It's not you, it's me
February 13, 2020 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can do to make saying no to a date less godawful for him?

I got asked out twice recently in person, both by guys I do not want to date. One is a nice guy, just not my type (I have really hated dating older men and he's older) and the other well, is a neighbor who banged on my door at 11:30 p.m. after I said I didn't want a drink and was going to bed. I don't want to hurt the feelings of the former (I said "not sure about that, I have issues..." when he asked), and the latter I'm now scared of, but he lives two doors down. I need to stay on good terms here for my own safety. I don't think the first one is likely to cause trouble and I feel bad about saying no to him.

So, how do I say no to dating a guy when he asks in person (this is not online/phones so ghosting isn't an option) without him deciding to stalk or abuse me? Is there any way to do this without it getting horrible? I really, really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and I especially feel bad about the first one because he doesn't deserve this, but it seems like there's no way to say no to dating someone without kicking him in the crotch, emotionally speaking.

Problems that come up:
* I have done "give him a chance!" dating with people I didn't like. Boy, did that only make things worse when I still didn't like them, plus they thought they were getting somewhere, chased me down for kisses, etc. I don't want to "give him a chance!" any more.
* I'm not demisexual. I won't like them more the more I get to know them. That has never happened. Also, it leads them on and makes things worse, in my experience.
* They know I'm 100% single, so I can't claim to have a boyfriend and I have no other excuse not to date them.
* I don't want to be genuine friends or fake "friends" or use that at all. The most I would hope for is that we're cordial in public when in the same space.
* For me, it just boils down to "I just don't want to kiss or have sex with you." I am the pickiest person in the world, it's extremely rare for me to be attracted to anyone, and it is kind of a giant "It's not you, it's me" thing. You are not the streak breaker either, I'm sorry.

Is there anything I can do to make saying no to a date less godawful?
posted by jenfullmoon to Human Relations (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you're not preserving any ongoing 'friend' relationship, other than staying cordial, just be straight out. You don't know how they're going to react in any case, even if you try to pull punches. And in many cases, you pulling punches will just encourage them, leaving some 'so you say there's a chance!'

You can say "Sorry, but I'm not really interested." There are, of course, many tonal ways to *say* this.. as in voice; an apologetic way, a snotty way, a mean girl way, a 'you freak me out and leave now thank you very much' tone.

If they say - but give me a chance! Then you roll out "I don't find that we have anything much in common that would make a difference for me. Thanks, but no."

everyone's different, so can't say how anyone will actually respond, but trying to spare people's feelings does typically just encourage them to try harder.
posted by rich at 10:07 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]

"I'm not interested in dating or developing a friendship with you. Thanks."
posted by Kitchen Witch at 10:08 AM on February 13 [9 favorites]

Anyone who asks someone out is taking the risk of rejection, and that's okay. You don't need to manage their feelings. I agree that the more you say, other than, "Thanks, but I'm not interested," the more you risk them re-attempting. The neighbor does sound scary, but I don't think there are magic words to change him- just be polite and if things get worse, you may need to talk to your landlord.
posted by pinochiette at 10:10 AM on February 13 [21 favorites]

one that i used with a particularly persistent would-be suitor (that's code for STALKERY) was "i understand you feel driven to pursue me. i am asking you to let that go."
posted by hollisimo at 10:16 AM on February 13 [29 favorites]

They know I'm 100% single, so I can't claim to have a boyfriend and I have no other excuse not to date them.

"You're a great guy, but I'm taking a break from dating." And if they insist, "no, I'm sorry, that's just not where my life is right now." (Especially with the older guy).

Although honestly, the best way to get men off your back is to say that there's another man in the picture, so I would not be above saying, "You're a great guy, but I've started seeing someone and I want to see where things go with him." If they ask later how it's going, you can say, "Oh, it's going" and give a Mona Lisa smile. (Especially with the neighbor).

