Stop Wasting Your Time on Bad First Dates

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Photo: Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

“I don’t … find you attractive”: These are the boldest words I have ever uttered to a stranger, and they will likely hold that title for some time. I said them to a man who was attempting to hit on me in the street by nefariously saying excuse me as his opening line, then proceeding to call me beautiful and ask for my number.

“Well, why not?” he asked, after I had declined his advances. I scoped the scene for witnesses and sufficient daylight and simply told the truth. I didn’t find him attractive.

He was floored, shell-shocked, bereft, speechless. I am fortunate that he simply muttered that I was a fucking bitch and I wasn’t even that cute anyway. I don’t think this was because he was an Adonis-level handsome dude, or because a life without me by his side would be no life at all, but because he did not know what to do with a woman being straightforward in a situation where we tend to be exceedingly polite and passive. It was uncharacteristically bold on my part, but it got me thinking about the amount of time we spend tending to the feelings of men to whom we owe little more than basic decency. In few situations is this clearer than on a first date.

There is a lot to hate about first dates but near the top of the list is wasting time on ones that are mediocre but not unbearable. At least the unbearably bad dates give you a story that can be repurposed for comedic effect after the horror of the encounter passes. But this life is short and wild and precious, and people are spending way too much time on first dates that they need to skedaddle on out of as soon as they know things are heading south.

Beyond wasting time, staying on a first date for the sake of politeness can leave women vulnerable to the bizarre phenomenon of the Dateability Mirage. In social circumstances where women often get the message that a man's affection and commitment is their paramount goal, it is easy for a man of lukewarm appeal to start looking like a crush whose approval you want desperately. Being preoccupied with the question of how he feels means avoiding the question of how much you actually like him. The great irony is that these same mediocre men we’ve become concerned about are often the ones who end up not calling us. “If I’m too good for him, then how come I’m not with him?” echoes the voice of Tai Frasier from Clueless. Yet answers elude us. Getting the hell out of first dates fast is the first step.

In early 2013, I left a first date within 30 minutes because the man launched into an anti-immigrant tirade about the housing crisis. He tried to follow me for a few blocks to apologize, but once we parted, I never heard from him again. At first I was annoyed at yet another first date being trash, but when I got home at 9 p.m., I had time for the things I really care about — like fucking around on the internet and taking photos of my cat. I soon began to realize that first dates don’t have to be abjectly horrifying for me to get out of them.

The next time it happened was after 20 minutes spent with a finance dude who told me how relieved he was that I showed up looking like my photos, then proceeded to make jokes about overweight women on dating apps as if this material was either entertaining or fresh. When the waiter returned to take a second drink order, I politely said, “I actually have to head out,” and insisted on paying for my own drink. I was home in time to do several hours of things that weren't hanging out with a mean-spirited man.

Then there was a man whose online photos were clearly several years old and who had definitely lied about his current age. I was not attracted to him in person, and I also don’t date men who are substantially older than me. I got an imaginary text message after 15 minutes saying that my imaginary roommate was locked out of our apartment.

And then there was a corporate lawyer who said things like “Who do you read?” and “Who are you wearing?” instead of “What kind of books do you like?” or “I like your shirt.” This might not be a deal-breaker on its own, but couched in the rest of his Patrick Bateman vibe, it was grating. Casually announcing that “issues of class are so much more important than issues of race” was what finally sent me to the door.

All of these men followed up in one way or another to either ask what they did wrong or to seek a second date, not having realized that I left early very intentionally. There are some who might argue that I should have helped these men improve their first-date skills by explaining to them what went awry. I’ve even had one man send 11 unanswered text messages demanding these answers before telling me, “I realize you’re uncomfortable but I need to know for my own edification.”

Women go on dates for a lot of reasons — to fall in love or get dicked or both — but not to edify and improve men. If I wanted to give personalized one-on-one dating instructions, I’d start a business and charge for it.

For all of their downsides, the thing that is wonderful about first dates is how little you owe the person besides base-line courtesy. Like, I don’t even count it as ghosting to never reply to a text message again if there’s only been one date. No one, regardless of gender, is entitled to explanations or second chances if they mess up a first date. Those who would argue that you might as well stick it out are underestimating how uncomfortable it is to be with someone you barely know and definitely don’t like. They're also overstating the importance of arbitrary rules of decorum — a set of social expectations that typically weighs heavier on women than men.

Hell, I’m more than happy to adhere to society’s expectations by taking a long time getting ready for a first date. But I’m done spending time smiling and nodding trying to get out of one.