If you’ve been on at least three Tinder/Grindr/Bumble/Happn dates, the law of averages dictates that at least one of them was ghastly. The reasons for this may take myriad forms, but they all boil down to two things: The person doesn’t look or act like how you want them to. Trouble is, it feels like you have to be Houdini to get out once you’re there, and this is why the internet is littered with stories of Irish goodbyes and fake excuses (“I think I lost a glove outside!”) to sneak away without ever having to talk about it.
Over at MarketWatch there’s a video featuring Chris Voss, a former kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, who explains a different tack for exiting, using hostage negotiation techniques. You have to do one thing before you split: Apologize. “I’m sorry,” he begins, dictating the apology script. “I’m sure this is going to make you feel like I’m a bad person, and I’m going to seem self-centered and self-absorbed. But I’m afraid I’m gonna have to go, and I’m going to need you to let me go.”
His theory is that by saying you “need” your date to let you go, you give your bad date the illusion of control, but only if they do what you’ve asked. This ostensibly leaves them feeling better about themselves and simultaneously empowered, which Voss says “is the most you can do for them.”
This seems like good advice, but at the MEL offices, we wondered how realistic it is in the moment when the world is in fact, full of cowards (like me) who will never be that direct. MEL staffer John McDermott and I decided to parse what’s going on with this hostage advice.
Tracy: Do you see that guy’s advice as directed at men or women? Or should we assume it works for both?
John: Interesting you ask that, because he advises starting off by saying, “I’m sorry,” which I know softens whatever you’re about to say. But I also have a thing against totally disingenuous apologies, and I think it kinda weakens what it means to be actually apologetic. You’re not sorry. You’re stuck in a horrendous date and desperately want to leave. You don’t have to feel sorry about that.
Tracy: That’s a good point. All’s fair, so why bother groveling when you just feel like it’s not a match?
John: But then again, I know many women feel like they have to preface what they say with “I’m sorry.” So… maybe it’s directed at women?
Tracy: Yeah it seems to me women are more likely to need to use some kind of explanation in a situation like this, one that avoids angering their date.
John: Or maybe it’s directed at men who are blunt assholes.
Tracy: Voss also leads by saying the last impression you leave is the impression, which is also counter to the thing we’ve always been told, that first impressions matter most. So basically this is arguing for the classiest, softest way to exit. “I know I’m a terrible person but I have to go,” basically.
John: But are you terrible for not feeling connected to the other person?
Tracy: Well, I think his point is it makes the person less likely to be mad if you take on (genuinely or not) all the burden of being the bad guy/gal.
John: True. What this speaks to is (A) whether you owe the person an explanation for wanting to leave, and (B) whether you should be honest about it, or do it in the least harmful way possible and make yourself the bad person. And I’m not sure what the answer is to either.
Tracy: Well, (A) is the most interesting to me because if you just say, “Sorry, I have to go,” or “This isn’t working for me, I need to go,” the other person really has no idea why. Only that you’re not into it. It’s like ghosting in person. You’ve left, clearly, but with no explanation.
John: But do you want to know why? Do you really want them to tell you that you’re uninteresting? Or unattractive? I wouldn’t to be on either side of the interaction. That’s too real for me.
Tracy: Maybe? I’m not sure, because that gets really tricky. “I’m not attracted to you.” “You’re way too tall.” “You like the Dave Matthews Band.”
John: Ugh, DAVE MATTHEWS BAND IS PERFECTLY FINE.
Tracy: Right, so at this point in the date, we’d be arguing and you’d be angry and I’d feel like you were going to murder me. So I’d head to the bathroom and look for a window.
John: That’s kinda rude, though. If you just say, “Hey, this was nice, but I’m not into it,” that’s fine. But sneaking out? Rude.
Tracy: But I feel like SO MANY PEOPLE would be like, “Okay, but do you mind telling me why?” And then you’re fucked! Or they’d be like, “Weird, because I’m having a great time!”
As a woman, I fear if I say I am not into it, I will be detained and questioned. But I bet a dude can get away with that all day long.
What if the woman demanded to know why? Would you tell her?
John: Absolutely not. There’s no way a dude can answer that question without coming off like a raging asshole. If you say you don’t think she’s attractive, then you’re a huge dick. And if you say it’s because of her personality, then you’ll be seen as someone who makes quick, shallow judgments. Also, she’ll think you’re lying and just aren’t attracted to her.
Tracy: Yes, exactly. Unless say, someone is clearly politically misaligned and that’s made clear, or there’s something else that’s a more valid reason to be incompatible. “I don’t like your rape jokes,” or “I’d never date someone who voted for Trump.” You could easily explain ideological differences and part ways. But you can’t just be like, “I prefer men with chins.”
