Before Sunrise

What Ethan Hawke Can
Teach You About First Dates

Nine years and it’s almost here! I’m talking about the May 24th release of the fiyolm Before Midnight. It’s the third installment of one of the greatest romance stories of all time.

But what makes these movies so great? Unlike many sappy, unrealistic portrayals of dating, they’re movies that you can actually relate to and gain insight from.

Ethan Hawke (Jesse) sees Julie Deply (Céline) on a train to Vienna. He strikes up a casual conversation that turns into an incredible connection spanning over one day together. There’s no action, no special effects, no crazy antics — just them walking and talking in various locations. The dialogue and acting are so well done that you forget you’re even watching a movie.

A recurring issue I hear from guys is that they don’t know how to have dates that go somewhere. The connection never gets more intimate and they can’t seem to break the sexual barrier. There’s a scene from the first film, Before Sunrise, where Ethan Hawke is an amazing case study for overcoming these hurdles.

The scene starts with them on a bus. Right away, Jesse sits next to Céline instead of across from her. He positions himself close which instantly creates an romantic dynamic and allows for easy physical contact. He doesn’t hide his intentions by sitting opposite her.

He rests back in the seat and looks damn comfortable. He drapes his arm around her seat which again creates closeness between them. He holds strong eye contact. Then he rolls into…

Jesse: Alright, I got an idea. Are you ready?

Céline: Okay.

Jesse: Alright, it’s Q&A time. We’ve known each other a little while now, we’re stuck together, so we’re going to ask each other a few uh, direct questions. Alright?

Céline: So, we ask each other questions.

Jesse: And you have to answer one hundred percent honestly.

Céline: Of course.

Jesse: Okay, alright, first question.

Céline: You.

Jesse: (Speaks in a German accent, or what Americans would consider “Freudian.”) Describe for me. (Back to regular accent.) Yes, I’m going to ask you. (Freudian accent again.) Describe for me your first sexual feelings towards a person.

Céline: (Laughs.) My first sexual feelings, oh my God. Um, I know, I know. Jean-Marc Fleury. (Laughs.)

This is how Jesse first breaks the sexual barrier. While I wouldn’t advise doing this out of no where on a first date, we can apply his actions in a more natural way.

Most dates begin with some basic questions. The idea is that as the interaction progresses, your questions should get subsequently more personal.

Initially, you may be talking about surface level questions like common interests, career, hobbies, etc. You then branch into more personal topics such as passions, fears, and embarrassing moments. Once you’re in that stage, you can begin mixing in sexual questions like…

“Who was your first crush?”

“When was your first kiss?”

“What do you find most attractive in a man?”

“Do you consider yourself a sexual person?”

You can even set it up like Jesse did where you blatantly say something like, “I want to get to know each other better. Let’s ask some real questions.”

If she answers a sexual question, the mood of the date changes from then on. She’s now talking and thinking about sex with you, which places you as a potential romantic partner.

Watch the rest of the scene here or below until they get off the bus (5:30 mark) and then continue reading.

Jesse: Jean-Marc Fleury?

Céline: I remember we were at this summer camp together. And he was a swimmer.

Jesse: Um-hmm…

Céline: Yeah, he had bleached out chlorine hair and green eyes. And to improve his times, he’d shave the hair off his legs and arms.

Jesse: That’s disgusting.

Jesse playfully throws in his disgust for her old crush which indicates he’s interested in being her new crush.

Céline: Oh, no. He was like this gorgeous dolphin. And my friend Emma had a big, big crush on him. So one day I was cutting, you know across the field, back to my room, and he came walking up beside me. You know, and I told him, you know, you should date Emma, she has a big crush on you. And he turned to me and said, (Making her voice a bit lower.) ‘Well, that’s too bad, ’cause I have a big crush on you.‘ (Jesse lets his jaw drop.)

He shows genuine interest in her story and is animated with his responses. She is encouraged to continue on and express her sexuality without judgment.

