How to politely decline people on internet dating sites?
May 2, 2013 8:04 AM   Subscribe

What are the best ways to politely decline people on internet dating sites?

For a little background, I went through a tough divorce in 2011 and am finally ready to try dating. I'm a male in my late 30s and have always had a lot of female friends. I am known for joking around a lot, making people laugh and complimenting them. I am realizing more and more how often this gets confused for flirting and has begun to lead to a lot of misunderstandings. I think it's just some need to make people are at ease, to make sure they're having fun. I guess I'm a people pleaser.

Anyhow, I don't think my online dating profile is anything great, but I continue to get messages from women who want to chat. In some cases, they're women I've actually met around town so they already know me and know I can be gregarious. But I feel like a jerk when they say, "I remember you, I thought you were very charming, would you like to get a drink?" because in these particular cases, they aren't women I'm interested in romantically. I'm sensitive to hurting people's feelings and I have no idea how to say, thanks but no thinks in a diplomatic way.

Should I bite the bullet and just go on these dates anyway? I am not one to ignore emails or messages if someone is nice enough to contact me. But I am very sensitive to leading people on. Ladies, is there an acceptable way for a man to tell you, thanks but no thanks, and not think he's a jerk?
posted by deern the headlice to Human Relations (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am not one to ignore emails or messages if someone is nice enough to contact me.

Become one.

Seriously, that's the kindest possible way to turn someone down online. Just don't respond. She'll get the hint. You are not the Infinite and Eternal One that she is hanging her hopes of romance and happiness on.
posted by Etrigan at 8:11 AM on May 2, 2013 [24 favorites]

Should I bite the bullet and just go on these dates anyway?

I'm not sure exactly what you should do, but it absolutely should not be this.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:13 AM on May 2, 2013 [20 favorites]

I agree that ignoring the emails is the way to go. I'm in a similar situation, and the part of me that values kindness and tact tells me I should respond to the messages I receive. Logically, though, I've come to realize that when I'm not interested, there's nothing I can say that will feel less bad to the person than ignoring them.

Conversely, I'm pretty shy to message someone, and when I do, I'd much rather not hear from them than get some canned "sorry, I'm not interested" or "sorry, you're not my type."
posted by justonegirl at 8:16 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

If it's someone you know in person, and you'd like to be friends with them: "I don't think we're a match, but I'm up for coffee." If you don't want to be friends with them, leave off the coffee part. If they persist, just ignore them. Being direct is not being a jerk. If you are vague, you will be perceived as a jerk if they think you're leading them on.
posted by desjardins at 8:16 AM on May 2, 2013 [15 favorites]

Anyone who's been dating online for any amount of time will recognize a lack of response as the most polite way of indicating a lack of interest. It's still not actually polite, per se, just the least unpleasant way of indicating it.

It sucks, and it's a little maddening when you're on the other end of it and waiting for someone to reply, but it's a skill one must cultivate. There isn't really a way to tell someone you're not attracted to them in a way that will land as softly as you're hoping.

The exception is if you're already met them in person. If you want to reject someone that you've met in person, you first dump praise on them ("you're a really awesome person, a lot of fun," whatever) and then you say that, while they are really cool people, you just didn't feel that in-person chemistry that you're looking for. Emphasize that this is not a fault on either person's side. They'll feel a little deflated for a half-hour or so and then it's on to the next profile.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:18 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, ignoring is the polite signal for 'not interested' in online dating culture.
posted by greta simone at 8:21 AM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

The scenario you mentioned is pretty much the exact reason I stopped dating online. Like you, I was getting contacted by men I knew in my town. Unlike you, I also teach in the town where I live so sometimes I'd be getting asked out on dates by men whose kids were my students. That was really weird.

Even though most people in the online dating thing know that no response is fine, I never could do that because y'know, I'd see these people in town (and at work...sheesh).

