THE table for two is booked, a single red rose awaits and love is in the air. Valentine's Day is just around the corner, but there's one little problem to solve before the annual love-in can begin.
For if the course of true love never did run smooth, it's probably because it got off to a fairly rubbish start thanks to the horrors of the first
Perseverance is key if course of true love is to run smooth
date. Last year, UK singletons embarked on a grand total of 18 million first dates – many not managing to bring themselves to meet up for a second one.
In January alone there were around 2.5m first dates, as singles rushed to find love before the 14 February deadline and the prospect of another Valentine's Day with just the TV, the cat and the pizza delivery boy for company.
According to Edinburgh matchmaker Margot Medhurst, whose dating agency Yours Sincerely has around 650 single people from across Central Scotland on its books, first dates are a minefield to be crossed with caution.
"I always suggest that people should keep their first date fairly short, over a glass of wine, a coffee or a weekend lunch, because it's a lot to ask of someone to spend a whole evening together trying to keep a conversation going. An hour or two is long enough."
If you are looking for love this Valentine's weekend, Margot suggests it's worth persevering.
"Unless your first date with someone is a complete disaster, then I suggest accepting the offer of a second date," she says. "You'll both be more relaxed and the first date nerves will be gone.
"By the end of the second date, you'll know whether this is someone you feel like seeing again."
Online boutique owner Roz Coltart recalls one particular date that came to an abrupt end.
"I was 18 and working at Disneyworld in Orlando," says Roz, boss of Black Essentials.
"I arranged a date with a guy who worked there too and went to meet him at his apartment.
"Unknown to me he had a girlfriend already – who suddenly appeared at the door."
Roz, 36, of Blackhall, was bundled into a bathroom to hide. "I ended up cowering behind the shower curtain while she kept asking him if he had anyone with him.
"Then he tried the double bluff and said, OK, if there's anyone there, come out. I thought 'to hell with it', threw back the shower curtain, stepped over the bath and said, 'hope you guys have a nice night', and left."
There was no second date for Merle Brown's admirer, either. Merle, 37, who runs online vintage boutique Miss Kitty Litter Vintage, recalls: "I was about 19, and working in the St James Centre.
"This guy came into the shop a few times, then asked me to go for a drink after work one night.
"I lived in Roslin, so he said he'd give me a lift home. We went to get his 'car' which turned out to be his fishmonger dad's fish van!
"It was stinking and I was mortified," she groans. "All the way through Roslin I was ducking in case anyone saw me."
Stand-up comic Susan Morrison is no stranger to first date misery either. "
I vaguely remember one date that went hideously wrong because my friend Pam told me that really classy ladies only drank cocktails.
"The only one I knew was Tequila Sunrise. This is a tricky nightmare of a beverage involving orange juice, tequila and something purple, which was carefully poured down into the glass to create a sort of layered effect.
"Imagine my amazement when the pretty layers turned out not to stay in place when they were regurgitated over the dashboard of a British Leyland Alpine – his dad's British Leyland Alpine,."
It was a brief encounter for radio presenter and writer Lynne McCrossan, 26, who recalls a first date that ended with her being dumped on the same night.
"I was 16 and still at school," she says. "But my friend and I used to bunk off and nip to the local pub instead. The guy behind the bar was really nice and I was so happy when he asked me out," adds Lynne, of Gorgie. "He took me to dinner and we got on really well. But at the end I had to tell him that I was still only 16. He freaked out."
But not all first dates end in misery, red faces and a long lonely walk home alone.
Gaynor Turner, co-owner of Macintyres of Edinburgh wholesale jewellers in Frederick Street, has romantic memories of a first date with a patient boyfriend.
"I lived in London at the time and due to taking so long to get ready I was incredibly late leaving the house. Normally, I'd have taken the Tube but I thought I might be quicker if I just drove – big mistake," she laughs.
It took another hour to get to Leicester Square where she found Steve sitting on a bollard. He looked up and said: "Well, I was going to give you one more hour and then I was going to leave'.
"I thought that was so nice. But what clinched the second date was an hour later when he asked if I'd like to go to his place for Christmas – in the Bahamas.
"We got engaged six weeks later and married two years after."
For every first date that goes horribly wrong, a few go exceedingly well. Such as for Edinburgh author Ken McClure, married to wife Mina for nearly 45 years.
He was working as a bacteriologist at the City Hospital when Cupid's arrow struck.
"We'd put on this pantomime for the patients. I must have impressed Mina because she agreed to a date at the Dominion Cinema in Morningside.
"I can't remember much about it, but it must have gone quite well because we ended up married in 1965. What's nice is that the Dominion is still there."
Finally, while they say the best relationships are founded on honesty, corset boutique owner Seona Earle-Misumi can argue otherwise.
She agreed to go on a first date with the man who would eventually become her husband – blissfully unaware of the little white lie he'd just told her.
"I was 24 and had got talking to this guy who seemed really nice.
"He said he was 22 so when he asked me out I figured two years wasn't such a big difference."
Nine months later they were still going strong and planning a trip to his family home in Kenya.
"One day I noticed some documents of his lying next to the computer. I saw his date of birth – four years younger than me – and let out this huge gasp," says Seona, 34.
"He admitted that he'd lied about his age because he knew I'd never have dated him otherwise.
"Now we're married nearly a year and we have a daughter."