First Dates: How Short is Too Short?

Here are some ideas for a graceful exit from a bad date.

Posted May 31, 2018

Sometimes you know from the outset that a first date is going to be a last date. However, if you've chosen to meet up with someone for coffee or dessert as a potential prelude to long-term romance, it is kind to give that person the benefit of the doubt and spend, say, 45 minutes to an hour together so you can both have time to determine if a second date is likely to ever happen.

If you are truly offended, appalled, or frightened by your date, though, then finding an escape route might be advised. If you’re being disrespected or treated poorly, even in the first few minutes, cut your losses and exit with as much grace as possible. This is a lot easier, of course, if you’ve already planned for an abbreviated or time-limited first meet-up. Meeting for coffee before you go off to plans with other friends is a great way to schedule a first meeting. If you've got a clear strategy for the date, and let your date know just how long you can stay, it's more comfortable all around.

Can You Trust Your Instincts?

Probably everyone has experienced an instant attraction to another person, whether a response to instant sexual chemistry or just the instant “click” felt when some people meet a potential friend for the first time.

There’s a reason we have these instant attractions, but it’s not always that “instant click” that we feel when we meet all potential partners or friends. In romantic relationships, the “click” usually just indicates that the part of our primitive brain that is focused on survival of the species has registered the “instant crush” as a potential parent of future children. Even if you aren’t at a place where kids are an option or a hope, our genetic programming is still ensuring the survival of the species, and more specifically, the survival of your gene pool.

Sometimes, we have an “instant dislike” for a person – and sometimes we know the reason and other times, we just can’t put our finger on it. Our “warning system” of danger is every bit as important as our “love at first sight response system” happens to be

There’s controversy over whether or not you should always “trust your gut,” but it’s very true that your gut instinct sends up warnings to your head that encourage you to make specific decisions. If your gut is warning you off from a particular person, especially at a first meeting, then it could be protecting you from harm.

Your “gut instinct” is usually working off of information from your past experiences and it is designed to keep you from making a risky mistake. However, the gut is not always foolproof, even though it’s able to convince us it is. If a date is showing behaviors reflective of a prior partner in a failed relationship, it makes sense that your gut is trying to protect you. Or if your date seems a bit shady or is trying too hard or being too vague about what should be straightforward matters (like what your date does for a living, current living situation, etc.), and that makes you uncomfortable, then listen to your gut.

Gut Reactions: Love at First Sight might not Exist

While lots of people are still hoping for “love at first sight,” research indicates that this is a state that might be “fondly remembered” by a couple who never, ever experienced it, per se. It seems that “love at first sight” is more about instant sexual attraction, not about stars being in alignment and violins playing. And couples who “remembered” falling in love at first sight are few and far between – it’s fun to imagine that this was how you felt about your significant other, but it’s seldom a shared phenomenon.

Get Out when the Circumstances are Right

When a first date is something “bigger” or “high stakes,” like dinner or an event, it can seem more challenging to make a quick escape when you realize that this person is not the right one for you. However, leading someone on and then dropping that person hard can be much more emotionally painful than exiting a first date before you’ve ordered or the concert has started. Leaving super-early doesn’t stretch out the inevitable break-off, but it also will allow the “left-behind” party a chance to save face, to some degree. They can be angry that they were not given a fair chance, so they can blame the failure of the date on you. If you give them an entire evening -- when you know that you'll never go out on another date with them, they may be left feeling that they have failed miserably – and feel more taken advantage of than if you just made an exit after 15 minutes.

Tips for a Drama-Free Early Exit

  1. “Disappearing” after a trip to the restroom or surreptitiously texting a friend and asking them to call or text you with an “urgent” need may seem like a couple of the easiest ways to exit early, but those are poor form. Few of us enjoy this type of ambiguity, so be an adult and let your date know that things just aren’t working out the way you’d hoped.
  2. When you cut the evening short, blame yourself, not your date. A phantom excuse that really puts an end to any future pursuits is better than an excuse that leaves the door open for more attempts at re-scheduling. If you know you’re not going to be open to a “rain check,” let your date know that you just don’t feel that you’re the best match for one another and that you’re not interested in a repeat performance.
  3. Remember that rejection is never any fun – and if your date has already imagined a long-term romance with you as anticipation about the date built, they might suffer some serious emotional fall-out. That’s your date’s issue, however, not something you need to fix!
  4. Treat your date the way that you would want to be treated by someone who decided after 20 minutes that a relationship wasn’t going to work. That means be thoughtful, be considerate of your date’s feelings, but be honest.
  5. Don’t forget that ending a date after 20-30 minutes is not “ending a relationship,” it’s simply acknowledging that you don’t believe that there’s enough between you to even begin to build a relationship.