Love Connection

04.20.1310:42 PM ET

How To Navigate The First Date

Can you go in for a smooch? When is it time to follow up? A new study has all the answers.

It’s the time of the season for loving, as The Zombies once said. Singles across America (there are 107 million of them now) are itching to escape the social hibernation of winter and begin those new spring flings—which means they must navigate that sometimes thrilling, often horrifying phenomenon of the first date.

As part of its Singles in America series, (which is owned by IAC, the parent company of Newsweek/The Daily Beast) has studied the dating behavior and preferences of 5,000 singles and 1,000 married people. Their sample comes not from members of their own dating site, but from the general public, matching demographics representative of the U.S. census. The study casts a wide net, covering topics from sexting to pillow talk—but some of the most fascinating data is about first dates.

Before the check comes, before you decide what movie to see, before he picks you up at eight, some form of introduction must be made. So how do singles meet in this digital age? Turns out, most of us still find each other the old-fashioned way: 22 percent say they met their most recent first date through a mutual friend. Dating sites are gaining momentum though, following closely at 20 percent. As for encounters with strangers in bars, those only beget a first date seven percent of the time.

Just as dating sites are growing in importance, so is mobile technology. It pays to have an iPhone: members of the cult of Steve Jobs went on more first dates than other singles—they made up 45 percent of daters in 2012. Those with no mobile phone at all dated the least (though one imagines that may correlate with advanced age or eccentricity).

Social media sites have a role to play as well. Women, far more than men, think it’s acceptable to “research” a potential mate on Facebook before a first date. However, it’s not a location for post-date follow-up: only one percent will reach out on the network to ask for that second meeting.

In addition to being tech-savvy, certain other factors can give you an edge in the game of love. By occupation, journalists get around the most, with a quarter of the singles in their ranks going on four or more first dates in 2012. Geographically, Denver, Miami, and Atlanta yield the most romantic opportunities.

As anyone who has ever been on a date knows, different people often have very different expectations. Take something as simple as occupation. That classic question “What do you do?” seems such standard fare. It’s surprising that only 47 percent of women and 41 percent of men expect their dates to disclose their employment status.

The most polarizing statistics come in the physical intimacy department. Far more men (82 percent) than women (65 percent) think kissing is fair game (who knew you could even call it a date without a goodnight kiss?). For the tamer souls out there, more people find it appropriate to peck on the cheek (92 percent) than to hold hands (86 percent).

For all the bluster of Carrie Bradshaw and her pals, it seems that Sex and the City might not actually be the most appropriate title for Manhattan—women in New York are the least likely to go to bed with someone on a first date, with a whopping 90 percent agreeing that it would be inappropriate. If you’re looking for a freer city, you might try Dallas, where 31 percent of singles of both sexes are comfortable getting to know someone in the biblical sense on the first go-around. Nationwide, only six percent admit to actually having had sex on a first date.

After the night has ended, with or without any level of consummation, the next question is, when and how to follow up? (That is, if you’ve decided the person merits a second date.) The “call three days later” rule no longer applies, with 78 percent of men and 39 percent of women saying that they will reach out within that time span after a good encounter. Most (61 percent) will call, while only 14 percent will text. Six percent will send an email (in a flirty font, we hope).

So, singles, take this knowledge with you as you go on your merry way to your next romantic interlude, whether it be a set-up or an e-date, at a restaurant or on a hiking trail, with a journalist in Miami or a bartender in Denver. Happy first-dating.