How to stop a relationship going any further?
October 31, 2011 8:40 PM   Subscribe

I don't want to date a girl who's really, really in to me, but I want to hurt her as little as possible. Plus, I'll see her at work!

I got asked out by a girl I sometimes see at work, which was really flattering since it rarely happens to me. After going out for a drink with her I don't want to take things any further.

However, I've had multiple texts a day from her (to the point where I stopped replying) including questions about what kind of relationship we're in (that one was 5 minutes after I'd said goodbye from the date). She's made it pretty clear that she really likes me with an intensity that I'm really not comfortable with, especially as she doesn't really know me yet.

I'm seeing her for dinner tomorrow; she clearly thinks I want to take things to the next level already. What's the best way to break things off without hurting her feelings too much and making things extra awkward when I inevitably see her at work? Friends I've talked to about it just say to ride it out and see what happens but I'm kind of worried that if I don't man up I'll be married before I know it!
posted by Silentgoldfish to Human Relations (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her how you feel.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:42 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Leading her on will only hurt her feelings more. Just be honest. This is why it is not a great idea to date people you work with, because you have to see them every day even if things go wrong.
posted by dottiechang at 8:45 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

1) Don't say "man up" any more.
2) Break off the dinner date- nothing good can come of it.
3) It sounds like she is a rather intense person so it's probably going to end up being a little awkward no matter what. The best you can do is probably to tell her you're "not ready for a relationship" or some such white lie. As long as it's about you and not her.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:46 PM on October 31, 2011 [30 favorites]

Dear Silentgoldfish,

I'm always struck by how people's MetaFilter names seem to match their concerns!

You need words. Maybe try some variation on Miko's very good advice?

Please nip this in the bud, now.

I don't think a full date with dinner is a good idea, but you'll have to be the judge of that. It may be too late now.

Can you break it to her at lunch instead? So you may avoid dinner?

You gotta speak up SOON.

posted by jbenben at 8:48 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd say avoid the much-praised Miko advice - not because it's bad, but because that seems more appropriate for something that involves seeing each other more than once.

Just keep it simple - say that you agreed to the date because you were flattered (true), but that on second thoughts, especially given the fact that you're colleagues, you think it's best to stop it here before either of you get strong feelings that might lead to mess at work.
posted by twirlypen at 8:51 PM on October 31, 2011 [31 favorites]

As a sometimes-psycho girl (but not as psycho as she seems), I would say just tell her that you aren't looking for a relationship right now. If you like her, tell her, but say that you think it will be better if you just stick to being friends.

Then, avoid her like the plague in all non-work settings.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:53 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK, wow, don't follow drjimmy's advice, at least not the third part. If you tell her you're not ready for a relationship, this is what is going to happen:

1) She'll probably suspect you're lying, because that's a total line. Worst-case scenario, she'll make a scene, but that's an extreme worst-case scenario. Best case scenario, and the most probable one, she'll ignore it. If this was the only step, that'd be fine. But then comes the part where:
2) You'll date someone else -- I'd say "you'll get into another relationship," but since you've just been out for a drink with her, the stakes are much lower. Or maybe you won't, even, but let's assume you do. After this happens, and when it's patently obvious that you're lying:
3) Worst-case scenario, shit will hit the fan. Best-case scenario, she'll be a lot more hurt than if you had just told the truth.

Can you see how this is going to lead to problems? What you tell her is exactly what you said here: that you're not interested in taking things further, and you don't want to lead her on by doing so. She's going to be hurt either way, because rejection sucks. But by trying to cushion it, you're paradoxically going to make it even worse in the long run. Get it over with now; don't leave any false hope.
posted by dekathelon at 8:58 PM on October 31, 2011 [18 favorites]

Don't say you are not ready for a relationship if it is not true. Don't tell her you don't date coworkers if that is not true. I like the "I think it would be better if we just stayed friends" line. Let's be real, though. She is going to be hurt and pissed, and it is going to make work uncomfortable for a while. Is there some way you can switch schedules or responsibilities or desk location or whatever to make it less awkward?
posted by Rock Steady at 9:01 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to disagree with the "I'm not ready for a relationship right now" phrasing, which leaves WAY too much open. For someone who may be even slightly delusional or "psycho", that's like saying,

"My darling! you've waited this long but I beg of thee to wait just a little longer while I deal with things at work / personal stuff. Wait! Wait for me, dear heart!"

I would instead suggest something along the lines of,
"_Name_, you seem like a really nice person, but I don't want to lead you on. I'm not interested in dating you."

