How To Handle A Bad Date

Men's Dating

How to Handle a Bad Date (11 Expert Tips)

Hunt Ethridge
Hunt Ethridge Updated:
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Bad dates suck — most of us have been on them. If you’re single, then you probably have some bad dates in your future as well, but they don’t have to be as bad as the internet and your friends make them out to be.

You can learn a lot from bad dates, and you can even turn them into a net benefit for you. Let’s get into some things to avoid, deal with, and learn from bad dates.

1. Don’t. Do. The. Dinner. Date.

I can’t stress this tip enough. Personally, I don’t think the dinner date shouldn’t happen until around the third date for multiple reasons. First, it doesn’t set the stage for chemistry. Sitting across from each other, practically unable to touch each other, looking directly into each other’s eyes, can feel awkward and oddly confrontational.

Photo of a dinner date

Dinner dates can be long, and they can feel even longer if you and the other person aren’t really interested in each other.

Also you’re spouting your “dating résumé” on your “dating interview.” It can last a long time, it can be expensive, and it can be embarrassing if you’re trying to eat while not getting food stuck in your teeth.

You should do some activities for the first couple of dates and generally keep them shorter. You want to see how the person interacts with the world and the people in it. There are tons of things you can do. Get coffee, and go for a walk. Do a sip-and-paint night. Go to a local board game meetup.

2. Make the Conversation More Interesting

When people are meeting for the first time, there’s a litany of boring, logical questions they ask: Where are you from? What do you do? Where do you live?

But relationships aren’t logical; they’re emotional. The first and most important thing I teach my clients is to ask positive emotional questions. Instead of “Where did you go to college?” ask “What was the best party you went to in college?” To answer, the person has to think and speak about happy memories.

Photo of a couple talking

If you’re on a bad date in which the conversation is lacking, you may have to put in some effort to bring up some interesting topics.

Have you had wonderful, fun, and amazing things happen to you in your life? Of course, you have, but does anyone ever ask you about them? Probably not. Every person in every room you’re in has had these wonderful moments and would love to talk about them if only they were asked.

3. Go to a New Location

To quote Jimmy Buffet, “Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes.” Basically, where you are can help, for better or worse, determine your mood and attitude.

Photo of a couple bowling

Sometimes changing up the location can make a huge difference on a date.

For example, if you find yourself sitting at a dinner table, you’ve ordered appetizers, you can barely hear each other, and it’s super cold in the restaurant, you may be dreading the rest of the evening. Instead of sucking it up, try and change the mood by going somewhere different. If you’re at a wine bar, go to a dive bar. If you’re at a dive bar, go to a wine bar. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and see if you can get a better rapport going.

4. Use This as an Opportunity to Practice Your Dating Skills

If you’re on a date with someone you know you have zero desire to see again, this is where you can actually have some fun. If you really like them and want to see them again, you may be avoiding certain topics, not going into depth about some questions, or making sure you don’t drink too much. If you know you don’t want to see them again, you have no fear of failure.

Photo of a man talking and smiling

Even if you’re on a bad date, you can still practice your conversational skills.

Use this to practice your dating skills and have some fun at the same time. Bring up every weird question you’ve wanted to ask, do a shot of whiskey at the table, suggest you go streaking, etc. While I’m exaggerating a little, use this time to shake it out and ask questions or tell stories you wouldn’t otherwise. Since you aren’t going to see them again, there’s really no worst-case scenario. Live a little.

5. Be Honest If You’re Having a Difficult Time

Sometimes, actually talking about the difficulty of the date can make it better. If you’re both having awkward conversation, you both know it. It creates a bit of an elephant in the room that you’re both trying to avoid. If you keep trying to pussyfoot around the awkwardness, it’s only going to make it worse.

Photo of the word honesty

Sometimes admitting that the date feels a little awkward to you can ease the tension.

In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu speaks of turning your weaknesses into strengths. If you’re super uncomfortable, face it head on.

Say something like: “I’m so sorry. I’m really nervous. I haven’t been on a date in a hot minute, and I really enjoy talking to you. Let’s move away from this talk of boring work, and let’s talk about some fun stuff.” It can diffuse the situation, give you something to giggle about, and sort of reset the evening after you got your “practice round” in.

6. Don’t Lead Them On

Nothing is worse than not knowing what went wrong or feeling like the person ghosted on you. If you’re in the middle of the date or at the end, and you know it’s not going to work out, just let them know.

