The Scoop: Since 1996, Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting has taught singles and couples to act with compassion and courtesy in their everyday interactions. Etiquette expert Jodi RR Smith knows how to help clients navigate potentially difficult situations with the very best manners, and she can offer valuable guidance to anyone dealing with dating troubles, relationship strife, or family drama. We’ve asked her to answer some of the FAQs we get from our readers, and she has given some great insights into how to make a good impression in the dating scene.

The dating world is full of tricky, complex, and sometimes downright uncomfortable situations, and sometimes people need a little help figuring out what the best practices are in dating, relationships, breakups, and weddings.

Fortunately, etiquette experts like Jodi RR Smith can offer guidance in maintaining good manners in all areas of life. Jodi founded Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in 1996 to provide educational resources on matters of etiquette. Today, her books, seminars, and newsletters have helped countless people change their behaviors for the better.

Today, Jodi is answering some frequently asked questions in the dating arena to make sure singles and couples always put their best foot forward.

First Date Etiquette

I remember my first date vividly because I was full of nervous energy and excitement. I had a lot of time to think about everything that could possibly go wrong because he was 10 minutes late! A lot of questions ran through my mind during those long minutes, and I wish I had had an etiquette expert like Jodi on my side to tell me how to act and what to expect. Here are her answers to common first date questions.

1. Should we hold hands or kiss on a first date?

Jodi explained that this will vary from couple to couple, and it will naturally change as you get older and have different priorities or values. Some consenting couples decide to go all the way on a first date, while others are satisfied with a simple handshake at the end of the night.

Photo of a couple's hands

Try to read your date’s signals to see if they want to hold hands or kiss.

“In the real world, the proper amount of physical contact is the amount that is comfortable for you both,” Jodi said. “The key here is to do what works for you. You do want to think back fondly on your date — no second-guessing yourself. If you are not sure, then the answer is to wait.”

Jodi also pointed out that during a pandemic, keeping your distance on a first date may not be such a bad thing!

2. Is it OK to talk about an ex on a first date?

The short answer is no, it’s not a great idea to mention an ex on a first date. It just sends the wrong message and distracts from what really matters on a first date — getting to know each other.

“The goal of a first date is to figure out if you like the other person,” Jodi said. “Save heavy, messy topics for much later in the relationship once you have a foundation of understanding to have tough discussions.”

3. When should you text or call someone after a date?

OK, ideally, it’s best to bring this up at the end of the first date. As you’re saying goodbye, your job is to establish that the date was fun and that you want to get in touch to plan a second date. This is your moment to set expectations (as in, who is texting or calling and when) and keep your romantic momentum moving forward.

Jodi encourages daters to be clear and not play mind games if they want to build a strong relationship. That means following up as soon as possible. You have to strike while the iron is hot because following the old-school three-day rule these days may mean your crush is always swiping on someone else by the time you circle back.

“When is really up to you,” Jodi explained. “You may text that night saying how much fun you had on the date. You may call a few days later to arrange for a next date. The timing is up to you. The key here is to make sure you are playing tennis and not just hitting balls with no response.”

4. Should women wait for men to initiate?

This is 2020. Women don’t have to wait on men to do anything. We had a meeting about it. Seriously, gals, you may feel nervous about sending the first message, making the first move, or asking a guy out on a date, but that’s exactly how nervous guys feel in those situations. Give a guy a break! Most modern men enjoy being wooed because it takes the pressure off them and makes them feel desirable.

Photo of a woman looking at a man

Women don’t have to stick to gender norms and stereotypes to attract a good guy.

“Nowadays, we are not gender-bound,” Jodi said. “This means any person is allowed to ask out any other person. Just remember, according to etiquette, the person who does the asking does the paying. Be sure to be clear by adding ‘my treat!’ when you do the ask.”

Jodi has written extensively about etiquette for modern women, and nowhere does she suggest women act like it’s 1920 and adhere to old-fashioned gender roles.

Sex & Relationship Etiquette

Once you’re in a relationship, you’ve got to put your best foot forward and deal with all kinds of emotionally charged issues. Fortunately, Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting has the wherewithal to help things run a little more smoothly so healthy relationships can blossom.

5. When should I introduce my boyfriend/girlfriend to my parents?

Jodi advises couples to go the meet-the-parents route once they’ve gotten serious and established a long-term relationship. That could take weeks, months, or even years for some couples. She added that it’s a good idea to have a preliminary conversation with your parents to see if they’re open to meeting your new love interest.

