How to Survive a Dating Emergency

What could go wrong on a first date? Just about everything. Don’t worry, Dr. Nerdlove’s got you covered.

How many of you dread dates – you worry yourselves into a frenzy, imagining all of the ways things can go horribly wrong and picturing a dream date turning into an all-too-real nightmare?

Over the years, I have gone on more dates than I can reasonably count. As a result, I have dealt with just about every single dating fuck-up that you can imagine from the mundane (car trouble, restaurants losing my reservation, credit cards being declined) to the downright bizarre (tracking a coke dealer all over Austin). Through time, experience and multiple affronts to my dignity, I’ve learned how to be ready for almost any dating emergency that you’re likely to encounter, and how to roll with the ones that you aren’t.

Which, in true nerd style, means learning to embrace your inner Batman.

Stick with me here.

In a world filled with super-powered aliens, maniacal robots and gods made flesh, the Batman stands alone – an ordinary man with no powers, who triumphs through strength of will, years of training… and being prepared for damn near everything. There is no scenario he has not gamed out well in advance, and he’s kitted himself out with the necessary equipment to handle the most common events.

You can learn from this. By anticipating the most likely problems and taking the time to do your prep work in advance, you can easily avoid or mitigate some of the worst-case dating scenarios and turn a date heading for disaster into a night to remember.


The Emergency: Unexpected Medical Issues

Let me tell you a story of one of the worst dating experiences I’d ever had.

Back in my bad old days, I’d had a massive crush on a girl who had only just joined my social circle. Now, being the suave, sure cocksman I imagined myself being, I had decided that the best way to win her heart (or at least access to her panties) lay in… well, the Platonic Best Friend Backdoor Gambit. Yet against all odds, it actually worked ((Which, in retrospect, should have been a big red flag. But that’s a different story.)) and I found myself on a date. Not a “buddies hanging out” situation but an actual date date.

Of course, since the universe is powered by irony and sitcom logic, this meant that things had to go horribly, horribly wrong.

My brilliant date idea consisted of dinner and a movie, already a bad idea. This was compounded by having chosen to eat at Ruby Tuesday, a restaurant that had a… fairly shaky relationship with my digestive tract, shall we say. Eating there on more than one occasion had turned into a sort of lower-intestinal Russian roulette and this time I’d pulled the trigger on the wrong chamber.

During an attempt at cheesy romance, my date and I took a spin on a carousel in front of the movie theater. In the middle of the ride, with less than a minute before the movie was due to start, I started to feel a rather distinctive disturbance in the Force. Realizing that there was no time to explain, I hopped off the moving carousel and walked as quickly – but gingerly – as possible to the nearest men’s room, a good 5 minutes away. This, I might add, was before cell-phones were nearly universal, meaning my date had no idea what just happened or where I was going. Between the slow-by-necessity travel time and extended period spent in the men’s room, we missed a not-insignificant chunk of the movie… and the remainder was punctuated by Krakatoa-esque gurgles from me during the rest.

Needless to say, this was not one of my finest hours. But it taught me a very good lesson1: keep an emergency kit on you – or within easy access – at all times. This will become your dating utility belt.

(Note: PLEASE don’t carry any of this in a pouch on your belt. In fact, keep your belt as free from accessories as humanly possible.)

Over the years, I’ve had dates that came close to ruin through digestive issues, unforeseen allergies, and the occasional minor injury. As a result, I keep several dating emergency stashed on my person and in my car.

In my kit, I carry:

  • Anti-diarrhea tablets
  • Ibuprofen
  • At least two decongestants
  • A bottle of Benadryl
  • Altoids
  • and condoms.

More often than not, your medical emergencies will tend to be annoying or potentially embarrassing. They will also tend to revolve around food, drink or airborne allergens; because most dates involve either meals or congregating in places where people tend to smoke, the odds of triggering an allergy or digestive problem are higher. Benadryl has long been my go-to antihistamine for allergic reactions, ranging from bug bites to moderate food allergies, while a decent decongestant can help get past sudden sneezing fits, watery eyes and clogged nasal passages.

Altoids serve many uses. The mint oil helps to calm nausea and upset stomachs – handy if something starts to make you queasy. In the event that you or your date actually do have to puke, the mint will also help get the taste (and scent) of vomit from your mouth. It also will help if either of you make the mistake of eating something with garlic or onions over the course of your date and ease those first-kiss anxieties.