Photo of a couple holding hands

If you’re not interested in the person, try not to be overly nice because you feel bad. You can still be polite without leading them on.

Say something like: “I really appreciate the date, but I think we’re looking for different things. I’m going to get going now, but thanks again for the time. I hope you find the right one for you.” Don’t lead them on with false promises of the next date just to avoid an uncomfortable situation at the time.

7. End the Date Early

If you’ve decided that you absolutely cannot be with this person, you can end the date early. There are a ton of ways to do that — from getting your friend to call you with an “emergency” and sabotaging the date by talking about stalking your ex, to going into graphic detail about your surgery and recovery.

Photo of a man looking at his watch

There may be a time when you have to call it and tell your date that you’re simply not interested and going to head home.

While we’ve all done some version of this, I’m not going to go into details because you can find other humorous articles on ideas like those. I want to talk about more adult ways to deal with a bad date. Just remember that karma is a bastard, and don’t be mean about it.

8. Don’t Put Up With Bad Behavior

While it’s good and adult to give it a try and see if you can salvage the date, don’t put up with bad behavior. Just because you said yes to the date that doesn’t mean you’re contractually obligated to stay for the whole time. This is especially true if the person is behaving badly.

Photo of a woman on her phone during a date

If a date is being rude or behaving badly in another way, you don’t have to stay.

If she berates your hobbies or just trash talks all of her exes, this is bad. Many times people get jaded and cynical about dating, especially as they get older. This can leak out into the conversation, and it’s totally not sexy.

Other times, they may have had a bad habit that no one has called them on, and it’s getting worse and worse. If you’re feeling uncomfortable or feel like you’re being attacked in some way, get out of there guilt-free.

9. Play Matchmaker

The person may not be right for you, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t right for someone else. Maybe all they want to talk about is fitness, and you’re more of a Netflix-and-chill sort. Think about single friends you may have. Would any of them be a good fit? Everyone is trying to find happiness, and maybe you can help two other souls find happiness.

Photo of a man holding a heart

Just because this person isn’t right for you doesn’t mean he or she may not get along with a friend or family member of yours.

Heck, your bad date may also just make a good friend. I’ve had plenty of dates that didn’t work out. Sometimes, I invited them into my friend group, and they met others through it.

10. Don’t Blame Yourself. Congratulate Yourself

A large part of dating is mental. If you have a bad date, you may feel like berating yourself. Don’t. It’s just a lesson about dating, not a reflection on your own worthiness.

Photo of a man doing a thumbs up

Remember that bad dates are a time for learning about yourself and others.

Instead, you have to learn to congratulate yourself and boost your self-esteem. Say to yourself: “I’m glad I found out that they weren’t right for me before I wasted more time/effort/money on them” or “Hey, at least I got out, interacted with the world, and put myself in play.”

It doesn’t mean that it won’t sting. It will, but if you can learn to pat yourself on the back, it makes it so much easier to get out there and back in the saddle again.

11. Learn to Self-Analyze

One of the biggest things I try and teach my clients is how to self-analyze. Every time you leave a date (or any interaction, for that matter), ask yourself “What did I do right?” It can be lots of things: I picked a good place to have the date. I made her laugh. I asked some good questions.

Photo of a man thinking

At the end of a bad date, think about things you may have done that can be improved upon next time.

You’ll always have done something right, and while it’s good to want to improve, it’s also very important to congratulate yourself on what you did right. Then ask yourself “What could I have done better?” Notice I didn’t say “What did I do wrong?” The words we use, even in our own mind, can influence us unknowingly. Don’t say you did anything wrong.

However, do think about some things that you may do differently: I shouldn’t have talked so much about my high school sports team. I learned that asking about past dates is not a good idea. I would have given her a kiss on the cheek at the end instead of trying to shake her hand.

This way, after every date, you can calibrate what you did and improve it each time.

Bad Dates Happen to Pretty Much Everyone — What Matters is How You Make the Most of the Situation

If you’re dating and looking for your long-term partner, you’ll absolutely have some bad dates. I once had a woman on the first date tell me that she decided she was going to get married that same year. Another date got so drunk that I had to take her home and put her to bed. Just keep your head up and have fun, and hopefully, your good humor and ability to let things go will find you a keeper who makes everything worth it.