Couple on a romantic date holding hands above a candle lit dinner

First Date Affection: How Much is Too Much?

by Jeannie Assimos - August 1, 2014

The proper limit of physical affection on a first date is an important thing to really think about. How much is too much? Is it possible to display too little? Let’s shed some light on the subject by answering the question as succinctly as possible: How much first-date affection is appropriate? Absolutely none. “Huh?” you say. Let me explain.

We realize some may consider that approach to be hopelessly outdated. If TV shows and movies are any guide, fulfilling first-date sex is routine these days — a long way from the bygone standards of proper etiquette. But if you are serious about building a lasting relationship, on a solid footing of mutual respect, then the first move is clear: Go slow.

To understand the reasons why, it is necessary to see the differences between physical “touch” and “affection.” These words are by no means synonymous and convey very different messages between two people who have only just met each another.

Here are a few examples of incidental touching that can actually deepen a first-date experience and contribute to your goal of getting to know important things about each other:

• A man reaches for his date’s hand to help her from the car.
• His fingers brush her shoulders when he takes her coat in the restaurant.
• She lightly and briefly touches his forearm across the table to emphasize the point she’s making in conversation.
• Their elbows touch on the movie theater armrest between them.
• He places his hand on her back to steady her as she walks on high heels up a flight of steps.

Touch is inevitable, and even desirable, between people who have chosen to spend time together in close enough contact to explore their romantic compatibility. When it happens lightly and spontaneously, as described above, it can provide valuable evidence of healthy respect and a commitment to honor one another’s personal boundaries and dignity — while still acknowledging the possibility of mutual attraction and future closeness.

However, the type of contact we would term “affection” is the physical expression of inner feelings of intimacy — emotions that cannot genuinely exist between strangers. That’s because it requires a foundation of familiarity, compatibility, and vulnerability that always take time to develop. The first several dates are meant to lay that groundwork and allow ample time for those feelings to surface naturally — or not.

Without that, intimate physical contact that might be welcomed in a few weeks or month’s time can be uncomfortable or downright threatening on a first date. It certainly runs the risk of sending the wrong signal and destroying any chance of landing a second date.

Here are three possible causes of premature affection:

1. Sexual overeagerness. It does not take a genius to know the biggest question on a woman’s mind when out on a first date: Is he truly interested in me, or only in getting me in bed as quickly as possible? A man who can’t keep his hands to himself removes all doubt.

2. Hasty desperation. Excessive physical contact on a first date may signal a desire to rush through the “formalities” of getting to know each another and fast forward to the benefits of a settled relationship. Generally this is a symptom of dating fatigue and loneliness — an understandable state recognizable to anyone who has been single for some time. But these people mistakenly put the cart before the horse and hope that displaying outward affection will be the same as having the emotional intimacy to support it, without the usual work and waiting.

3. Possessiveness. One of the quickest ways to chase away a prospective partner is to smother them with premature expectations. Public affection creates the illusion of much greater intimacy and deeper involvement than ever exist on a first date — and can foreshadow potential problems around issues of personal space and autonomy later on.

Here’s the bottom line: Gentle touch on a first date indicates your care, interest, and respect in the other person. There is plenty of time for physical affection as you get to know one another on a deeper level.