How do you turn down an offer of friendship in a kind way?
January 26, 2023 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Looking for scripts I should have used instead of (eep, I know how bad this sounds) going silent on these people.

Situation 1: After two-and-a-half dates with a guy, I sent a text saying I wasn't quite clicking with him, thanks for the hangouts, and good luck. He was disappointed but also polite, respectful. He wondered if it was X or Y or Z specific thing about him that turned me off. And I told him the truth: "It was hard to settle into comfortable and easy conversation. We just never found the right groove with each other, I think? It's not anyone's fault, it's just a thing that happens sometimes, but that made it hard to connect." He said thanks for sharing that, and hey, he'd love to be friends with me because he's new to the area, would be nice to just have someone to get coffee with sometimes.

And I'm thinking... dude I just told you our conversations suck, what makes you think we can be *friends*? I couldn't figure out what to say.

Meanwhile he was continuing to text: he's tried a couple of meetup groups but hasn't met anyone he'd get along with yet. But he thinks I'm funny and have "good vibes", and anyway, dating shouldn't be such a zero sum game, so what if it doesn't work out as a romantic connection? It would be lovely to just be friends.

I ... never responded. I went silent on the guy. And I feel really bad. He's a perfectly nice person! Just because I'm unwilling to endure another stilted conversation with him, doesn't mean it's okay to be so rude to him? I wish I'd known what to say, because all I could think to say was "No, thanks," and that sounds *wildly* rude as well.

Situation 2: Someone in my neighborhood had flooding in their home and needed a place to stay for one night. I volunteer off and on with a local mutual aid group, that's how I heard, and I happened to have room in my home. Everything went smoothly. She was a respectful houseguest, she cleaned up after herself, she brought me a cutting of one of her houseplants as a gift, and she left on time. Aaaand now she wants to be best friends. I really don't want to be friends. She's very young - she's 21 and I'm 41 - and she's a bit lost, VERY chatty and needy, comes across like she wants me to be a mom/big sister figure. Three times she showed up at my door unexpectedly just because she happened to be on a walk. First time I chatted for a minute, second time I told her I was working and buh-bye, third time I said, "Listen, I work from home so I can't hang out like this, hope you understand." And she stopped coming to my door but she does keep texting. My responses have gone from sporadic to completely stopped. Once again, I feel awful because she's a human being who deserves to be treated with more care. But telling her something like, "I don't want to hang out with you or be friends with you" seems even more rude than just silence.

To summarize, (a) I don't want to smile and nod and mislead people when they want to be friends with me and I don't reciprocate the feeling, and (b) But I still value a BASIC human-human level connectedness and relatedness, so it feels wrong to go silent and even more egregiously wrong to tell people "No, thanks" to their face.

Does anyone have scripts to suggest for use in these circumstances? Not that I expect to encounter this all the time, but I know I didn't do the right thing here and would like to know how I could have handled it better.
posted by MiraK to Human Relations (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think the guy in situation #1 was being rude, not you. Instead of ghosting him, you were polite and upfront about not being interested in pursuing a relationship with him, and you wished him well. He responded by steamrolling over your boundaries and pestering you with text messages and entreaties to spend more time together...after you specifically told him you weren't interested in hanging out! Some people will feed off any attention you give them, you did the right thing to ignore him.

There's a scene in The Cable Guy (I know) where Matthew Broderick's character finally breaks and tells Jim Carrey's character that he doesn't want to be his friend. He says something to the effect of "You seem like a really nice guy, but I just don't have any room in my life for a new friend." I guess if I felt like I HAD to say something, that would be what I would say.
posted by cakelite at 10:48 AM on January 26 [14 favorites]

In case #1 you handled it correctly. You said you weren't interested, you went to the additional and both kind and risky length of telling him why, and he... pretty much kept pushing. I wouldn't have said a damn thing else to him either. You weren't rude, you were as polite as it's reasonable to be with essentially a complete stranger.

