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Bad dates are like evil Beanie Babies -- something you collect, but only so you can scare your friends with them. But as terrible as they are, bad dating experiences do serve a purpose. "Bad dates help you figure out what you don't want in a man," says Norine Dworkin, coauthor of You Know He's a Keeper, You Know He's a Loser: Happy Endings and Horror Stories from Real-Life Relationships (Perigee Trade, 2004). "You go out with a fellow, he picks his nose, and now you know what else to add to your don't-want list: A nose-picker."
Knowing what you don't want helps -- to a point. Take Jessica's experience, for example. She thought she knew what she was getting into with her first date. "The date seemed so promising," says Jessica, 26, from Washington, DC. "He was 30 and established in his job. I thought he'd be a welcome relief from the postcollege flaky guys I'm usually exposed to. We were watching TV when he went in for a smooch. I wasn't in the mood for that -- first date and all -- so I gently rebuffed him." A few moments later, he reached across Jessica to grab his soda from the table.
"But instead of drinking from it, he stuck his finger into it and poked his now-wet finger into my right ear," Jessica recalls. "I was shocked, not having experienced a wet Willie since the age of 7, so I turned away to compose myself -- at which point he reached down my pants and yanked up my undies. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I'd received a wedgie. Needless to say, I'd overestimated his maturity, and didn't go out with him again."
You may not have found yourself on a date with Pee-Wee Herman, but you've probably had a similarly mortifying moment.
To recover from a he-seemed-so-normal situation, Dworkin says, chalk it up to experience. "Don't beat yourself up with 'how could I have not seen what a creep he was,'" says Dworkin. "Instead say, 'at least I found out before I got too involved,' and know the next one has to be better."
Far from being discouraged by the many utterly icky experiences recounted in her terrifying tome, Dworkin says the other thing she learned from the bad dates out there "is how lucky I am to have the guy I finally found. He may leave his socks out, but he doesn't pick his nose in public -- knowing what's out there, I'm a lot more tolerant of my prince not-so-charming's foibles."
We've all got a first-date horror story. Here, several women reveal their most horrifying dating don'ts:
Smile! "My girlfriend was raving about how great this guy was, so I agreed to have dinner with him. He told me he had just bought a little house, and invited me back for dessert. I thought that was nice. As we ate dessert in the living room, he gave me a funny look. Then he smiled, and I saw he was missing one front tooth. I tried to smile politely, but he held up the [missing] tooth in his hand and said, 'It's fake! You couldn't tell!' I don't think I would have minded the fake tooth, but I didn't need it shown to me -- nor did I need him to ask, 'Can I kiss you? If you run your tongue through the hole, I'll bet it'll feel really weird.' No... no thanks." Rene, Portland, Oregon, 34
Ole -- Oh No "I was on a first date with this guy, and we were having Mexican food. Yum, right? Yes, until he decided to move in for a smooch -- and pushed a Jalapeno pepper from his mouth into mine. What was that, his special move? Thank you very much, Zorro!" Denise, 40, Brooklyn, New York
Dinner and a Restraining Order "It was a great date with a cute, charming guy: dinner, then drinks and chit-chat, and finally a walk around this groovy little neighborhood. Finally, he stopped, and said he 'wanted to come clean, since we'd had such a nice time' and said he wanted to take it further. He just had to be honest first. The reason he was wearing long pants, not shorts, was that he was wearing an electronic bracelet on his ankle. He was under house arrest -- for stalking his ex-girlfriend. Did I mind, he asked? I said I didn't, but then made sure my airline reassigned me so I'd never fly through his city again. Ever!!" Anne, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 34
A Third Wheel "I was set up with a guy. He asked if I'd like to go to a Kings hockey game, and I said sure, but when he picked me up there was another woman in the front seat. He didn't introduce her, but said he was dropping her at the airport, and I proceeded to sit in the backseat feeling like a little kid while they babbled away in French. His cocky attitude continued, and I tried to fake some stomach pains to get out of the game at half-time, but he insisted we go out to some clubs afterward (where he had "connections," which never materialized). Thank goodness I ran into some friends at the club and could leave with them. But it gets weirder: a year ago I ended up in the ER with an allergic reaction to a sinus shot, and this fella was my doctor. And he asked me out again! No thank you, Dr. Ick!" Karyn, Los Angeles, California, 35
