How to Build a Better Date: For Singles and Couples

The time is set, the meeting place arranged. The mirror confirms that your hair and outfit look great. Then what's with the butterflies in your stomach? The perfect date is well within your grasp, experts say, whether you're single or married. You just need to keep a few pointers in mind.

For Singles

If this is your first date, be aware that the guy or girl in question will draw certain conclusions about you within the first 30 seconds of meeting. "And a lot of this first impression will be based on appearance," says Lauren Mackler, coach, speaker and author of Solemate: Master the Art of Aloneness & Transform Your Life. "If you want to be perceived as successful, make an effort to dress that way."

Don't give away too much information about yourself too quickly. "Be honest, but be mindful and discerning about what is right and not right to share," Mackler advises. "Topics that are not acceptable on a first or second date include your financial situation as well as issues of low self-esteem that you are working on through therapy."

Keep in mind that, like it or not, you're sending certain messages to your date just by your actions. Say you're a guy and the check comes at the end of a restaurant dinner. You pick it up and start to pay, and your date doesn't even offer to split it. This is important information, Mackler says, to file away in your mind. "And if the guy picks up the tab and asks if you want to split it, just keep this in mind, too," Mackler says.

During the evening, notice small things, such as how much time your date is spending talking about himself or herself. Ask questions of your date, and don't just talk about yourself. Expect the other person to do the same. "If your date does not reciprocate by asking you questions about yourself, that is a red flag," Mackler says.

For Couples

If you're married, that doesn't mean dates have to be boring. Keep the interest level in each other high by planning some fun activities together, suggests James Cordova, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Clark University and author of "The Marriage Checkup."

"Try something new," he recommends. "Take a class together. Eat at an Ethiopian restaurant. Go horseback riding. It helps to develop a deeper sense of intimacy and connectedness between the two of you as you explore your world together and learn new things about yourself and each other."

For a married couple, dating is all-important if a couple is to remain close, Cordova says. "Both the husband and the wife are always changing, and you want to change together," he explains. "If you have never gone horseback riding and you're both sort of struggling to stay in the saddle, it's a new experience for you both.  What you want to do is to grow together into something new, which is why it is good to try new activities together."