Dear Helena,

This weekend I’m taking a woman I really like out for dinner, and I want it to go well. Should I steer clear of certain foods? Should I skip spaghetti in case I splatter my shirt (or, even worse, my dining companion)? Should I avoid blue cheese or garlic in case they give me bad breath? I want to be myself, but I also want to avoid grossing her out. —Nervous Bachelor

Dear Nervous Bachelor,

Some dating experts say you should steer clear of messy food on dates. Lisa Altalida, author of Dating Boot Camp, says: “Crab is one of my favorite foods, but I wouldn’t order it on a date unless it’s cracked already.” But I disagree. If you order what you want and eat it without stressing, you’ll be more relaxed and fun to be with. If you connect with your companion, a splatter on the tablecloth shouldn’t put him off. And if it does, then you probably shouldn’t date the person anyway.

And you don’t necessarily have to steer clear of garlic and onions. Evan Marc Katz, a dating coach, says bad breath isn’t a big deal: “I never heard a man say, ‘She had onion breath, I’m never going to see her again.’” Dr. Anthony Dailley, director of the Center for Breath Treatment, says garlic is OK, too. “When it’s just after people have eaten it, their breath just smells like garlic cooking, which for many is a pretty good smell.” You still might want to check in with your date before ordering chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. Amy Sullivan, a garlic-loving middle-school teacher in Oakland, California, says that when she’s considering a garlicky entrée on a date, “I’ll ask the guy if he likes garlic and hopefully get an agreement.” One man responded, “No, and there’s nothing worse than garlic breath,” so Sullivan ordered a garlic-free dish. (There was no second date, however.)

If you both indulge in garlic, you need not fret, according to Dailley. “When my wife has had garlic, I can smell her a mile away, but if I’ve had garlic too, I hardly notice it on her.” After being exposed to an odor long enough, he explains, your nose stops smelling it—a phenomenon that perfumers call “nose fatigue.”

Dailley says the best way to avoid halitosis after a meal is “scraping your tongue thoroughly with a really good tongue scraper.” This dislodges the molecules of garlic buried deep in your taste buds, he says. But when you’re in a restaurant, tongue scraping may not be convenient. And carrying a tongue scraper around with you is definitely not sexy.

If you choose to eat garlic, know that even if your date loves garlic, your breath may give offense the following day. “The compounds in garlic pervade your body and come out through your pores,” explains Dailley. “For some reason … it’s many times worse, a whole different smell.” Brushing your teeth won’t help much at this point. So if you stay the night, you might want to consider leaving before your partner regains consciousness.

Table Manners appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.

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