I would just lean heavily on the not-available thing, to make it seem like a less personal rejection.
posted by rue72 at 10:17 AM on February 13 [13 favorites]

As far as safety goes, do have this conversation somewhere in public to make it harder for a man to behave in a shitty way. If you are really worried, fuck some dude's feelings, get away however you need to (lie, say you need to check with a friend about an activity, it doesn't matter) and then tell him over the phone or I don't care, by text.

If you feel physically unsafe it's not your priority to protect some man's feelings. Your safety is your #1 priority.

With the neighbor, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WAIT ON THINGS TO GET WORSE. If this man harasses you in your home even ONE FUCKING TIME you should inform your landlord and if you feel unsafe, it's also fine to involve the police. We're socialized to try to manage these assholes' feelings but that is not your job. Your one, single, solitary job is your own personal safety.

Aside from that, NEVER let a first date take you back to your house. Always take a cab or lyft home or drive yourself. Once, I felt cornered by a guy in his car after he offered to drop me home (while I still felt comfortable with him) and i just had him drop me somewhere NOT my house that was close enough that i could walk and he wouldn't know my actual location.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:18 AM on February 13 [32 favorites]

If they say - but give me a chance! Then you roll out "I don't find that we have anything much in common that would make a difference for me. Thanks, but no."

And remember that you don't owe anyone an explanation for your choice. If they persist, perhaps "Please respect my decision."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:22 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]

A clear no always allowed my psyche can get on with the self esteem reboot. It reboots pretty fast. I understand why it can be difficult and dangerous for women to deliver a clear no, and I don't criticize any advice from a side of life on which I don't live - but on the receiving end it really is the kindest path.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:22 AM on February 13 [5 favorites]

It’s going to suck no matter what you do, but it will suck the least if you are clear and consistent. "No, I do not want to go on a date with you." You don’t owe them reasons, and introducing them might introduce a false hope to the situation.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:23 AM on February 13 [3 favorites]

If it's over text,

"Thanks for the invitation. I think you're a great guy but I don't really feel any attraction [and think it's best if we're just friends (if you actually want to be friends)]. Have a great weekend and see you around!"

If it's in person (brave guy!),

"Thanks for asking. I'm not feeling a connection like that with you so going to have to decline." (Smile, add "Hope we can continue to hang as friends!" if you actually want to be friends.)

Don't tell him you have issues, don't say you're not sure about that. Just smile, thank them kindly, and tell them "I'm not interested in you romantically." "I don't feel any romantic interest in you." "I don't feel interested in you like that." etc. The basic message is, "Sorry, just not feeling it! No particular reason why, but it's just not there for me." Attraction is a mystery, it's there or it's not, and it's not there for you with them. That's OK! It's ok to feel how you feel and say that. They will understand. Sometime I am sure they are just not attracted to certain women!

You can even say, "It's awesome to get a direct invitation, so I totally encourage you to keep doing that with other women!"
posted by amaire at 10:26 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]

I know you know you don't owe these folks anything, and are just looking for graceful ways to end the conversation. Right? Ok, how about these for the scary neighbor:

"I don't think so, but thank you!"

"my plate's really full these days so I'm not looking for anything like that, but thanks! I'm sure you'l find someone nice"

"I'm not available for dating these days"

"I've got some stuff going on that makes me unable unable to say yes to that, thank you though!"

"that's not where I'm at, but thank you!"

[also -- I agree with whoever said above that you should make other people aware of this and be prepared to escalate.]

and for the nice older guy, I agree being a little more specific is ok.

"that's so lovely of you to invite me! I'm not feeling that kind of connection, so I'm going to have to decline, but I do appreciate the thought."
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:37 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

IME the best thing to do is to lie and say you got back together with an old boyfriend. And always be "busy" so conversations are kept to a minimum.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:51 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

And don't say anything like "you're a nice person" or even "sorry." Totally unapologetic "Oh, I got back together with an old boyfriend" and then "I have to make a phone call, talk to you later" is probably going to be your best bet here.

Separate from that, I really want you to unpack, for your own reasons, like you feel like this will be "godawful" for him or like you have to give him (or us) excuses, prove that you're not into him, etc. This is someone who you feel is a real threat; it makes perfect sense that you don't want to date him, although you don't need a reason.