Better to break her heart a bit more thoroughly, letting her move her interests to someone else that much more quickly.
When did we, as a society, start babying people while we broke up with them? It's going to hurt! There's really no way around that.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:05 PM on October 31, 2011 [37 favorites]

Tell her you don't date people at work. Don't tell her you like her! You can say she seems nice but you have a firm policy of not dating anyone from the office. Don't offer to be friends. I recommend doing this over lunch rather than dinner if possible. Have the conversation early in the meal and then try and talk about work, current affairs, politics even, but not about relationships. If she asks if you're seeing anyone, be vague about a girl you kind of like and want to ask out. Keep the talk generic and general.
posted by shoesietart at 9:06 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, yes, yes. Tell her you don't date people you work with. Making it about the context is probably the easiest way out of this situation and will leave you both with some dignity.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:12 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

i had to favorite drjimmy11's answer because he told you never to say 'man up' again, but disreputabledog's logic is solid and his advice is right on. just tell her the truth.
posted by facetious at 9:19 PM on October 31, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Just do it now, it's mean to take her to dinner. She thinks it's a serious date, she's going to be all excited and dressed up - tell her early in the day, by email if that's what you need to do, that you're sorry, but it's off.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:21 PM on October 31, 2011 [12 favorites]

If she is like this after one drink, I wouldn't want to see what she makes of a real dinner date. I also can't imagine the rest of meal going well if you tell her "just friends" over the first course (and you are going to feel worse if you string things along until desert.)

Be honest, authentic without being deliberately hurtful (but don't take responsibliity for her reactions) The words about that I like best would be "you agreed to the date because you were flattered (true)", but I need to back out of the dinner date because "I think it would be better if we just stayed friends" And if she wants to have the dinner date anyway, just say "I'm sorry, it is nice of you to suggest that but it doesn't work for me." No further discussion is needed or advisable.
posted by metahawk at 9:27 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

When you do tell her that you're not interested, please for the love of god, don't do it while at dinner. I'm sure it's a horrible experience to try and enjoy a meal after someone you're crazy about tells you that they aren't interested in you. Please give her an easier out, maybe at a coffee shop or something.

Also, I think it's bad advice to tell her you don't want to date her because you don't date coworkers. What if she leaves the job, or you meet someone you work with that you do want to date? You don't have to be brutally honest, but a simple "I think you're a lovely and nice person but we're just not compatible" will suffice.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:28 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm not usually one to say this, but in this case I think you should just send her a text. "Cancelling dinner plans. I'm just not interested in dating you, sorry."

There's no avoiding the awkward at work. But you only see her sometimes there. Get another person to run interference if you have to - "Silentgoldfish wasn't really feeling it after that date. And then you kind of went crazy with the needy texting, and that drove it home - it ain't gonna happen between you two. He's sorry to have to hurt your feelings, but he's just being honest and didn't want to lead you on."
posted by lizbunny at 9:30 PM on October 31, 2011

I see this person trying to negotiate with you, so whatever you say, choose your words carefully.

I linked to Miko's advice because it is a very kind way of putting it. Points 1, 2, 6, and 7 seem to apply here.

I especially like point #7. The answer to any question she asks beyond how friendly you will remain at work (answer=friendly/normal) is "No" or "No thank you" or "That isn't possible."

Upon preview, metahawk really really has it!
posted by jbenben at 9:31 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't go on this dinner date. Be honest. Tell her you don't want to date her. And not some bullshit about not dating co-workers or not wanting to be in a relationship -- part of her will see through it and part of her will read false hope into it, which will really bring out the crazy and the pain to her and maybe the bad for everyone drama.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:36 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ask if she wants to go for a drink after work, and tell her how you feel there. That way you don't have to do it at a big full-on date, or over the phone, or at work, or being silent. Give her the ol "I'm just not ready for a relationship right now/I can't give you what you need/You deserve more than i can offer at this point" shpiel. I've heard that routine a few times and while i'm perfectly aware that its bullshit, it really is the nicest way to be let down during the dating stage.
posted by Kololo at 9:53 PM on October 31, 2011

Best answer: If I were this woman, I'd want you to cancel the dinner date immediately -- ideally before work starts, via email if that's the simplest channel.

