Don't Despair, Here Are 12 Ways To Salvage A First Date That's Going Terribly

by Jamie Kravitz

Ask any modern woman to tell you about a bad first date, and she'll probably say, "Which one do you want to hear about first?" Whether you were set up by a mutual friend or you've only interacted over dating apps, it's not out of the ordinary to meet someone for the very first time at the start of the actual date. If you want to fix a bad first date before it turns into your new worst first date story, you've come to the right place. I'm assuming your date is in the bathroom right now, so I'll make this quick. I asked two dating experts about how to deal with 12 common scenarios you might experience on an uncomfortable first date.

When it comes to the initial date, I try not to have any expectations. It's easier said than done, but there's nothing worse than getting your hopes up about someone and then spending an hour making awkward small talk over a weak $14 cocktail. If you feel like your night is going downhill faster than you can down your glorified tonic water, don't worry. You may still be able to salvage it. Assuming your date didn't do anything unforgivable, this could be an experience you laugh about down the line — maybe even together.

You And Your Date Have Nothing In Common To Talk About

If you're struggling to find a topic you can connect over, consider bringing in some outside reinforcements. And no, I'm not talking about inviting your best friend to join you. If chatting isn't working out, suggest an activity. "If you’re at a brewery, play a board game. If you’re at a bar, play a trivia game on your phone. Or if you really can’t talk about anything of your own personal experience, play a game and (respectfully) make stories up about everyone else in the bar," says Alysha Jeney, a relationship therapist and co-founder of The Modern Love Box.

Your Date Monopolizes The Conversation

When your date is the talkative type, it can be difficult to get a word in edgewise — especially if they don't ask you anything about yourself. "Simply ask, 'Do you have any questions for me?' If they don't get it by that point, you might want to just let it slide and chalk it up as a loss for this date," says Bridgette Hall, a matchmaker at Three Day Rule.

You Ask Questions And Your Date Answers In A Few Words, Followed By Awkward Silence

Conversely, your date might come across as super shy or like they're not that into you. They may just feel awkward in social situations, so try not to immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion. Do your best to drive the conversation and keep the energy up as much as you can. "You can make the best of the situation by continuing to ask questions based on their answers to try to open them up a little bit," says Hall.

It's So Loud At The Restaurant Or Bar That You Can Barely Hear Each Other

The answer here is simple, even if it's not the most convenient. The whole point of a first date is to get to know another. You can't gauge chemistry or compatibility if you're struggling to hear what the other person is saying. Minimize distractions and save your voice from becoming hoarse by suggesting a new location, either in a more private setting (does the bar have a back room?), or at a new location altogether. "It's perfectly acceptable to say something along the lines of: 'It is so hard to hear in here, want to go somewhere a little quieter where we can actually hear each other?'" says Hall.

You Accidentally Spill All Over Yourself Or Your Date

Whether it's spaghetti sauce or red wine, spilling anything in public can feel like a major first date faux pas. The best thing to do is to acknowledge it once and then try to move on. If you spill on your date, "kindly apologize and offer to pay the tab and/or the next round," says Jeney. "If you’re into them, make a flirty joke about it and suggest a second date to take them shopping to replace their shirt." Talk about making the best out of a bad situation.

And if you spill on yourself? Above all, be humble and OK with laughing at yourself. "Try not to be bent out of shape; stuff happens. The most attractive thing you can do is react to it in a calm way and not let it ruin your night," adds Jeney. While you might feel awkward in the moment, it's just one moment — and it'll pass.

Your Date Says Something That Offends Your Morals Or That You Strongly Disagree With

It's fine to express your opinion in a respectful manner. "The best way to approach the situation would be to say that you disagree, and if you feel comfortable, you can explain why," says Hall. Jeney agrees, adding that it "could actually be a hot moment to pick each other's brains." If your values are so misaligned that you can't ever imagine respecting each other's POV, at least you'll know sooner rather than later.

You Find Yourself Arguing Rather Than Conversing

If a conflict does come up, or you feel your date is being argumentative in general, Hall suggests trying not to let yourself be easily offended by someone you just met. She says to ask yourself if it's really worth getting upset over — the answer will probably be no.

For Jeney, honesty is the best policy. She suggests an upfront approach. "Maybe try asking them, 'Is it just me, or are we arguing like a married couple?' This might help break the ice and calm the nerves, it may help you identify if your date is super passionate, or it may help you both amicably end the date," she says.

Your Date Complains Rudely To The Waiter Or Doesn’t Tip Enough

Maybe your date is picky about their food, and you feel awkward about them sending it back. That's understandable, but skimping on the tip likely isn't. There are people who think servers don't deserve the same amount of respect as other people, and that just plain sucks. Hall says it's OK to express how you feel in a way that you're comfortable with. "If you think it's gone too far, you can apologize to the waiter while heading out or to the restroom, or even at your table. Don't let your date bully the waiter," she says. And if your date insists on paying but doesn't leave an appropriate tip (20 percent, people!), you can make up the difference to the waiter with your own cash.

You’re Not Physically Attracted To Your Date

If you're being catfished, that's one thing. But if your date looks like their photos and you're not immediately attracted to them, don't call the evening off solely for that reason. Everyone chooses their most flattering photos for their dating profiles; it's not a crime to look just a tiny bit different than you do on a screen. "Sometimes physical attraction comes with time. You might not find someone attractive at first glance, but once you start to get to know them, there is something about them that is sexy and drawing you in," says Hall. Just like in high school, chemistry is complex.

"A connection is a connection. If you’re not attracted, stay and enjoy the date as a platonic match. Maybe you can build a friendship," says Jeney. "If that feels like a waste of your time, keep it short and kindly end the date early. Don’t lead them on by expressing you’ll call them later; try to be honest that you unfortunately didn’t feel a spark."

Your Date Brags About Their Hard-Partying Lifestyle

If you're not into heavy drinking or drug use, but your date clearly is, that could be a red flag. Or, it's possible they're just trying to impress you and are going about it the wrong way. Try not to judge, but do be honest about your own lifestyle. "You can simply state your side and say that's not really what you're into, and then use that as an opportunity to talk about your hobbies, passions, and anything else you might be into," Hall suggests.

Your Date Brings Up Their Ex

"Depending on how often and at what capacity, this may not be a huge red flag," says Jeney. One or two passing mentions could just be an attempt to put their dating history out there and gauge what kind of relationship you're looking for. But if they can't stop talking about a past partner, do say something. "If it’s clear they aren’t over their ex, maybe express that they don’t seem ready to be on another date or you are feeling uncomfortable by how much they are bringing their ex up," she adds. Remember that you're not their therapist, so bring their attention to the issue in a non-accusatory way.

Your Date Doesn't Offer To Pay Or You’re Not Sure Who Should Pay

Deciding who should pay the bill on a first date can be tricky, but it doesn't need to be. Offer to pay, and if your date insists, let them treat you. Or if you're more comfortable splitting the bill, just say so. "I think it’s a good general rule to just expect to pay half or at least offer to pay half," says Jeney. "If your date is refusing to pitch in, either pay it all and mention they have the next one, pay it all and don’t go on a second date, or simply have a conversation about paying half."

Most uncomfortable first date situations can be resolved with a little patience. And if it doesn't go well, despite your best efforts, you're in no way obligated to see them again.

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