SpongeBob DorkPants "My worst date never actually happened, thank God. I saw this guy, Paulie, online, and when we spoke on the phone, he sounded like he really understood women, because he had grown up with lots of sisters, you know? So the night before our beach date, we talk on the phone to confirm. He asks me what kind of bathing suit I wear. I say I have both a one-piece and a bikini, and I switch off depending on my mood. So he hmphs, and says 'Usually, when girls wear one-pieces, it means they're trying to hide something, like a fat stomach.' I'm like, okay, whatever. But he keeps going: 'Do you go to the gym?' I said no, but I left out the fact that I run four times a week, because how is it any of his business? Finally, he goes, 'Look, I can't see from this picture what your body looks like, and you might be fat. And I don't date big girls.' He goes on to say that he's concerned about my health, and says he couldn't date a woman who doesn't work out." I said, 'Why are you being such an ass?' and he responds that he didn't know I had such a rude vocabulary, and couldn't date me now anyway. Which was the correct answer, for once." Jillian, Cincinnati, Ohio, 26
Intestinal Terror "This guy took me out for sushi. Yay. But it turned out to be an all-you-can-eat joint. Boo. If there's one thing I think you shouldn't cheap out on, it's raw fish. I stuck to the safe stuff, but he ate enough for me, him, and the next table -- then disappeared for 40 minutes. I wasn't sure what to do. Finally, he returned, belt in hand, and recounted (a) that he had an attack of diarrhea, (b) that the bathroom had a mirror so he was able to watch this diarrhea happen, and (c) that he had taken off the aforementioned belt so he could feel more comfortable. That was all I needed to hear, really -- domestic details like that should be saved for after marriage, I think. Maybe even for after divorce." Debbie, Maplewood, New Jersey, 33
Hey! Remember Me? I'm Your Date! "I went out with a Seinfeld look-alike, which was bad enough to start with. He took me to a show where we were seated at long table with a gaggle of girls. By the middle of the show, I looked over to see him completely sitting with his back to me, deeply engaged in conversation with one of the girls. Not wanting to make a fuss, but not sure what to do, I went to the bathroom for a moment of peace. Her friends followed me in there, apologizing: 'She does this all the time,' they said. 'She's such a bitch. We're so sorry!' I said it was no problem -- he really wasn't my type anyway. I hope he got her number and they're very happy together." Cindy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 36
Red Hot and Blech "I had gone out with this guy a few times, so we went back to his house to make out. But before we could sit on the couch and get comfortable, he took a handkerchief, removed the bulb from the nearby lamp, and replaced it with a blue lightbulb. Now that he had his mood lighting ready, he turned on the stereo. What came on? 'Nights in White Satin' by the Moody Blues. I'll admit that I did make out with him, since I didn't know how not to... but it wasn't for long, and he never got past first base. Okay?" Betsy, Montclair, New Jersey, 35
Clothing Optional "This guy and I were kissing on the couch after our first date. I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I came out, he'd taken off all his clothes. I repeat: He had taken off all his clothes! When I expressed surprise at this turn of events, he said, 'What? I thought that's why you went to the bathroom.' Hey, you've got to give him points for trying. But points were all he got that night!" Sarah, 45, Bloomfield, New Jersey
Waaay Too Much Information "He seemed so great online, but when we met, he began detailing the show he'd seen at an S&M club the previous weekend. Lots of hog-tying, plenty of whipping...When he got to the part about the knives, I blurted out something about having to run to dinner, shook his hand, and ran out of there. I should have said, 'I didn't mean to cut you off...'" Irene, Brooklyn, New York, 36
Date not going well? Don't climb out the bathroom window. Dworkin has some get-lost-quick moves that'll leave you free as a bird, but smelling like a rose.
"The most important thing," says Dworkin, "is to not feel bad about hurting his feelings. We women get caught up in that, but it's better to cut bait than string him along. I once dated what was supposed to be a one-night-stand for eight months just to be polite. Who knows who I missed meeting in the process?"
Indeed. A certain author -- of this article -- kept dating a guy she now refers to as Fat-Josh for a year and a half after he let loose a vicious fart, in the middle of a charming cobblestoned street, while eating a drippy falafel, on their first date. Don't meet the same fate: Learn to extricate yourself from a distressing situation -- and keep trying till you find Mister Right (or at least Mister Not-So-Flatulent).