If someone doesn't want to date me, I don't want that person to take me on a date! And I DEFINITELY don't want to end up having told my coworkers that I'm meeting our other coworker tonight for dinner and that things seem to be going really well... only to show up to their (well-intentioned) grilling the next morning and have to explain that you, uh, let me down easy. Especially if I'm really into you. [on preview, as others have also noted]

Keep it short and simple, and gracious, and minimize excuses that she might hang onto as possible future loopholes. How about something like, "I feel awful for doing this on such short notice, but I need to cancel dinner tonight. You're great, and I'm really glad we went out (and it was seriously so cool that you asked me), I just don't think we're a good fit romantically. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing you around the office, and hope everything goes well for you with [that thing you talked about]. Wishing you well, Silentgoldfish"
posted by argonauta at 9:57 PM on October 31, 2011 [14 favorites]

If I were that girl, and hopefully I've never been that bad, here's what would show me clearly that you're not interested in pursuing this further without being unduly cruel:

1. Cancel the dinner ASAP. Just apologize, saying you need to cancel the dinner plans. No explanation needed.
2. If she tries to suggest another time for the two of you to get together, or asks why you're canceling, if you're not completely horrified by the idea of spending any time in her presence after work, you could suggest that it would be fun to do something in a bigger group with a few more coworkers involved. Though it would be on her if she'd actually try to get something together with a few more people.

A guy I used to work with suggested that to me once when I casually invited him to dinner after work, which got the message across to me clearly that he wasn't interested in dating me, nor did he want to do anything with me that might be interpreted as a date, like grabbing a friendly dinner for two. This didn't make me hate him or feel like he's a jerk, and in fact I would still invite him to things, but only where a bunch of other coworkers were invited too and if he didn't show up it wasn't a big deal.

If she keeps pushing for a more date-like event, just be honest, if vague. It's okay to tell her she's a nice girl but you don't think you two should date. She'll be hurt, but it's better than leading her on or being wishy-washy and making her think there might be a chance later.
posted by wondermouse at 10:13 PM on October 31, 2011

Keep it simple. "I enjoyed going out with you but I don't think we have the kind of chemistry I am looking for, so I need to cancel our dinner plans. I hope you understand and that we can still be cool at work." This deserves at least a phone call, if not a face-to-face, (not text or email) in my opinion, due to the work connection.
posted by juliplease at 10:14 PM on October 31, 2011 [9 favorites]

Ok. Just in case it hasn't been said enough cancel the dinner! Tell her no via phone (probably, maybe email/text, phone seems best though).

And on preview I think what juliplease suggests is really solid. Solid basic you do not want to date her no hard feelings stuff. With this level of attachment there may still be hard feelings. But try to minimize!
posted by grapesaresour at 10:21 PM on October 31, 2011

Call, cancel. This isn't working for you, and that's what you tell her: there is no avoiding awkward, but there is the chance to avoid circumlocution that may potentially end up even more awkward.
posted by holgate at 10:44 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The longer you wait, the worse it gets. Do not imply that the situation is the issue. Tell her you don't feel the chemistry is right or whatever, just make sure she knows the issue is strictly and entirely a matter of you and her not working together in this way. Don't make her get all excited for dinner. You need to approach this like you're ripping off a bandaid.

Personally I've always been in the camp that says that if you're not in an actual relationship, email or the phone is actually preferable; don't make her get ready for a date, don't make her have to keep her shit together in public. Since you guys work together you both might feel better if you did it on the phone, though, so as not to promote the idea that it will be incredibly awkward for the two of you to ever interact. But if you call, resist the urge to say anything conciliatory or anything in the "it's just that we work together" or "I'm not really looking for a serious relationship" vein when you hear her feeling bad. You gotta stay on message.
posted by Adventurer at 12:50 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might not realize it, but you are in such a fortunate position. I would give much money and maybe body parts to have known in several recent relationships that it wasn't going to work out after a single date.

The beauty of it is that you don't owe her much of a break up. After one date (*thumbs through rulebook*) you can basically send a text saying "Sorry, the other day was fun but I don't see this going anywhere. Hope we can still be friends" and you're in the clear.

The takeaway, the importance of which can only truly be grasped after many terrible experiences, is that every date you go on with this woman makes the situation worse. Every hour you delay breaking up with her will make it harder to do.

Friends I've talked to about it just say to ride it out and see what happens

I can categorically state that your friends are either young, stupid, or both and should have their advice-giving licenses revoked immediately. If you "ride it out" in three weeks you'll be finding her underwear in your laundry and will have met her parents. Have fun breaking up with her then.

