the first try, or on days when they hide all my stuff at the same time and I have nothing left to wear. I miss her.” She said simply, as she sat down under the tree with her legs crossed, her bluish grey eyes vacantly staring for a moment before they turned to him, twinkling. “But I still have so much left. Daddy, and this pudding, and Alice, and you, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville. I have friends now, don’t I, Harry ?” she looked up at him beaming.

Harry looked at her through his glasses, this being that was Luna Lovegood, not trusting his ability to speak in that moment. Instead he hung up the Cloak from a low-hanging branch like a canopy, making them invisible to everyone except each other, and sat down next to Luna. And they stayed there, for a very long time, staring at the stars shining on the surface of the Lake as they finished their pudding. And for the space of a few hours, at least, all was well.

Memories of My Grandfather

My grandfather was an eccentric man. On Sundays, when he had the day off from work, he would get up quietly after finishing his morning newspaper, surreptitiously slipping a nail clipper into his pocket, and declare, “I’ll be back in a while.” My grandmother, long weary after years of marriage, would say nothing, only watch from the balcony as he strode out towards the lane that would lead him to the main road.

He had a fixed route; much like the newspaper boy or the milkman does, covering four to five houses. Each of those houses was owned by a particularly close friend of his, some considerably younger in age. Despite being direct to the point of bluntness, my grandfather had endeared himself to all sorts of people- shopkeepers, the local meat-seller, the affluent neighbourhood doctor and all the little children. It was for this last category of people that he took his long-winded route every Sunday. Upon reaching their houses, he would demand that the children line up in front of him, and one by one, he would carefully clip off their uneven, dirt-stained nails that had strayed to many a prohibited place in course of the week; the muddy school field and the fertilized pumpkin patch in the backyard, were, by far, the most civilized of those places. He would gently chide the ones who’d been exceptionally careless- his favourite epithet for them, and indeed, for careless people in general, was “Holder!” Three decades after his death, the closest explanation I have managed to find for this seemingly random phrase, is that sloppy people reminded him of the flickering tube-lights in our house, rendered vulnerable by their faulty holders.

After completing this ritual, Grandfather would on occasion, stop for a cup of tea and a long chat, most often at the home of his favourite friend, the Doctor. He would hold forth on diverse issues- the rising vegetable prices, the latest policy of the government, the war, the heat in Delhi, the children. Then, suddenly, he would rise from his chair, and in one sweeping motion, rip off the calendar page still displaying the previous month’s dates on the wall and mutter under his breath again, “Holder!” Whether he was referring to the caretaker’s inattention or man’s futile attempt to calibrate time in general, no one knew.

None of Grandfather’s friends and acquaintances minded this periodic imposition on their homes and families. Indeed, they had begun to look forward to the routine, and sometimes, when the sweetshop owner Kalika Babu’s wife forcibly chased her child down on a Friday to trim his nails, her husband would stop her and say, “Oho. Leave the child alone till Sunday. It’s the tradition after all.”

When he retired from his government job at the age of sixty, Grandfather made a few changes to his schedule, and his friends learnt to expect him on both Wednesdays and Sundays. He didn’t linger long on the weekday, but he always made sure to speak to every member of every family. He would listen with great attention even to the youngest child, all of two, who proudly showed off her latest attempt at learning a Bengali nursery rhyme. The lady of the house would say, with an exasperated sigh, “Dada, you must not spoil the children by bringing them something every week.” He would nod seriously, and then sneakily slip a few sweets into the children’s pockets once she’d turned her back. Children loved him as the adult who never ignored them in favour of seemingly important “adult business”.

On what was to be the last Wednesday of his life, Grandfather got up as usual at 5.30 a.m., ignoring the niggling feeling of a heavy stone tied to his chest. He put on his shoes slowly, taking a little more time to tie his laces. “I’m going”, he called out to my grandmother. He’d already stepped out by the time she noticed that he’d not said, “I’ll be back in a while.” He never came back. I think his last thought would have been a gentle regret as he touched the nail clippers in his pocket. For all the little fingers with dirty little nails as they rested on the gates- waiting.