Dating tips for men from dating expert Connell Barrett “Let’s just be friends.” Yes, it’s one of the most dreaded 4-word sentences, along with “We need to talk” and “Smash Mouth is reuniting.” (The horror!) It hurts to want a second date with a woman who doesn’t want one with you, perhaps even more so if you’re a man seeking his soulmate on The League. We all hate that feeling when a girl you’re messaging goes quiet. Welcome to… cue thunder and scary music… the friend zone. Questions arise: “Am I doing something wrong? Am I not attractive?”

Before I became a dating coach, I spent more time in the friend zone than Walter Payton spent in the end zone. I heard a lot of “You’re nice, but I’m not feeling it.” One woman was so not into our first date that she left before finishing her Modelo. But with effort and courage, I learned to escape the friend zone by connecting with women in an authentic way—and now I help men on The League do the same. If it’s the friend-zone escape you’re seeking, authenticity is your door. Embrace it and you will add a key ingredient to your dates and interactions: edge. You’re a nice guy who respects women, right? Awesome. Women like nice guys. But “nice” is also boring and dull. Whether with dates, text exchanges, League Live speed dates, women quickly lose interest.

Yes, most women want to date kind, respectful gentlemen. They also want a guy with a little edge. What is “edge”? It’s conveying your best, most authentic self in way that’s fun, sexy, and exciting. And to do so, you don’t have to wear a “bad boy” mask, act like a jerk, or buy a Harley. You can still be a good, solid guy while having some edge. Take my client Trevor, 33, who was getting friend-zoned on date after date. He felt stuck. “I’m in Alcatraz,” he told me. I taught him the strategies you’re about to learn, and everything changed on his first date with Becca, a witty, successful chef. Sparks flew, lighting up the dark wine bar. They were soon dating exclusively. He escaped, and so can you. Here are seven ways to add an edge to your dating game while still being the kind and respectful gentleman you are.

1: Add Edge To Your Style According to a Men’s Health survey, 78 percent of women said that dressing well is “the hottest thing a man can do.” So lose the baggy, boring shirts and the pleated khakis. You want to be a hot guy, not the helpful Honda guy. Your first-date wardrobe should contain quality essentials such as fitted button-downs, dark denim jeans, leather lace-up shoes, and a suede or leather jacket. Want instant edge? Try this look: distressed jeans, stylish sneakers (such as Stan Smiths), a fitted blazer, and a T-shirt featuring your favorite rock band.

2: Be A Man With A Plan Banish these words from your vocabulary: “So what do you want to do?” Have a first-date idea, suggest a time and place, and present it with confidence: “I know a great jazz bar that you’ll love. How about [day and time.] Sound good?” Decisiveness is attractive. Also, heading into the date, have a second spot in mind where you can take her if you’re hitting it off, and make sure it’s easy to get to. Women love a man with a plan.

3: Play Up Your Passions Whether you’re texting, on a video date, or meeting up IRL, talk about some of your passions—say, playing electric guitar, salsa-dancing, or SCUBA. The more unusual or adventuresome, the better. At first glance, my client Matthew, 28, is just a “nice guy” who works at a software company. Yawn, right? But on dates, he talks about the screenplay he just finished—a dark, weird murder-thriller story. His dates don’t see a dull tech guy. They see an artsy screenwriter. Women (and people in general) are drawn to passionate men.

4: Be A Storyteller We’re hardwired to love stories. Telling a vivid personal anecdote makes you more charismatic, holds your date’s interest, and reveals aspects of your personality. A good story invites her to share her stories with you. What kind of stories? You can’t miss with travel adventures. I once outfoxed a mugger in Geneva who tried to pass off a bong as a weapon. My client Craig—on his first date with his future girlfriend Allison—told her about the time he snuck into Canada by hiding inside a rolled-up carpet in an SUV. A great first date can mainly be the two of you swapping fun stories.

5. Express To Impress Yes, guys want to impress women. No shame there. (I sucked in my gut today when the cute barista handed me my latte.) But if you try too hard to impress a girl—say, by bragging about money or your boat or your boat filled with money—you’ll probably turn her off. A reason that so-called “bad boys” are attractive is a lack of supplicating and straining to impress. They speak their minds without a filter, which can exciting and, yes, edgy. Think, “Express but not to impress.” Lose the filter and share more honest, real thoughts. This can mean being vulnerable, silly, snarky, sweet—it depends on the situation. It’s about sharing your true self and your true thoughts, rather than saying what you think she wants to hear. Here’s a technique to try on your next date: For 15 minutes, don’t ask any questions. Only make statements. Many nice guys aren’t sure what to say to women, so they get stuck in “interrogation mode.” It keeps them from of sharing their own edge and puts all the conversational pressure on her. It’s more deposition than date. By not asking questions, you have to dig deeper. You’re forced to share more, which gives your date a more vivid “you” experience. Pro tip: Start sentences with the phrase, “I feel…” This gets you in the mindset of sharing emotions.

6: Tease Her (Playfully) Look for something light to tease her about. Choose a topic that would not offend her. No jokes about her appearance, family or pets. (Be cheeky, not mean.) Keep it playful—perhaps she has trashy taste in movies or TV shows. (“What? Your favorite show is ‘Real Housewives’? I knew this date was a mistake…”) A well-timed tease can get her sparring with you, spiking chemistry. Just notice if she’s liking it or not—and if not, stop!

7: If You Think She’s Sexy, Tell Her Many women get a “just friends” vibe because the guy failed to make his interest clear, either due to fear or because he thinks he needs to “play it cool.” If you find a woman sexy, tell her. (Hey, we all want to feel sexy.) Advanced move: Don’t make it only about her looks. Go deeper. Tell her the inner quality that you find sexy: her wit, her ambition, her silliness. No faking this. You must mean it. (A woman’s b.s. detector is more sensitive than a Richter scale.) If this tip seems scary, good! It means you’re expanding your comfort zone. That’s what it takes to get out of the friend zone and add some edge to your first dates. Connell Barrett is a dating coach with The League, founder of Dating Transformation, and author of the forthcoming book, Dating Sucks But You Don’t: The Modern Guy’s Guide to Total Confidence, Romantic Connection, and Finding the Perfect Partner.