Anyone who’s ever dated has experienced an awkward moment or two — you find yourself engaged in a harsh political debate instead of whispering sweet nothings, or you overdo it on the margaritas and find yourself suddenly sliding out of your seat. In these situations, you may wonder: Should I bolt for the door, or keep plugging away until the date’s bitter end?
We’d like to think that with a little work or the right words, most dates can be saved from impending disaster. Who knows, you might even recover enough to remember what inspired you two to get together in the first place. Read on for the game plan, according to experts and daters alike...
Problem #1: Your date stopped paying attention to you and is now totally playing with his/her smartphone
Maybe your date has been answering an ever-ringing phone from the second you sat down at the bar, or perhaps it’s a matter of frantically clicking away while replying to work emails outside of business hours. Either way, you’re stuck playing second fiddle to a small electronic device. How are you supposed to know if the two of you share a real connection if your date won’t disconnect from the free WiFi long enough to hold a conversation with you?
How to salvage it: Though it’s totally rude, there may be a few reasons why your date is doing this to you. One, he or she is genuinely expecting an important call or email — in which case, you should have been given a heads-up the moment you both said “hello.” Two, your date is trying to impress you by acting like someone with a demanding career or incredibly active social life. Finally, it could just be out of habit. Some people are so used to being on their mobile devices and checking email 24/7 that they don’t realize how obnoxious it is in certain settings. Try asking, “Are you waiting for something important?” or “Busy night — is that stuff work-related or some kind of personal emergency?” Advises David Lieberman, Ph.D., author of How To Change Anybody: “If your date is not waiting for an important call, it will send a clear hint that he or she is simply being rude.” You can also try a lighthearted comment to signal that you’d prefer some more attention. Try saying something like, “Does the office fall apart without you?” and see how the other person responds.
Your other option is to be straightforward without being outright rude. “Sometimes this is the only way the other person’s genuinely going to get it,” says Gilda Carle, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of Don’t Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting on Yourself. You can say, “I really want to enjoy our date and get to know you better, but it’s not possible with your phone ringing every two minutes. Can you turn it off for an hour?” Who can argue with such straight talk? And if your date won’t abandon his or her smartphone at this point, end the date yourself. It can’t be saved, so why waste another minute that you could enjoy doing something else?
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Problem #2: You commit a truly cringe-worthy faux pas in public
Imagine you’re taking a nice stroll and are so engaged in conversation with your date that you smack head-first into a pole. Or maybe you’re at the movies and accidentally spill that jumbo soda all over your lap, drenching your nicest pair of jeans (and the seat beneath you). Suddenly, flirting is the last thing on your mind and all you can focus on is teleporting home immediately and pretending that the whole thing never happened.
How to salvage it: The best way to recover is to make light of your slip and turn a faux pas into something funny that bonds the two of you closer together. In the case of the spilled soda, you could say with a smile, “Oh well... I was hot, anyway.” If you trip, tell your date: “See, I’m already head over heels for you!” or “You’re making me do crazy things to grab your attention.” (If an injury occurs, though, do seek medical attention before cracking any jokes.) “This shows off your sense of humor and ability to rise above mishaps,” explains Lieberman. Your date will most likely think the whole thing is funny instead of being a turn-off and admire your ability to shrug it away with a smile. “Don’t sit and obsess over your misstep all night, or your date may see you as distracted or uninterested,” warns Dr. Carle. Instead, tell yourself that everyone makes mistakes (because they do, and you’re no exception).
Problem #3: Your date goes from being tipsy to an outright mess early on
You’re only midway through the night and you realize that your date is slurring some words or becoming increasingly loud and obnoxious, much to your horror. Should you just leave? Call this person a cab first? Is this a sign you two simply aren’t meant to be together?
How to salvage it: Barring an actual drinking problem, there’s a good chance that your date is simply nervous or doesn’t realize how strong the drinks are he or she is imbibing. Whatever the reason, it’s perfectly fine for you to gently call him or her out on it. Try saying, “Hey, I think you’ve had one too many and I’m switching to just water from here on out.” Why “This way, your date knows that you’ve noticed and will hopefully rein the drinking in,” says Gary Malone, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Five Keys for Understanding Men: A Woman’s Guide. You can try suggesting he or she order some coffee or simply head outside to sit or walk so that the cool night air will work its magic. However, the only thing that will truly sober someone up is time, so if your date’s in really bad shape, becomes aggressive or is just plain driving you nuts, end the date immediately. (And you deserve a profuse apology the next day, that’s for sure!)
Problem #4: The obnoxious, loud date is... you
You’ve been having a fine time talking all night and downing the better part of a carafe of white-wine sangria. Now, the room is spinning like a pinwheel and you don’t know how to recover... or save your dignity in front of your date. What should you do next?
How to salvage it: Though nothing but time will help cycle the alcohol out of your system, you can still do a few things to try and salvage the evening. First, stop drinking immediately. Then, acknowledge that you may have gone overboard to your date. Say "Wow, those drinks were stronger than I thought" or "I was having such a good time, I didn’t pay attention to how much I was drinking." Here’s how Dr. Carle spins it: “Don’t try to hide that you’re tipsy — it’s very hard to do and chances are good your date has noticed, regardless.” But don’t over-apologize — spending the rest of the night insisting that you “never drink that much” or exclaiming “This is so unlike me!” will make it sound like you really do act like this all the time and are used to making excuses about it.
Stick the date out if you aren’t doing things like acting silly or drawing angry looks from those nearby. If you have trouble walking by yourself or feel like you’re going to be sick, end the date ASAP. (You really don’t need to subject your current companion to that, now do you?) You can say, “Whoops! Those drinks went to my head fast, guess I better get myself home” or just tell your date that you’re tired and ready to leave. Call the next day and apologize — then steer clear of too much alcohol the next time that you two go out.
Problem #5: You accidentally step onto a conversational land mine
You’re ranting about a certain political party and its latest annoying move, but guess who’s a card-carrying member of said party? Yep, your date. Suddenly, your quiet dinner turns into a heated debate that neither of you wants to concede for the sake of your pride.
How to salvage it: You may think your date’s point of view is crazy, and you may adamantly believe that you are, in fact, right. The truth is, it doesn’t matter which one of you is right or wrong — so stop arguing your position. Then, point out where you do have shared similarities; there’s got to be some overlapping gray areas somewhere in your romantic Venn diagram. Try something like, “I find it amusing that we’re such opposites on this one issue, and yet we are so aligned on topics x, y, and z.” You can also salvage the night by moving on to more neutral topics of conversation. Say, “Why don’t we just agree to disagree on this for now?” or “I’d like to enjoy my time with you, so let’s change the subject because I doubt we’re going to be able to change each other’s minds.” Here’s why this tactic works: “You’re saying ‘Let’s put this on the back burner for now’ and allowing yourself to focus on just getting to know each other,” explains Dr. Carle. And if your date wants to keep up the confrontation and hostilely keeps pressing his or her point? You can end the debate with these two simple words: “Check, please!”
Freelance writer Michele Bender once barely survived the night with a smartphone-fixated date.