Experts reveal the perfect comebacks for awkward questions about income, exes, and politics.
First (and second and third) date conversations can be tough. When you’re just getting to know someone, chances are good that either you or the bundle of nerves sitting on the other side of the bread basket will say something uncomfortable. But what if you had a spin-savvy communication coach overseeing your dating life — could you become a star-caliber pro at maneuvering the small-talk minefield?
Potential disaster 1: Exes
“I was on a second date when the girl mentioned that she had cheated on her ex-boyfriend and asked me about my last relationship,” says Matt Horton of Sylva, NC. Awkward, yes, but not uncommon. Most people bring up their exes at some point, either from nerves, triggered emotions or absentmindedness. Your impulse is to respond in kind, but just talking about an ex — in any tone — makes it seem like you’re still hung up.
Solution: “We often think that we’re obligated to answer a question just because it’s been asked, but we’re not,” says Laurie Puhn, J.D., author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. “Reply with, ‘It was fine. But I’m having such a good time with you, I’d rather focus on the present.’”
Potential disaster 2: Income
“During dinner, my date brought up the fact that he vacations on an island his family owns,” says Courtney McHale of Boston, MA. “He made several more references to money, and later, he asked me how well my recruiting job paid. I felt like I was being judged.”
Solution: Most people don’t like sharing what they earn, but they answer anyway (as they would with ex questions), because they feel put on the spot. Instead, smile and say, “Not as much as I’d like, but enough to pay the bills,” suggests T.J. Walker, president of Media Training Worldwide, a media coaching group that trains celebrities and business executives. “Smiling makes anything easier to accept.”
Potential disaster 3: Politics
“Ten minutes after meeting my blind date, he went off on a tirade about my political party,” says Tiffany Kunkle of Atlanta, GA. “He asked me which candidate I voted for, but I didn’t want to get in an argument.” Politics and other hot-button topics (think religion, gay marriage rights, dogs vs. cats) can undermine flirtation — the real reason you’re there — and land you in a conversation that’s tough to cut off.
Solution: Remember that there’s always some middle ground between pretending to agree and honesty that results in a fight. “Make an innocuous comment, like ‘Wow, the president has a tough job. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes,’” says Walker.
Potential disaster 4: Awkward confessions
“During an evening that was going well, my date admitted to me that she was having surgery,” says Mark Gantt of Los Angeles. “It turns out that she was getting liposuction and breast implants. After that, she was totally insecure, talking about how fat she was.”
Since most early dates are a bit bumbling, uncomfortable disclosures (like tales of getting fired, seeing a shrink or losing a child custody battle) can be a regular road hazard, if only because they make the speakers beat themselves up for bringing the topics up.
Solution: Don’t feel like you have to match your date’s level of intimacy. “The best thing to do is to be sympathetic and say ‘I hope it goes well,’ or ‘Well, at least you’ve moved on and learned from it,’” says Walker. “The second best thing to do is to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom — it works.” By the time you come back, you’ll be primed to pick a new topic.