How to decline a date
July 14, 2014 7:09 PM   Subscribe

How can I politely and professionally decline someone from the office who asked me out?

Well, I really never thought this would happen, but a person at work asked me out on Saturday. We work in different departments but have had projects together and I'm friendly on breaks. He asked outside of work in a low-key setting. I'm joking, it wasn't low-key; my boss was trying to set me up with him (different can of worms?).

Anyway, I mumbled my way through it hoping it was just too much boozie talking, but he called me the next night and left a voice mail.

I don't want to go on a date with him. There's more than one reason, but the only one that matters is that we're colleagues. I need to be a big girl and tell him politely and directly, but I have no idea how. This isn't a conversation that can happen at work -- walls are thin, people are around, etc. It also feels like a dick move to call him up and ask if he wants to grab a coffee and then show up for what he assumes is a date to tell him I don't want to go on a date. It would also feel super weird to call him tomorrow or something following up from a two-day old voice mail.

Socializing outside of work is fine, but it's not going to end up romantic or datey, ever, ever, ever.

Trying to sort it all out makes me feel flushed and pukey, probably because work is really political; social stakes are very high because this guy could end up being a supervisor of mine someday, or we could easily end up working more closely together. I need to be mature, classy and professional, where I'd prefer to be avoidant, asocial and a teensy neurotic.

How do I do it, MeFi?
posted by mibo to Work & Money (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Send him an email at work?
posted by DarlingBri at 7:11 PM on July 14, 2014

Phone him at his desk or ask him to meet you in Conference Room 'B'' or wherever, and tell him that you need to keep your work life and your personal life very separate so you are declining his invitation. Then tell your boss the same thing. (Yeesh!)
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:16 PM on July 14, 2014 [14 favorites]

Send an email: "Hi [guy]. I'm flattered by your invitation but I prefer that we keep things professional. I'm sure you understand and I hope that we can remain friendly at work." Then tell your boss the same thing--that you prefer to keep the relationship professional. You can say it nicely like "I'm flattered that you think so well of me to try to set me up, but I prefer to keep office relationships professional only. I'm sure you understand that I'd like to keep my work and personal life separate. Thanks though!" Or some variation of that.
posted by greta simone at 7:21 PM on July 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

I don't see why it's weird to call him two days later and say: "Hi Steve. Thanks for the invitation. Sorry I've been busy and haven't gotten back to you yet. I appreciate the offer, but I don't date people I work with. Hope you have a lovely week; looking forward to seeing you at our meeting on Wednesday."

I feel stressed reading your question and considering myself in a similar position so I understand! But I feel like you're kind of shutting a door by not just returning his call tomorrow. That's the most direct and easiest way to handle this. You could send him an email but I would personally keep this off of my and his work email accounts entirely.
posted by sockermom at 7:24 PM on July 14, 2014 [32 favorites]

I agree with greta simone except leave out the part about being flattered, and don't say thanks. It creates a bit of a mixed message. Be clear, firm, and brief.
posted by chrchr at 7:25 PM on July 14, 2014 [21 favorites]

From how you describe your workplace, I think that if you just told him that you're prioritizing your career over dating right now, he would probably understand that, and you could leave some of the rest of it unsaid.
posted by box at 7:33 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

And I don't think you need to tell your boss anything--if the guy thinks your boss needs to know, let him tell her/him.
posted by box at 7:36 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I'm sorry, I don't date coworkers."
posted by John Cohen at 7:38 PM on July 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

If he called and left you a voice mail, perhaps it would be easiest to call and leave a message for him on his work voice mail. If it's difficult to do so from work, perhaps you can call from an outside line during a time that he left for the day or before he got in. It would save the awkwardness of a direct discussion. Those above have some good wording, and I agree that there is no reason to say that you were flattered or sorry, unless you think that padding things for your particular situation is important.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:06 PM on July 14, 2014

Man, maybe I'm just your typical annoying millennial but I'd just send a text to keep it all as low key and blasé as possible: "Hey, got your vm. I don't date coworkers - sorry! hope to see you at the next outing/happy hour/etc though" - this way you're up front, you're unphased, it's quick and easy to move on from. Just low-stakes all around.

Calling, writing an email, setting up some kind of special meeting...I'd feel like it adds a totally unnecessary layer of seriousness. If he ignores your boundaries and presses on, then I'd say you should reiterate your rejection in a more formal way, maybe even a pull-aside for a face to face conversation. But really, as this stands, I think a text would do fine. But that's just me.
posted by windbox at 8:18 PM on July 14, 2014 [39 favorites]

[tell] him that you're prioritizing your career over dating right now.