Céline: Yeah, it really scared the hell out of me, because I thought he was so fine. And then he officially asked me out on a date, and you know I pretended I didn’t like him. You know I was, I was so afraid of what I might do, you know. Uh, well. So, you know, I went to see him swim a few times, at the swim competition. And he was so sexy, really, I mean, really sexy. You know we kind of wrote these little declarations of love to each other at the end of the summer, and you know, promised we would keep writing forever, and I, you know, meet again very soon, and…

While she’s talking, Jesse goes to brush Céline’s hair off her face but gets nervous and stops. Still, he understands the importance of physical contact and wants to touch her. If he followed through, he could have easily moved her hair while listening and it would have felt completely normal.

Jesse: Did you?

Céline: Of course not.

Jesse: Well, then I think this is the opportune time to tell you that I happen to be a fantastic swimmer.

Céline: Really? (Laughing)

Jesse: Yeah.

Céline: I’ll make note of that.

After she opens up about her sexual past, he reframes that sexual energy towards him. He jokes that he is a fantastic swimmer which again conveys that he is not trying to be her friend. She lightheartedly challenges him with “really” and he doesn’t back down or say he was kidding. He restates “yeah” without hesitation and then proceeds to the next topic.

Jesse: Okay. Uh..

Céline: So its my turn, no?

Jesse: Yes, yeah, it’s your turn.

Céline: Uh, have you ever been in love?

Jesse: Yes. Next question. What was the fir–

Céline: Wait, wait.

Jesse: What?

Céline: Wait a minute.

Jesse: What?

Céline: So I can give one word answers?

Jesse: Sure, why not?

Céline: No, no. After I went into such private details about my first sexual feelings.

Jesse: Yeah, I, I know, but, sexual feel…Those are two very different questions. I mean, I could’ve answered the sexual feelings thing, no problem, but you know, love. Well, what if I asked you about love?

Jesse is uncomfortable answering about love. But instead of blowing her off completely, he shows vulnerability by admitting it’s a tough subject for him to talk about.

Céline: I would have lied, but at least, you know, I would have made up a great story.

Jesse: (While Céline is finishing her line, above.) Yeah, well, you would have lied. Great. I mean, love is a complex issue. You know, I mean, it‘s like, uh. I mean, yes, I have told somebody that I love them before, and I have meant it. Was it totally a totally unselfish, giving love? Was it a beautiful thing? Not really, you know. It‘s like love, I mean, uh, I don’t know. You know?

Céline: Yeah, I know what you mean.

He flirts with her by teasing and shows he’s unafraid to speak his mind. He then digs deeper and tells her personal details about his past relationships. This helps her trust him and builds a powerful connection.

Jesse: But as far as sexual feelings go, I’ll have you know it started with an obsessive relationship with Miss July 1978. Do you know Playboy magazine?

Céline: Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of it.

Jesse: Yeah? Do you know Crystal?

Céline: No…(Laughing.)

Jesse: You don’t know Crystal? Well, I knew Crystal. Well…(Laughing.) Is it, um…my turn now. Okay. Tell me something that really pisses you off, really drives you crazy.

He doesn’t dwell on the heavy, serious topic (never a good idea for a first date) and instead brings it back to a sexual frame. He lets her know that he is a sexual being and expresses it in a humorous way. He then pushes forward with another personal question that generates a strong emotional response. If you notice while he’s asking, he moves in much closer to her, making the situation even more intimate.

Céline: Pisses me off? My God! Everything pisses me off.

Jesse: Okay, okay, list a couple.

Céline: Uh, okay. I hate being told by a strange man, a strange man in the street, you know, like, to smile, like, to make them feel better about their boring life, um, what else? I hate, I hate that three hundred kilometers from here there’s a war going on, you know, people are dying, and nobody knows what to do about it, or they don’t give a shit, I don’t know. I hate that the media, you know, they are trying to control our minds.

Jesse: The media?

Céline: Yeah, the media. You know it‘s very subtle, but you know, it‘s a new form of fascism. (Jesse takes that in.) Um, I hate, I hate when I am in foreign countries, especially in America, they are the worst. Each time I wear black, or like, lose my temper, or say anything about anything, they always go ‘oh, it‘s so french, it‘s so cute.’ (She mimics vomiting.) I hate that. I can’t stand that, really.

