We’ve all been on terrible dates—and they suck. But with our dater’s handbook, you just might be able to prevent a bad date from happening. Our dating tips include apps to download that can help boost conversation, and services that send robocalls to get you out of a bad date. Plus, find out how to graciously decline another outing.
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Set up a Google Voice number
Yes, you should definitely keep an open mind when you’re looking for the right person, but it’s equally important to protect yourself from under-the-radar stalker types. If you’d prefer not to receive random 2am texts, mask your cell number by registering for a free Google Voice account (google.com/voice). After linking it to your legit number, you can have the system forward both calls and texts, which you can respond to without giving away your real digits. (But if things go well, be sure to come clean as soon as possible.)
Memorize your local Rejection Hotline number
These days, striking up a conversation with an attractive stranger in a bar or other public locale sounds more like a meet-cute than real life. More often than we’d like, that good-looking someone is actually an overzealous, liquored-up weirdo. Should things get desperate, save yourself by doling out the number of the Rejection Hotline’s New York branch (212-660-2245). When the soon-to-be rebuffed party calls, they’ll hear a recorded message asking them to consider why they were given the number in the first place.
Have conversation fodder ready for moments of silence
Awkward pauses can turn an uncomfortable situation into a downright miserable night. Prepare a few icebreakers to avoid wallowing in silence. It’s best to start with topics you’ve gleaned from each other’s online-dating profiles (or subsequent Google stalking). If you’re concerned you’ll exhaust that material too quickly, find additional inspiration in the Conversation Starters app (free; available for iPhone and Android devices), which offers more than 100 questions to spark small talk. If nothing else, you should get a laugh out of contemplating the one food you’d be willing to eat for a week or which superpower you’d choose and how you’d use it.
Schedule a robocall (just in case)
In the past, if you wanted to bail middate, you had to find an excuse to sneak away to the bathroom and ask a friend to dial back ten minutes later with an “emergency.” Now, there are a host of free and paid services that preschedule your distress call. The newest is Bad Date Rescue (free; available for iPhone), developed by matchmaking service eHarmony, which lets you program reprieves from your mom, boss or neighbor, with five extra options for 99¢. If the situation is really dire, select a “quick rescue” for five seconds, one minute or five minutes from the time you press the button. Android users can rely on a similar system with Fake-Call Me Free. The most extensive option, Fake ’Em Out ($1; also available for iPhone devices), enables counterfeit text messages, missed calls, alerts and call logs in addition to the bailout ring.
Admit failure as graciously as possible
It’s all too easy to ignore the other person after a date gone awry, or—on the flip side—accept one more date out of pity (or convince yourself that the first mishap was a fluke). If you’re just not feeling the other person and they were a decent human being, take the high road and send a simple text thanking them for meeting up, explaining that you didn’t feel a spark and wishing them the best. If they were a giant jackass, you don’t owe them any communication. If they don’t take the massively obvious hint, direct them to the snarky Someecard (someecards.com) that best conveys your disdain.