You Still Need an Exit Strategy for Bad Dates by Kara Panzer

After a string of pleasant drinks dates with respectful and nice men, I’d forgotten how bad a date can be.

‘Men are so great and polite!’ I told my friends.

‘What are you on?’ they replied.

At first glance, he was nice and normal.

I believe this to be true for the most part, however, you will occasionally encounter a dud, as I did recently.

At first glance, he was nice and normal. At second glance, it became clear that he had added four inches to his height on his dating profile. No big deal, I thought, dating app users know to assume this possibility by now. We ordered cocktails at the bar and moved to a table outside.

After pleasantries, my date began to describe to me the process of a woman’s biological clock (countdown begins at age 28, according to his “geneticist friend”). At that point, I became aware of an internal countdown. Is he right about the clock? I asked myself. Except that the sound was like a five-alarm fire alert. Stop talking to him, it shouted at me.

Be chill, I told myself. I didn’t want to become a cyberbullying victim of the incel community. I tried to smile and nod.

‘Yes, my biological clock is really ticking right now. You’re so right!’ I thanked him for the wisdom.

The more we talked, the more I thought of other things I could be doing. He was right that I was desperate – desperate to get out of there. I could have been yanking a charcoal peel mask off my face or dusting the baseboards, a project I’d procrastinated on for several weeks, or even staring at the ceiling in my apartment. So many long-neglected tasks called to me. Oh how I longed to contemplate the strange handprint mark on one of the beams in my home. But he rattled on.

It was time for action.

Cash is queen

If I’d heeded the advice of my friend’s mom, whom we call The Oracle on account of the wisdom she accumulated in the dating trenches of Wall Street in the 80s, I would have had a crisp 50 to throw down on the table to soften the pain of my departure. Alas, tonight I had only plastic.

Hone your telepathy practice

Sure, I could try silently praying to the goddess of the service industry that our waitress would recognize my distress and drop the check. This didn’t work.

‘Do you want another–’ she’d asked a minute earlier. ‘Nope, not me. Early night, gotta run!’

I made faces at the back of her head. Drop the check, drop the check, drop the check, I prayed like title character Matilda, willing a glass to tip over in the movie based on the Roald Dahl book. She walked away.

Honesty is a bad policy

‘Let’s talk about our connection when I first arrived at the bar,’ he said, as I gestured wildly for a server, anyone with the power to release me from owing this man a drink.

‘I can’t do that,’ I said.

‘What?’ he said, surprised. He may not have realized I had the power to speak at all, as he hadn’t allowed me to get a word in edgewise for twenty minutes.

Having spent time in the corporate world, I know the value of feedback. Feedback would help him improve his approach. Maybe women had been running away from him for all his time on earth, and he hadn’t been given the opportunity to do better.

‘Look, I’m gonna be honest. The biological clock thing. The connection thing. It’s weird. I feel uncomfortable.’

‘You feel uncomfortable?’ He scoffed.

I was already climbing away over the flower beds separating the table from thirteenth street.

‘Message me your Venmo and I’ll pay you back, but I need to leave right now!’ I called in his general direction.

Later, I stopped staring at my ceiling to check my messages and discovered he’d blocked me.

Aw shucks, I thought. Nice girls always finish last. I vowed in the future to carry cash, and make an excuse about feeling ill, like my desperate sisters before me – as well as those who meet a certain businessman from Mexico City after me.

Kara Panzer is a writer based in New York City. Her essays have appeared in Fortune, Insider, and Fodor’s, among other outlets. Find more on