The experts don’t recommend leaving a first date after 20 minutes.
Dating coaches want you to be open to whatever a first date has to offer. That might be a romantic connection, or a platonic or professional one. Maybe you’ll never see or speak to this person again, but even a bad date can teach you something — about yourself, about how to find common ground with a stranger, about the possibility of attraction or admiration blooming over time.
So, no. The love experts don’t suggest that you peace out early.
But even they admit that they’ve done it before.
On Francesca Hogi’s shortest first date, she left before she’d finished her latte. She’d met the guy on Match.com and he was making bad jokes, she says, really sarcastic ones that weren’t going over well. With online dating, those first meetups are more of a pre-date than an actual date. A cup of coffee or a drink to just decide: Is this somebody I could actually go on a first date with?
So once Hogi knew the answer was no, she told him: It was really nice meeting you. I can tell that we’re not a match. I don’t want to waste your time, or my time. So I think it’s best that we said goodbye and went our separate ways.
He responded by arguing. “He got really defensive,” Hogi recalls. “He was trying to make me feel bad, but all he did was make me feel more justified in my decision.”
Pop culture generally offers two resolutions for bad dates like the one Hogi found herself on. The ditch: Excuse yourself to the restroom and then slink out the back without saying goodbye. Or the duck: Fake a phone call from a friend who’s in need of help.
Those might make for laughs on screen, but in real life, neither is very honest.
“I’m really big on not making excuses for leaving,” says Laurie Davis, founder of the Worthy One, which offers relationship coaching for women. Don’t say: “I have an early meeting; I should get going. But actually just speaking your truth,” Davis says, even if your truth sounds like: “You know what, I’m going to get home.”
Generally, first dates last about around an hour. An awkward beginning or lack of immediate attraction are not reasons to storm off, says Hogi, a dating coach in Los Angeles. “One mistake a lot of daters make is they’re expecting to know right away if they’re compatible with someone. That’s a limiting way to approach dating,” Hogi says. She prefers to walk into an interaction, telling herself that she’ll stay present for this 45 minutes to an hour. “I’m going to give myself an opportunity to see if I can establish a connection with this person. Even if you’re not going to see the person again, doesn’t mean that date can’t be a valuable experience.”
But Hogi and Erika Ettin, a dating coach in Washington, both say that if someone is being disrespectful or offensive, or makes you feel unsafe, don’t feel bad about skipping out early. And if you think a date might not go well, better to go in with a hard out, Hogi says — like dinner with friends — than to make one up on the fly.
Ettin remembers being on a date where the guy made fun of her the entire time. “A little playful teasing might be fun if you know each other and you know each other’s sense of humor,” Ettin says. But her date was mocking everything about her: her job, her accent, where she’s from, the fact that she chose a bar that wasn’t crowded.
“When he started making fun of me to the bartender, I threw $10 down, said ‘I don’t need this’ and left,” Ettin recalls. The date lasted 15 minutes.
Though she doesn’t recommend leaving early if you just don’t like the person or don’t feel chemistry, there’s no reason to endure a first date that resembles a Comedy Central roast.