Additional advice since you're worried about social DRAMAZ. The only thing you are allowed to say to your coworkers is "yeah, we went out once or twice but it didn't really work out". And only say that if directly asked about it. She sounds like perhaps the kind of person who will rain down a hellstorm of drama upon you. Do not call her crazy. Do not tell stories about the 8 billion texts she sent you. Do not say "man, am I lucky I avoided that" (even though you are). Say these things to your friends who don't know her (hell, make additional crazy shit up if you want it to be a better story), but your coworkers get nothing. You, she, and everyone you work with will be much better off.
posted by auto-correct at 1:28 AM on November 1, 2011 [12 favorites]

Be totally direct about not wanting to take it further, as other posters have said, but I'll add something from personal experience: don't feel the pressure to be "nice" and, you know, try and make her feel better by politely replying to her texts, talking nicely with her, etc, saying politely "maybe another time..." - You will only raise her hopes.

I was in a similar (platonic) situation with someone who would not leave me alone, and who got so (vocally and aggressively) hurt when I ignored them that I occasionally went out for lunch with them, responded to their emails etc. It was so the wrong thing to do, and made the whole situation that much more difficult to extricate myself from.

So yeah. Don't be nice. Just cut off social contact. Obviously be polite when it comes to work stuff, but just that.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:04 AM on November 1, 2011

General Rules for Breaking It Off.

1) Be honest with her.
2) Be a gentleman about it.
3) Do not lead her on.

Number 1 looks likes you calling her on the telephone and telling her what you have said here. You're a lovely person and I am happy to have met you and whilst I am flattered, the chemistry is not there.

Number 2 looks like a telephone call. Text message is puss. Dinner will be a disaster as her expectations will be harp music and shared dessert, only to have you metaphorically slap her in the face. There's no reason for that. Man up, give her a ring, and tell her how you feel. Nobody wants to be with someone that is not into them.

Number 3 looks like a firm hand. Dinner would be leading her on. Any statement that leaves her with hope is really saving yourself and not getting categorical and explicit with her.

Don't think of yourself as the bad guy here. It's okay not to be with someone.

As far as work goes, if you haven't already experienced it, throughout your working life you are going to have personal relationships (love and otherwise) that bleed into the workplace. The key is really being kind. Don't avoid her but don't lead her on. If you have informal/social power, don't ostracise her or allow her to do so. Keep it civil and remember that this is a person you are dealing with -- a person vulnerable to you in a way you are not to them.

I had a situation back in the day similar to this and I played it exactly wrong because I was afraid of what people might think, her getting clingy and a boatload of other bullshit. Looking back, it would have been very easy to be kind. The next time that situation came around, I was kind and the result was much better for everyone.

Problems are always going to occur in life -- especially in the workplace -- the key is going to be how you handle them once they have occurred. And the key to that, I think, is to do right by the people, whatever the situation is.
posted by nickrussell at 4:12 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

questions about what kind of relationship we're in (that one was 5 minutes after I'd said goodbye from the date)

There's no way to not hurt her feelings, in light of this (worrying) behavior. Remove this goal from your list: just make sure the break is clear, immediate and irrevocable. Don't leave any opening in her mind; don't make it conditional based upon working together or you not being ready for a relationship. You have to make it about your lack of interest in dating her.
posted by spaltavian at 4:44 AM on November 1, 2011

Ahhh. Poor woman. We've all been there, the guy that we really like and who ACTUALLY AGREES to go out. Nthing do it NOW. But also, when you do see her at work, be extra kind. Not in a way that can be misinterpreted, of course...and when someone is crushing, it's easy to misinterpret. Again, we've all been there. But if nothing more just send VIBES of being kind. Because she clearly really liked you! And then, for her sake as well as professionalism, transform the whole business into something that Did. Not. Happen.
posted by skbw at 5:01 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Wow there is some terrible advice here.


A) Tell her that you don't date people at work. That situation can change for either of you.
B) Tell her that you aren't ready for a relationship. That just means she might wait for you to be ready.
C) Tell her that you're seeing or interested someone else. She'll end up asking you about her at work and you won't be able to keep that up indefinitely.


A) Cancel your dinner date. Take her to lunch or something instead. Or maybe even just talk to her as she's leaving work today. (not before then because she might cry or make a scene)
B) Tell her that you had a good time at dinner, but you just don't think you're compatible.
posted by empath at 5:53 AM on November 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

Don't say this or any variant of it: "And then you kind of went crazy with the needy texting." She'll feel bad enough already without her face being rubbed in something she did "wrong." I don't know how old she is, but this is the sort of behavior people tend to outgrow naturally. One hopes. I would also avoid dragging anyone else into it to run interference. That's called "triangulating" and is considered a dysfunctional communication mode.

