No means no
June 16, 2008 5:23 PM   Subscribe

How to nicely but firmly tell someone I am completely and totally uninterested romantically and at this point, pretty averse to friendship, too?

Through pure coincidence, I met a guy at work who works in a different section of the building but for the same overall organization. Initially, we emailed each other a lot - we're both summer students, Outlook is pretty much the only entertainment available to us when it's a slow day. I got a bit wary when it got a bit too obvious even to my dense mind that he was flirting, so I looked him up on - what else - Facebook. He has a girlfriend. Good! I thought, he's just one of those people who're naturally flirty. Now I can make another friend without worrying about weird signals. At this point I had already mentioned my boyfriend several times. I figure I'm in the clear.

Anyway. Long story short, we ended up going to see a movie together (my initiative, after I told him that both my boyfriend and my best friend bailed on me for that day), grabbed a bite to eat, chatted a bit more in earnest. I mention the boyfriend again - yes, I'm pretty paranoid by this point - so he asks me the standard question about him (2.5 years, living together with other housemates, etc).

"Oh, that's nice. Yeah, I've got this girlfriend... but I don't really like her, and I'm thinking of breaking up with her soon."


What follows are flimsy excuses to take the same bus as me home, texting me to say he had a great time, trying to get me to go have dinner with him some time, inviting me to hang out several times over the past two week, boasting about his amazing baking and how he needs to bring me something, and drunk texting over the weekend. I've ignored the texts if I could do so without feeling like a major bitch (e.g. if the texts were fairly innocuous), I've turned down all invitations to hang out with "yeah, no, plans with the boyfriend/second job/parents" type deals, I turned the dinner into a lunch at work and had the boyfriend come along, etc.

And so it goes on. Now for all I know he's not interested in me romantically, either, and this is all in my egotistical head. But my paranoia and general dislike of his occasionally arrogant personality mean that I'm really not interested in hanging out with him. Or talking to him, really, though I wouldn't mind talking to him if only for the sake of not burning bridges and networking and all that.

I think I've been pretty damn that I'm not interested in furthering the 'friendship'. How can I get him to back off short of openly saying "Hey, buddy, sorry but I don't really want to hang out outside of work."? Normally I'm okay with confrontations, but in this case it can be argued that he hasn't really done anything wrong and thus this sort of statement is uncalled for?

Furthermore, I'm 19, he's 22. I don't exactly think that sort of statement goes over well with my demographic.
posted by Phire to Human Relations (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm sorry, and I didn't mean to lead you on by going to the movie with you, but I don't want to hang out, outside of work, anymore." And you can always throw in that you're really busy, the standard way of fobbing people off who want any of your time or attention. He hasn't done anything wrong -- so the statement's uncalled for? The statement doesn't make it sound like it's about him, necessarily. I don't think it's that confrontational if you preface it with the apology.
posted by Listener at 5:35 PM on June 16, 2008

say thanks, but you're busy. never suggest an alternative. after three or four times, he'll figure it out.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:48 PM on June 16, 2008

how about; "what's going on here? you're starting to bug me out."
posted by xz at 6:07 PM on June 16, 2008

"Hey, listen [insert name], look, you seem like a real nice person but I have a lot going on in my life at the moment and I just can't get into a new friendship* at this point. No, I don't really want to talk about it. All I'm asking is that you give me some space at the moment because I need a lot of alone time at the moment to figure this stuff out and that's why I can't be getting to know you better right now. I'm sorry, I really am. I know it sucks but that's just the way it has to be and if you care for me at all you'll respect my wishes. Sorry."

* Emphasise this word.
posted by Effigy2000 at 6:10 PM on June 16, 2008

Response by poster: thinkingwoman: that's what I've been doing, thanks to sage advice gleaned from years of reading AskMe human relations threads, hoping he'll get the hint. So far, no luck.
posted by Phire at 6:10 PM on June 16, 2008

If the subtle approach isn't working, go point blank and just say something outright. If you're averse to even a friendship, you've got very little to lose.
posted by Gular at 6:16 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I experienced a similar problem at work about a year ago, when a coworker would no stop texting, calling, and trying to hang out with me (in most definitely a 'date'ish manner) even when I made it explicitly clear that I was taken and there was no prospect of romance.

