Problem with this bathroom sign
ALMOST everyone has a 'bad date' story.
I know I've been on some real corkers: there was the man who infamously showed me a photo of his soft penis over lunch in the food court; and the fellow who asked me to meet his parents, told me when we'd be getting married, and informed me of how many children we'd be having - all before dessert.
Then there was the chap who took me to dinner and ordered a big bowl of creamy, garlicky seafood pasta … and ate it with his hands.
Unless you've had the good fortune of meeting your soulmate on the first date you ever went on, it's highly likely that you, too, have endured some truly terrible coffee catch-ups and dinner chats.
From the intolerable, to the offensive, to the downright dangerous; bad dates are everywhere. They can happen to anyone, at any time - but the NSW Government has recently begun trialling a plan to offer an escape route to those who find themselves stuck on a date that's quickly turning sour.
Ask for Angela is an initiative that encourages people to go to the bar and ask the staff for "Angela", or order a drink called an "angel shot", if they find themselves on a date with someone who they believe is threatening, dangerous, or creepy.
"Angela" isn't a person and the "angel shot" isn't a drink, but a codeword to let the staff know that the person needs to be assisted in leaving the venue as quickly as possible, and without their date's knowledge.
It's a great idea, in theory: find yourself having a drink with someone who's talking about their serial killer obsession and asking if you've ever worn handcuffs before? Just ask the bartender if "Angela" is working tonight and you'll find yourself whisked out the back door and in to a waiting taxi, like Mariah Carey being ushered in to a limousine after the Grammys.
Unfortunately, it's something that I can't see having a lot of practical application.
To begin with, I've worked in hospitality before. I've poured drinks, scrubbed floors, and restocked fridges from sundown to sunrise. It's tough, demanding work: especially when you add in elements like loud music, flashing lights, and rowdy customers.
It's exhausting; and no hospitality worker is being paid enough to also be tasked with taking control of every social interaction occurring within the venue. While bars and clubs are responsible for the safety of their patrons, they're also responsible for the safety of their workers: if someone is making their date uncomfortable by being aggressive or intimidating, helping their date leave the venue doesn't stop the behaviour. Realistically, it's likely to exacerbate it, with the bar staff being the next in line to cop an earful from someone who's furious to find out that their date has disappeared. Any plan that aims to prevent violence or harassment against women by asking another woman to step in to the line of fire is profoundly flawed.
The Ask for Angela initiative is primarily aimed at women who may find themselves on a date with a man who behaves in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe; but it's not 'in a cocktail bar on a first date' where a woman is most likely to experience violence. On average, one woman is murdered every week by a current or former partner and most women experience violence in the home. (It's men who are more likely to experience violence in public places.) Even when I think about the non-physical acts of aggression I've experienced, like harassment and intimidation; I can't recall very many of them happening inside a licensed venue. If I'm catcalled, verbally harassed, grabbed, or followed by a man, it's most likely going to happen while I'm walking in to the bar - or while I'm walking home.
Still, the experience of being on a bad date is an unpleasant one. Who wants to spend their night across from someone who won't stop ranting about their last failed relationship, or doesn't believe that they need to shower? As someone who's been on more bad dates than I care to remember, I have a few tips to help even the shyest of people extract themselves from an awkward situation.
• Set a time limit for your date, and stick to it
If you don't think you want to commit to spending an entire evening with someone, let them know before the date that you have to leave by a certain time.
"I'd love to see you, but I'm having dinner with my parents on the same night so I have to leave by 7:00pm!"
When 7:00pm rolls around, simply excuse yourself and leave as promised - but of course, if your date turns out to be much more fun than expected, dinner can always be suddenly 'cancelled' …
• Think of a creative lie
If you want to leave immediately but don't want to come right out and say it, sometimes a well-crafted lie can do the trick. Maybe your boss needs you to come back to work, or your baby niece has just been born. Perhaps your cat ran away or your housemate's locked themselves out - whatever it is, keep it simple, keep it quick, and evacuate the dancefloor before your date offers to come with you and help find your lost pet.
• Be assertive and honest
What would Judge Judy do? If you feel safe enough to say exactly how you feel, simply tell your date that you don't feel a connection and you'd like to end the evening. "Sorry, but I really don't think we're going to be compatible. Thanks for coming to meet me, but I'm going to head home now." It's direct enough to communicate that you really don't feel a spark, without being needlessly rude or hurtful.
• If all else fails …
… don't escape the worst date, become the worst date. Has your date talked non-stop about his collection of thumbtacks? Great, you suddenly have a collection of toenails. Does she chew with her mouth wide open, spitting food all over you? Do the same, but eat from her plate. Stuck with someone who can't stop talking about how the earth is flat? Don't forget to mention that you think the sun is a hologram and the weather is controlled by a giant computer inside Parliament House. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - but don't be surprised if midway through the night, your date gets up and says they have to urgently rush home because of an emergency …
- Kate Iselin is a writer and sex worker. Continue the conversation on Twitter @kateiselin