The rest should be fairly self-explanatory.

Incidentally, this is one area where women have an advantage over men; it’s easier to carry these in your purse than it is in your pants pockets. One more reason why jackets and sport coats make for excellent date-wear. Just sayin’.


The Emergency: Your Plans Fall Through

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

This goes doubly true for dating. No matter how much you’ve planned your night out with your date, chaos can and will enter into the equation and things will go wrong. The train will be late. The weather will take a turn for the worse. Traffic will be insane or you run out of gas and guarantee that you’re not going to get to your reservation, your movie or the play that you’d been planning on seeing. The restaurant will lose your reservation. The Will Call box will lose your tickets. The band you were planning on seeing will cancel because it’s lead singer has been found in a hotel room in Bangkok… when they were supposed to be playing in Milwaukee. Your credit card gets declined.

So your dream date has been ruined, right?

Well… not so much.  Not if you have the right combination of advance planning and proper application of technology.

Ideally, before you even go on your date, you should have a contingency plan just in case. Most cities have free alternative weekly papers that carry listings of goings-on for the week. Not only should you be scanning these for date possibilities, but you should keep some of them in mind on the off chance that something goes wrong and you find yourself scrambling for a plan B.

But even if you didn’t manage to plan in advance, your smartphone can be your savior. Batman has Oracle, you have Siri2 … plus Yelp, OpenTable, NightOut, Fandango and a host other apps at your fingertips. Didn’t make the movie on time? Get tickets to another showing nearby. If you’re in a larger city, apps like ThrillCall can help you find live music in your area as well as securing tickets. Lost your reservation? You can use apps like Yelp and OpenTable to find another restaurant near by and guarantee that a cozy table for two will be waiting for you by the time you get there. Got locked out of the parking lot? There are a number of call-a-cab apps and ride-shares to be had.

In addition, your credit card company may be able to help. Some cards offer perks including concierge-like service that can help snag last minute tickets or reservations that you might not get on your own.

The key is to be flexible. Yes, it sucks that you may not have gotten into the club where your favorite band was playing. Being able to switch gears as necessary with a minimum of drama can make all the difference between calling it an early night – and not getting that second date – and saving your special night.

Also: to avoid the potential embarrassment of being caught short on cash – or having your card declined – be sure to have a stash of emergency cash in your car. $100 hidden under a seat can pull your ass out of a surprising number of fires.


The Emergency: Your Body Betrays You

Sometimes the worst emergencies are the ones that happen before you even manage to get out the door. Since there’s no force in the world more powerful than irony, of course you will find that your body has decided to remind you of all the hell you went through during puberty. Fortunately for you, a little creativity with some household goods can get you ready and looking spiffy before you walk out the door.


You’re a grown-ass adult… so why the hell are you still having break-outs? It might be your stress level, changes in humidity, even your hair products… but ultimately the cause doesn’t matter because you have a date in two hours and you’ve been visited by the acne fairy and she left you a BEAUTY right on your face. It’s tempting to try to squeeze it. Resist; even if you do manage to drain it, you’re going to just inflame it and make it even more pronounced. Your best bet – especially if you’re short on time – is to hit the medicine drawer. Any anti-rash cream with 1% hydrocortisone will reduce the swelling and redness; it won’t get rid of the zit entirely, but it will go a long way to making it far less noticeable. If you’re already on the go or don’t have access to Cortaid, you should swing by the nearest convenience store and grab some ibuprofen  liquid-gels. Stab one open (which is surprisingly difficult) and apply just a little of the gel to the break-out. The ibuprofen will reduce the swelling and redness almost immediately.

Razor burn:

This is a perpetual problem for me. If you have sensitive skin, you may find that daily shaving turns your face red and itchy and more annoying cuts than a Tiesto concert – perfect for when you’re about to head out the door to meet your date. Most aftershaves and lotions don’t really help. In fact, if they have alcohol in them, it’ll only make the issue worse. A better answer is to use ice-cubes. They’ll soothe your irritated skin and help shrink the micro-cuts, letting them heal up quickly.