I would definitely cancel the dinner date and tell her you're not interested ASAP, in person. Thinking you're on a date and being dumped at the end of it sucks. You don't have to make up excuses. Just tell her you don't feel romantic chemistry between you. And definitely don't gossip at work about what happened. That would be a dick move.
posted by xenophile at 6:14 AM on November 1, 2011

Friends I've talked to about it just say to ride it out and see what happens

Never ask these friends for relationship advice again.
posted by ook at 6:16 AM on November 1, 2011 [10 favorites]

argonauta's suggestion is the best one as far as I am concerned. Gracious, polite, respectful and truthful. It has the least likelihood of causing devastatingly hurt feelings (unlike the unnecessarily mean "needy texting" suggestion, that's high school jerk stuff), and is the most gentlemanly way to handle this. Please do your best to do this in a way that you can respect yourself for later, getting a friend to run interference, or lying, is not the best choice. Be a nice guy, be polite and kind, and just tell her the truth.
posted by biscotti at 6:49 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I say one more chance.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:50 AM on November 1, 2011

Yes, it's time for a "let's be friends" email breaking off the dinner date.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:17 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cancel the date. Say that you're not interested in dating. Say it outside of work but in person. Be polite but firm and completely unambiguous. Do not use excuses that give her hope about you changing your mind, or circumstances changing. If you even think, by the end of the conversation, that you might have left some opening, clarify that you're sure, and this isn't going to change.

As one who is prone to occasional idealization, I can confidently state this is both necessary and the kindest thing to do.

And don't take advice from those friends about dating.
posted by ead at 8:16 AM on November 1, 2011

Although 'just a text' might be appropriate, I would recommend against doing this as you still have to work with her.

A polite phone call or a quick coffee might be the right middle ground.

Don't go to dinner with her. That will create more drama.

Also, tell her today, not tomorrow. Before she figures out what she is going to wear and calls all her friends to tell them about her date with her future husband. The more excited she gets, the bigger the letdown and the bigger the possible fallout/drama.
posted by Vaike at 9:04 AM on November 1, 2011

She sounds so into you that nothing but the Truth will work. Anything else you tell her she will intrepret in a way that means there is still a chance, and she will continue to contact you, or moon over you or otherwise make you feel uncomfortable. She's so into you, she will not be able to understand anything than the horrible Truth. She┬┤s so wrapped up in her feelings, she's imagining a relationship that doesn't exist. Do her the favor, wake her up, she needs to learn to pay attention to reality. Real relationships take place in reality.

Tell her the truth.

Tell her, I was really flattered you asked me out. You're nice, but all the contact and text messages make me uncomfortable and the truth is, I'm just not really interested in becoming involved with you, although it's very clear to me that you are.

I'm sorry, but I want to be honest with you, I hope you understand.
posted by Locochona at 9:11 AM on November 1, 2011

If you tell her you don't date people you work with she may just quit and expect that to solve the problem.

Just tell her the truth and get it over with. Be respectful and honest.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:25 AM on November 1, 2011

Are you friends at work, or do you work together on a semi-regular basis? If so, call her. Tell her what you told us. If you are neither of those, text her. Tonight. Either way, tonight.

Even if she's someone you see only occasionally, you cannot avoid the awkward (best case) or hostile/sad fallout from this. The best thing to do is to be polite, honest, brief, straightforward, and clear. "I'm flattered that you asked me out, but I'm just not interested in pursuing anything with you."

She is probably going to ask you why. I probably wouldn't go much further than what has been outlined above. I wouldn't even tell her that she made you uncomfortable, as she may interpret that as "if I change "x", I can fix this," unless you think that it will make a difference in her moving forward somehow. (But most people don't really want to hear this.)

Don't bother lying to her. Don't leave the door open. And don't go out with her again, even as "friends."
posted by sm1tten at 5:49 PM on November 1, 2011

Response by poster: Phew. That went way better than I expected! Thanks for all the advice. I wound up doing it over the phone and going for the very simple stuff recommended without giving any real reasons and it worked a treat. At least over the phone she didn't seem too upset.

I hate being on this side of the equation; it's given me a lot of insight for the next time I get turned down by a girl.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 6:02 PM on November 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

As someone who was the intense girl on this side of the equation (years ago) - tell her and please be honest. The man in my case didn't "man up" and led me on wayyyyy too long even though he really had no interest in me. That made it hurt a whole lot more - and (for me, at least) it's still awkward at work 7 years later.

Please just be honest with her and tell her she's a nice person (or whatever), you enjoy her company, but you are just not attracted to her in that sort of way, but you hope you can still be friends (or whatever). Just be honest. Do it quickly. Please. (from: me, 2004)
posted by getawaysticks at 11:38 AM on November 2, 2011

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