How Long Should a First Date Really Last? – A Definitive Answer

If you’ve read any of our advice columns on first dates, you know that there are a million and one questions that come up the first time you’re going on a date with someone. But heck, we probably don’t need to tell you that!

A very popular question that we see asked time and time again is how long should a first date last? Should a first date be over or under an hour? Is there such thing as too long or too short of a first date?

All great questions that we completely understand why you’re asking. In this guide, we’re going to help you answer those questions along with plenty more. Whether you are planning a first date, about to head out the door on one, or just getting started in dating and want to be prepared—we’ve got you covered.

boy and girl sitting near a lake

The Overarching Disclaimer About First Date Lengths

We’re going to give you a lot of insight into what we think the appropriate length of a first date is. We’ll give you different parameters you can look at to make a determination. But at the end of the day, there is no hard and fast rule about how long a first date should be.

Yes, you heard that right. While we think there are preferred lengths, there is no single right answer to how long a first date should last. For example, if a first date goes terribly and you end it after five minutes, that’s the right length! If a first date goes amazingly and you spend hours on end together, that’s the right length!

We share this for one reason. Take our advice and recommendations to heart. However, do so in a flexible way that leaves room for emotions, excitement, and circumstances to change things up if needed.

How Long Should I Plan for the First Date

A lot of you here today are curious about the length of a first date because you’re trying to plan appropriate activities. What we’d like to do is give you a starting range and then we’ll give you a few questions to ask to adjust that appropriately. Then, with that length in mind, you can start to plan your date activities. 

The usual length of a first date is between 45 minutes to 2 hours, with an average length of about one hour. 

Now, before you run off and start planning a date for exactly one hour, let’s look at a few things that might have an effect on that length. 

Logistical and Scheduling Constraints

The first thing that can (and should) have an effect on the length of the first date is any logistical or scheduling time constraints. For example, if you’re grabbing food on their lunch break, you probably can’t have a two-hour date because they have to get back to work. Or, maybe they have a dinner with their family they have to get to and you’re grabbing drinks beforehand—you don’t want to plan a date that’s going to make them late.

Not only do you want to look at your own time constraints and schedule, but it’s super respectful to check if they have anything else going on so you’re aware of what to plan and you can help if they need to be done by a certain time. 

If there is a time or scheduling constraint, shift the maximum first date time down accordingly (or look to reschedule).

Any Expectations Already Talked About

A lot of times people will hint at what they like to do for first dates and how long they like those to last. For example, if they are talking about grabbing a cup of coffee to get to know each other, you can probably guess that means they want to feel things out and then decide how long that date is going to be. In that situation, the date could be as short as 20 minutes or as long as several hours.

You’re not always going to get hints within the conversation about the desired length of the first date, but when you do, respect them and use them. 

If it sounds like they want a longer date, adjust longer. If it sounds like they like to play it by year, adjust shorter and be prepared for a wide range of lengths.

How Well You Know Your Date

If it’s someone you’ve only talked with a little bit online and don’t know at all, your best bet is to plan for shorter dates. This allows both of you an easy way out of the date in case things aren’t what you expected. But if it’s someone you’ve been friends with or known for a while, you’re probably safe planning for an average length date (1-2 hours) because there’s no real risk of surprises. 

Unfortunately, some people put up photos that don’t accurately reflect who they are or don’t accurately describe themselves. When you show up and this happens, you don’t want to be locked into a several-hour date that’s clearly a waste of your time. 

If you know them well, you can schedule a normal-length first date with no worries. If they’re someone new who you don’t know very well, a shorter first date is going to be the best bet.

Special Events and Dates

The last thing to consider is if the two of you have decided to do something for a first date that has a special timeframe. For example, maybe you decided to go to an all-day music festival together. If you did, that first date will probably be really long (and that’s okay)! 

If you do have something come up in conversation that’s out of the ordinary for a first date and it’s really long, that’s okay. 

Planning for When Things Go Well

While we already talked about the time constraints of planning for your first date, there’s a bit more planning you need to do. What is the plan if things go really well? Will (and should) that have an effect on the length of the first date?

The answer is that it depends! Hooray, ambiguity! Let us explain. The real answer is that it’s going to be completely up to you. 

If the date went amazing and you want to stick to the original plan, that’s okay! Sometimes that can help it from going stale later or getting into any awkward territory.

If it went amazing and you want to spend more time together, that’s also okay! What you need, though, is a plan of something to do relatively close to the first date area. For example, if you got dinner, maybe have an ice cream place close by in the back of your mind. If you got drinks, maybe have a place to go for a walk in the back of your mind. 

There’s no right or wrong answer here and you can decide in the heat of the moment. But we do recommend at least having a potential plan in mind in case you both do want to extend the length of the first date. 

The Length of a First Date When Things Go Poorly

Certainly, we are all hoping your first date goes amazingly. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s just not what you expected, and sometimes it’s just awful.

Should this have an effect on the length of the date? Absolutely.

Here’s something important:

You are never required to spend even one second more with someone that you don’t want to. Period.

Now, there are situations where it’s kind to see the date through, but we want to make sure you know you’re never trapped or obligated. 

If the date goes crazy bad, you probably want to be ready to leave right away. For example, if they don’t look like their pictures at all, lied to you about something, or you feel unsafe—you can leave right away without explaining yourself. Yes, this will make for a pretty short first date, but that’s okay.

If the date is just not that great, we’d probably recommend staying for at least one drink or one coffee or the duration of a show/event they may have paid for tickets to. Again, you don’t have to, but it’s probably the kind thing to do and they may have just been nervous at the start (and the date might get better!).

Should You Read Into the Length of a First Date? 

The last thing we want to talk about today is whether or not you can glean some information from the length of a first date. Do longer first dates signify they liked you more? Does a short first date ultimately mean it didn’t go great?

The answer, again, is that it depends. No, you can’t get a definitive answer, but yes, you can draw more than likely conclusions.

Here are our thoughts to consider:

  • If a date looks like they can’t wait to get out of there, most likely they’re not that interested. This becomes even more true if they’re blatantly trying to cut parts of the date short.
  • If your date seems like they want things to continue and you end up doing more than originally planned, this is almost always a really good sign that they’re into you.
  • If you offer to extend the date but they choose to end it as scheduled, don’t read into this very much. You may think this means they’re not into you, but they could just have plans or obligations afterward, or they may just be someone who likes to stick to the schedule.