telling someone you’re not interested

Reader N. T. asks:

What’s the best way to tell someone you’re not romantically (or sexually) interested in them?

Dear N. T.:

I suppose if the good old fashioned “I’m not interested” is too subtle for you, there are several fine ways to let someone know you’re not interested in sleeping with them, holding their hand, listening to them talk about their day, or watching them grow old. You have to take into account a few details: how long you’ve known them, how long you want to continue knowing them, and how embarrassed you’re going to be when they deny they were interested in you in the first place.

Let’s take a few situations a see how I would recommend reacting.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1. You’re at a bar. He’s trying to buy you a drink. He’s not terribly attractive.

I say accept the drink and walk away. That’ll teach him to buy drinks for strange girls ever again! Okay, maybe you have to be careful with this one because you could get a reputation for being a bitch, but if he offered you the drink of his own free will, you are allowed to accept the drink and nothing more. You do not owe him anything for the gift of a drink. (I usually at least stand around and talk for a minute or two, possibly let him know I’m with that really hot huge guy in the corner/am leaving for Botswana tomorrow/really only like handsome guys who know the difference between “your” and “you’re”, and say thanks before I walk away.) In any case, if you’re not interested and you just met him, you’re probably not concerned about hurting his feelings, so a flat out “no thanks” or an abrupt turn and walk away should do just fine. If he’s like most people, he’ll protest by saying he wasn’t interested in you in the first place, which won’t be embarrassing at all, since you don’t care.

2. Your bff from high school is dropping ridiculously obvious hints that he thinks you “belong together”.

Notice I didn’t say he’s come straight out and told you this; he’s just dropping hints. My advice in this situation is that you just drop hints back. Talk about how great your friendship is, or how much like a brother he is to you, or how much you’re really into that bartender at your favorite pub. While it won’t totally alleviate the discomfort of his looming romantic intentions, it will probably keep him from bringing them up. And eventually, his unrequited feelings will probably fade. Also, by not bringing it up directly, you don’t have to deal with the aforementioned embarrassment when he asks why the hell you thought he liked you in the first place.

3. A coworker is making hints that he/she is imminently going to ask you on a date.

Again, I recommend subtlety with people you’re probably going to be forced to see again unless the topic has been breached directly. Your best bet here is to keep the conversation focused entirely on work. Never give him/her the opportunity to throw romance into the mix. You can also help the process by openly disapproving of someone else’s office romance, or at least by saying you personally could not ever fathom of dating someone you worked with. (This could backfire if, say, you actually end up in an office romance of your own.)

4. A friend, coworker, or stranger has flat out asked if you would like to be in a romantic relationship.

Just say no. It’s that easy. You don’t have to soften it or qualify it. And if they can’t handle it, that’s not your fault. True, you may want to consider the feelings of a longstanding and cherished friend, but the fact is, your relationship is probably going to change once they bring that into the mix, anyway. You have to be honest, and not be afraid of your feelings. If you honestly don’t want to date someone, beating around the bush and being nice to them isn’t going to change that.


8 Responses to “telling someone you’re not interested”

  1. 1 Melisa
    June 18, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I actually had this happen just this past weekend. I thought we were just hanging out and every time he tried to touch me, I moved away. I don’t think any of my hints hit him cause he asked me back to his place:
    Me: No, I’m just gonna go home
    Him: Just come back to my place
    Me: No, I don’t think so
    Him: I thought this was going somewhere
    Me: No, I was just hanging out. Sorry.

  2. 3 Jessica
    June 18, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    I think the best thing to do is just “say no” =)
    Who cares what kind of reputation you get from it at least you are being up front and honest right off the bat. No waisting time.. no awkward moments of silence coupled with a residual sense of resentment from the other party. Just good old cut throat honesty. I know it sounds harsh but everything else just seems like a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

  3. 4 Consuelo
    June 19, 2010 at 1:00 am

    Women. Amirite?

  4. 5 Kerrie
    June 19, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    So what do you do when you’re getting unwanted attention from a 60-something skeezebucket at the circ desk of the library? Not asking you out, but they just won’t go away and you can’t be rude because that would bad customer service?

    • June 19, 2010 at 5:34 pm

      That’s hard because technically it’s your job to hang out and wait on him. Sort of. But I think you have a few options there… 1. find a reason to leave the desk and go somewhere else; 2. ask him to leave you alone, please; 3. get a beefy male coworker to tell the skeezeball to stop ogling you; 4. call security.

      • 7 Kerrie
        June 20, 2010 at 7:42 am

        3 & 4 don’t apply – would that there were beefy male coworkers or security in our public libraries!

        Sometimes we DO have a “phone a friend” lifeline that helps – but if everybody is hopping busy (which usually happens) the unwanted attention just has to be sucked up.

        The good thing is that I’m only going to sub at this branch for a few more nights and then I’m DONE! My home branch is much more skeeze-free.

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