In #2.... I don't think there are really any *better* options, just *different* ones. You could be more confrontational about it, or you could just respond at the pace you are comfortable responding, and if she doesn't get the hint, well, some people take longer to figure it out than others. You don't owe her anything, and she's already proved to you she doesn't have a good sense of reasonable boundaries. (THREE TIMES she just SHOWED UP AT YOUR HOUSE? I have friends I'd bury a body for who wouldn't do that if it weren't a dire emergency.) You could tell her to stop contacting you - if it looked like she was escalating, I'd advise it - but again, she's a stranger and you are not obligated to give her your time.

tl;dr, there's nothing in the social compact that I, personally, recognize that obligates you to do anything *other* than ghost strangers your don't want relationships with. Especially - and this sucks, but it's true - with men, who are much more likely to escalate in a potentially scary way on overt rejections.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:49 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I really don't see where you could have improved in either scenario. You went above and beyond in both instances, and now you just need to let your own anxious guilt settle.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:54 AM on January 26 [37 favorites]

I mean ghosting has a bad reputation & maybe that’s for a good reason, but i don’t think it’s any politer to sit someone down & explain exactly why you don’t enjoy their company. Especially if there’s nothing really that wrong with them.

Keep slow fading for long enough & they’ll get the message.
posted by Puppy McSock at 11:07 AM on January 26 [9 favorites]

#2 is a little different than #1, because you're going to have at least some relationship with this person going forward, even if it's just seeing her around the neighborhood. If you ghost her, you run the risk of running into her at the grocery store and getting a "why haven't you responded to my texts?" conversation in front of everyone. So for her, be more explicit that you don't have time for unscheduled visits. Leave the possibility open for a scheduled visit, I guess, but really, if she were the type to plan out her social life like that, she'd already be calling or texting you first to see if it's OK if she comes over.

The first guy deserves to be ghosted. You told him you don't enjoy talking to him, so his response is to keep talking? His newness to the area and lack of friends is not your problem to solve. You know why he doesn't have any friends yet? Because he doesn't pay attention to social cues.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:14 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]

Can you schedule a time of the week to text #2 and strongly imply that that's what your work schedule allows?

(The romcom answer is to introduce them to each other.)
posted by clew at 11:31 AM on January 26 [33 favorites]

I also think you were fine on #1. I can see a version of whatever was happening in his head where "not able to click well as potential romantic partners" didn't necessarily mean you couldn't find a decent conversational groove as friends without that pressure. But I think absent you immediately and enthusiastically responding to that first suggestion, he was the one who made things awkward by continuing to press on the "LET'S BE FRIENDS" button. You're not into that. It's fine. You could potentially have tried some version of "I think that lack of connection means friendship really isn't on the table for us either - I hope you find the right outlet to make friends soon, I wish you the best" or whatever to cut it off a little more cleanly. But when someone is already not taking no for an answer, I don't think you have to keep saying no at increasing volume, you can just walk away.

For #2, if you have the room in your life for a very casual occasional text-based relationship with a neighbor, that might be worth investing a little bit of time into for the sake of local community-building. In that case I might try something like "I don't have a lot of time for socializing right now so I'm not really available to text much, but I hope everything goes well with your house repairs, and I'll send you a photo of the plant once it starts to grow!" or something that leaves a little door open for some very limited contact at some point down the road without setting an expectation that you're about to become text buddies. (But also, I would have shut down uninvited dropbys hard, I think you did exactly right there.)
posted by Stacey at 11:46 AM on January 26 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Agreed #1 is fine. You did your due diligence beyond what most reasonable people would. Fade/response is fine.