At first, I wasn't suspicious and so I took a few calls, replied to texts, and invited her out (never to a movie alone, always with crowds that contained mutual friends). That was a mistake. It's unfortunate, but if you give some people enough rope, they'll use it to hang you. This seemed to give her the "wrong impression" (though really, her interpretation was wrong- as I already said I made it clear I didn't want romance of any kind), which brings me to a point; no matter what signals you may think you're giving, it matters only what the other person is inferring. You have to make it extremely clear that there's nothing going on between you.

Furthermore, ditch the idea that you can be "gentle" or "nice" about this situation and still get out of it. From my experience, at least, someone like this will not leave you alone until you leave no other options. Make it clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that you don't want to hang out, and let your selfish need to "not burn bridges" evaporate. Otherwise, you'll just end up perpetuating the situation.
posted by self at 6:20 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's only for the summer, I'd just keep ducking him. If you make a big deal out of it I guarantee you he'll tell the people you work with and they will all think you are insane/ a drama queen.

Now if he's genuinely harassing you or making you nervous, that's another thing but it sounds like you've been friendly to him in the very near past and he hasn't done anything out of line, given that he considers you a friend. It also sounds like he's a little dense in the head but we all have to put up with co-workers like that.
posted by fshgrl at 6:31 PM on June 16, 2008

"Just keep ducking him because it is only the summer and if you make a fuss people will say you're insane" puts a pretty big burden on the OP, fshrl.

I firmly believe she has the right not to be bugged by this guy. Period.

Phire--- you are right: NO MEANS NO. As some has mentioned up-thread, your next step may have to be a truly direct "You MUST let this go."

You NEVER have to justify yourself about this.
It'll be tough, but you'll be glad when you've taken control of this situation. Best of luck!
posted by Dizzy at 6:55 PM on June 16, 2008

Someone once told me they already had enough friends, and didn't need any more; it came across such a hilariously poor excuse that I still use it as an anecdote to make people laugh. Don't say that.

On the other hand, if it doesn't matter to you if he thinks you're both arrogant and socially inept, maybe you should say that!
posted by loiseau at 6:55 PM on June 16, 2008

If you don't want to be direct, accept his invitations--and then bring your boyfriend to everything. "Hey, [Schmoopie's Name Here] just loves [planned activity]. Is it OK if he comes along?" And if your boyfriend can't make it or Pushy Guy demurs, say "Oh, I'm sorry, I was planning on spending the night with [Schmoopie's name here]."

He will either get the hint or think you are one of those girls who cannot exist without her boyfriend. Either one gets him off your back.
posted by Anonymous at 7:13 PM on June 16, 2008

You screwed up. You knew this guy was hot for you, you knew he was looking to jump ship on his gf, you haven't been firm enough with him...

Just ignore him. What will happen is this: he'll fester for a few days/weeks before sending you some gut wrenching email where he says stuff like, "I thought we had fun the other day, I thought we connected, I want to hang..." Then you can say, "Look, I think you're an okay guy, but I am SO not interested in you romantically."

Unless you are. Because it sounds like there is at least some measure of infatuation or attraction there. Why else would you go to the move with him? Why else would you spend so much time emailing him? Why else would you Facebook stalk him to see if he had a girlfriend?

Those are questions that the guy is certainly asking himself.

Just say'n.
posted by wfrgms at 7:27 PM on June 16, 2008

Response by poster: I may come off a bit defensive in this reply, and for that, apologies in advance.

