Somewhere between boring talk about the weather and heated debates about politics lies the perfect conversation for a first date. The key is to keep it light and lively. Stow the heavy stuff about whether he sees you, a cute cottage and 2.3 children in his future. Here are some items that will help steer your first date past awkward and on the way to finding out if you want to find out more.

A first date should not feel like a job interview. You want to find out if your date is someone you’d like to know better, but don’t come armed with a checklist of questions to establish his social status or financial standing. You want something that’s breezy to keep a conversation alive and still give you some glimpse into your date’s personality. Don’t lead off by asking “What do you do for a living?” or you will come across as inquiring about status and money. Save your questions about his job until later in the date. The old standard about avoiding politics and religion will keep you out of treacherous terrain.

Everybody watches TV and movies, reads books and listens to music. It’s an easy ice breaker to ask your date what he thinks about last night’s Stephen Colbert and more specific than the “What do you do in your spare time?” question that’s been known to generate a frozen, deer-in-the-headlights blank stare. You’ll find this a painless way to discover if you like any of the same shows, writers and musicians.

You don’t need a family tree at this point to find out if you think mingling bloodlines is a good idea, but asking if he’s got brothers and sisters is a non-threatening way to find out something about his family and background. That will lead to questions about where he grew up, and that could give you a way to find common ground.

“What do you do for fun?” is one of those questions that can stump a date who doesn’t think his stamp collecting sounds interesting enough. An easier way to find out about possible common interests would be to ask, “What did you do last weekend?” He watched the game. That means he supports a team and maybe a college. That’s a springboard to conversation. He was surfing in Australia; you’ve always wanted to see the opera house in Sydney. He was trying out a new doggie biscuit recipe for Fido. Now you know he cooks and likes dogs.

Once you’ve got the conversation going and established some shared interests, it’s perfectly okay to ask about his work. He either loves his job or hates it, and either way you’ll learn about his likes and dislikes. If he hates his current career path, you can ask what he’d really like to do.

You don’t need to wander off into ranting about the idiot thing some political candidate said, but knowing what’s going on in the world can kick off an interesting conversation. Can you believe the Queen of England is still active at her 90th birthday?  Do you think they will ever finish the new interstate bypass in our lifetime? Fall back on celebrity gossip if you have to.

At some point you’ll find the talk veering off into other topics naturally. Go after those, but keep your safe topics list handy in case the conversation lags and you’re facing deadly silence. The goal is to make getting to know each other fun. First dates are no place for an inquisition.