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Dating Manners That Matter


You might worry about how you look when you’re on a blind date, but there’s something much more important to consider: your manners.

By Mark Amundsen

atherine Hutt, a communications consultant in Vienna, VA, was not having a nice time.

“I had a blind date last week with a guy who did not take off his ball cap in the restaurant, held his fork in his fist like a toddler, and scrapped up every morsel on his plate as if he was starving to death,” Hutt says. “Then he let the check sit on the
Keep your word. If you don’t plan to call, don’t say that you will.
table for a good 10 minutes before saying, ‘I guess we can just split this down the middle.’ It was our first and last date!”

Saying that some people act as if they were raised in a barn is an insult to cows. We’re not just talking about not knowing how to use a salad fork. Barking at waiters, coughing with an uncovered mouth, wiping lips on the tablecloth, showing no interest in the other person — these are all good means of ensuring no second date. Demonstrating poor manners on a first date is like answering your cell phone during a job interview; you may think you’re so valuable that others should overlook your little peccadilloes, but that pile of quirks may be higher than you think — and impossible to ignore.

“No matter how times change, what works in relationships remains surprisingly the same,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. “Although behaving badly seems to be a trend in movies and TV these days, rude and irresponsible behavior is deadly to relationships. Continuing to see someone who is rude, thoughtless, or narcissistic is simply asking for a relationship problem.”

With that in mind, here are some pointers on good dating manners for the hopelessly unmannered, or for anyone who could use some refreshers.

Don’t Forget the Basics
Sue Fox, author of the invaluable Etiquette for Dummies, has heard it all: “One of the worst examples I’ve heard is that a person on a date was having dinner at a Chinese restaurant when her date begin to use his chopsticks to scratch his head — with the eating end of the chopsticks! Yipes! (Both ends are unacceptable!)”

Fox reminds us that the most important manners are usually the simplest; they’re the ones that they tried to get in our heads as children. Here are some of the biggies:
  • Be on time!
  • Be thoughtful of the other person’s feelings, space and property.
  • Don’t make sarcastic comments that degrade anyone else.
  • Don’t boast.
  • Always use your best table manners.
  • Be a sincere listener; ask questions of the other person, just nothing too personal.
  • Keep your word. If you don’t plan to call, don’t say that you will.
  • Don’t talk about how much something costs.
  • Never gossip or repeat a rumor.
  • Go out of your way to put your date at ease.
  • Always have cash or a credit card with you, even if you don’t expect to pay.
  • Say please, thank you and you’re welcome.
If you’d like to be treated like an adult, it’s best to act like one, too. Even if the date doesn’t go particularly well, at least you can’t blame it on your own carelessness.

Create an Electronics-Free Zone
Match.com polled 2,600 members to ask, “What’s the worst mistake a blind date can make?” “Showing up late” got a lot of votes, as did “Not asking me about myself,” but by far the most votes — 45 percent — went to “Answering the phone or texting during the date.”

We seem to be so addicted to our gizmos these days that we don’t even know
It is always a good idea to have your own transportation on a first date.
when we’re letting them interfere with the people around us. Pedestrians with earplugs seem oblivious to everything; people text in the car, in the bathtub, at the dinner table, in bed — you get the idea.

The point being, there is a good time to be connected via the latest technology and a first date is not it. If you’re expecting a business call you must take, or the hospital to let you know your new kidney has arrived, then sure — but warn your date ahead of time. When the call comes in, excuse yourself and take the call elsewhere so your date doesn’t appear to be getting snubbed right at the table. If an unexpected (but important) call comes through — from your babysitter, for example — you probably ought to answer it, but make apologies and excuse yourself so your date doesn’t have to hear the conversation. If it’s just your friend calling to see how the date is going, it can wait.

Think About the Big Picture
In the movie Blast from the Past, Brendan Fraser’s character — sealed in a bomb shelter for 35 years — has been brought up with perfect table manners. “You know, I asked him about that,” says his newfound friend, Troy (played by Dave Foley). “He said that good manners are just a way of showing other people we have respect for them. See, I didn’t know that. I thought it was just a way of acting all superior.”

If you’re concerned about your behavior, look into means of correcting it. But also think about what the root problem might be, too. Impatience, self-absorption, an inability to consider the feelings of others, road rage, kleptomaniacal tendencies with the restaurant silverware — all of these could be signs of more ingrained issues.

Assuming that’s not the case, basic etiquette should not be beyond your grasp. As Fox says, “Etiquette is your key to surviving every human contact with your sense of humor and your self-esteem intact, and your reputation enhanced. Etiquette works in supermarket checkout lines, at family picnics, company holiday parties, on the phone, online, at wedding receptions, and yes, when on a date.”

My Date Is an Orangutan! Now What?
Suppose your manners are just dandy but your date is an irredeemable slob. It’s too late to pretend you’re someone else, and climbing out the restroom window looks dicey. What do you do?

“Depending on how bad the behavior is, use your own judgment when deciding whether you should end the date early,” says Fox. “If you experience something really disturbing, you don't have to stay.” It is always a good idea to have your own transportation on a first date.

But Fox understands that manners are not everything. “If their manners have ‘room for improvement,’ of course give them another chance. Just watch for the red flags! Also, you never want to correct anyone’s behavior, unless it's a very close friend or relation. If you do correct someone, be discreet; you don’t want to correct anyone in front of others, and if possible use some humor,” advises Fox.

As Dr. Tessina says, “If you model good behavior and manners yourself, you’ll influence the person you’re dating in a positive way — or at least make his or her bad behavior stand out so you can see it clearly.”

So Relax — Just Don’t Do Anything Wrong!
Don’t panic. An effort to be considerate of others is far more important than knowing how much to tip the guy who hails you a cab (unless, perhaps, you’re the guy who hails the cabs). Try to learn the rules if you don’t already know them, but realize that having a philosophy of respect for others and a sense of humor about yourself always makes you more attractive.


Mark Amundsen, a writer and editor in New York (where everyone has nice manners), is working on a book about the pervasiveness of slovenly culture.
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