I didn't know he was hot for me; guys don't tend to be. I acted with him the same I act with all my friends, girls included. I'm on the sarcastic side and introverted, I didn't know that was considered flirting. I didn't know he was looking to jump ship on his girlfriend until after the movie. I've been avoiding him as much as possible ever since. I went to the movies with him because I wanted to see the movie and he was the only person available at the time. In retrospect, I would much prefer to have gone myself. I facebooked him to see if he had a girlfriend because I noticed he was flirting, and it was bothering me, and I wanted to be sure there was nothing there to evade exactly this situation. I spend a few minutes a day emailing him, 1-2 line emails, because he seemed like a cool guy. I like making friends. I have a fair amount of guy friends I joke around with, often 1-on-1, without it ever escalating into a situation of "we get along so well, why won't you leave your boyfriend of two and a half years for me"? Is it so hard to believe that a girl may want to be friends with a guy without here being some hidden infatuation agenda?

It seems a bit unnecessarily aggressive to place the burden of blame on me when I've made it clear from the outset that I was taken. I admit part of it was my fault - probably should've confronted him about it in a more "before we hang out more, I just want to make sure we both know this is totally platonic" sort of way. Road to hell, good intentions, etc. And I appreciate your reply, even if it did seem a bit uncalled for...
posted by Phire at 7:36 PM on June 16, 2008

Someone once told me they already had enough friends, and didn't need any more; it came across such a hilariously poor excuse that I still use it as an anecdote to make people laugh. Don't say that.

on the other hand, it can be factually true, but should be differently phrased to sound less offensive.

not everybody thinks "the more, the merrier" when it comes to friends. especially if they're already busy enough with work, study, existing friendships, family, personal projects etc.

"i'm sorry, but i'm too busy in my life at the moment to invest the kind of quality time & energy that i think a proper friendship requires" is another way of saying the same thing.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:12 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I firmly believe she has the right not to be bugged by this guy.

Oh yeah, I doubt anybody here disagrees with that.

Doesn't change the fact that it's possible some of her actions may have social repercussions, though my guess just from reading this post is that she's probably more adept than the guy in question is, so it may not be a huge worry.

On the other hand, it may be tense and the OP may just be asking us for the right words to get the guy on the right track.

My advice? Here's the words you need, more or less, delivered next time you get an invitation from him:

"Hey, I had some fun doing a few things with you outside of work, but I'm done with that now. Sorry if I led you to expect it might be a regular thing. I'd be uncomfortable if you asked me to do anything again, and I figured it was best to be straight with you about it."

If you want, soften it with something like "I respect you, so I figured it was best to be straight", or harden it up by leaving out the "I had fun" part as you think appropriate.
posted by namespan at 8:21 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: I'm on the sarcastic side and introverted, I didn't know that was considered flirting. I didn't know he was looking to jump ship on his girlfriend until after the movie.

You know what? That is totally fine. It was a mis-judgment on your part but NOT a big one, especially considering that you are 19 and new to the work world. Don't beat yourself up over it. Don't vow to never befriend a man again. The bigger mis-understanding is on his part so feel absolutely no pressure to fix the situation. You sound a bit like you're freaking out: "I must never talk to him again! I must make this clear!". Don't. It's not your responsibility to do that.

As a fellow professional woman I would advise you not to make a big deal of it unless he does (in which case you should hand him his ass). Like I said before he sounds socially a little dim but there are lots of people like that and it's always better to take the high road. It's also better not to put anything in writing. So for now, ignore him. Be busy. Dare I say, try to see it from his point of view: breaking up with his GF, meets cool, possibly flirty girl at the college equivalent of summer camp, girl who has a bf so no chance of a relationship but fun to talk to on a temporary basis. The odds are he'll get the real picture from your actions. If he doesn't, by all means have a talk with him but keep it outside of work and don't escalate unless he does. And DON'T put it in writing. Do NOT email him on your work email anything beginning with "so that time you called me drunk because I asked you out to a movie alone together and you got the wrong idea.....?" I am not kidding. Don't do that. Ever.

I am the last person to tolerate harassment in the workplace but this guy sounds a bit clueless and lonely more than anything. He obviously thinks you are friends above and beyond the professional relationship. He'll figure it out.

