How To Safely And Smoothly Leave A Bad Date

The 30 minutes before a first date can be nerve-wracking and thrilling, especially if the person you're about to meet is a total gem. And once you're on the date, if it starts going south — the chemistry's off, they're rude, or you're irretrievably bored by each other — be diplomatic yet honest. Then leave. There are zero reasons to prolong a bad date.

The first key to safely and smoothly leaving one is to listen to your intuition and act on it. Notice how your gut and body respond to this person. Therapist Beverly Engel shared with Psychology Today that as women, we are culturally conditioned and, to some extent, 'biologically predisposed' to be 'nice,' avoid confrontation and respond in a caring manner. Many of us have been programmed to please others rather than inhabit our own preferences. Yet avoiding conflict can negatively impact all relationships and even undermine our health. And as modern women, it's ultimately our responsibility to choose our partners and friends.

You can politely conclusively thank someone and leave. However, when it's an unsafe date, you may need to use other strategies to stay safe. If your date ever gets pushy, you can use de-escalation techniques. For example, ask them to slow down their speech so you can understand them better — this might pull your date out of an argumentative mode. There are additional techniques below.

Plan ahead to stay safe

Spontaneity is exciting for a first date, but you'll actually be able to relax more if you keep yourself safe by pre-planning your rendezvous. Before you meet in real life, consider pre-screening your date on a video call. Use that time to decide if you really do want to get together.

You might enlist a trusted friend or family member to act as an official contact during the date. Let them know your date's name, send them a photo of what they look like, and give them the address and time you'll meet. Ask for a call, not text, at a specific time and then say you're on a date with so-and-so and you'll catch up later. This lets your friend know everything's fine and lets your date know your friends are looking out for you. If the date goes bad, plan to step away to take the call and then be prepared to leave.

As you're planning, agree to meet — and stay — in a public location. If you arrange a one-hour first date, like coffee at 3PM, then the stakes are lower. You can always extend it if you're having a wonderful time. Dating coach and matchmaker Asa Baav suggests that whether it's your own car, public transportation, or ride-share service, plan ahead to know exactly how you'll get home. 

Red flags to watch out for

Enjoy yourself once you're in full first-date mode, but be on the lookout for subtle red flags. The obvious deal breakers include someone showing up late without an apology or explanation, constantly checking their phone, or rudeness. But there are also less obvious yet equally important red flags to watch out for. At the top of that list: honor that intuitive message if you feel uncomfortable around them but don't know why.

Take note if your date drills you non-stop with questions that feel intrusive. You're out of sync when you both have to constantly re-explain what was just said. If they tell mean or bigoted jokes, that won't improve over time. If one or both of you drift from the conversation, eyes glazed, it doesn't necessarily mean something's wrong, just that you're maybe not a good fit. Similarly, if you're both trying valiantly to keep the conversation afloat, but it's peppered with awkward pauses, it's probably not working. And if the conversation is flowing but they leave early, well, they may not be interested in you.

A date who shows up dressed sloppily or with questionable hygiene is an instant no. People do drink alcohol socially, but if your date is pounding down beer after beer, that may signal deeper issues that aren't yours to resolve. Pay attention if it seems like they only want sex and don't care about getting to know you.

Smoothly leaving a bad date

If any of those red flags are active, being honest yet polite is a good formula to end your date, and it's more considerate than ghosting. You might say, "Thank you. I'm glad we got to meet. I'm not really feeling a connection, so I need to get going." If that's too direct, you can keep it vague: "My schedule's been really busy lately, so I'm going to call it a night. Thank you."

If they want to give you a ride home or offer to wait with you, you can thank them, say you've got a ride coming, and excuse yourself to the restroom. The SEPS Women's Self-Defense Program suggests that women use de-escalation techniques on anyone who becomes or might become aggressive.

SEPS teaches women to stay in control: "Any time you attempt to resolve a conflict through de-escalation, you should look to do so with a confident and unapologetic manner." If you sense a genuine threat, one technique, believe it or not, is apologizing. You're showing empathy for their point of view while maintaining control and nipping a potential anger response in the bud. That might sound like, "I apologize, I'm very sorry it didn't work out," but not engaging in the energy of dispute. If you met on a dating app, immediately block them to prevent further contact. When you use dating apps moving forward, use best practices to prioritize your safety.