It sounded like the perfect first date: a concert in the park on a warm night last summer. But before I could meet up with my new crush, the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. Hard. Ducking under an awning, I called my date, who was taking shelter on the other side of town. Over crackling cell phones, we struggled to come up with a new plan. I wanted to grab dinner. He didn’t. He wanted to wait a while and see if the rain let up. I didn’t. I suggested we reschedule. He seemed wounded. We finally met at a bowling alley where I, soaked and starving — and, OK, a wee bit cranky now — turned my attention to the bowl of free corn chips. My date turned his attention to the baseball game on TV.

Our romantic future? In the wise words of the Magic 8-Ball: “Outlook not so good.”

It’s amazing how fast a first date can spiral out of control. A few missteps — an unintentional insult here, a poor venue choice there — and a once-promising rendezvous can morph into a “get me out of here now” situation. So what to do when your date enters Code Blue territory? Here, five expert salvagers from unusual walks of life tell you how to rescue your date from some potential disasters.
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Problem #1: First impression? Color me embarrassed!
Your potential love-match shows up wearing head-to-toe paisley or an “I Love My Schnauzer” sweatshirt — and your attraction to this person high-tails it out of there.

Damage-control tip: Adjust your focus, advises sought-after interior designer Vanessa De Vargas, owner of the vintage showroom Turquoise in Venice Beach, CA. She regularly transforms shabby-looking furniture into stunning, one-of-a-kind pieces. And while you can’t re-upholster your date (if only!), you can try to see beyond the surface. “When I see a vintage furniture item, I always see the potential for what it could be,” says De Vargas. “The bones and craftsmanship are there, but the ‘outfit’ needs a little help.” Attraction can’t be manufactured, but if you feel the chemistry and just dislike the shoes, give it time. Mates have been known to subtly mold each other’s style. So if your interests and values mesh (or you feel that spark), hang in there.

Problem #2: You’re stricken with stage fright
You were so amusing and articulate when you imagined the date in your mind, but now it’s showtime, and you suddenly have nothing to say...

Damage-control tip: “There’s nothing wrong with being prepared!” says stand-up comic Tracie Jayne of New York City. Jayne admits to having stock lines “locked and loaded” to shut down hecklers and help her recover if a joke falls flat. “If I say something wrong, I have a funny line ready to get me out of it,” she explains. Arm yourself with your own foolproof anecdotes and conversation-starters on standby — and practice until you have them down cold. Also, try giving the newspaper a quick once-over that day. At least you’ll be able to chit-chat about local sports then, right?

Problem #3: You put your foot in your mouth
“People who watch The Bachelor really need to get a life!” you say — only to find out that your date is a loyal viewer each season. Or you’re mocking people from New Jersey (their orange tans/inexplicable love of Ed Hardy!) and it turns out that your date grew up in the Garden State.

Damage-control tip: When you insult someone – even inadvertently – you need to apologize immediately to minimize the fallout, says crisis management expert Gerald Baron, author of Now Is Too Late: Survival in an Era of Instant News. “It’s like an oil company that says they place a high value on environmental protection and then has a big oil spill,” Baron says. “They must say they are sorry... and mean it.” Don’t try to quickly change the subject or make a joke about your gaffe. Instead, apologize — and with any luck, your date will give you a chance to prove your sincerity.

Problem #4: Unexpected roadblocks end up derailing your plans
You’re all set to tour the Van Gogh exhibit, but arrive to find that the is museum closed. Or, like my ill-fated park date, the weather throws your plans for a loop. What follows is a frustrating session of, “I dunno. What do you want to do?”

Damage-control tip: Corporate special-events planner Beth Failer always expects the unexpected. “You need to have not only a Plan B, but a Plan C and D,” advises Failer, who works with Deco Productions in Miami, FL. Have back-up locations and alternate activities ready. And if things go off-course? “Stay calm,” she advises. “If you’ve done advance planning, you can pull anything off — and what an impression you’ll make!” Also, don’t get rattled. Staying calm (and not getting grumpy) can go a long way to making even a derailed date into a success.

Problem #5: Arguing with your date
Things were going swell until you somehow stumbled into a discussion about global warming, which turned into a debate... which turned into an arms-crossed stare-down between you and your (now-angry) date.

Damage-control tip: Don’t throw water on a heated discussion, says Scott Para, fire chief in Boonton Township, NJ. Instead of changing the topic (which might seem tempting), listen to the other person’s viewpoint. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to be respectful. “People have different views, and I think that everyone has a point,” says Para, referencing his 50-member department. “Be open-minded.” One area of disagreement doesn’t have to ruin a night — or a relationship. Think about your best friends: Don’t you sometimes have very different opinions than theirs? Say that you agree to disagree on this one, find a lighter topic, and keep the conversation flowing.

Mary Kate Frank’s work appears in the Random House anthology, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers. Sadly, she was not armed with these tips on her last awful date.

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