So I ended up replying by saying thanks for the offer but I just met someone and want to see where it goes. It seemed less harsh than saying I wasn't interested in them in particular, and I think most people understand that you're really just being polite.
posted by kinetic at 8:23 AM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

I disagree that you should do the ignore thing. You've met them in social situations around town, you're likely to meet them again. I agree with desjardins that "I don't think we're a match, but ..." is a good response. "but I'm up for coffee," "but it would be fun as friends," etc. These are IRL people, you want to build bridges IRL, not burn them. Also, they have friends.
posted by headnsouth at 8:24 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

A people pleaser indeed! You do not owe anyone a date. It's important to learn that for your own well-being, sometimes you have to say no, and I agree with others who have said that in this situation the best way to say no is just not to reply. If you've met them face to face before and want to be friends but not date, then just tell them that.
posted by Dansaman at 8:24 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

"No, thank you" is polite and very to the point. If they want an explanation, feel free to say "I would prefer not to", or simply not reply, as you prefer. If you don't want to risk burning a bridge with them, you could offer coffee in the daytime, but that's really optional.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:27 AM on May 2, 2013

Yeah, if you've met them in person you can't do the ignore. I like desjardin's advice "I don't think we're a match..." The WORST is when they tell you "why" - "You're not x enough for me or I don't like that you y"...ugh. I can deal much better with the straightforward approach when there isn't some sort of evaluation of me involved.

When you haven't met the person, ignore. Even though I don't place huge emotions in whatever happens with online dating, it kind of sucks to see you have a new message, open it and get a no. I usually just think the person is full of themselves enough to think I'm just hanging on their reply. I also don't send those messages to people who message me, when I don't want to go on a date with them.
posted by sweetkid at 8:29 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Agreeing that no response is the usual internet dating way to handle this. It's important to remember that e-dating values are different than RL values (for better or worse), and not responding is perfectly OK, even preferred.

That said, if you do need to respond, simply say 'Thanks, but no thanks'. And then do not communicate any further, even when prodded.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:36 AM on May 2, 2013

I'll go against the grain and say it strikes me (a guy) as polite to send a quick I'll-pass note, 'specially if the person's taken the time to write more than a sentence or two.

"Thank you for taking time to send a thoughtful note, but my best sense is that we're not compatible."

How long does that take?!?

If you're concerned about follow-ups, you can send the note and block the people.
posted by ambient2 at 8:39 AM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Goodness, ignoring people is the polite thing nowadays? I much more would rather get a 'thank you, but no thank you' response then being blanked. Unless someone is being a jerk, or being aggressive, not responding just seems like the easy-for-me avoidance solution, not the polite solution.

Polite (to me) way to do it: "Thank you X, I really appreciate you taking the time to contact me. I am sorry, but I am not interested right now."
posted by edgeways at 8:39 AM on May 2, 2013 [18 favorites]

I'm of the opinion that a very short email reply to someone YOU KNOW would be appropriate. Either Ambient2 or edgeways notes are fine.

Sure they may be bummed, but at least they'll know where they stand and they can move onto someone else.

Random ladies you don't know, I think it's safe to ignore.

Wouldn't it be awesome if these dating sites had a NO THANKS button you could just push? No wondering if the person got your email, and no awkwardness. A quick response and onto the next person.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:06 AM on May 2, 2013

When I was online dating, I *hated* not getting a response.

I agree that "Thanks for your message but I don't think we'd be a good match" is the polite way to go. It's how I'd want to be treated so I used that as my guide.
posted by Twicketface at 9:08 AM on May 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I generally vote for "ignore" in these situations, but I have experience with this sort of situation that makes me feel like you may want to actually say something.

When a person that I knew from around town -- not a friend, acquaintance, or even someone I'd ever actually spoken with, just someone I'd seen around at a few topical events -- found me on OKC, he wrote me a message immediately asking me out on a date. I ignored it because he was so very much not my type physically that it would be an impossible gap to breach, many of his OKC answers were diametrically opposed to mine (including the fact that he wanted kids and I do not, which is dealbreaker territory in your 30s); besides, we did not actually know each other at all. Ignoring his message felt similar to ignoring those gas station attendants that always ask you for your phone number when you just want to buy gas. A month or so later, I disabled my account because having an exceedingly busy life had utterly superseded any desire to date.