“There are a number of factors that will impact this decision,” she said. “Clearly, to make introductions during a pandemic, you would need to be rather serious about this significant other.”

6. How do I tell my boyfriend or girlfriend what I want in bed?

The important thing in this situation is to be vocal and constantly provide positive feedback and suggest things you’d like to work on together.

“Relationships are all about communication,” Jodi said. “If you want to communicate well in bed, you need to start communicating well beforehand. Talk. Talk to this person. Ask questions. Listen. Sit quietly. Hold hands. Massage shoulders.”

Photo of a bedroom

Communication is sexy because it allows couples to build intimacy and trust.

Jodi recommends rewarding good behaviors by expressing your enjoyment and remembering to ask your partner if what you’re doing is good for them. Couples can improve their sex lives simply by incorporating questions like “Does this feel good?” or “What do you want?” in their bedroom routine.

7. What if my boyfriend/girlfriend wants to do something new in bed?

Again, honest communication is the key here. Couples should create an open and judgment-free dialogue about their desires, fetishes, and comfort levels. Trying new things can be part of a healthy sex life, but it has to be something you both want. If you are not ready to try something new in the bedroom, then you need to express those boundaries to your partner.

“You should never feel pressured to do something you do not want to do,” Jodi said. “And, if you do decide to try something, if at any point you decide it is not for you, you can withdraw your consent. If your partner loves or respects you, they will understand.”

8. What if I’m not enjoying the sex I’m having with my partner?

“This happens. If you are not enjoying the sex, stop,” Jodi said. “Then do a deep dive into your feelings. Is it that you do not like this person? Are you too tired? Is there something on your mind?”

Sexual dissatisfaction can be a symptom of stress, grief, low self-esteem, body issues, fear of commitment, and other factors, But it can also indicate that something is wrong in your relationship. Maybe your feelings have changed or you’re growing apart. It’s important to understand what’s at the root of your unhappiness, so you can deal with the issue and start enjoying sex with the right partner.

9. Is it OK to be friends with an ex?

This depends on you, your ex, and your current partners. You have to be 100% over your ex, and your ex has to be 100% over you for a true friendship to be possible. And your current partners need to know the friendship isn’t a threat to them. If you pay more attention to an ex than to a current romantic interest, it’s going to lead to jealousy and turmoil.

“If you are both over each other, you may be socially friendly in group settings,” Jodi said. “As for texting, calling, hanging out just the two of you, that can be precarious if either one of you is in a new relationship and may sabotage what has the potential to develop.”

Of course, if you and your ex have a child together, you must maintain a relationship and be civil to each other for the child’s sake.

10. What if my boyfriend/girlfriend and my parents don’t get along?

Parents can sometimes have high standards when it comes to their child’s boyfriend or girlfriend, and they may not always agree with you about what’s most important in a partner. That can be a painful reality if it continues beyond the first few meetings, and no one wants to be put in the position of taking sides between their parents and the person they love.

Photo of a family gathering

Sometimes it takes a few introductions for parents and romantic partners to warm up to each other.

If your parents aren’t getting along with your romantic partner, you may need to really lay on the charm during family gatherings or holidays, or you may need to reconsider if your partner is the right person for you.

“You will need to take a really long look at your relationship to determine the cause of the friction,” Jodi said. “The bigger question is, on the whole, what do others think of this person. If your parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers are all only lukewarm on this person, there is a very good chance they are seeing something in this person that in the heady days of new love you are missing. Heed this warning well.”

11. How can I talk to my partner if we don’t agree on politics?

Sometimes opposites attract in politics, and couples maintain a relationship despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum. The trick is to respect the other person’s opinions and approach conversations with the intention to listen openly and then share your point of view without taking cheap shots.

That being said, it’s hard to connect with someone if you don’t see eye to eye on fundamental issues, so couples need to have these discussions to see whether they have enough common ground for a solid relationship.

“What you need to examine here are your values and morals,” Jodi said. “If your politics do not bend towards each other as the relationship continues, you will need to really consider if you want to spend the rest of your life starting your days debating the way you perceive the world over your morning coffee. That is a decision only you can make.”

Breakup Etiquette

It can be extremely difficult — if not outright impossible — to leave a relationship with grace and goodwill. Emotions are running hot during this time, and sometimes couples get sucked into petty squabbling, blame games, and other general nastiness. However, if you want to keep things civil, you should stick to the guidelines that Jodi has provided for good breakup etiquette.

