It’s safe to say that love—even finding love—is, indeed, a battlefield. Sure you might “meet” someone via OK Cupid or Tinder, but they have to transfer into the 3-D world at some point. And at that point, what if things go horribly awry? What if the evening is a crashing bore? What if you have nothing in common? What if the person has waited until you meet to tell you they voted for Trump? What if the person has waited until you meet to tell you they voted for Hillary?
Fear not, Takeout readers: We care too much about you to send you out there without some valuable info, culled from our—and our friends’—years of experience. We’ve have drafted a variety of escape routes for the first awkward restaurant date gone wrong. They range from the fairly gentle to the full-on nuclear option, only to be deployed when you really need to just GTFO. We hope that even if you don’t use one of our methods, you know enough to make sure your roommate or sibling knows where you are, right?
And good for you for getting out there in the first place. Hey, that person you just ditched last week may have sucked, but who knows? Maybe the next one is a winner.
Don’t go for a full dinner. If you’re meeting someone who’s a mere 20 text messages away from a perfect stranger, don’t commit to a full dinner. A more casual spot where you can choose just drinks, or drinks and a couple small plates, means each new round of drinks or dishes is a chance to call it a night. Really nervous? Pick a coffee shop. But if you really insist on a proper meal...
Pick a place where the food comes out quickly. Maybe don’t go for fast food, but pick a restaurant you’ve tried where the food comes out fast (may we suggest Chinese, tapas, Buffalo wings), or is already pre-cooked (barbecue). Skip the places that specialize in beef wellingtons or whole-roasted anything.
Develop a code with your server. A friend who’s recently waded back into the online dating swamp passed along this tip: Arrive at the designated bar or restaurant 15 minutes early, and explain to your server that you’re on a blind date. Establish a code: If you ask for a glass of sparkling water, the server should ask whether you’re wrapping up. Or, if you ask for a glass of lemon water, you want the check ASAP. Then, when the bill shows up, all you have to do is plunk down your cash and beeline for the door.
Bring cash. “Check please?” The evening didn’t go well, and now it’s time to skedaddle. But waiting for your server to split the bill or—gulp—itemizing the dishes and drinks with your awkward date sucks. Better to have cash on hand so you can throw it down and scoot.
Build in an excuse. When you’re arranging the date, casually mention plans you’ve made the next morning (“Could we meet on the earlier side? I have a 10K race/babysitting obligation/visit with grandma the next day.”) or later in the evening (“I’m meeting my friends later for a birthday dinner”) as a safeguard. If you don’t need to use the excuse, it’s just a white lie; if you do, you’ve laid the groundwork to cut the date short.
The phone-a-friend trick. This one is by now almost cliche, but it’s still slightly less rude than straight-up ghosting: Ask a friend to call or text you during your date with an emergency that requires you to leave. You can set this up ahead of time—text me at 7:15 and say my dog is throwing up—or make an emergency SOS request from the bar’s bathroom.
The running-into-friends trick. Same as above, except you’ve arranged for your friends to show up at the same bar where your date is taking place an hour after it’s scheduled to begin. You’ve got a code down: If things are going well, you won’t say anything when they walk in. If you’re in need of saving, you can flag them down—“what a coincidence!”—and find an excuse to leave with them.
Spill something on yourself. If you’re wearing a shirt you don’t mind sacrificing to the cause, there’s nothing like a giant red wine stain to end the evening. It’s sad to see a good $13 glass of cabernet go to waste, but in the face of a truly horrific date, it’s a fair price to pay. If it makes enough of a mess, you can explain there’s just no way you can stay out in public, and you need to get home to soak the clothing stat. Cruise through the H&M sale rack or Old Navy for basics priced below $10 that are ready and willing to absorb your “mistake.”
Just be honest and say this isn’t working out. Honesty is refreshing! It takes some guts and maturity, but a straight-forward “thanks for the $5 house wine, see ya later” is probably the best policy. Try using that “we” language to make it seem less like rejection and more like a mutual decision: “It’s clear we just don’t have much in common. Neither of us wants to waste time, so while I appreciate you meeting up with me, I think we can agree it’s not a good fit.”
Fake food poisoning. How’s your acting ability? If you need to get out of there, don’t really care about seeing the person again, but would like them to save face slightly, fake some food poisoning or similar illness. Since it’s your first and only date, you can get as gross as you like. In fact, the grosser you get, the less remorse that person will feel upon your departure. To perfect the art of dry-heaving, there’s no better actress to emulate than It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson, who has finessed faux-throwing up into high art.
Ghosting. Yes, you may feel slightly guilty about your manners, since you were likely brought up to be polite. But if a person is exceptionally heinous (racist, sexist, angry, intimidating) and there’s no need to extend the excruciating evening, you have our permission to ghost. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom and bail. Drop a $20 at the hostess table on your way out to cover the bill if you must, but take off.
Beloved Takeout commenteriat, please sure your most-effective bailing strategy below. Thank you kindly.