Not saying "yes" to a date is not doing anything wrong. It's not mean. Generally, in fact, it's nice to people to be honest with them. I'm sorry that people in the past have made you feel like it would be appropriate to give people a chance when you know you're not into them, or that you have to make excuses.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:55 AM on February 13 [11 favorites]

Also, sorry, I feel like the two questions are a bit mixed up. I don't think you need to feel awful about saying no to someone nice, either. Again, it's doing him a kindness--being honest with people so that they can move on if appropriate is a good thing.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:57 AM on February 13 [8 favorites]

Be very careful with offering explanations like “I’m not dating right now” because there is a subset of dudes who zero in on the “right now” and see it as evidence that you will be interested later. In my experience, the fewer explanations, the better. I would just say something along the lines of “that’s a lovely compliment, but no thank you.”
posted by corey flood at 10:57 AM on February 13 [27 favorites]

"I'm not interested in dating or developing a friendship with you. Thanks."

This. Short and clear, and no reasons. Reasons give them a chance to argue over reasons. Reasons give them an in sometime down the road. Reasons keep the door open. Stay away from reasons.

And no reasons is good for the one being turned down, too, as it lets them pretend it's something that they can't do anything about, whatever makes them happy.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:58 AM on February 13 [6 favorites]

I also would avoid things like "you're a great guy" because that would make some guys think they can argue with you. Unfortunately, there are a very few men that make it important to be careful in your wording so that they don't hear something different from what you've said. (I've heard men who've been told "you're a nice guy" hearing that as "women aren't interested in nice guys" which then turns into "women are terrible" - it can potentially get very ugly).

I think "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested" should be fine.
posted by FencingGal at 11:03 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]

"I'm not interested in dating or developing a friendship with you. Thanks."

I also agree this is the best response for scary neighbour.

Anything else could backfire. If you say you're not interested in dating right now, but then start dating someone, if this guy has an unhealthy fixation, he could see it as a personal rejection and escalate things.

I agree too with everyone who's suggesting reporting his unwelcome attention to your landlord/property manager and keeping a record of any interaction he initiates.
posted by essexjan at 11:19 AM on February 13

“I really, really don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and I especially feel bad about the first one because he doesn't deserve this, but it seems like there's no way to say no to dating someone without kicking him in the crotch, emotionally speaking.”

Well I think the first thing to do to make it easier for you is to stop building this up in your head as some huge dramatic deal FOR THEM. You’re not the love of their life and this isn’t a decades long crush that they’ve had on you, by the sound of it. They just came across you a few times and thought they’d try their luck and ask you out.

It’s a really minor thing and most men can handle hearing no, it’s not going to send them to a therapist. Chances are you’ll say you’re not interested (politely) they’ll shrug, mentally cross you off their list and and literally never think of you again. Be clear, be polite and move on. Now if they don’t take no for an answer, then you have issues but cross that bridge when you come to it.
posted by Jubey at 11:22 AM on February 13 [12 favorites]

* For me, it just boils down to "I just don't want to kiss or have sex with you." I am the pickiest person in the world, it's extremely rare for me to be attracted to anyone, and it is kind of a giant "It's not you, it's me" thing. You are not the streak breaker either, I'm sorry.

The why doesn't matter. You should be picky. We should all be picky. We women are socialized to try to take care of other people's feelings and emotions, but the emotions of this other person are not your responsibility. Please do not worry about hurting their feelings. If they get their feelings hurt, they can manage that. The only reason you need is no reason at all. I wouldn't give an excuse or any sort of qualification to a near-stranger who asks you out. "No, thank you. I'm not interested." This leaves no room open.

Even if you had a boyfriend, I wouldn't suggest using that as a reason -- because then they think there might be a chance if you all break up, so they might stay interested.

If you need to practice this with friends, or practice saying it in a mirror, do that. "No thank you, I'm not interested." Say it until it rolls off the tongue. Leave absolutely no room for ambiguity.

