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What to do when your date lets you down

Carlton Boyce / 11 January 2019

Disappointing date? There are ways to negotiate your way around almost any awkward situation - here are just a few...

A man waits for his date in a restaurant

If you’re reading this then the chances are that you’ve already experienced how disappointing life can be; whether your single status has come about via death or divorce, the thought of starting a relationship with someone new can be daunting.

And exciting. While few of us expected to be single at this stage in our life, there is no denying that a fresh start gives us another chance to meet the person of our dreams, someone to support and guide us through what might just be the best years of our lives.

The flipside is that our expectations can be so high that even minor hiccups can assume epic proportions - and few hiccups are as irritating, frustrating and downright annoying as being let down by a date, especially if you’ve been looking forward to it for days!

But there are ways to negotiate your way around almost any awkward situation, and here are some of my favourites.

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Your date lied

Everyone lies to one extent or another, even if it’s just to tell a loved one that no, of course your bum doesn’t look big in that. Problems occur when your date lies about more important stuff like their age, relationship status, what they do for a living, or the hobbies they enjoy.

When the lie is exposed (and lies do have a habit of becoming apparent, don’t they?), it’s tempting to walk away, either physically or emotionally. And that might well be the best course of action in some cases, but in others a bit of understanding might rescue a relationship that is otherwise worth saving.

If you feel like there is something between you, try asking them why they lied. While almost any lie in inexcusable, they might just be feeling insecure and so felt that they needed to bolster their desirability via the odd fib, in much the same way as a lot of us used to write creative CVs when we were first starting out in our careers.

If they own up to fibbing, then the relationship might be worth saving but if they deny it or, even worse, continue to lie, then you are probably better off walking away and finding someone you can trust to be honest and truthful, no matter what the circumstance.

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They exaggerated

While lies and exaggerations might seem like the same thing, I’m not sure they are. Fans of The Clash will recall that the band acknowledged that exaggeration is an integral part of any good story when they sung: “An' you know what they said? Well some of it was true.”

 So, while I think that a slight exaggeration is perfectly acceptable if it’s used only to turn a good story into a great one, I do recognise that it can be a tricky path to negotiate; one person’s harmless hyperbole might be another’s outright lie.

If exaggeration only bothers you a little bit, you could try saying something like: “I never know with you if what you say is true or whether you just tell a great story!”

On the other hand, if it really bothers you then it’s perfectly OK to walk away; even Gerald Durrell and James Herriot, two of my favourite childhood authors, wrote more fiction than they did autobiography, which was a crushing blow to the adult me when I discovered that almost everything they wrote had been embellished, mis-attributed, or simply made up for the amusement of their readers.

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Their online dating profile photo was clearly taken years ago

The use of a decades’ old profile photo is more common than you might imagine; I’ve lost count of the number of dates I’ve been on where the person I’m sitting talking to looks nothing like the photograph they used for their profile picture.

Now, I have no problem with a few extra wrinkles and grey hair (as you’ll have noticed, I’m in no position to judge…) but if you were to feel a bit cheated, then I could understand why.

I know people who are confident enough to say “Gosh, you look nothing like your photo!” but I’m not one of them. I sit, instead, and try to focus on what they’re saying and to see beyond the way they look. This makes me feel noble - and sometimes it even works.

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They spend the date only talking about themselves

Sitting opposite someone who finds their own life, interests, and habits more interesting than anything you’ve got to say is one of the hardest situations to deal with. Few of us are brave enough to say something outright, so we end up spending the evening making a series of interested faces, along with encouraging murmurs and anodyne comments.

If anyone has an answer as to how you can combat this sort of thing, then I’d love to hear it because all I’ve ever managed to do is cut the evening short with a “Gosh, is that the time?”-type comment before beating an early retreat.

What’s that smell?

It’s only happened to me once, but the memory of it haunts me, even now. I’d been on a date that went fabulously. We laughed and joked and talked for hours, so when we were parting, kissing her seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

She thought so too, and it was only mid-kiss that I realised that her breath was so bad I could actually taste it.

A better person than me would have found a way to raise the subject. I couldn’t think of any way of doing so that wouldn’t have sounded cruel and hurtful. Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section if you’ve found tactful way of raising this thorniest of issues.

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A late date

Few things irritate me more than lateness. I think it’s rude and disrespectful; in my mind, the other person is essentially saying that they don’t value you enough to be punctual. But, I’m probably something of an anachronism because almost everyone is late these days and no-one seems to bat an eye.

If someone rings me to let me know that the traffic is especially heavy and they’re struggling to get there on time, then I’ll inwardly sigh (even though I’m always early simply to allow for things like that…) but not get too irritated. If they turn up half-an-hour late without an apology, they’ll probably find me gone because I’ll give someone fifteen minutes leeway, and if I haven’t heard from them by then, I’ll get up and go home.

