If there are 50 million active Tinder users, 60 matches in your inbox, and 12 matches you plan meet in person, what is the probability that you'll have at least one bad date? These days, dating is one big math problem that's impossible to solve.
If you're meeting someone first the first time, you just need to show up and figure the rest out from there. Sometimes, you have a killer night, or if nothing else, some really great conversation. But there are those other nights you wish would end as soon as they began.
"Anyone and everyone who dates, will have a bad date now and again," New York–based relationship and etiquette expert of Relationship Advice Forum, April Masini, tells Bustle. "It's a numbers game, and if you date enough, you'll have good ones and bad ones."
When a first date isn't what you hoped it would be, you move on to the next. But before you can do that, you have to deal with the matter at hand, or rather the person sitting across from you who is totally not the right match. So how do you send the message that this date is over? It all depends on how you feel. The most important word being YOU.
If your date is cool, but you're not interested in anything more than friendship
If you identify as a single female, chances are you've heard at least one of these phrases before: give it a second chance/chemistry isn't everything/be open/you're too picky. The implication is that women aren't entitled to sexual attraction, and that they should be grateful that a date—particularly one of the opposite sex—is nice. This is sexist conditioning and it's BS. If you're not feeling it with someone, as nice as they may be, force yourself to like them. That doesn't mean you can't be mindful of their feelings, but you're allowed to follow your gut, or any other body part that's sending you undeniable messages.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, you're on a date with a really lovely person whose lips you never want to press against your own. What now?
What to say: If you'd like to hang out again platonically, you're best bet is to be both kind and honest. "I had a great time with you, but I see you more as a friend." Another option: "I'd love hang out again, but as friends." They may be disappointed, but if they're as cool as you think they are, they'll understand. They might even feel the same way, and once your position is mutually established, the awkwardness is likely to dissolve into a more relaxed evening.
If you just want the date to be over, like now
So there is no connection. Like zilch. Not even in an entertaining-for-a-drink way. Maybe the first fifteen minutes felt like two hours, and there is no hope that your connection will improve. Your couch is calling. You just need to go, but you get the sense that being honest will only drag out the evening in an unsavory way.
What to say: When in doubt, blame work. "Great meeting you, but I have a crazy deadline!" or "I just got a stressy email from my boss, and I've got to go deal with this immediately." Chances are, they'll take the hint. If they don't, you might want to be more explicit while still keeping it vague enough to avoid prolonging the conversation. "This is not a great time for me now" works. Another option: "I'm super busy for the next few months, but great meeting you." Remember, you don't have to explain why you're not interested—first dates are all about feeling people out and if you're not feeling it, you're free to leave. "Ending a date after 20 minutes isn't ending a relationship, but acknowledging that there's not enough of a spark to even begin building a relationship," Suzanne Degges-White, licensed counselor, tells the ChicagoTribune.
If your date is a jerk and you're creeped out
GTFO. Go. You owe them nothing. "For the rude person, especially if there's a racist comment or someone crossing boundaries, I don't think that person deserves as much thought and care," relationship expert Andrea Syrtash tells Refinery29. "We need to listen to our instincts, and if your instinct is screaming at you that someone is crossing a boundary in a way that feels dangerous or super disrespectful, you don't need to provide much of a reason for moving on."
What to say: If they really rankle you, feel free to call them out. You don't have to be nice to a jerk. Syrtash suggests anything from "That was really rude," to "Thank you, but it's pretty clear that we're not compatible, I'm going to move on." You can also take a card from actress Gina Rodriguez's playbook. Here's what she did when she found herself stuck with an intolerable first date: "I took out my money, put it on the table, and said, 'I'm not having a good time, so I'm going to pay for this and leave.' I walked out thinking, Look at you, badass!"
Whatever you do, make sure it's clear that you're not engaging anymore and that the date is over. The most important person to protect is yourself, so if you're feeling unsafe or threatened, call for backup—whether that means texting a friend to come meet you, or alerting the bartender or waitstaff of your situation. You can also download apps like uSafeUS or Circle of 6, which provide emergency resources and help you contact nearby friends in an emergency.
No matter who they are or how you shut it down, you're entitled to leave a date that isn't working for you. "You don't have to invest a lot of time or commitment for the first meeting," Verily's Anita Chlipala, author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, writes. "Speak up for what makes you feel more comfortable so that you're not feeling bad or guilty when there's no connection." Sometimes, bad first dates are an opportunity to practice good habits, like standing up for yourself and listening to your instincts. The more you observe to what doesn't work for you, the easier it will be to recognize and appreciate what does.