12. How can I politely tell someone I’m not interested in them?

This depends on how long your connection or relationship has been going on. If it’s only been one day, you don’t need to be very specific — a simple, “I didn’t feel a spark,” or “I don’t think this will work,” will do. Typically, your date will respect that you didn’t ghost him or her and respond politely enough to end things on a good note.

Photo of a breakup

Breaking up is always uncomfortable, but it’s worth making an effort to show respect and courtesy.

If you’ve been dating for a couple months and want to break things off, then Jodi recommends being more direct and giving a more specific reason about why you’re no longer interested. You don’t need to apologize for how you feel or make the other person feel small. Just be clear about what you want in a partner and why you’re not right for that person either.

“Understand that breaking up does not mean categorizing all of the other person’s perceived faults,” Jodi said. “Instead, you want to highlight one or two major differences. Do not prolong the conversation. Be kind and brief.”

13. Is it OK to break up with someone over the phone or text?

A lot of young people tend to go this route these days because they feel most comfortable behind a screen. But etiquette dictates that couples should have a more in-depth conversation, not a text breakup, if they’ve been together for a significant period of time.

Couples in a long-distance relationship may have this dialogue via phone call or video call — or even a text if there are scheduling issues. However, if it’s not too inconvenient to see someone in person for a breakup, that’s generally the polite thing to do.

If you’re dead set on breaking up via phone or text, it’s a good idea to rehearse what you’re going to say. Maybe write out a script for the call or send a rough draft of your text to a friend. You should aim to be firm in your intention but gentle with your wording.

“Remember to keep the conversation short,” Jodi advises. “You have made your decision, and you should not be swayed or emotionally manipulated by something they would say.”

Wedding Etiquette

Weddings are steeped in tradition and formalities that can be a lot for engaged couples to deal with, and we’ve frequently gotten questions about how to make that special day the best it can be. Now Jodi weighs in on proper wedding etiquette for the modern couple.

14. Is it OK to not invite all of my friends and coworkers to my wedding?

Jodi recommends that couples think about the dynamic of the group before playing favorites. For example, if you have 15 coworkers and are really close friends with three of them, then it can be OK to just invite those three. However, if you’re friends with 10 out of your 15 coworkers, then it’s best to invite all 15 to avoid any hard feelings.

“The guideline is once you are inviting half of the group, you should be inviting all. Alternately, if you are going to exclude people, there should be a majority not included,” Jodi said. “Next, you will need to be direct. Don’t leave your coworkers guessing.”

15. What’s a good wedding gift and what’s a bad wedding gift?

Weddings gifts are a token of your well wishes and esteem. A good gift depends on your budget and your relationship with the couple. In most cases, it’s best to stick to the wedding registry because those are things the couple have specifically asked for and want.

Photo of a wedding gift

A good wedding gift doesn’t have to be pricey to show the couple you care.

“Use the registry as the starting point,” Jodi recommended. “You can certainly review their registry to gather ideas about their interests and tastes. If there is something from the registry you love and is within your budget, you certainly may gift that.”

16. What if I don’t like someone’s wedding gift?

This is bound to happen. Not everyone has the same taste, so you may not like a wedding gift. “You will, of course, send a gracious thank-you note,” Jodi said. “Then, depending on the person, you can return or donate the gift.”

17. What should I do if a family member is too involved in my wedding?

Family drama is almost inevitable when it comes to weddings. The wedding isn’t just about two people joining their lives — it’s also about families bringing a new person into the fold, and some family members have strong opinions or ideas about that.

“Your interactions with the families in planning your wedding actually sets the foundation for your relationship with these people going forward,” Jodi said. “Pay careful attention to feelings and conversations. Your families want to be included in your big day, that is great news.”

Photo of a family at a wedding

Weddings are great opportunities to share a lovely experience with your family.

Jodi recommends that couples respond to suggestions from family members by saying they’ll consider it and let them know what their decision is. In some cases, it may be best to assign a specific job to an involved family member.

Maybe let your mother pick out of the floral arrangements or ask your sister to handle the cocktail hour. This makes them feel important and involved while also taking some work off your plate. It’s a win-win situation!

Mannersmith Provides Guidance for Everyday Life

Jodi RR Smith founded Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting to enlighten individuals and couples about the many ways they can show more consideration and make a positive first impression in social interactions. This is especially important for daters hoping to attract and maintain healthy relationships.

Hopefully, Jodi’s insights in this Q&A have helped clear up some common misconceptions and bring clarity to potentially confusing issues, so people can tackle the dating world armed with proper etiquette. Good luck!