#2 -- the classic 'My schedule is really jam packed, sorry, but I'll see you around! Good luck with everything" is the friendly brushoff.
posted by greta simone at 11:48 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]

Dude you are doing an exemplary job of boundary setting here! You're not fading on people until they leave you no choice, but if they leave you no choice (except to be cruel) then what else are you supposed to do. I think this is one (well, two) of those situations where doing the right thing just doesn't quite work for reasons outside your control.
posted by babelfish at 11:48 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Imagine if someone tried to hug you and you gave a limp half hug in return, raising your arms a beat too late and keeping your elbows and chest away from their body. You hugged back the bare minimum to not look absolutely rude by just standing there, and let them save a tiny bit of face, but you expressed no pleasure in the hug.

And then the next time you saw them, instead of keeping distance, they leapt into your unwilling arms, hugged you even tighter than before, and escalated by smelling your neck as they hugged you and murmuring intimately that they wanted to hug you twice a week forever.

That’s pretty much what’s happening here. Your polite boundaries and gentle but clear signals are being ignored. Just because they like you, doesn’t mean you have to tie yourself in knots to be somehow nicer than the polite and respectful you’ve already been. They’re being exhausting.

People really need to put in the work to learn to identify a subtle no, because almost nobody’s self esteem can handle an explicit no.

I say, ghost away!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:52 AM on January 26 [20 favorites]

My cynical take on #1 is that he's not accepting no for an answer in the hopes that something more develops. Arguing with you about how you date is pretty rude! I would let go of this idea that he's "perfectly nice" and you are "wildly rude." You used exactly the right script for ending it early - "we're not clicking" is perfect - and then he pushed back and asked why. You didn't have to respond to that, but you did, bravely. Then he tried to manipulate you into feeling bad for him because he's new to town and hasn't met anyone and needs friends. It's very healthy of you not to fall prey to that. I suspect that if you had gotten coffee with him, after a few times, he would have suggested escalating to dating again.

I don't think you've done anything wrong. If someone asks you "why" in the future this early on, it might be better to draw a boundary sooner and not answer. "I'm just not feeling a spark, but I wish you the best" or "I'm not interested" and then just leave it there. You can be even more direct and firm. I once saw someone a handful of times and gave them a real chance and wasn't feeling it, and he tried to argue with me via text, "But we had so much doing such and such, didn't we?" I told him, "I don't need to explain myself." He kept texting me and I blocked him there and then on Facebook (we hadn't even been FB friends!). Even five years later, I still sometimes get a message from him on various dating apps, "I thought I'd give it one more try," etc. I block, don't respond, etc.

I have also told people, "I'm focusing my friendships on women, not men right now" (which is true). So you could do something like that if you would feel better. But sometimes giving someone anything just makes them push back more. It's not your job to befriend every lonely man on a dating app, you know? He wanted you to feel bad for him so you'd hang out with him even though you didn't want to. Gross, right? He's the one being rude.

If he texts again, you can definitely say something like, "I am not interested. Please don't contact me again" and if responds with anything other than, "Sorry, goodbye," just go ahead and block him.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:52 AM on January 26 [8 favorites]

Best answer: It's only ghosting if you abruptly cut off contact with no explanation. For both of these people, you've set your boundary and they're just trying to go around it. It's fine to stop responding once you've told them no, but if you want a script, I'd focus on being blunt but keep it focused on why it's you not them.

For example, text the guy:
"My social calendar is full, I won't be able to join you."

For the gal you'll need to decide what level of contact you're willing to engage with. If it's not texts or stop-bys, just say "I don't keep up with texting and knocking on my door conflicts with my work. I'm glad we have the kind of neighborhood where we'll run into each other every so often anyway, and hopefully you can pay the kindness forward to someone else.
posted by Narrow Harbor at 11:57 AM on January 26 [10 favorites]

I'd have no problem ghosting, or just being rude. Arguably, that would be harder with #2 than #1. And I'm someone who enjoys making new adult friends, but I waste no time with someone who isn't going to respect my boundaries.
posted by slogger at 12:17 PM on January 26

MiraK, you have no idea how much I've appreciated your answers over the years. They're always insightful, full of wisdom and compassion. Even when you don't think you know what to do, you've done exactly the right thing.
posted by kate4914 at 1:33 PM on January 26 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for these answers, folks. I think fingersandtoes is bang on target that my guilt-anxiety is acting up. Thank you for that. I also marked best answer on a few others that gave me scripts I can see myself using.

