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Politely Turning Someone Down

Updated on March 2, 2022
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Andrea writes on various topics from dating, couples, astrology, weddings, interior design, and gardens. She studied film and writing.

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Don’t turn asking people out into a life or death situation. Asking someone out in most cases isn’t a huge deal. It shouldn’t be a big deal if someone turns you down either.

Generally, people will ask you to a movie, dinner, or some casual outing fairly early in the getting-to-know-you phase. So they probably don’t have a lot of developed feelings for you… yet. (Heck, they could have been harboring feelings for you for ages, and it took them forever to get the courage to ask you out, but that’s on them, not you.)

The most important part of turning someone down is to be honest. As soon as they ask you out, be real with them. Don’t say yes if you don’t want to spend time with them. Leading someone on is worse than saying “no.”

Remember: if this is the first time someone is asking you to hang out or on a date, that doesn’t mean you’re committing to something huge. You don’t have to have your feelings or thoughts sorted out when it comes to this person from the very beginning. You’re testing the waters.

But if you know you don’t want to go on a date with them — don’t.

What If They Keep Asking Me Out?

If they keep asking you out… and there’s no end in sight… try backing off. Don’t talk with them as much. Stop texting. Are you flirting with this person? Stop. Give it space. Some people really have a hard time reading the room even when you are direct with them.

If they start to stalk you then rethink your boundaries. I’m talking about stalking that goes beyond the normal Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and general social media. If they start calling your friends to see where you are, hang out outside your home, or where you work — then you might have something serious. Don’t give them attention. This person is probably insecure and possibly controlling. Let them know they’re overstepping their boundaries.

Tell them that you don’t have to give them reasons for where you have been, etc. If they’re becoming a private investigator into every thread of your life — you can file for a restraining order.

All I can say is… I hope that never happens to you.

What If My Friend Likes Me, But I Don’t Like Them?

If a close friend asks you out on a date or maybe a romantic outing… or if they confess their love for you… be kind. They’ve probably been working toward this moment for a while. If you don’t like them back, they may have misread you at some point, or maybe you flirted with them too much.

What’s important here is your friendship. Let them know you care about them as a person, that their friendship with you is important to them. But be clear and tell them why you don’t want to try a romantic relationship with them. It’s not something that’s really crossed your mind, and you don’t feel the same.

Don’t be shocked if they need some space after this. It’s completely normal. And you did the right thing if you know you don’t want to be with them romantically. Just going along with them for dates and free meals isn’t nice.

It’s perfectly reasonable to not date someone because you don’t want to ruin the friendship. This isn’t a fun crossroad. Sometimes friendships plateau, and people hope dating will save it.

I have seen a lot of people who were friends first, dated, broke up, and then never spoke to each other again. There is some risk that you might lose your friend if you date them, but there is also some risk that you might be holding back from your feelings and missing out on something good.

In this situation, you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. Even if you reach this crossroad know that a good friendship will heal.

It’s reasonable if you just want to stay friends. That might hurt someone’s hopes and dreams, but you can’t just date someone because they asked you out. You shouldn’t date someone just because you don’t want to hurt them or because you're sympathetic to their feelings. You should date them because you like them and the feeling is mutual.

Turning Them Down Gracefully

1. Make sure you give them undivided attention. Keep your phone out of view. Give eye contact. Smile. Don’t touch them. Don’t be flirtatious. Try your hardest to be conscientious.

2. If it goes well, be appreciative that they find you attractive. You can thank them for it. Buy them a drink. Be as classy as you can about it. (Don’t laugh, run away, or roll your eyes.)

3. If you’re instinct is to run and hide, don’t be too upset with yourself. It might not be the most graceful approach, and it’s hard to bounce back from it, but know that it happens. Try not to run. If you do — try reaching out to the person later and admit that you got overwhelmed. Apologize for your rudeness and tell the person they’re lovely, but you’re not the right person for them.