If this is someone you are friendly with and don't find threatening (the first guy), sure, go ahead and smile if you are so inclined. With the creepy neighbor, do not smile, do not engage, do not give him any opening whatsoever. Be cold and direct and ignore him the rest of the time. It's not about good terms; it's about drawing clear boundaries. Next time he knocks on your door late at night, tell him you are calling the police and then do that. Do not be friendly to that man. You can friendly him out of being creepy.

If the guy is a good person, this is a kindness, because you are being clear and direct. If he's not a great guy, you've drawn a strong boundary, and he may just move on. Do not offer up friendship if you are not interested in that either.

It's okay to say no. You really need to believe this.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:25 AM on February 13 [10 favorites]

I don't recommend the "got back together with old boyfriend" line unless you think the guy really won't take "no" for an answer (in which case you will likely have other problems).

I've been rejected by a number of women and it does suck. I think most guys have the same experiences. A firm "no", without any outs, is actually the best. The worst thing you can do, for both of you, is to fail to close the door completely. Leave it a little bit open and the odds are good that he will be back (because, obviously, if you left the door open a little bit then there's a chance).

As for the second guy - yikes. Don't be afraid to call the police if he tries that shit again.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:38 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]

I'm in agreement with no apology, no qualifiers like "not right now." Just straight up, "thanks for invite. I'm not interested in that." It's clear, unambiguous, and not mean.

Also put this song on repeat for general affirming-your-right-to-say-no purposes: Meghan Trainor - No

My name is no
My sign is no
My number is no
You need to let it go
You need to let it go

posted by tuesdayschild at 12:01 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]

I agree -- no qualifications. "Thanks, but I'm not interested."
posted by vitout at 12:08 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]

Suggested rule of thumb:

Tell the truth. But, tell as little of the truth as you can get away with.
posted by John Borrowman at 12:08 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]

For the nice/older guy, and in general for guys who (a) seem reasonable/safe but you (b) don't want to date: I was once let down via text with, "I've really enjoyed getting to know you, but I'm just not feeling that romantic spark. Good luck out there!"

It stung - I was feeling that romantic spark! - but after my feelings were a little less raw, I appreciated the message quite a bit. I actually used it myself a couple of times before I met my husband, and it was received well every time. So, you might try that with the nice/older guy.

For the scary neighbor guy, I'd be more direct. "Thanks, but I'm not interested" is good. Don't add qualifiers or explanations. As suggested above, don't be afraid to call the cops if he engages with you in a frightening way again.
posted by shb at 1:10 PM on February 13 [7 favorites]

"I'm not interested in dating or developing a friendship with you. Thanks."

For the scary neighbor? No. Any answer that's about the guy in a scary guy situation is an opening for him to get hostile. ("How dare you not be interested in me?!" is a thing.) It is the unfortunate truth that one must make it possible for a man to save face to prevent you risking being a victim. It's horrible, but I'd rather perform emotional labor in this regard than have to move out of fear of retribution.

I believe any lie to preserve your sense of safety (re: your neighbor) is allowed. When you say "they know" you're single, do they REALLY know? I mean, how do they NOT know that you and your ex-boyfriend, with whom you had a sad, complicated breakup due to work and distance, are trying to make it work via long distance right now. Scary men (potentially) do not respect women's agency; they do respect other men's property. Scary men (potentially) see us as property. A lie about your relationship (and your absent beau with whom you're trying to work it out) lets a scary guy keep his dignity and you keep your safety.

As for the nice guy, while there's always a possibility he could turn into a scary guy, generally, it is just about giving him the same kind of soft landing you'd want for yourself. Say that you really appreciate him asking, but it's just not something you'd be comfortable with. "I'm not interested" implies that the person is not INTERESTING enough. It's possible to be taken as an insult. How would you feel if you invited a co-worker to lunch to get to know one another better and she said, "No, I'm not interested in developing a friendship with you" -- it would be insulting for most people to hear, and we're not even scary guys! I think the best way to do it is to say no to nice people in a way that's all about you and your needs and pretty much takes them out of the picture. (I once told a guy that I only physicists, knowing there was no way he'd ever become a physicist.) If you're not interested in a guy, it's OK for him to think you're weird; it's much safer than the alternatives.