Jesse: Is that all?

Céline: Well, there’s a lot of things, really. So it‘s my turn.

Jesse: Okay.

Céline: You’re going to answer.

Jesse: Yes, I’ll answer.

Now that she trusts him more, she gets passionate about her dislikes. She exposes herself and her true feelings. He listens intently and lets her keep investing in him. When she stops talking he’s willing to push further but recognizes that she is hesitant and doesn’t keep prying.

Céline: Ah, what’s a problem for you?

Jesse: You, probably.

Céline: What? (Laughing)

He responds playfully that she will be a handful for him. He’s being bold and implying that they are going to keep seeing each other. This gets her laughing and fuels the sexual connection.

Jesse: Um, no, alright, I had a thought the other day that was kind of a–qualifies as a problem.

Céline: What is it?

Jesse: Well, it was a thought I had on the train, so…um…okay, alright. Um, do you believe in reincarnation?

Céline: Yeah, yeah, its interesting.

Jesse: Most people, you know, a lot of people talk about the past lives, and things like that, you know, and even if they don’t believe in it in some specific way, you know, people have some kind of notion of an eternal soul, right?

Céline: Yeah.

Jesse: Okay. Well, this is my thought. Fifty thousand years ago, there are not even a million people on the planet. Ten thousand years ago, there’s like two million people on the planet. Now, there’s between five and six billion people on the planet, right? Now, if we all have our own, like, individual, unique soul, right, where do they all come from?

Are modern souls only a fraction of the original souls?. Because if they are, that represents a five thousand-to-one split of each soul in just the last fifty thousand years, which is like a blip in the earth’s time. You know, so, at best, we’re like these tiny fractions of people, you know, walking… I mean, is that why we’re all so scattered? You know, is that why we’re all so specialized?

After joking, he shares a meaningful thought he had. He starts with an engaging question “Do you believe in reincarnation?” and then segues into this spiritual rant. It’s quirky and offbeat, but he’s not holding back who he is. This kind of unrestrained honesty takes courage and is attractive to women.

Céline: Wait a minute, I’m not sure I…I don’t….

Jesse: Hang on, I know, I know, its a totally scattered thought, which is kind of why it makes sense.

Céline: Yeah… (unsure, but laughing.) I agree with you.

And here his rant didn’t necessarily land well. Does he apologize or act ashamed? No, he owns his wild idea. He stands by his word and she respects him for that.

Jesse: Let’s get off this damn tram. (They exit.)

Here he leads her to their next destination. He doesn’t timidly ask her, he makes a direct statement. He invites her to come along with confidence and she follows with excitement.

So to summarize:

How does Jesse move the connection forward, both emotionally and sexually? What does he do right? He…

  • Asks provocative questions that elicit emotional responses. This gets her to share personal details and invest more in him than if he had asked a simple question. It also gets her thinking about sex while with him.
  • Is vulnerable with her about sensitive subjects. This builds trust and forges a unique bond.
  • Positions himself close to her early on. This shows his intentions and generates sexual tension by proximity.
  • Leads and takes her to different environments. He doesn’t just stick to the classic dinner date — he moves with her to places that have a fun atmosphere and encourage physical contact. This includes a record store, a carnival, a bar where they play pinball, and a night walk through the city. He’s spontaneous and it makes for an unforgettable experience.
  • Displays confident body language. He looks relaxed and takes his time to respond. When he gets passionate, he is expressive and animated.
  • Demonstrates himself as a potential sexual partner through teasing, encouraging her sexuality, and embracing his own.

If you’re going out on “dates” and you’re not creating any sexual chemistry, you might as well be watching The Price is Right with your grandma. You’re interested in her, so don’t treat her like just a friend!

My final Ethan Hawke first date takeaway is that you don’t have to be perfect.

Jesse has jokes that fall flat. He stumbles and experiences awkward moments. He even chickens out of kissing Céline the first time. But in the end, he knows that he has to consistently try and escalate the connection. That’s why he still goes for the kiss later and succeeds.