A few days later, he found my email address (we belong to a local email list that, hatefully, does not use blind carbon copy) and sent me an message asking if he was the reason I disabled my OKC account. At that point, I stopped attending the events I would see him at and never again returned. When I see him now, I avert my eyes. He did not have the courage to ever speak to me in person, ever: GAS FACE. Thinking that disabling my OKC account had anything to do with him whatsoever: DOUBLE GAS FACE. I should have just said no.

The overwhelmingly vast number of the times I've sent out carefully crafted but unsolicited messages to dudes I think seem cool, they have been 100% silently ignored. I've literally never gotten a "thanks, but no thanks" response online, but I definitely have after I've gone on multiple, increasingly awkward dates with people who did not like me at all but were, I guess, trying to be nice? There's no need to waste everyone's time with that approach.
Please do not just go on dates with these women. As a lady who is currently seeking a dude to date, and who is often the initiator in these sorts of situations, I can attest that we are mostly adults who can handle honest rejection so long as it is delivered quickly and with minimal fuss -- truly, it is OK! In fact, I think dudes I like who reject me as a prospective partner right up front are pretty sweet for having the nerve to just rip the band-aid off, and I have gone on to be good friends with some of them as a result.

The only way these women could possibly think poorly of you is if you are rude in declining their invitations, or if you agree to take them out on dates while already knowing you did not want to be involved with them in any way. The fact that you're not romantically interested in them will have to come out sooner or later, right? You shouldn't try to fake it and ignore your own feelings in hopes that you will be able to spare someone else from discomfort. We will never be able to spare people from discomfort, even if we do everything they want us to do. And the person you would attempt to force yourself to date would notice how hollow your words and actions are, sooner or later.

Dropping a quick note with something like "I'm flattered that you'd like to go out on a date with me, but I just don't think we'd make a good match romantically. Take care, best of luck!" should do the trick nicely.
posted by divined by radio at 9:09 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would respond to someone if I knew them outside of the dating site.

For everyone else...

I'm a female ~30 doing online dating who, if I write to someone, I write something personalized, and I would prefer if you just ignored it. I message people sometimes and forget about it pretty quickly no matter how much I liked their profile. I'm only going to remember you if you message me back. The only time I start to get into someone if is we have a couple of messages back and forth and it looks like we might meet, but that's regardless of whether I messaged first or the guy did.

I would be really disappointed if I found out someone went on a date with me out of some sort of guilty feeling of obligation.
posted by fromageball at 9:59 AM on May 2, 2013

I message lots of people on dating sites. If every single guy who wasn't into me wrote to explain that I would just cry.

Once you've met, it's polite to respond. Otherwise ignore.
posted by bunderful at 10:27 AM on May 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

I hate being ignored when I message someone, so I don't do that to guys that make an honest attempt to reach out to me. I do ignore the messages that are obviously canned and/or don't have any thought put into them but if a guy has taken the time to read my profile and write something that shows he is actively trying to connect, he deserves a response even if I'm not feeling it for him.
posted by deliciae at 10:27 AM on May 2, 2013

I was looking at my OKC inbox last night and realized that over the years I had skipped over a not-small amount of messages... Some even from interesting people (but maybe not interesting enough to date). Thought it would be fun to write back just for the heck of it.

One thing that doesn't seem so bad to do is to write a short note back, minimal, kind and acknowledging but fail to invite any follow-up by not asking questions. Works for me more often than not, but I might not have OP's natural magnetism. Not very many women in our culture are forward enough to ask for the date themselves for better and for worse (usually for worse). If they do, ain't nothing wrong with a straight forward, kind rejection. "Thanks for asking! I'm not interested in that way, you know? Hope you find someone who is!" Rejection is healthy and the allergy to it is curable with exposure. The courage to ask is rare and deserves to be nurtured if only for the sake of the next guy who might appreciate the message.

