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 disastrous territory? Here, five experts from unusual walks of life tell you how to rescue your date from some potential chemistry-busters.

Mistake #1: Your date’s outfit is not to your taste and you let it distract you instead of genuinely getting to know this person
Let’s imagine that 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. While this is unlikely, it’s possible that someone running late might come directly from work still wearing his or her job-issued uniform (think: bus driver, parking enforcement officer, bank teller, bartender, etc.).

Solution: 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, you can try to see beyond the surface and focus on the person within. “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.
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Mistake #2: You’re stricken with stage fright and unable to think of anything to say during your date-night conversation
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...

Solution: “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. To apply this tactic, arm yourself pre-date by having your own foolproof anecdotes and conversation-starters on standby — and practice telling them to friends and family until you have each one down cold. Also, try giving news websites or local publications a quick once-over that day. At least you’ll be able to talk about current events with your date, right?

Mistake #3: You put your foot in your mouth and inadvertently cause offense
“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 who don’t eat gluten because it’s a “Hollywood fad” just before your date reveals his or her recent Celiac disease diagnosis.

Solution: 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 that 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.

Mistake #4: Unexpected roadblocks end up derailing your initial plans
You’re all set to tour the Van Gogh exhibit, but arrive to find that the museum is closed for a wedding. Or the weather turns your park date into a flash flood plain, leaving you stuck in the car with no secondary plans to fall back on. What follows is a frustrating session of, “I dunno. What do you want to do?”

Solution: Corporate special-events planner Beth Failer of Miami, FL says that she always expects the unexpected. “You need to have not only a Plan B, but a Plan C and D,” advises Failer, who is a sales executive for Marriott International. Have back-up locations and alternate activities ready. And if things go off-course? “Stay calm,” Failer advises. “If you’ve done some advance planning, you can pull anything off — and what an impression you’ll make!” Also, don’t let unexpected issues get you rattled. Staying calm (and not getting irritable about it) can go a long way to making even a derailed date into a successful, albeit unexpected one.

Mistake #5: Arguing with your date and letting it escalate until you’re both feeling uncomfortable
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 staring contest between you and your (now-angry) date. What should you do next?

Solution: 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 first. 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 then 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.