That could easily be heard as "ask me again in a couple of months. I like you but it's not a good time."

The direct and simple message is "I don't date coworkers," as others have pointed out. There's no need to stress about this; it's a widely understood boundary.
posted by alms at 8:20 PM on July 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

Greta's got it. No need to be anything but pleasant - he only asked you out. Happens all the time and he should be able to understand that you don't date people you work with.
posted by brownrd at 9:17 PM on July 14, 2014

Agreeing with chrchr and alms.
posted by StrawberryPie at 10:06 PM on July 14, 2014

I'd do it via email for all the reasons you mentioned. It's awkward to discuss at work and anything outside of work feels like a date. Say you aren't interested in an office romance and appreciate being good colleagues or whatever and call it a day.

I think email is the most casual way to go. A text is very "Hey, notice this and deal with it right now." I strongly disagree with anyone who advises a text over an email. Email is the least intrusive form of communication available. That being said, he actually called you up, which is by far the most intrusive form of communication short of showing up at your house unnannounced, so a text wouldn't be totally out of bounds here.

If your boss is friendly and you're close enough that your boss is trying to set you up, you may want to in a jokey, casual way mention you don't do office romances.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:23 PM on July 14, 2014

You could probably figure out a way to go directly to his VM without ringing his line if you didn't like email or text as options.
posted by salvia at 10:48 PM on July 14, 2014

Only use email if nobody else, eg a PA, has access to his emails...
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:38 PM on July 14, 2014

Do not use your work email (or voicemail) for this. It's unprofessional, and it can go wrong in so many ways -- there is no real expectation of privacy with work email, and even if there were, you can't guarantee that the recipient won't accidentally somehow reply or forward it to someone else in the company.
posted by nacho fries at 12:45 AM on July 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

Nthing do not use your work email, do not go through work channels.

There's no work-related trace of what this guy has asked you; if you responded through a work channel, you would be the one bringing it to work. Always remember: any email you send at the office, could be forwarded to/read by anyone.

I like the text route. Keeps it informal and, as windbox says, at the level you want it to stay at: casual, non-intimate, not at work.
posted by fraula at 12:51 AM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

The advantage of email (work or not) is that it creates a paper trail in case (as you mentioned) some sort of issues arise if this person becomes your supervisor or your boss takes it the wrong way that your dating life isn't going to your boss's plan.
posted by Schielisque at 5:01 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

You need to have two conversations:

1. With guy. Call him back after work, hopefully he's given you his cell. Simply tell him, "I really enjoy working with you and I'd like to keep our relationship professional."

2. With boss. "Craig, I'm sure you meant well, but you put me in an awkward position. I like to keep my private live separate from my professional life. Please don't broker me any more dates." Or, if you have this kind of relationship, "Craig, dude, that was uncool. I don't shit where I eat."

Use whichever works for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:16 AM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Yeah, my typical rule is that work email is only for things you're fine with having people forward around. But you know what? You have done nothing wrong here. You've been put in an awkward position. Regardless of whether this dude asked you via work channels, he is complicit (or at least not objecting to) having YOUR BOSS try to fix you up with someone you work with. He is putting you in an uncomfortable position. He should know this.

As far as I'm concerned, that brings it into the work sphere (esp. the boss thing). I would decline via email, politely. Anyone with any sense would know that you were put in an awkward position. And it documents that awkward position, just in case it comes back at you. (Also, while someone forwarding the email is an issue, so is someone forwarding a voicemail. So is someone repeating a garbled and biased version of an in-person conversation. At least the email records your actual words.)

I like greta's phrasing overall, but I agree with keeping out any "thanks" or "I'm flattered" or "right now" because it leaves the door open.

