9 First Date Disasters & How to Deal With Them

As the attractive collegiette that you are, you’re probably meeting your fair share of swoon-worthy guys. Whether you’re at school, on break, or even in the local Starbucks, you’re definitely turning heads. With all of these exciting prospects at your fingertips, you’re bound to score a few first dates (or maybe just one, if you find someone special!).

While the phrase “first date” can strike fear in the heart of even the most courageous of collegiettes, there’s no need to worry. We’ve broken down nine first date disasters so you know how to avoid them (and how to recover gracefully if the date does take a turn for the worse).

1. Awkward silences

It’s hard to keep up a conversation with a guy you just met. Even if you did know each other before, chances are your nerves are making you more than a little tongue-tied. When did you start stuttering, anyway?

Mike Lindstrom, relationship expert of Ask Dan & Mike and author of Men: 10 Secrets Every Woman Should Know from Two Guys That Do, says that silences are natural.

“These often come from nervousness, one person not truly listening to the other, or [from] a lack of connection on the subject matter,” he says. “[It’s] always best to stick to subjects that have some depth and are more broad."

So ask him to tell you about his family; don’t ask if he’s had a good morning or if he likes Korean food. “Yes” and “no” questions won’t get you very far on the first date, so have a mental list of go-to questions ready before the big moment! Try some of Mike’s suggestions:

  • “So, what kind of kid were you growing up?” (e.g., the straight-A student, the jock, the gamer, etc.)
  • “What are some of the fun things you’ve done this past year?”
  • “Where do you like to visit or travel to? Why?”
  • “What are some of your goals for this year?”

2. Spilling something on your date (or yourself)

First dates involve some serious multi-tasking skills. Trying to talk, listen, and not spill your coffee on your shirt is next to impossible for us mere mortals; unfortunately, we often let the jitters get the best of us.

Emily, a collegiette from the Rhode Island School of Design, spilled a drink on herself during a first date while her guy was looking the other way, but she played it off as only an artist could. “I told him it was paint on my shirt because it was already stained with other colors, and I figured if I passed it off as paint then he wouldn’t think I was a klutz... but I am a klutz,” she says.

Luckily, first dates are all about being yourself, so you shouldn’t be afraid of slipping up. Jodi R. R. Smith, etiquette coach and president of Mannersmith Etiquette Counseling, says not to sweat the small stuff.

“Laugh and say, ‘Did I mention my magnetic personality? This is going to make a great first date story!’” she advises. “Then do your best to mop up the mess.”

3. Dressing inappropriately for the occasion

The shoe lovers among us will understand this one: while we never seem to be able to buy enough shoes, we also never seem to be able to wear the right ones at the right time. Case in point: that moment when you show up for a first date in strappy wedges or delicate flats and find yourself walking through a park, around a city, or, well, walking in general. You wore the shoes because they were cute, not because you wanted to drag them through the mud!

In order to brush off any potential awkwardness—you don’t want to come off as too high-maintenance for down-to-earth activities or too low-key to fit in at a fancy restaurant–just explain the mistake. “Acknowledge and correct,” Smith advises. For example, if you’re wearing too little clothing on a date to a football game, Smith suggests saying, “I didn’t realize it was going to be so cold up here in the bleachers. I guess I’m going to have to give in and get a team sweatshirt. Be right back.” If you’re wearing the wrong shoes, there’s probably not much you can do to correct the situation. Just laugh and explain that you wanted to look great on the date—your excitement made you forget about functionality.

Want to avoid the awkwardness (and the coldness) in the first place? Ask him exactly what you’ll be doing on the date! You should always be open to something spontaneous—the real magic happens when you’re having fun together, anyway—but it doesn’t hurt to get a feel for a first date in advance.

4. Running into your ex

If there’s any awkward first date disaster you should try your hardest to avoid, this is it. The very last thing you want to be doing during your date is dwelling on intimate moments with an ex, and if the guy by your side knows about your past relationship, he’ll probably feel pretty uncomfortable being in the middle. (Coming face to face with the competition on the first date? Super stressful for him!)

“We like to employ what we call ‘framing it up’ with the other person,” says Lindstrom. “If you believe you might have a high probability of ever running into an ex, then let your date know, upfront, how you will handle it and stick to the game plan when it does happen. If you frame it up in advance, it will take the awkwardness factor down substantially.” Tell him that you want to be upfront: your ex frequents the same spots as you do, and you don’t try to run into him, but it might happen. Tell your date that you wanted him to know in advance so he wouldn’t feel awkward, but assure him that you’re with him tonight and that’s the bottom line!

No need to panic if you stumble into a chance encounter, though. “If you miss the frame-up opportunity and ‘bump into’ the ex, always be calm and cool and never resort to drama or verbal jousting,” advises Lindstrom. Introduce the two by name, but don’t bother getting into specifics (like how intimately you know each other). Don’t stop for idle chit-chat—keep moving.

5. Running into his ex

If you run into his ex, on the other hand, you don’t really need to do much of anything. Keep your cool, and don’t let the claws come out!

Whether or not he wants to acknowledge the situation is up to him, so the ball is in his court. If he does bring it up, all you have to do is listen and look forward to talking about other things (school, your friends, your dog, what you ate for breakfast... anything is better than talking about a girl he used to tongue tango with!).