The idea that one shouldn't waste one's time (or others' time) on dates with folks who aren't perfect matches is kind of silly, too. Go out if you want to go out and don't go out if you don't want to go out. Obligations and expectations on first dates are for the birds.
posted by Skwirl at 12:50 PM on May 2, 2013

I don't believe in ignoring perfectly friendly people, whether in person or online. They're real people, even if it's the internet.

However, it's also really important to be as straightforward as possible. As others have mentioned, saying a clear, polite "No, but thank you. See you around!" is the way to go.
posted by Pwoink at 1:38 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Personally, I would preempt the IRL issue. In your profile, include a one-liner along the lines of, I feel uncomfortable dating people I know through friends so don't take it personally if I don't respond for that reason. This gets you off the hook with the least amount of hurt feelings.
posted by rada at 2:25 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

It seems super weird to me to messages someone you know in real life on an online dating site. If you already know the person, maybe just...ask them out in that context?

That said, I think it would be weird to just ignore a message from someone you know and will be interacting with in the future. For those who have emailed you thus far, I would respond briefly with one of the excellent suggestions above. For the future, I would put a notation on my profile that says something like: "I use online dating to meet new people that I might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. If we're already friends/acquaintances, please get in touch in person or via a phone call or email rather than through this site. Thanks!"
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:34 PM on May 2, 2013

Wouldn't it be awesome if these dating sites had a NO THANKS button you could just push? No wondering if the person got your email, and no awkwardness. A quick response and onto the next person.
Match does, but it doesn't stop the truly persistent.

I honestly think you should go with what's most comfortable, OP. There's a lot of variance between what the other person "might" want, here, and you've stated that you feel uncomfortable just not replying. I do not think you should suck it up and go on dates you don't want to. Rejection sucks, and some people take it more to heart than others. I think "Hey, I don't think we'd be a good romantic match, but let's get together sometime and bitch about how awkward online dating is" or some version thereof is acceptable. But there are folks out there who are alright with no response, too. There is really nothing you can do to control how people feel about being told "no."

By the way, I always found "if you are this, please don't be offended if I don't reply/I will not respond" lines to be problematic, not matter what the "this" is. I don't recommend doing this for women who have met you offline, because A) at some point you may meet or make an acquaintance you might like to get to know in that way; B) it can come across as dickish. Take that with how ever many grains of salt you like; and C) It likely will not stop anyone nor will it prevent someone from feeling some kind of way about it.
posted by sm1tten at 7:31 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the email seems genuine and personal, I believe you do owe that person the favor of a response. By going on a dating website and posting a profile, you ARE soliciting people to contact you if they are interested. Ignoring someone is never the polite thing to do, it's just the easiest thing to do and lots of people make that mistake.

Crap/spam/crassness can of course be ignored. But nice people putting themselves out there and taking a shot that you'll be interested? The nicest thing you can do is be nice back, even if it is simply a standard brush-off.

But no, you don't owe anyone any more than that. It can be interesting to go on first dates where you aren't 100% sure you feel an attraction, since that's what first dates are for. See what people are like and to test your initial judgements. First dates/coffee dates are pretty much no strings attached events, it's not like you are committing to anything but an hour or two of conversation.
posted by gjc at 7:59 PM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do not go on dates with people you are not interested in dating -- that is awkward at best and potentially disastrous at worst. Meeting someone for a coffee and an hour of chat is fine: even if it does not lead to any romantic fling, you might be a single conversation away from meeting some remarkable friend. And as you mention that in some cases you know these women already, it would seem bizarre to refuse to meet them for a coffee.

Do not ignore people simply because you feel they are of no use to you. By taking the counsel of a depressing number of mefites above, you would be actively making the world a shabbier, more broken place to live in where people have value to one another only if they can be of use.

Do write back a polite, clear, firm response in either case, whether you decide to meet someone or not.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:31 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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