The way I see it, punctuality is so important to me that I simply couldn’t be in a relationship with anyone who was rude enough to be late without an explanation or an apology. You are probably more forgiving and easy going than me, in which case why not take a paperback along so you’ve got something to do while you’re waiting? If nothing else, it’ll mark you out as a person of taste and intelligence compared to everyone else who will be playing on their phone and photographing their food…

They didn’t show up to the date at all

What about the date that never even appears? I might give them a second chance if they gave a plausible excuse, but certainly wouldn’t make the first move to find out what the problem was, if for no other reason than I’d feel a bit upset if they were honest enough to say they’d changed their mind about meeting me. (Yes, I really am that shallow.)

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Is it just first-date nerves?

While some of us are capable of radiating calm in the face of even the most overwhelming circumstances (I learned this one very early on in my career because no one wants to see a prison governor panicking, do they?), almost everyone will be nervous before a first date.

And nerves can make people do some very odd things; only recently, I ordered spaghetti on a first date, despite having a fulsome beard that is more than capable of hiding a couple of spoonfuls of sauce with ease. The company was as good as the food, but I spent the whole evening nervously mopping my beard with a napkin hoping desperately that I wasn’t just smearing Bolognese sauce even further afield rather than delicately patting it away.

So, if your date is gabbling away, knocking drinks over, fidgeting, or otherwise indulging in weird behaviour it might just be nerves. If so, why not confess yours? It’ll make you seem modest and unassuming and might give them the space and courage to admit to their own. You can then both laugh about it and get on with enjoying the evening.

The counterpoint…

But, while I do think it’s worth remembering that while nerves can make people behave in odd ways, people are generally on their best behaviour of the first few dates, so things are unlikely to improve down the line if they’re behaving badly so early on the relationship. I ignored some very clear early warning signs in one serious relationship, and regretted not finishing it before I’d fallen in love with her.

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What are they wearing?

While we all have our own style, it would be easy to be disappointed if your date turned up wearing a pair of old jeans and a tattered t-shirt. Even if, like so many of us, they’ve swapped a lavish lifestyle and a well-paid job they hate for borderline poverty and a job they love, there’s no excuse for dressing in a slovenly fashion, is there?

Again, it’s hard not to sound snobbish but I would hope that a date would want to impress me just a little bit, and dressing too casually seems to be a bit like being late; it shows a lack of respect and consideration.

(But, when I’m cosily ensconced in a relationship you’d better be ready for me binge-watching Netflix TV series in my PJ trousers and an old sweatshirt…)

Dressing for a first date

Oh no! I think my date hates me…

Of course, a disappointing first date might be because they don’t like you. I know, weird, huh?

But, if they’re constantly looking at their watch, glancing at the door, and replying in a monotone voice then it might be better for you both to finish your drinks and leave sooner rather than later.

And, please don’t take it personally; it’s completely unrealistic to expect everyone we meet to like us, although I, like you, will probably spend at least a few minutes mulling the evening over in my mind to try and identify what I did ‘wrong’. Of course, the answer is that I probably didn’t do anything wrong but that doesn’t help in the wee small hours of the morning, does it?

Is it your fault?

On the other hand, if you love hill-walking and hate smoking, did you make that clear on your profile? If not, you can’t really complain if your date keeps disappearing for a ciggie and confides that the countryside is their idea of hell, can you?

Similarly, if you set your expectations too high, they’re never going to be met and you’re going to be doomed to an endless succession of dates, none of which are going to live up to your internally generated hype. It might be tempting to run through a forthcoming date in your mind, but by doing so you’re imposing your own expectations, values, and beliefs on a situation over which you only have partial control.

It’s far better to just go with the flow and accept that there will be parts of the evening that will delight and surprise you and parts during which you’ll be wondering how soon you can make your excuses and leave. But that’s life, isn’t it? And, if the good outweighs the bad, then you’re more than halfway towards a fulfilling and loving relationship.

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Help, they want a second date!

One of the hardest situations is the awkward moment when they ask if you’d like to meet again and all you can think is that you’d rather gnaw your own arm off than spend another evening with them.

I’ve found that smiling and saying something like “I’ve had a lovely evening, thank you, but I’m not sure that elusive spark was there, was it?” usually leads to them agreeing with me, leaving us both free to wander off with our sense of self-worth intact.

In summary

I think everyone is entitled to be an idiot once. But, if they do it a second time, then they’re probably showing you their true self, so take note: while lateness probably doesn’t bother the majority of people, it’s a real deal-breaker for me, so would probably rule out a second date. Similarly, if you’re the quiet type who doesn’t mind listening, someone who talks about themself incessantly might be your perfect match.

But, if you’re to take anything from this at all it would be to get out there and enjoy yourself. While we are all looking for that one special person to share our life with, there’s absolutely nothing to stop us having a series of interesting drinks and meals with people we find fascinating along the way; that there is no romantic or sexual attraction isn’t there needn’t be a bar to having a fabulous evening.

And, as long as both of you understand the rules, there’s also nothing wrong with using your dating life to make new friends of the opposite sex either. After all, we’re all getting a bit too old to feel threatened by that sort of thing, aren’t we?

So my advice is to relax, enjoy your new life, and set your expectations at a reasonable level. If you do, you might just find that true love sneaks up on you while you’re busy having fun.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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