I once went on a first (and last) date with a guy who broke the ice by telling me that he had been deported from England on criminal charges. There was more — something about a scheme to steal money from his wealthy parents — but I was hardly listening by that point. All I could think was: “Why are you telling me this?!”

Because, truth is, most of us know what you should never say on a first date. Words like “felony” jump to mind. But what about the more subtle subjects you’re best not broaching right off the bat? We polled both experts and real men and women about the other deal-breakers — those topics so deadly they guarantee there won’t be a date #2. Here, four subjects usually thought to be acceptable, but in truth are likely to scare off a potential love:

Discussion deal-breaker #1: Your romantic past
Here’s the problem with bringing up your former flame (let’s call him Brad): If you trash Brad, it sounds like you’re not over him yet. If you talk him up, that also makes it seem like you’re not over him. And if you mention that you’re still in touch with the guy, what your date hears is: “You’re OK for a free steak or two, but if Brad is drunk and calls me at 3 a.m., I am so there.”

And men are just as likely as women to make this first date faux pas, as Maria Amor of San Diego found out. “I went out with a guy who had a broken leg, so we had to hang out at his apartment. I asked him what he did all day and he said he played Xbox — a gift from his ex-girlfriend!” Maria recalls. “Then he went on about how she was so supportive during tough situations (meanwhile, I’m fluffing the pillow under his feet!). I had to sit there and listen to how wonderful that girl was. Right then I decided I would be his ‘pillow-fluffer’ no more.”
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Jill Kleiner’s date never got a clue, either. “He kept telling me all the great places he went with his ex-girlfriend,” says the Stirling, NJ resident. “All night I had to hear about all the fantastic things they used to do together.” So Jill just happened to be “busy” when he asked her out a second time. Jill’s (wisely) holding out for a guy who wants to plot future adventures — with her.

Discussion deal-breaker #2: Talking about kids
Want to scare the life out of your first date? Say this word: baby. Or this one: pregnant. Or these two: biological clock. In fact, there are only three times you should ever bring up kiddos when out with a new guy: if you have one, if he has one, or if one’s screaming so loudly you need to leave the restaurant.

“There’s no such thing as small talk about kids; it’s always a loaded subject,” says Laura Leu, a relationship expert at Stuff magazine. Chris Suttile, a single guy in Chicago, says amen to that. “I barely know what I’m doing after lunch, let alone next week,” he says. “Kids = pressure, pressure, pressure... and pressure = no second date.”

Heck, once you’ve got a few great dates under your belt, you can mention that you love buying your niece clothes at BabyGap. By that point, he’ll be comfortable and know it means that you’re a proud aunt, not that you’re planning on having your own baby ASAP.

Discussion deal-breaker #3: Using pet names
So you and he are really hitting it off — by the time your entrees arrive, you can’t take your eyes off each other and you’re finishing each other’s sentences. It may feel like you’re an old married couple, but better not say, “How’s your tuna, Pookie?” unless Pookie is what’s printed on his driver’s license.

Less creative terms of endearment are also no-no’s, according to Mike Adams of Chicago. “On one date, by the end of dinner, I was being called ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ — repeatedly,” he says. “I’m all for pet names once you know someone, but never on a first date. It makes you feel trapped in a relationship that hasn’t even begun and probably just crash-landed before leaving the gate.”

Discussion deal-breaker #4: Talking about your pets
You say, “I have a cat.”
He thinks, “That’s cool.”
You say, “You have to meet Mr. Fluffum! I hope he likes you — he gets very jealous of other men! He does this thing where he sleeps on my tummy — it’s sooo cute!”
He thinks: “Did she just call her cat Mr. Fluffum?!”

Unless you met your date at the dog run or a PETA rally, it’s best to keep conversations about furry friends to a minimum, says Charlotte Reed, a pet expert in New York. “Trust me, your date will think you are crazy if you say too much,” she says. Part of the problem is it’s hard to talk about your precious little Fido without talking in a squeaky baby voice — which sounds certifiable to everyone but you and Fido. And amazingly cute/heroic/gifted pet stories don’t translate well (we know, you had to be there!).

Plus, first dates are all about looking for subtle signs of weirdness — or not-so-subtle signs, such as teaching your cat to use the toilet. Pet talk can land you in the “rather odd” category before you have a chance to show what a cool person you really are. Bottom line: Let your new sweetie discover the magic of Mr. Fluffum in his or her own sweet time.

Lisa Lombardi is a New York-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Redbook, Child, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan. Her cat’s name is not Mr. Fluffum.