You can never really say why you’re ditching, other than the most vague reference to “It’s not a match.”
John: Right. That implies there’s not an emotional or physical attraction without getting into specifics like, “You were younger and hotter in your Tinder photos.”
Tracy: So in this way Voss’s advice DOES make sense.
John: Yeah, I think it’s genius.
Tracy: Because he also says you should say, “I’m sure this will make me seem like a bad person,” and then the other person (hopefully) wants to be like “No, you’re not a bad person! Sometimes things just don’t work out!” Like some reverse psych genius.
John: Yes! Especially the “You need to let me go” part, which totally puts the onus on the other party. They can’t say no in that scenario. Because if they don’t agree they’re psychotic.
Tracy: Only someone who is a true psychotic wouldn’t pick up on that. But I would still probably never take his advice on a bad date. I’d just make something up, or act like I didn’t feel well. Ghost. Because as theoretically correct as it is, it would never go that well in real life. I’d muddle through. Finish the date and then bail forever.
John: I’m actually pro-ghost for a first encounter. If someone never contacts you after the first date, you get the message. You don’t owe them a formal breakup talk.
Tracy: But how bad would a date have to be for you to not finish the implied date time set out for the evening?
John: I’ve only had one truly bad date. And I ended it immediately.
Tracy: What did she do?
John: I was having drinks with a woman I met on Tinder, and she was like, “Wow, you have a fat face.” And I was like, “I think you should go.“ This was, like, five minutes after she arrived.
Tracy: Oh my god.
John: But a younger version of myself would’ve seen it through. Because I used to be a total coward about breakups, regardless whether it was a first date or a full-fledged relationship.
Tracy: By contrast, I went on a bad date and I endured the entire night to a comical degree — pretending right up to the end that it wasn’t horrifying until I could finally plot what felt like a non-murderous escape.
John: How’d you get out?
Tracy: I just waited it out until it was late enough, because I couldn’t figure out how to say, “I don’t want to be here oh my god this is horrible,” in a nice way. And even when I didn’t say that and just eventually left, then the guy was still like, “I’m never going to see you again, am I?” All my wasted efforts resulted in the one direct question I didn’t want to answer in the first place.
John: Oof. That brings up an interesting question: Is it more ethical to continue a date you’re not interested in, or to end it abruptly? Probably the latter is better, but it’s infinitely harder.
Tracy: The first leads the person on and sets up the sense that you’re both having a fine time, whereas the second, the Band-Aid-ripper approach, hurts more but gets the job done. There’s an app, Bod, for people on bad Tinder dates around each other to find each other and escape. This is when you’d use that app.
John: Wait, what? How does that work? You go into the bathroom and send an SOS? And someone runs in and screams, “Your apartment is on fire!”?
Tracy: Hahaha, no actually THAT would be a genius app: a paid actor shows up to pull you away for a believable emergency. No, on this one you go on there to find your second date for the night.
John: Oh, I see. That’s a great idea, because you have something to talk about — how horrible your last date was!
Tracy: Yeah, but all I can think is how now I bet you’re just on a shitty second date.
John: Yeah but you gotta shoot to win, ya know?
Tracy: Gotta pay to play.
John: The best way is to put a hard stop on the date before it begins is to meet for one drink. Can’t have a long, tense dinner.
Tracy: But look, sometimes the gargoyle doesn’t come out until a few drinks and dinner and some spontaneous getting-to-know-you. Just drinks isn’t a guarantee you won’t do a second date, and that the second date will be the bad one you need to ditch on.
I fantasize about escaping mid-date and never looking back, but the reality is I treat it like an endurance sport. But I aspire to be the person in that hostage video! It’s just women live in greater fear of being direct.
John: I lived with a woman, a friend, in New York, and it was hard to get her to be direct with me about the simplest things — dishes and whatnot. It was eye-opening.
Tracy: Yes, women talk around how they really feel all the time out of hardcore conditioning to always be really nice and polite and put others first. We give men the power to pursue us, to move things to a more serious place. So the idea of on a date, taking that power away, and telling him you aren’t into it, before he gets a chance to decide, is a recipe for disaster.
John: But if someone isn’t into you, you shouldn’t want to be there either, ya know?
Tracy: Yeah but that doesn’t seem to matter to men, who often view indifference as a challenge.
John: I blame rom-coms for that. Society has taught men that getting a woman to like you is a matter of perseverance. It’s a legitimately dangerous idea.
Tracy: Which is why you’d even need to consult a hostage negotiator to get out of that.
John: The true issue there’s no way to leave someone without hurting someone’s feelings. It’s impossible. You just have to do it and bear the inherent awkwardness of it.
So the key is to make society better at accepting rejection on a date. And by society, I mean men. Good luck with that.
Tracy: Yeah, so until then, bathroom window.