4. If they ask in person, turn them down in person. If they text you to hang out, turn them down in a text.

5. If they try to give you gifts, you don’t have to accept them. If it’s expensive you probably shouldn’t accept it. Don’t let people buy your love.

6. If they’re just looking for a date for the night, you can refer them to someone else. Sometimes people are just looking for a +1.

7. Try not to laugh. Some people don’t know if you’re laughing out of kindness… or if you’re being rude and laughing at them.

8. Don’t be too shocked. Stay cool, calm, and collected.

9. Try to talk in private. There is nothing worse than a big public confession. It puts weird pressure on people. It makes things performative rather than authentic.

10. Don’t stick around and linger after rejecting them. Give them their space.

11. Don’t ambush them with friendly texts the next day or so. Again, give them their space.

12. Understand that they might think of you and treat you differently based on this interaction. They might tone down the flirting or ignore you entirely.

What are the best ways to turn someone down gracefully?

See results

What If I End Up Liking Them Later Down the Road?

It happens. Sometimes you see someone in a different light when you realize they liked you. Feelings change. You could like this person months or years from now.

Honesty is the best policy. You should be the one to step up and say something to make things clear. Don’t worry! You are allowed to change your mind. Often two people like each other but at different times.

You may want to start the conversation like this: “I know that one time you asked me out and I said no, but now I….”

Gauge how they feel. Try asking them questions about how they see the friendship, what they like about you, if they’re seeing someone, and eventually get to the point.

Don’t be too upset if they end up saying “no” to you. It sucks when the timing isn’t right, but you’ll survive it. Have faith in yourself and that someone just as nice as you will come along and sweep you off your feet.

It’s Not a Big Deal

It may seem like it, but it’s not a big deal. You’ll move on. Making a small conversation out to be bigger than it needs to be will only drive you crazy.

People get asked out all the time. It doesn’t have to be a big romantic occasion. They might just be looking for someone to go eat dinner with them. And if someone likes you, take it as a compliment — unless, of course, it’s someone really creepy.

Don’t Think Too Hard

It can be scary when someone you’ve known for a long time asks you out because it could spell out one thing: social upheaval. You might not like the idea of dating someone because it changes social dynamics in your group and way too much. That can be nerve-wracking. Try not to let your anxieties get the best of you.

Prioritize Your Time

If someone asks you to dinner, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re interested in you romantically. Even if they’re paying, it doesn’t necessarily mean that. And if you don’t want to spend your precious time with someone and would rather have some alone time — power to you.

Your time is precious and you don’t have to spend it with anyone. There is nothing wrong with focusing on your own schedule and not going toward anything romantic or social.

Ace the Breakup

Going beyond turning someone down, let’s consider how to politely end a relationship.

Remember: everyone processes relationships and romance differently. How some people need to end a relationship, might not be pretty or fair to you.

Ending a relationship isn’t about mincing your partner’s feelings. It’s about needing to get out of something that doesn’t work and finding your own path. Breakups are often messy and emotionally heavy.

Part of a relationship, in a weird way, is knowing how to be good at breakups. I’m not kidding. You need to be someone that knows when it is time to move on, how to politely end the relationship, and how to stay composed during the breakup (so you don’t look like a total mess). You’ve got to lean into your mature side, not your immature side.

Avoid sloppy breakups. You want a clean break that is somehow attractive. Some people regret breaking up with others because some people are good at breaking up. They cut smoothly, like a knife into butter.

So instead of wallowing in pain when it happens, take control of your breakup. Celebrate a fading love. It may sound weird, but this kind of attitude will get you on track faster to find a person that’s more compatible to your needs. Get on the track that doesn’t include you drowning your sorrows into a bowl of ice cream.

Tend to your wounds gracefully, and get yourself out into the real world, not the dating world and online dating world, but go take some fun classes for yourself. Do the things you want to do, and when you’re ready to mingle, it will happen naturally. Do things you’ve always wanted to do but for some reason told yourself you couldn’t.

© 2015 Andrea Lawrence

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