I was surprised that you all universally agree that the guy deserved silence! I felt sure that *that* was where I was most unkind and he didn't do anything to deserve silence in response to what I thought was a sweet and earnest request.

But now that you all pointed it out, one of the reasons why it was so difficult to have a conversation with him was he ignored a lot of cues during dates, too, like going back to the old subject after I changed the subject or telling me all about beer right after I said I hate beer.

So I think you've successfully reframed this part for me. Thanks you!
posted by MiraK at 2:09 PM on January 26 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with the consensus that it was totally fine to stop responding to #1. If you want a polite script though, I’d go with something like “yeah it can be so hard to make friends in new places! Unfortunately I’m pretty booked up these days and focusing my energy/time on dating. Hope you find people you click with soon!” Then I wouldn’t respond further.

For #2, I think you handled it perfectly. You were friendly the first time she came by, a little more distant the second, then the third you explicitly told her to stop, and she did. It seems like maybe she doesn’t really understand what you’re implying unless you spell it out, so I’d send her a text along the lines of, “hey I’m so glad I was able to help out when you needed a place to stay! I’ve had a lot going on lately so I just don’t have the time to be in regular contact right now, even by text. Sorry!”
posted by maleficent at 2:30 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]

I want to revive the slow fade instead of going straight to "this is ghosting and ghosting is bad all the time." I don't believe not responding is a bad thing all the time. Sometimes you really don't know what to say, and I'd be feeling that in these cases. We all have busy lives and really can't sit down and compose the perfect response because we want to avoid ghosting (I don't think you're ghosting by the way. Ghosting is disappearing when there's an expected response because of an established relationship - e.g. dating for a couple of months and then not responding one day, or not showing up to a date you both agreed on with no warning).

In this case, you already did communicate with them; they chose to ignore or just didn't get it. I believe it is worse to say the truth rather than respond with silence. Silence IS saying something and you're preserving their feelings from the truth. The sucky thing is they don't know that and may be hurt from a non-response. And that's just it - they *may* be hurt. We're not responsible for others' feelings nor do we have to take that on.

Having said that, you did get some great scripts here from people who are way more thoughtful than me. :D
posted by foxjacket at 3:42 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]

#1. If this guy is ignoring boundaries, go no contact. Some assholes really want to negotiate their way back into your life. Don't play their game.
posted by lalochezia at 9:18 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

Once again, I feel awful because she's a human being who deserves to be treated with more care. But telling her something like, "I don't want to hang out with you or be friends with you" seems even more rude than just silence.

I am a person who often feels trapped by others' either ignoring or misunderstanding of boundaries I have set. I have manners and I was raised by self-involved parents who taught me to always consider their needs before my own so it feels rude to advocate for myself when it shouldn't. So I am not that good at determining what a reasonable boundary is. And I think the additional issue is really that both of these people did not pick up on your signals and also seem lonely. And you feel like "Hey loneliness, I have an ability to help but I don't want to. That feels bad or rude" And, it can, but it's also an okay choice to make. Women are often socialized to think we owe other people our time and we don't!

It's entirely possible that one of the reasons these people are continuing to press you on things (once you've determined maybe by triangulating with other people like you have here) is that they themselves have a difficult time connecting with people or understanding them and you can both have empathy for them without it needing to be your issue to fix.

And also I am with r_n, this may be a cultural thing but around here stopping by if someone hasn't specifically said they're open to that, is kind of pushy and doing it a lot is definitely outside the norm.
posted by jessamyn at 1:45 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]

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