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Despite what we see in movies, getting asked out on a date isn’t always a magical, flattering experience. In fact, chances are pretty good that you aren’t actually interested in the person and have no interest in seeing them socially or romantically. Having said that, turning someone down is never easy either—especially if you’re caught off-guard.
When that happens, it can cause you to act awkward, say something stupid or even hurt somebody unintentionally. These tips won’t help much after the fact, but it’s good advice to keep in mind so you’re prepared to handle things flawlessly next time.
Anyway, here are a few tips for letting people down easily when you’re not feeling a love connection.
Be honest, swift and direct
It’s awkward turning someone down—especially if they make some wildly romantic gesture—but honesty is the best policy when you want to keep people from getting too hurt. First, you need to be honest with yourself. Everybody deserves a chance, but sometimes you just know it’s not going to work. If you don’t feel any kind of connection, it’s best not to drag things on because you want to be nice. Don’t agree to a date only out of pity. It can be a waste of both your time, and the other person could get more hurt in the process.
Second, be honest with them. Heather Viets, a marriage and family therapist at web site PreEngaged, recommends you tell it like it is:
Don’t make up lies, but be graciously honest. If you already have a boyfriend or girlfriend, let the person know. If you don’t have a sweetheart, but you are still not interested, tell him or her the truth. It’s okay to simply say, “No, thank you.” If it’s true, you can tell him or her that you are just not interested in dating anyone right now.
You don’t owe them an explanation, but if you actually have a good reason there’s no harm in mentioning it. On his blog, Dr. Nerdlove recommends you keep things short and direct, though:
…tell her you’re flattered, but you’re just not into her that way. It’ll suck for her, but the clean break heals fastest and shows respect for her by not dragging it out or stringing her along.
When it comes to turning someone down, being active is always better than being passive. Address it as soon as you have the chance. Don’t stall, avoid confrontation or just assume that they will eventually “take the hint.” Give a definitive no so both of you can move on with your lives.
Treat them how you’d want to be treated
A direct “no” can sound pretty harsh if it isn’t handled tactfully, so always try to apply the golden rule to these situations. There’s no reason to be offended or act like you’re disgusted (unless they’re intentionally being offensive or disgusting). It’s flattering to get asked out, so be polite and try to at least show some appreciation for the thought. Remember, it takes a lot of courage to approach someone, especially in person.
Dr. Neil Clark Warren, founder of eHarmony, suggests you show them the same respect you would want if the tables were turned. Always keep your tone in mind, stay calm and be gentle, while you also make sure you still sound assured. It comes down to what you say and how you say it.
Lastly, keep the situation to yourself. If you’re in a group situation or share the same friends, don’t tell everyone what happened. If you’ve turned someone down, they already feel rejected and don’t need to add embarrassment to the list.
Use “I” statements to keep it about you
If you choose to explain to someone why you’re not interested in them, try and keep the reasoning about you, not the other person. Listing reasons of why they don’t “measure up” can come off as rude, condescending and also damage their confidence to approach people in the future. Susan RoAne, communication expert and author of What Do I Say Next?, recommends you use “I” statements instead. Here are some examples:
- I don’t see you that way, I’m sorry.
- I’ve really enjoyed talking with you, but I don’t feel a connection between us.
- I’m trying to do my own thing right now so I’m not looking to date anyone.
- I think you’re great, but I’m looking for something else right now.
You’re not bringing them down or putting yourself above them, you’re just explaining your perspective. Think of it as a pre-emptive “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. Only this way, nobody is getting nearly as hurt.
Make things clear and final
When you turn someone down, do it nicely, but make sure they know it’s final. Don’t keep people on the hook. You might think you’re being nice by saying “let’s be friends” or “why don’t we get to know each other first,” but it’s only going to blow up in your face down the line if you don’t mean it.
On her blog, author Marcella Purnama explains that there’s no need to be overly sympathetic or friendly after the fact:
After being rejected, the door is sometimes not yet fully closed and prone to be opened by the slightest friendly action. Let him be. Don’t let him think that there’s still hope when there’s not.
There’s no need to call, text, or even be Facebook friends if that’s not something you want. As dating expert Christie Hartman, Ph.D. explains, only say “let’s be friends” if you actually want that and have a very strong reason to believe it will work. Otherwise, this can be confusing to them; they might think your initial “no” just means “not right now.” If you’re not into them, be respectful and let them know it’s never going to happen.
For online daters: keep messages short (or don’t respond at all)
If most of your dating interactions happen online, things can be a lot different. People online have no idea who you really are, and most people reach out to as many people as they can, so it’s not like they get that invested in you. Because of that, April Beyer, a personal matchmaker and relationship consultant says it’s OK not to respond at all:
“Don’t feel pressured to write back or decline every time someone reaches out to you. You’ll never have enough time! Only write a kind note to someone who took his/her time to write you a real and authentic note. Winks, pokes, and likes about your photos don’t count. It’s a lazy approach so it doesn’t deserve your time.”
They’ve probably already moved on to their next match anyway, so why waste both of your time explaining things to them? Of course, if you still want to be nice, there’s nothing wrong with that and there are plenty of ways tell them you’re not interested. The Guyliner at The Huffington Post recommends one of these all-purpose, but kind responses:
“Thanks for the interest. I’m chatting to a couple of other people right now who seem to be more what I’m looking for. Best of luck with your search!”
“I’ve looked at your profile and, while you seem like a really cool guy, I’m not sure we’re a good match, so I don’t think we should go on a date. I don’t want us to waste each other’s time.”
“I’ve kind of got my eye on a certain someone on the site and don’t think it would be fair to date you while I’m still working things out. Hope you find what you’re looking for.”
Now they know the door is closed and you can feel better about not ignoring someone completely.
Turn the tables on them if they’re too aggressive
Sometimes you know you’re going to turn someone down the instant they start talking to you. Maybe they’re acting sleazy, they won’t leave you alone, or seem to only be interested in getting your personal information. For those types of situations, you can simply turn things around on them. Maria Fontoura at Match.com suggests you pull the ol’ switcheroo:
Let’s say someone has just asked for your number: When you ask for his information instead rather than giving out yours, you’re putting the ball in your court—which means you call the shots.
Say something like “tell you what, why don’t you give me your number and I’ll call you.” They’ll feel like they accomplished something and leave you alone, and you’ll buy yourself some time to get away from them.
Remember: you don’t owe the person anything
Yes, we mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating: just because someone has asked you out, it doesn’t mean that you are under any obligation to say yes. Your time and energy are precious commodities, and you may not want to use them up on another person. Graciously letting someone know that is a completely normal and appropriate response, and if they’re not able to accept it, it’s definitely a sign that you made the right decision.
This story was originally published on 6/2/15 and was updated on 7/2/19 to provide more thorough and current information.