9 Life Skills to Master Before Your Next Date

Some of these may be slightly more involved than the surreptitious tooth-lipstick check, but we promise they're worth the effort.

Reading the New Body Language

To be polite (and to ignore your BFF's constant "So?!" texts), you've turned your phone off, which you had to Google how to even do. Good for you. And yet, there's no need to freak out if your date is still fumbling with his phone. He might be nervous, or he might be waiting for a family member's post-op, all-clear text. You really never know. If the mood is right you might jokingly point it out—"Are you live-tweeting your hummus review?"—but don't get all up in his face about his smartphone addiction...not at least until the second date.

Recovering From a Gaffe with Confidence, Grace and Jazz Hands

You're going to torque your shoe heel into a street grate or overturn a wine glass or accidentally bite his ear when he goes in for a goodbye kiss (cheek or mouth? Where is he going?!). It's a rare and special art, however, to know how to lightly poke fun at yourself enough to put the other person at ease without going so far that you make them feel an uncomfortable degree of responsibility to reassure you. Trust me. This balance is my life. The key is to remember that he'd rather focus on your best qualities than judge you at your most awkward—give him a chance to do that.

Gracefully Declining the Next-Day Mini-Golf Session

We've written it many times, you've heard it from many sources and here I am, about to say it again, but we can't help it; it might just be one of the most powerful lessons you ever learn in your whole life, and no it's not how to right-click with a touchpad although that is surprisingly helpful. It is: YOU CAN SAY NO. Maybe this date was a disaster. Oh well! With any luck it was at least a disaster in a funny way that will make a good story some day. If, at the end of the night, wistful-for-ex, loud-chewing, Bluetooth-wearing, nightmare-date Guy is ready for more, don't shuffle your feet and claim to be busy every day for the rest of your life. Try a smile, and something polite but firm like, "I don't think we're compatible," or "I'm not sure this is what I'm looking for," or, "I'm not interested in something steady right now." And then do what any sane, mature adult does: Block him on Facebook.

Shortening the Horizon

A surefire way to make sharing a basket of fries into an intense existential drama is to be thinking the whole time, "Do I want to marry this person?" Take it easy, Sister. Try first: "Do I want to see the dessert menu?" Baby steps. What's the best horizon for you to consider? Twenty more minutes? Another meal? A day trip? Seeing each other in sweatpants? People reveal themselves bit by bit, which doesn't mean you have to stick around to see more, just that the real question is whether you want to. And if the answer is maybe, then ask yourself one of the only easy questions in the universe: Do you, in fact, in your heart of hearts, want any more ketchup to go with those fries?