Your Breath:

Yeah, you brushed your teeth but five minutes later, you’re still more than half-convinced that your breath could stun a yak at 40 paces. To start with, don’t just brush your teeth, run your toothbrush over your tongue – that’s where most of the bacteria that gives you bad breath tends to hang out. Rinse your brush in mouthwash, give your tongue a gentle scrub – careful not to trigger your gag reflex – and give a quick second rinse with your mouthwash.

Another option: a quick shot of vodka. No, I’m really not kidding. Vodka doesn’t have a scent, and the alcohol content will help kill bacteria and freshen your breath. Just don’t get a flavored vodka or a mixer; the sugar will actually make things worse.

You Stink:

Maybe you’re a smoker. Maybe you have humidity issues in your apartment and your clothes have a nasty musty odor. Or maybe you just didn’t have time to stop for a shower after work. Either way… smelling bad is going to ruin your date quicker than just about anything else and trying to cover it up with cologne is only going to make your date’s eyes water from that instead. You have a couple of options here.

To start with, get some antibiotic wet-wipes and dart into the bathroom for a quick cat-bath.  Use these under your armpits to get rid of the bacteria that’s making you smell worse than a thing that smells bad, then reapply some deodorant. Personally I’ve been known to keep a travel-size deodorant and bottle of mouthwash in the glove-compartment of my car for just such emergencies.

While you’re at it, keep some dryer sheets in your trunk. Not only will it help your car smell better, but you can use them to freshen up your clothes; give your smoke-scented shirt a quick rub-down.

Another option: pop some of those Altoids I told you to keep on hand. The peppermint oil will go through your system and actually exit through your pores as it breaks down. It’s not a quick fix, but it can definitely help over the course of an evening.


The Emergency: A New Challenger Appears

As I’ve said: the universe is powered by irony, which means that there will be times that you will encounter the very last person you – or your date – wanted to see while you’re out and about. You may have the misfortune of running into the ex who you never really got over… and she’s there with her date. Worse, you may run into your date’s ex, the doctor with the six-pack abs and perfect hair who’s seen you two and is coming over to say hello.

Or you may find that some would-be alpha male has decided that your date should be much more interested in going home with him.

You only have a few moments to formulate a plan of attack that doesn’t make you seem like a snivling, needy pile of mush. So what do you do?

It’s time to get down in that mudpit and throw down some social jiujitsu.

Choose your venues properly.

Unless you and your date are already fairly tight, you do not want to go to a club or any bar that trends towards a meat-market atmosphere, especially on a first date – you will be fairly inviting someone to come along to swoop in and try to snatch your date out from under you. I have done this personally. I am a horrible person and I’m ok with this. If you’re going to chum the water, you can’t really complain when the sharks come out to investigate.

This also means that you don’t want to go to the old favorites that you and your ex used to love. They may be as familiar and comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans, but that only means you’re more likely to run into people you don’t want to see… even if you “got” it in the break-up.

Break eye-lines.

That bitch who broke your heart and stomped on your is sitting across from you with her new beau? Don’t let her presence distract youswitch seats so that your back is to her. Ideally, move so that you’re sitting beside or perpendicular to your date, but ultimately, you want to keep her out of direct sight. If you need to, make up an excuse to shift places – something’s distracting you and you’d rather pay your attention to your date, spill something on the seat or even just say “Hey, I want to show you something” and move in closer.

Avoiding direct sight lines will not only keep you from dwelling on her presence but it will also lower the likelihood of the unwelcome party noting your presence and taking it as an invitation to come over.

Don’t Give Them an In.

This night is about the two of you, not the two of you and Captain Dreamy or Mssr. Pick Up Artiste. People who are interested your date – or possibly rekindling something that had been there before – will rely on the social contract to give them an opening. That same social contract can wedge them out. When they come up, take charge. Clap them on the shoulder and say “Hey, don’t be rude! Introduce yourself!” This will direct their attention to you, and the social contract will insist that they actually introduce themselves or risk looking like an asshole. As soon as they do, shake their hand. Say “Cool. Nice meeting you,” then position yourself between him and your date and turn your back to him. You have effectively wedged them out. If they insist on trying to continue the interaction – which makes them look rude and socially inept – move your date to another spot at the venue.

