First-encounter mismatch

DG reader PC wrote:

I enjoy your columns on

What do you do if it is obvious in the first 5 minutes that there is not a fit? Do you sludge through the evening or cut your losses early? I don’t mean to be cruel but sometimes it seems to be worse to lead the person on.


Good question. This is why I nearly always insist on a coffee meeting for the first encounter. Several times I was very grateful I’d insisted on that, as it can be challenging to be nice to someone who obviously has different priorities around grooming, eye contact, or dental hygiene. As you say, feigning interest just sends mixed messages and will cause more pain when you do pull the plug. However, that’s no excuse to be rude.

If the coffee goes well, it can extend to several hours, or at worst will make you both look forward to the next rendezvous.

So if you’d made the mistake of offering or accepting a dinner invitation for the first meeting, I think your best bet would be to beg off with, “I’m sorry, I know we said we’d have dinner together, but my plans changed. I need to leave in a few minutes, but I did want to meet you and we can have a quick drink.” You don’t have to say, “My plans changed just now that I’ve met you and found out that you shaved 20 years off your age,” or “…since you posted pictures from your 20s and you’re now 50!” or “…it’s obvious you haven’t seen a dentist in 20 years,” or “…I really prefer to date a man who understands the importance of good grooming.” Be as gracious as possible, and if s/he probes, try to be nebulous.

Be prepared that s/he may become huffy, “I got dressed up and drove down here because you said we’d have dinner.” Just apologize for the unforseen plan change, but don’t promise a do over. How s/he reacts will tell you a lot about the person, so don’t get down and dirty even if the other does. Even though you’ll never see him/her again, remember there is dating karma (at least I believe so). What goes around comes around, so if you are mean to this person, someone will be mean to you in the future. Don’t go there.

But do go to the nearest exit as soon as you can graciously do so. 20-30 minutes should do the trick. If s/he contacts you afterward, just send a nice email saying that you didn’t feel a romantic connection. This may sting a bit, but if you do it nicely, it will sting less. And it will sting way less than if you stayed around and pretended to be interested in someone you’re not.

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One response to “First-encounter mismatch”

  1. Ellen Avatar

    It’s not just coffee vs dinner. How about meeting the guy at an event that you’d enjoy, like a museum or street fair or outdoor cultural event? It’s better than the interview that comes iwth a meal and you are sure to have fun, since it’s something you’d enjoy even without him. Plus, there’s no beginning or end to it and you can leave after a short time or stay longer. By walking around observing the sights, you can tell if he’s fun to be with, hear some of his ideas about people and life, and make some decisions about him based on what’s really happening, rather than a nervous Q&A. Much more fun that sitting across a table with a stranger!

    xo Ellen