If you didn’t know the lovely lady across the room was his ex, and your date tells you so, don’t panic. He isn’t telling you to make you jealous—he’s probably warning you in case she comes over, or explaining why it was awkward if she had already come and said hi. Play it cool! Laugh and say, “Wow, meeting the ex on the first date! Didn’t see that one coming!”

6. Running into your recent (or current) hook-up

So you’re a single lady and you’re playing the field. Impressive! There’s no shame in juggling more than one man; the more arm candy the merrier while you’re still figuring out what you want. But you won’t want your new beau to know that you’ve recently been locking lips with the guy across the café.

“I have bumped into a fairly recent hook-up while walking with a date,” explains Erin*, a collegiette at Carnegie Mellon. “It can take you by surprise and be incredibly awkward... if you make it that way. I treated the hook-up like any other friend—I gave him a warm greeting and continued walking. I don't think my date suspected a thing, and I was able to keep on good terms with the hook-up!”

Smith says that Erin has the right idea. “Smile, say hi, keep moving,” she recommends. “No need for introductions.” But don’t ignore him completely—cold shoulders don’t mix well with hot hook-ups!

7. You accidentally strike a nerve

Yikes! Whether it’s a sensitive political issue, a comment on his major, a question about his family, or your views on Family Guy, you’re instantly regretting bringing it up. Unfortunately, this happens all of the time during first dates. Since you don’t know much about this new guy, it’s impossible to know what makes him tick… and what ticks him off.

“If it's a blatant party foul, back up and be authentically apologetic for bringing it up,” suggests Lindstrom. “[An] example we heard about is a girl asking about the guy’s mother who had died, unbeknownst to her at the time. The guy started getting kind of upset and clearly she had hit a nerve. He shared the facts with his date and she was extremely apologetic and he could sense her sincere care [and] concern for him.”

Be genuine. As long as you make it clear that you didn’t mean to hit a touchy subject, you can move on–just don’t prolong the moment by dwelling on your apology for too long! To avoid the awkwardness altogether, try not to talk about anything that you yourself might find offensive if the roles were reversed (Hint: Laughing at his taste in music won’t exactly earn you flowers and phone call.).

Touchy subjects like religion, politics, and party habits are risky, but if it’s really important to you that the guy you date shares your opinion on a major issue, don’t be afraid to feel it out; you want to rule out deal-breakers. If you have a strong political conviction, mention it casually and see what happens. If he doesn’t pursue the conversation, don’t push it. If he asks questions and seems genuinely interested, feel free to share your views—just don’t let loose any rants or impassioned tears!

8. You accidentally overshare

Again, it’s important to keep in mind what not to say during your first date. Be yourself… but be careful about what you choose to disclose. While we’re sure he’ll love you for your quirks (who wouldn’t?), you have to give him time to get to know you before you lay it all out.

Topics to avoid: your ex, your hatred of your ex, your tendency to blog about every romantic experience you have, your latest stress overload freak-out, your superior stuffed animal collection, what you imagine your children will look like, and the bowel movements of your pet. If you wouldn’t want to hear it from him early on, he definitely wouldn’t want to hear it from you either.

If you do accidentally let something slip that you shouldn’t have, you can still save the situation. “Stop, shake your head while closing your eyes, [and] take a breath,” says Smith. “Say, ‘I am so sorry, I am so nervous, my mouth is getting ahead of my brain. As you were saying…’” Remember that he’s just as nervous as you are (if not more!), so he’ll understand. If he doesn’t, he isn’t worth a second date.

9. You don’t know how to say goodbye

Beware the Just Friends kiss-hug-body-shake: If you two aren’t on the same page about how to say goodbye, you might end up doing the awkward lean-in/lean-out dance. Should you kiss him on the mouth? On the cheek? Should you kiss him at all? So many choices!

With any luck, you’ll have had a stellar date and it will be clear to both of you that you’re in the mood for some smooching. If the signs aren’t so obvious, approach with caution.

Scenario 1: You want a kiss

You’ll know that he wants to kiss if he’s smiling a lot, walking close to you, touching your hand or arm, and leaning in when he talks to you. If you’re ready to pucker up but aren’t sure if he’s interested, however, keep your body language open. Uncross your arms and linger for a few extra seconds when you’re saying goodbye, giving him the chance to make his move. Don’t make any movements towards him; let him come to you so that you don’t end up aiming for the wrong part of his face.

Scenario 2: You want to escape the canoodling

Not into him? No worries. Keep your body language closed by crossing your arms as you’re saying goodbye, or, as Lindstrom advises, reach for a handshake. Nothing says, “This isn’t going to work out” quite like a cold handshake before a quick exit!

If he’s a total creep and you realize it from the get-go, Lindstrom advises closed body language at the start. “Immediately keep things on a friend level. Don't offer up deep conversation,” he says. “Use closed off body language that sends a message that you are not into him.” Not every date is a winner, but give yourself props for giving the guy a chance!

Whatever you do on your first date, just remember to have fun! With these major rules in mind, you’ll avoid the worst of the first date disasters–and manage to land on your feet if you do face a conundrum over coffee.