Side note: if your date DOES go off with someone else, this is generally a sign that you screwed up much earlier – usually when you asked that particular person out in the first place. Someone who’s willing to ditch their date is not someone you’d want to actually continue associating with.


The Emergency: You Embarrassed Yourself

Even the smoothest and coolest of us will do something stupid at the worst possible moment. Your joke may come off wrong. You may accidentally step on an emotional landmine that you didn’t know was there or trigger one of your date’s personal pet-peeves. You may spill your drink on yourself, drop your entree, dance like a goon or otherwise make a complete ass out of yourself and now you can feel any remaining attractiveness and cool points draining down your leg and forming a puddle around your shoes. What now?


Never underestimate the value of a sincere apology. If you have managed to somehow upset your date by acting like an ass, making a poorly timed joke or otherwise accidentally causing offense… apologize. Even if you feel that you didn’t do anything wrong: apologize. Even if you feel that you’re in the right or that you shouldn’t be blamed for something you couldn’t have forseen: apologize. This is not the time for appropriating blame or rationalizing why you couldn’t possibly be at fault and that she’s wrong for being mad at you – you cannot argue someone into not being upset. Apologize simply, sincerely, then let the matter drop. Switch subjects – even if you have to be obvious about it – and move on.

Call It Out.

The easiest way to kill an awkward moment is to call out the awkwardness. It’s emotionally honest – you both know it happened, you both feel weird about it, but neither of you is really sure what to say; the effort of holding it in only makes the moment worse. Far better to directly acknowledge that yes, that was a bit of a boner on your part. This serves as a pressure release valve – easing the tension by pointing out the elephant in the room and allowing the both of you to laugh about it and move on.

Play It Off.

Everybody can make an ass of themselves at one time or another. The trick is how you respond to it. You can panic and get upset about how stupid you’ve just made yourself look… or you can laugh it off like it’s not a big deal and just move along.  This isn’t to say that you should ignore it entirely – then you look oblivious, which just makes it worse and costs you cool points. Make a quick joke – “Hey, this shirt needed a splash of color anyway,” – and let it go. Your date will be taking his or her cues from you – if you get upset, they’re going to feel squirmy and uncomfortable. If you can laugh it off, they won’t feel embarrassed by proxy… and you will have earned cool points by being able to handle an otherwise awkward moment.

As an example: I’ve had one friend who actually tripped and fell down a step while walking into a fancy restaurant with his dream date, nearly plowing into a waiter carrying a tray of drinks. He sprung to his feet like a gymnast finishing a floor routine, looked to his date and said “I think I stuck the dismount this time, what do you think?”

They got married a year later.

It doesn’t take much to turn a bad date into an awesome one. A little preparation and keeping you cool will help you get through just about any dating emergency you’ll encounter.

Originally appeared at Paging Doctor NerdLove



  1. besides never have the stuffed potato skins on a date []
  2. I’m an Apple snob, shut up. []
Batman: Everyday is Wednesday / tumblr
First date: Emily Rachel Hildebrand / flikcr
Couple at bar: dmap / flickr
About Harris O'Malley

Harris O'Malley provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove, as well as writing the occasional guest review for and appearing on the podcast The League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and Twitter (@DrNerdLove.)

Dr. NerdLove is not really a doctor.


  1. John Bartelloni says:

    “That bitch who broke your heart and stomped on your is sitting across from you with her new beau . .

    Not sure the term “bitch” fits in what this column attempts to promote.

  2. This was (almost) a breath of fresh air for a woman to read. (Some of us worry ourselves silly before dates, and yes, we try to summon our own Catwoman or other Superpowered Emergency Kits & Tricks.)

    Tracking a coke dealer all over Austin???

    @FlyingKal, I hope it wasn’t a permanent Opt-Out. Some of us (myself included) pulled a Drop-Out, for a year at a time. And then we take a deep breath and plunge in again…

    • Seemingly being (for reasons unknown) an inherently unattractive, unsexy guy, I just couldn’t take the attitudes of rejections and ridicule anymore.
      So for the sake of my own peace of mind, I decided to just stop trying. And as far as I know right now, that decision is permanent.

      And, not being snarky, only interested. Why do you care, D.A. Wolf?

  3. Nah
    I don’t dread dates.
    I just stopped.
    Opted out of the game.

Speak Your Mind