Now if he starts showing up at your house or something you have a problem but until then, repeat after me: this mans' feeling are NOT MY PROBLEM.
posted by fshgrl at 11:08 PM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's no way this works without the confrontation and uncomfortable situation that is owed several people here.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:11 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you're handling the situation fine. If you want all communication to stop immediately I would just stop returning his phone calls and texts.
posted by xammerboy at 11:24 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: You didn't do anything wrong. And he doesn't have to be a scary stalker for it to be OK to set him straight. He's just a guy who has taken an interest in you. You don't owe him your time, your attention, or your friendship -- just basic kindness and honesty.

For the sake of workplace harmony, try a few more rounds of "No, sorry, I'm too busy," before taking him aside at work and saying something like "I need to let you know that I'm not into hanging out with you socially. I'm just really busy, and really happy with my boyfriend. Sorry if I gave you any other impression."

Feel free to translate into demographically appropriate language -- but the basic message is one you need to master, unless you want inappropriate admirers following you around like fruit flies.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:32 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's totally not your fault (I'm similar to you and have had the same sort of thing happen, fortunately with less persistent guys, so I'm biased there). If it were me, I would lie and blame the boyfriend: 'Schmoopie doesn't like me spending that much time with another guy on my own' or some variation thereof.
posted by jacalata at 12:08 AM on June 17, 2008

Email him a link to this thread.
posted by MCTDavid at 4:26 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: He sounds completely oblivious, so saying "I'm busy" and just not answering his calls is not going to work.

You'll have to come straight out and say something: "it really weirds me out that you're spending so much attention on me when you know I have a boyfriend - it's starting to make me uncomfortable and I don't want to make him jealous, so couldja cut out the phone calls and texts, please?"

Seems to me you've got nothing to lose, and have NOT led him on. He's being a jerk.
posted by GardenGal at 6:16 AM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

You have to be hardcore: Stop answering his calls (roll your eyes and send it to voice mail), returning his voice mails (delete them without listening), and replying to his text messages (delete them as they come in). Ignore them all. No exceptions. Not even "emergencies", if you're serious about this.

Be polite in person, cuz you gotta work with the guy, but answer any extra-curricular invitation with "Sorry, I'm busy." or "Oh, I can't -- I have to blahblahblah...".

The problem is you're sorta-kinda doing this, but you're half-assing it. Just ONE answered text message will be perceived as an open channel of communication. You need to shut down all communication. Period. You've not been "leading him on", per se, but you're leaving open a window of opportunity, leaving him a sliver of hope. So he's going to keep trying, keep trying, and maybe SOMEDAY he'll convince you to be attracted to him. (As if you had a "choice" in the matter... "Hmm, gee, turns out I'm hot for you after all! Thanks so much for convincing me!")

I'm not blaming you -- sure, he's being clueless, he's being a jerk... BUT you can't control his behavior; you can only control your own.

You're 19. Odds are, as a female, you'll be dealing with this a LOT in the future. (And you'll be on the receiving end at some point, sorry.) The proper blow-off protocol is zero communication. Not "only a little" communication. Not "disinterested and sporatic" communication. Zero. And, to be blunt, the more attractive you are, the more vigilant you'll have to be.

Take it from LordSludge: Adopt the Zero Communication Policy today!
posted by LordSludge at 8:23 AM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

I like GardenGal's script.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:43 AM on June 17, 2008

Trade phones with your boyfriend for a day and let him handle the calls/texts.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:06 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding LordSludge. Read up on Karen Pryor's work, specially all the bits about variable reinforcement. The book "Don't Shoot the Dog" is a very good intro.
posted by Arthur Dent at 1:43 PM on June 17, 2008

Response by poster: Awesome responses all around - I marked the ones that suit my personality better, but I really do appreciate all the replies. Thanks everyone, I think I'm good to go for this particular social faux-pas. Note to self: stop freaking out, haha.
posted by Phire at 2:46 PM on June 17, 2008

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