My two cents as a woman who been dating 40 years and who has turned down a LOT of men.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 1:18 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

If you decide to go the gentle excuse route with the scary neighbor guy for the sake of keeping the peace, simply use the fact that he's a neighbor as the excuse. I made the mistake of dating a guy who lived across the street from me once, and when we broke up after a stormy few months, it was awkward as hell to know when he was home (and know he knew when I was home) and running into each other with new partners occurred frequently. It was terrible for both of us and I was relieved to finally move (over a year and a half later). Not wanting to run into someone you once dated, whether it ended well or not, within your safe space at home, is a completely valid excuse that trumps any potential convenience of dating a neighbor, and perhaps he'll understand that.

If necessary, paint yourself as the person who is more likely to be a horrorshow after a breakup instead of him, so that it seems more like you're doing him a favor than assuming he'll be the problem after.
posted by Fuego at 2:03 PM on February 13

I find that giving as few reasons as possible is best. "No, thank you. I'm not interested." Done. No more explanations or details. I'm not interested is a complete sentence and no one is entitled to more information about why.

The more you give reasons or offer up compliments, the more you crack the door back open for people. They'll often be left with the impression that there's a chance if they just find another way to get you to reconsider, "She said I was a great guy and that she thought I'm nice, maybe romance will bloom if I xyz."

Be clear and don't embroider your no.
posted by quince at 2:03 PM on February 13 [4 favorites]

I am clearly a garbage person because I always say, "Thanks but I'm gay."
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:11 PM on February 13

You do not need an excuse not to date them. Your social life, and your sex life, belong to you, not to Whatever Guy In Your Area Is Least Horrible Right Now.

Don't bother with reasons or excuses. The guys who are borderline-stalkery will take those as "if I find a way to invalidate that reason, then you have to date me!" And no. You don't. If your reason is, "You loom over me and it kind of creeps me out," you are not obligated to date him if he learns not to loom over people.

You do not owe them "a chance." You are not "punishing them" by saying no, because they have no right to a yes. You are not some-guy's-property and therefore available for them if you're not currently romantically attached.

And you are not responsible for their feelings after a polite "No thank you, I'm not interested." Any attempt they make to convince you that you are "hurting them" by saying no, is manipulation: it's claiming you're already responsible for their emotional well-being because they've decided you should be doing emotional labor for them!

No. Just no. All the no.

You may have to hedge more with the creepy-scary neighbor; do whatever it takes to stay safe. But you do not owe him the slightest shred of emotional consideration. Feel free to dodge, like, invent a hobby he hates, tell him you've joined a celibacy cult, whatever it takes to get him to leave you alone.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:34 PM on February 13 [8 favorites]

I'd want to hear something like I'm sorry, you seem like a great guy, but you're just not my type. It's a clear no that doesn't make me think it's a timing issue like saying you have a boyfriend would. It also allows me to tell myself that it's not that I'm unattractive, but that you're just attracted to something very specific.

I don't have experience rejecting dudes or being scared that they'll turn creepy/dangerous, and it's likely that different guys hear various rejections differently. For what it's worth though, I'm not interested in dating you feels a little abrupt and dismissive to me. You don't owe me or anybody a reason for not wanting to date, but since you asked how to make it less horrible, If I'd worked up the nerve to express an interest in you if it isn't reciprocated, I'd at least want to know why if only so I didn't go to the worst possible reason I could invent for myself.
posted by willnot at 4:28 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]

So, how do I say no to dating a guy when he asks in person (this is not online/phones so ghosting isn't an option) without him deciding to stalk or abuse me?

OK, so, I'm gonna go ahead and recommend you read (or re-read, if it's been a while) the AskMe classic The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker (even tho there are maybe some problematic elements to it - Captain Awkward thinks he can be a little victim-blamey. Also read the Captain Awkward archives for lots and lots of good thoughts about how to deal with turning folks down.)

