What Do You Say After A First Date With No Chemistry?

Dear Evan,

What do you do when you hit it off with someone in an email correspondence and in phone conversations, and then when you meet you find them unattractive? It’s not the kind of thing you can just come out and say, “I didn’t feel the chemistry,” because it means you didn’t like how they look. It’s clear that’s the reason. Some photos are just not how people really look, and while I don’t think they are misrepresenting themselves, it creates a problem. Especially since before meeting they think you think they’re great.  What do you suggest?


Dear Wondering,

Your question reminded me of a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, entitled “How Do I Blow Off Thee?”

How do I blow off thee? Let me count the ways.
I blow off thee for weight and height.
For claims of age that don’t seem right.
For lack of chemistry and failure to praise.
I blow off thee any number of ways.
For photos proffered and deleted on sight.
For writing clichés, so hackneyed and trite.
I blow off thee quickly, at a wrong turn of phrase.
I blow off thee quietly, never meeting your gaze.
By hiding after saying, “I’ll talk to you soon.”
By calling during thy lunch break at noon.
I blow off thee after our very first date.
‘Fore your habits on my nerves ever should grate.
I blow off thee to show you who’s boss.
Then why do I sense it is I that has lost?

Yeah, it’s a little melancholy, but all the great poets of the 1800’s had a light case of the blues, as well.

Oh, wait, you had a question. And I’m supposed to have an answer. Let me get out of poetry mode for a second.

Okay, I’m back. And I will resist all impulses to write my response to in iambic pentameter.

So, in response to your query about how to tell someone that it’s the lack of chemistry that’s the reason for blowing someone off, how about this novel idea: How about you don’t say anything? How about not hashing out the whys and the hows after only one date? How about not having a terribly uncomfortable and unnecessary conversation? How about writing a quick email that says, “I had a fun time last night, but didn’t feel that necessary ‘click’ to move things forward. You seem like a great catch, though, and I wish you the best of luck in your search.” That’s not too harsh, is it?…

Listen, all of us have been blown off before and I’d venture to guess that 90% of the time it’s not because you did something “wrong” like cuss out the waiter or refuse to wear pants in the restaurant. No, for the most part, the first dates that don’t turn into second dates are all going to fall under the umbrella of “lack of chemistry.” So what’s the value of discussing it?

I know you’re asking the question because you’re trying to be sensitive, but face it – you can’t be too sensitive when you’re dating. Either you’re going to blow them off or they’re going to blow you off. That’s how the vast majority of first and second dates go.

My personal policy has been to NEVER tell a woman what I think is “wrong” with her. It’s simply not nice, especially since it’s only one person’s opinion. Plus, there’s nothing to learn from “there’s no chemistry.” It’s not like she could go back into the lab and work on that minor issue for her next date.

The only reason I see fit to offer my thoughts is if someone asks for genuine constructive feedback. And if they ask, they can’t be too hurt if you tell. Frankly, I’m a fan of the little white lie that hurts no one. Believe me, I’ve been on the other side of women who let me know just what they thought about me – even if I didn’t ask. And once you’ve been told to your face by a date, “I’m just not attracted to you,” you start seeing the value in moving on via email…

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  1. 31

    What I fail to understand is when a man asks to kiss you on a date, says he enjoys the date and then says he’ll contact you. 
    For crying out loud, what’s the sodding point of saying, I’ll contact you, if you don’t??????

  2. 32
    Evan Marc Katz

    Judy, people says “I’ll call you” to be polite. If you’ve ever had a date end with “Good luck,” you should see the viability and tact in this little white lie.

  3. 33
    Sparkling Emerald

    [email protected] – Yes, I think by now we all know that “I’ll call you” is  guy-speak for “Never want to see you again”.    Means something very similar to when a gal says that he’s “such a nice guy”. However, I think “I’ll call you” should not be accompanied by a kiss, (unless it’s the dreaded forehead peck). 
    If I don’t want to see someone again after the first meeting, I say nothing.  If he hasn’t tried to arrange a second date, I assume he’s not interested either.  If he does try to arrange a second date, I just thank him for his time, and say that we’re not a match.  I HATE doing that face to face.  Sometime I get a follow up e-mail asking for an encore date, and it’s just easier e-mailing a rejection than face to face. 
    I’ve had a few guys ask why, and I just say, “I don’t think we’re a match”.  After all, what doesn’t attract me, could very well attract someone else, so I see no point in telling them. 

  4. 34

    Sparkling Emerald
    If a guy has made very obvious dating mistakes which put me off, I will tell him if he asks why I don’t want to go out with him again. But I’d only tell him if he asked, and I’d do it in a kind way.
    For example, one first date I had, the guy was half an hour late (said he got stuck in traffic, which I guess is ok, but… meh) and spent most of our date watching the soccer on the TV… while I was talking! Another guy didn’t have a car and so asked me to meet him close to his house (a bit of a drive for me) and then couldn’t even spring for my drink.  These are the sorts of mistakes a guy should know about if he asks, no?

