Sunday, December 2, 2012

Letting them down gently

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's topic comes courtesy of my friend Nancy, who does beautiful beadwork and also sells tutorials if you'd like to bead something of your own. Here's her letter:

Hey AJ,  I had a thought... it doesn't apply to old married me, but I thought that maybe some of your single readers might be interested in what you'd have to say about turning down requests for dates.  I had a horrid time trying to say no nicely when I was younger and dating, especially when it was a friend who all of a sudden wanted a date.  I didn't know exactly how to respond and was really upset that I ended up losing a friend out of it several times, as no matter how sweet I was, it seemed that a "no, I'd really like to continue being friends with you rather than dating" was still hurtful enough as a rejection.

First, a disclaimer. I married young, to the first guy I ever dated. Statistically, a poor move, but hey, when you find the right guy right away, you marry him and save yourself from the insanity that is the dating world. But I'm always amused when people come to me for dating advice -- the assumption is that because I've been happily married for so long, I must know everything about relationships, when really I've just been muddling my way through all along.

However, I feel like this is a topic I can address, because being polite is being polite, no matter what the situation is. And I have had to turn some guys down, but it's remarkably easy when the answer is "Thanks, but I'm married." For those of you who aren't hitched, here's three common scenarios and good ways to handle them.

First, Nancy's scenario of the friend who wants to be something more. This is difficult, but if you're not feeling it, you're not feeling it. Smile a little sadly and say "I'm sorry, you're wonderful, but I just don't see us like that." Sadly, no matter how polite you are, you may lose your friend anyway. This is not your fault. There are some people who see opposite-sex friendships (or same sex, if that's their orientation) as a path towards romance, and once they find out that's not in the cards, they drop you. Other times, they just can't handle the heartbreak of realizing that you don't feel the same way, and they decide to back off for a bit and then it becomes permanent. After some time has gone by, you might want to reach out to them to see if you can save the friendship, but don't be surprised if you can't.

Second, the person who seems perfectly nice but you just don't want to date. Maybe you're not on the market, maybe they're not your type, maybe you're just not in the mood to deal with being chatted up, but there's nothing offensive. They ask politely. You respond politely in turn. "Thank you, but I'm not interested." Don't offer excuses, because as I've said before, excuses can be countered and then you have to offer new ones.

Third, the creep. The person who uses some skeevy pick-up line, or who used to date your best friend and treated her like crap, or who just interrupted your conversation to ask for your number. You should still be polite (always!), but make it the iciest politeness possible. With a blank face, say coolly "I'm not interested." Just keep in mind that if they're a creep, they may hurl insults at you for daring to turn them down. This is also not your fault. Keep your cool, and if necessary, call in some reinforcements (your friends, the bouncer, whoever) to help you tell the creep to back off.

No matter situation, remember that it is ALWAYS not only okay, but appropriate to say no to an unwanted date or request for your phone number or whatever. Too often we (especially women!) are told that we should give everyone a chance, or even worse, we should take what we can get. Well, forget that. You shouldn't have to suffer through a date just because someone asks you. You just need to be nice about it, because it IS hard for some people to summon up the courage to ask someone they like out. Letting them down gently softens the blow, so hopefully they won't get too discouraged and they can keep asking until they find the right person for them.
Do you have an awkward situation that you need help responding to? Send it to and I will do my best to help!


  1. Thank you for choosing my letter, AJ! I love your advice - and yes, I did feel guilty after rejecting people - and I am so so so happy you found CR so quickly and that he found YOU!

    1. Not as happy as WE are ;)

      Thanks again for writing in! I love getting letters from friends.