Because one thing DeBecker makes very very clear is that this is not a thing that happens - a regular nice non-stalky non-creepy guy is not suddenly turned into a stalker weirdo because the Wrong Woman let him down in the Wrong Way. Creeps may be able to hide their creepy stalker tendencies, but it's there behind every interaction. Guys who do this are damaged in some way, whether it's standard-issue patriarchal entitlement or something deeper and more complex. Which means, unfortunately, that there's no magic phrase that will ensure that a stalker will not stalk you. Yes, people have various "I have a boyfriend" or "It's not you it's me" tactics that may have worked for them with some people in some circumstances, but there is no guarantee they will work for you with either of these guys. I'm sorry, yes, this is terrifying, but it is not really under your control.

Actually, though, the closest thing to a magic phrase that exists is "No."

Here's why:

Let's figure that Guy 1, who does not seem to have set off any warning bells in your mind, is as mature as he seems to be. He's not a creepy stalker. So you can go ahead and give him a straightforward but polite, "No, thank you." You saying this isn't gonna turn him into a stalker. If he doesn't have it in him already, you turning him down isn't gonna make him a creep. (Maybe you're unsure, though? That's OK, perfectly understandable, but starting with "No." is still a good tactic - more on that in a minute.)

Is it gonna sting? Yup. Is he gonna be hurt and disappointed? Yup. Is managing his emotions your job?


And actually a plain "No thanks" is better than whatever deflection phrase you're hoping to hit on, because . . . remember just above where I pointed out that non-creeps aren't gonna creep when you turn them down?

I kinda fibbed a little.

Because even non-creeps have spent their lives marinating in an environment where "persistence pays off" and the road to Twoo Luv has all kinds of bumps and detours along the way and you just gotta stick with it to get the girl. (Fucking John Cusack with that fucking boombox outside that fucking window.)

"I'm not in the headspace for a relationship right now" = try me again in a month.

"I have a boyfriend" = check back in 6 months, see if I dumped that loser.

Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

Maybe, hopefully, Guy 1 isn't a creep, but he's (we've) been fucking trained to keep a sharp eye out for any possible opening.

"No thank you, I'm not feeling the sparks. Have a nice life." That's it. Boom, done. There's no opening, no "Maybe in 3 months." It'll sting, he'll get over it.

he doesn't deserve this

*Kermit arm flailing* Doesn't deserve what? To get turned down for a date? C'mon, it's happened to him before, and on top of that how does he deserve to go on a date with you? Or anybody?

kicking him in the crotch, emotionally speaking.

I mean, no? Speaking as an actual testicle-haver, it's a "tapper" at worst - you walk around hunched over and groaning for a minute or two, that's about it. If a guy getting a "No thanks" from a girl he thinks is cute is the emotional equivalent of a kick in the balls, that guy has problems.

Somewhere along the line you've gotten it in your head that being turned down by a girl is just THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD, and if the guy's relatively mature, it just . . . isn't.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:47 PM on February 13 [10 favorites]

Part The Deux, because apparently I was on a roll and things got long:


Yeah, that one sets off all kinds of warning bells, big "DANGER" flares, and, not being a woman who's been hit on by a guy WITH HOLY FUCK NO SENSE OF NORMAL BOUNDARIES, I don't feel I can really weigh in with whether or not some kind of deflection/excuse is the safer route to take here.

I will point out though that DeBecker's experience has lead him to believe that "NO" put forward simply, strongly, and early can turn aside potentially dangerous folks. It's like a "Monitored by Security Company X" sign on a building - the creep is looking for any possible way in, and shutting them down hard and fast and quick may well convince them to move on to an easier target.

I would definitely document any further interactions you have with this neighbor, and be prepared to get building management and/or the cops involved sooner rather than later if Guy 2 continues.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:06 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]

If the guy who banged on your door does it again, I'd recommend getting a security camera if possible. That way you have evidence beyond writing down every encounter, in case you need proof for your landlord/other authorities. Check on the relevant state laws on recording. Hopefully this is unnecessary advice, but I'd rather have it out there than not.
posted by Hactar at 9:59 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]

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