Everyone does weird things.
Oh, sure, most of us look normal most of the time, but there are places in the head where the trains don’t run. A quick glance at our own family can be a convincer. There’s cousin Bobby, who collects sand; there’s Aunt Carmen, who irons socks; there’s Uncle Perry, who was once rushed to the hospital after having unlawful knowledge of an Electrolux.
OK, that’s enough of a glance. The point is, anyone can do strange and unpleasant things, but when it’s your date, it can be especially unsettling.
Todd Goldman of Rutherford, New Jersey, found that out years ago in his single days. “I had gone out with this girl a couple of times, and on the third date we went out to dinner and a movie I treated,” he says. “After the movie she wanted us to sneak into another movie in the multiplex without paying. This was something I wouldn’t do when my friend Lou suggested it when we were 16, and I certainly didn’t want to do it 15 years later. I managed to get out of it with some fast talking, and a couple of days later I called her to break up. It was quite awkward when she pressed me for a reason, but if you figure that early on in a relationship people are on their best behavior, I wasn’t sure what would happen down the road.”
“Dating is generally for two purposes, either as a fun pastime or looking for a commitment and a relationship,” says Joy Browne, Ph.D., psychologist and host of a radio show on New York’s station WOR. “If it’s a fun pastime and the date does something embarrassing then you can just say “Taxi!” and walk away. If it’s someone you have a relationship with then you can deal with it not to say “You’re morally deficient; you were raised by wolves”, but to take it on yourself. Say, “I’m not comfortable with this; I’d rather not be dishonest. It’s me. I’ll pay for the movie, you can buy the popcorn.”
Rinatta Paries, also known as the Love Coach (www.lovecoachblog.com), agrees that your reaction to embarrassing behavior on the part of your date depends on the stage and state of the relationship. “If your date is behaving badly being rude to the staff at a restaurant, being loud and calling attention to himself or herself at a party, drank too much and is now dancing on the table, etcetera, you have a choice to make. Escape yourself if this happens on the first few dates; bad behavior on the first few dates is never a sign of good things to come. Choice number two should only be exercised if this is a date with a person you know, who’s normally much more appropriate in his or her behavior. If that’s the case, getting him or her out of the public eye would be the best move. Perhaps the evening when your date is behaving badly is best spent alone with him or her and save you the embarrassment.
There are some caveats to bear in mind, depending on the degree of the behavior. First, someone who has a zero-tolerance policy for any perceived bad behavior may just be a teensy bit high-strung. If your date uses the shrimp fork on his salad and you shriek as if he had used it to scratch his armpit, you might want to tune your strings just a tad lower.
On the other hand, you should never put up with threatening or frightening behavior from anyone. The National Crime Prevention Council has plenty of advice for avoiding real trouble, such as “Trust your gut feelings. If a place or the way your date acts makes you nervous or uneasy, leave. Always take enough money for a phone call for help. Check out a first date or blind date with friends. Meet in and go to public places. Take public transportation or drive your own car.” (You can find more information at www.ncpc.org.)
But most of the time the bad behavior is incidental or accidental, although it could still be dangerous. The price of dating ought not to include bail. You want a date to be memorable, but not because it resulted in a nomination for the Darwin Awards. (Important tip: If your date says, “Hey, watch this!” it may be time to run.)
“If it’s dangerous, that’s a no-brainer,” says Dr. Browne. ”If it’s something like drinking and driving, with someone you don’t care about you can say, “No, you’ve had too much to drink, I won’t get in the car. If it’s someone you do care about, you don’t let him or her drink and drive you can say, “I care about you and I don’t want to see you do this.” Take the keys. In his book Dating for Dummies, Dr. Browne cautions against alcohol consumption in general on a first date for several reasons, including that “The risk of drinking and driving is huge when you’ve been drinking? and nonexistent when you haven’t.
There is one other area of concern for poor date behavior: post-date jerks. These people can’t wait to get on Facebook or Twitter and tweet everyone and his second cousin about what crummy dates they just had, perhaps blog about the poor quality of your good-night kiss or your lousy choice of restaurant; rush to text and email everybody about your clothes or your car or otherwise insult and degrade your performance. In a more proper time these people would be considered gauche or caddish at best; even in this more casual era this behavior is found to be classless, but the words applied to describe them are more, uh, casual as well.
In cases like this, you may opt to follow the advice of your old Auntie Carmen:
It’s wise not to take it personally; people who want to be entertaining to their friends usually find more humor in complaining than contentment, so they may tend to exaggerate the former;
Really, it’s none of our business what others think of us, and you can’t please everyone it’s nobler to turn the other cheek. And if it gets really personal and really specific, remember that the American Bar Association tells us there are 1,180,386 practicing lawyers in the United States of America.
Fortunately most dates don’t result in lawsuits or, in fact, any sort of bad behavior. Maybe you won’t hit it off, but it’s highly unlikely you will have to call the cops. If there’s one rule to bear in mind, make it the golden one: If you want to be treated with respect, treat others respectfully.
Mark Amundsen is a writer and editor in New York who managed to keep his wife from knowing how bizarre he was until around their fourth date.