  5. 35
    Sparkling Emerald

    Clare 34 – I see your point, but usually the really obnoxious guys don’t ask, and the ones that DO ask, it really was just a matter of not being attracted.  Really what am I supposed to say ?  “Upon meeting you in person, I realized that I would NOT ever want to have sex with you EVER, so what would be the point of pursuing a relationship? ”  Not a nice thing to say and I don’t want to be a mean girl.
    There are two instances where the guys asked me why I was cutting them off, and it was for specific reasons. Not just lack of chemistry.   One guy, I must admit, I had reservations about on the phone, but decided to give him a chance, and met him in person.  He was even worse in person than on the phone.  Another guy grilled me and lectured me about everything in his e-mails.  At first it was mostly about my separation status, which I can understand to a certain extent, then it moved to me riding my bike to work, and my son’s breed of dog and pretty much every detail of my life.  Well, for some bizarre reason, I decided to “give him a chance” by phone, and I felt like a criminal with his inerrogations, lectures, etc.  His conversations style was SO heavy, incapable of light hearted banter, humorless, tiring, draining and so NOT fun. I sent him a brief e-mail stating “For reasons I prefer not to disclose, I will no longer be communiciating with you any further”  (he e-mailed me saying he wanted to set up a face to face)  He wrote back and asked why, and I just ignored him.
    I have since decided that if I go back into the DGJ (dating game jungle) I will NOT “give guys a chance” at any point, it has never worked.  If his profile sucks, he gets nexted.  If his e-mail don’t pass muster, it’s NEXT.  If the phone convo is dull, stilted, filled with silence, reveals a humorless stuffed shirt, if he comes across as not too bright, it’s NEXT.  I’ve received my share of rejection slips since going back to the DGJ, why should I give guys a “second chance” when the first impression leaves me so un-impressed ? If the beginning of getting to know someone is not going to be fun and upbeat, what can I expect later on down the road, when relationships start experiencing challenges ?  Thanks, but no thanks.  And I’ll leave it to the guy to figure out what it is, or leave him to find a woman who doesn’t find his ways to be so boring, heavy, humorless, etc.

  6. 36

    I once had a guy tell me he didn’t want a 2nd date because I reminded him too much of his aunt. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even contact him to ask him why he disappeared.  He evidently just felt I needed to know. Some conversations are simply not necessary. Just move on.

  7. 37

    SE #35- I think there is a difference between giving a guy who didn’t make you laugh via email a chance vs one who openly criticizes you! That guy sounds like a nightmare. 

  8. 38

    If I am on the fence about a guy after the first date (having even the slightest feeling that I may be attracted), I will give it a second date.  If the second date goes by and there’s no spark, then I will honestly tell him that although I’ve enjoyed our date, I do not feel the chemistry necessary to keep dating.  I think that after the second date you should both be feeling a strong pull of physical attraction towards one another.

  9. 39

    I have gotten ” I don’t understand you. ” response to simple obvious messages twice. Retorts do come to mind. But I just replied on both occasions ” Goodbye then.” Maybe I should suggest they go feed the poor starving polar bears in Churchill Canada to get an authentic bear hug, for the benifit of humanity. Maybe THAT they would understand.

  10. 40

    I met a guy off an online dating website. We hit it off over the phone and had a few great phone conversations and we decided to no prolong meeting in person and it was a TOTAL disaster. The guy looked just like his photo EXCEPT the fact that he was missing one of his front teeth and that was a real downer it took all of his appeal away. aside from that he arrived at Starbucks in a Mercades but when we concluded our date he left in a raggetty, dirty work truck. I realize as I drove away this guy was full of optical illusions and deception. He called me the next day eagerly wanting to know when he would see me again and I flatly told him because he had bad teeth I just wasnt attracted nor interested in seeing him again. I know he could possibly eventually get his tooth replaced but what really killed our meeting was the facade that he created and that was the ultimate dealbreaker.

  11. 41

    Okay . . . for a Man, is there any reason that “Thanks for tonight. I’ll email you again tomorrow, okay (?)” won’t work as a general purpose first-date-ending convention (?)
    You’re not committing to WHAT you’ll say in the email — could be pro or con.
    And then you email tomorrow — pro or con.
    Any (good) reason this won’t work for most Women (?)

  12. 42


    It’s because it sounds like you’re suggesting you want to continue seeing her!
    Of course people are going to be optimistic if you say you’ll email tomorrow

    Who would actually expect the the “email tomorrow” is to end things?
    Why not just say you had a great time period, and just leave it at that?

  13. 43

    Stephen- I hope the 5 women you’re sleeping with know you’re playing all of them. Did you tell them you’re simply using them for sex and you’re doing so with many others? If not, you need to do so. You’re manipulating and using women while putting their lives at risk. That’s not okay at all!

  14. 44
    say it

    Yesterday I met this small woman that is putting her feet n legs on my car dashboard on a first date.

    Well I found that attractive. That she could feel comfortable enough to sit any way she wanted in my car. Is this what chemistry is all about.

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