Be gentle with him, it's his first time

Avoid four-inch heels, don't get drunk or eat garlic, let him pay, and travel by taxi. Anna Maxted offers expert guidance on coping with a first date
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Don't drink red wine. It makes your teeth go black. There are so many blunders to be avoided on the first date that this is a feature that may have to be serialised, but of all the faux pas - revealing that you're desperate to have children/you fancy Michael Portillo/you shower twice a week/you thought Pulp Fiction was a bore/you share your bed with Fluffy, Tigger and Big Bear/you video How Do They Do That?/you're a little vague on the finer details of the Ulster peace plan - drinking red wine and getting black teeth has got to be the worst.

There are, of course, abominable errors to be made even before you've met. Obviously, if you've arranged to go to the pub, turning up in a silver mini-dress is inappropriate, particularly if you're a bloke. But there are subtler distinctions to be drawn. You want to look alluring but not cheap, hip but not a fashion victim, utterly, devastatingly ravishing but not like you made a huge effort. Suddenly all your clothes seem frumpy and you're inclined to admit defeat and show up in a green boiler suit.

Even so, resist haemorrhaging cash at the last minute as blind panic will hamper your judgement. I once purchased a purple jumper and lilac jeans at lunchtime for a date the same evening. Having blown money on new kit I felt temporarily calm. Never mind that I looked like a grape. A minute after we met I wished that I was wearing my plain but trusty uniform of black trousers and denim shirt. Later, as we queued outside the Atlantic Bar in central London, I also wished I was wearing sensible shoes instead of fake Gucci clogs because I unexpectedly fell off the pavement and someone quipped: "Oh look, she's popped her clogs."

This undistinguished display was due to four-inch heels and three bottles of wine (white, of course). Another tip: you may be nervous but getting ratted on a first date is unwise, as you'll act like an imbecile. Unfortunately, you'll down a few glasses to relax and before you can say "alcoholish anonymoush" you've quaffed three litres and wouldn't say no to a pint of Baileys. But! You are witty and interesting - until nausea strikes and your date finds himself holding your hair off your face as you retch in the ladies. It really is safer to resist wild abandonment to social props, although personally on such occasions I find booze and fags indispensable.

Dinner is a more civilised choice, but fraught with peril. Spinach and garlic are just two of a million foodstuffs which stick in your teeth and make your breath reek. The failsafe option is to order clear soup and laugh with your mouth shut, although you may upset your date by grimacing at his jokes. Never mind. You can always sprint to the loo for a quick floss, although too often he'll mistake dental hygiene for a cocaine habit. Or you may plough through a chicken tikka and sag aloo, riveted to your chair, grinning like an election candidate. But be warned: only Meg Ryan looks wacky talking with her mouth full and spewing chewed cheeseburger across the table.

Some men insist on paying. Quite unnecessary, but if the offer is made in the right spirit it should be graciously accepted. The financial settlement should proceed as follows. Him: "No, no, it's OK, I'll pay.'' Her: "Well, that's very kind. Thank you very much." The End. He shouldn't then laugh crossly and make a feeble dig such as "You didn't put up much of a fight!" If he offers to pay he should expect to be taken at his word. If he wants a pseudo-polite prolonged bicker over money then he should try refusing a credit note in a boutique.

Travel arrangements are apt to pose problems. The safest bet is to arrive by tube and depart by taxi. But some men - probably the same individuals who protest until Doomsday and then expect to be cajoled out of paying the bill - insist on playing chauffeur. His driving demeanour may reveal all you need to know. He may zoom up in a horrid squashy little sports car, swear at other vehicles, take forever to find a parking space, and then, despite his power steering, make a hash of a simple reversing manoeuvre. If so, he is most likely a moron, and you can dissuade him from future romantic advances by offering to park for him.

On the other hand, he may be a sweetie, driving at a reasonable pace and scurrying round to open the door for you. (Most women can distinguish between sexism and chivalry.) You may spend a great evening together, devoid of spinach, spangly dresses, and alcohol poisoning. Yet, if he isn't your type, play safe and get a cab home, or risk having to fend off an unwanted clinch across the gear stick. He may be a lovely guy, but if a woman decides that she doesn't want any romantic involvement, nothing strikes fear into her heart like the phrase "I'll just drop you off."

You may have perfected the cruel-to-be-kind technique of swiftly pecking him on the forehead, opening the car door and sliding out as you say "Well, great time, thanks, I'll ring you, bye." Or you may have mastered the knack of inviting him in for a coffee in a manner that plainly means Nescaf, not nooky. If so you are an awesome individual. Because when he stops his car outside your door, he is, briefly, in control, and for many women this is a tricky moment when the creak of a handbrake can spell doom.

This is an emergency that calls for drastic measures. So, as his hand snakes around your neck and he draws you towards him, act fast. Blurt out: "You're nice, but no way. My heart belongs to Michael Portillo.''