By Cristy Stewart-Harfmann

Five+ years ago I moved back to my hometown and realized I was the only one of my friends who was unattached. Since most of my childhood friends had moved to larger cities I focused on dating as well as my career. Living in a town of more than 75,000 people I thought this would be an easy task, at least easier than finding new lifelong friends. I quickly realized that the average age in my town was over 40, but felt like 75 and that 60% of the guys over the age of 15 were married. Working 60 hour weeks in an office with all married men and only one other woman, divorced, slightly bitter and over 65, I was in for an adventure.

One night under the cloak of darkness I made a life changing decision and vowed to tell no one. The commercials had finally broken me down; I signed up for eHarmony and became an online lover seeker. What I did not know that night was that it would be the best decision of my life. Not only would I meet my husband, but it also helped me realize my passion for matchmaking and helping other singles who were looking for love online and in person.

I love dating. This may sound like a strange statement from a happily married woman, but I believe you should never stop dating. I have been married for more than two years and my husband and I still have date night. Every Thursday night we start the weekend early with a date, just the two of us, no phones, a rule we often break, but we try.

As a matchmaker and friend to many I am often the first call after a date. I have heard all the stories good and bad and through my experience I have determined the steps needed for a great first date. Warning, a great first date is not always a love connection. It could actually be a terrible match; but they can all be fun stories to tell if you have the right attitude.

• Self-Discovery – The first step is self-discovery. You may need to ask yourself some difficult questions. What type of relationship am I looking for? Do I want someone to take me out every saturday night or a serious relationship?

What am I passionate about? What qualities do I have that make me attractive to a potential match? This step is essential to your dating success. Hopefully, on a first date your match will ask questions about you. So take some time to think about yourself before your date. If you are having trouble coming up with a list of why you are fabulous ask a friend. It is a fun exercise and helps with your confidence.

Am I ready to date? Think about how much time has passed since your last relationship or life changing experience. If you cannot go a meal without talking about your ex, you may not be ready to date.

Finally, can I make the time to date? Dating is fun, but it will take time and effort on your part. Wait until you are ready.

• Dress for Success – We all have that outfit that transforms us. If you don’t go out and find one that does. I recommend having one or two “first date outfits”. This can be anything from a dress to pair of jeans and a top that make you feel great. Having your outfit already picked out will help you with your confidence and with the next step.

• Be on Time – This is the most difficult one for me because I am guilty of “one last thing”. I always want to do one last thing before I leave the house, don’t do it. The worst first impression is being late. You are telling your date that your time is more valuable than theirs.

• Be Open Minded – Often we have a picture in our mind of the ideal match for ourselves. I always looked up to my parent’s marriage and subconsciously imaged the same life for myself. My mom is a stay at home mom and life-long learner/student who is almost 10 years younger than my dad, who is a surgeon, athlete, and family man. So I always thought I would end up with an athletic doctor, lawyer or business owner, who balanced family/work and was able to put family first while still being successful. He would also be 5-10 years older than me, over 6’ with brown hair. So when I fell in love with photographer who traveled around the world, who was a year younger than me who was passionate about music; playing three musical instruments I was totally caught off guard. We all think we know what is best for us, but often we are wrong. If you find yourself on a first date with a teacher instead of an accountant give him a chance. You may find you have more in common than you think and that what is opposite will help you find balance.

• Focus – Focus on being interested in your date instead of being interesting. You will find the less you focus on yourself and what you are doing, saying, or looking like the more fun you will have. This also means no cell phones. Turn your phone to silent or off and leave it in your purse. Checking email, texting or answering your phone tells your date you are not interested. Even if you are not interested it is simply rude.

• Fun – The final step is to have fun. Give yourself permission to have fun. Even if your match is not a love connection, they could be a friend, or a good story.

Follow these steps to guarantee every first date is a great date.

Cristy Stewart-Harfmann, MBA and Matchmaker