Also, Ask A Manager has answered similar questions before if you're interested in another take.
posted by pie ninja at 5:32 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Would you ever date a coworker? Even if they were super hot and made you feel tingly when they walked by your cube? If you think there is a chance you might consider dating a colleague, don't tell him that you don't date colleagues, because if you do in the future, that is really going to sting. If you don't want to date him, tell him that you aren't interested in him that way, and you'd prefer to keep your relationship professional. Don't invent restrictions that don't exist, as it may end up biting you in the butt down the road.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:27 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

No thank you.
posted by myselfasme at 6:34 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would do what windbox suggests, just send a text, except instead of saying "I don't date coworkers" as an excuse I would just say "I'm not interested." You don't need to have an excuse to decline a dude's advances, not being interested is enough of a reason. Making excuses like "I don't date coworkers" opens up the door for creepers to do crazy things like look for another job in the hopes that if you're not coworkers anymore, you'll come back and say yes.
posted by Librarypt at 7:28 AM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Just say "sorry, but I'm not interested". Telling him you "don't date coworkers" will just lead to him bothering you about it when you're not coworkers anymore. You don't have to be overly polite or wordy about it.
posted by theraflu at 8:28 AM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

It would also feel super weird to call him tomorrow or something following up from a two-day old voice mail.

I'm not understanding why it would be weird. You are under no obligation to reply to an unwanted advance within a certain timeframe. It's fine to do it on your own timeline -- when you feel comfortable responding, after having thought it through at your own pace.

These guys put you in an awkward position. They weren't overly concerned with your feelings; there's no need to tie yourself in knots internally over their feelings, or worry about achieving some sort of idealized vision of perfect etiquette. The situation is making you queasy and anxious -- and THEY are the ones who put you there.

Your boss in particular was way, way out of line to get involved in this monkey business. He needs to realize that the women under his supervision aren't there for his matchmaking amusement. That's just gross. The more I think about this, the more I'd be inclined to be pretty tough with the boss, and fold HR into the loop perhaps, just so it's on record in case your boss tries to overstep boundaries again.
posted by nacho fries at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would use my work email and BCC a copy to my personal email, tbh. Especially since your own boss is acting inappropriately enough to try and set the two of you up.
posted by elizardbits at 9:17 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't invent restrictions that don't exist, as it may end up biting you in the butt down the road.

Yeah, like if you get laid off in the future and then you no longer have any excuse to not go out with him. BTDT.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:51 PM on July 15, 2014

Thanks for all your responses -- I talked to HR today after reading through. I didn't want to file a complaint or have HR intervene -- I just wanted to establish a timeline in case anything backfires down the road. (Not from dude, from my boss. I think he was as set up as I was.)

I'm not going to return the call and will be direct if it comes up again, but I suspect it will not. However, I am going to have a conversation with my boss about boundaries because the more I thought about it, the more WTF I got, and the more I got angry at her you read that right for putting me in this position.
posted by mibo at 6:08 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh god, that's awful. I think you're smart to handle it this way. Good luck!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:24 PM on July 15, 2014

If you don't mind sharing, and it doesn't breach workplace confidentiality, I'd be very interested to hear what HR's reaction was -- did they give you any useful guidance?

I agree that that was a smart way to handle it, and yep, come to think of it, there's no need to even respond to the call. Who knows, maybe he is having drunk-dial remorse and will be relieved (not that his relief is your responsibility).

(And I truly apologize for assuming your boss is a man.)
posted by nacho fries at 9:36 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's just discourteous not to return the guy's call at all. At least shoot him an email saying no thanks.
posted by windykites at 10:37 AM on July 16, 2014

It is not discourteous to ignore an unwanted advance by a colleague. It's perfectly fine to just pretend that never happened and move forward. If he brings it up again, you might want to have something planned for if it's in person "Oh, that? I was hoping we could just pretend that didn't happen."
posted by stoneweaver at 10:57 AM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think this will breach workplace confidence -- HR basically advised that it would be noted in case there's any blow back in the future. The rep asked if I'd like anything said to the guy, and I emphatically said no -- the more I reflected on it, the more I suspect he probably got an earful ahead of time about how he should ask me out and I'd totally say yes, because he otherwise seems friendly but shy, and we'd never exchanged more than pleasantries.

However, I don't feel it's discourteous to ignore a message that just said, "What are you doing?" If I were really discourteous, I'd just call back to say that on Sunday night, what I was doing was playing some Sims, eating some nacho cheese dip and then reading a book in bed until I fell asleep. I think it's weird and a little rude to ask a veritable stranger what they're doing, because it sets the person up to say, "Not much," then the asker can put on the pressure for dinner or a movie because "doing nothing" is not universally accepted as a reason not to leave the house.

I've seen him around and have acted like I always act -- friendly but not flirty. If he wants to get explicitly rejected, he can ask me out explicitly instead of nosing around. But, word on the street is that he's a serial crusher, so I expect to have everything 100% back to normal and off my mind within a week.
posted by mibo at 3:35 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

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