4 Ways to Turn Someone Down Without Looking (Or Feeling) Like a Jerk

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A funny thing about rejections: they’re often equally painful for both rejector and rejectee. Sure, there exist a fair share of ice queens/kings who derive some twisted pleasure out of rebuking potential suitors — but that’s because their parents didn’t love them growing up. Ours did. So for the rest of us, saying “No, thanks” to a date is often a daunting prospect, because we’d rather not be categorized by present company as an @$$hole.

The cowardly way to negotiate this situation is to string a suitor along until he/she takes a hint and desists with the propositioning. This process can be long and arduous, demanding you do such frivolous things as improvise increasingly dubious excuses as to why you’re breaking off an engagement for the umpteenth time (“Umm … the dog ate my car keys?”). In the end, you will probably come off looking like — you guessed it — an @$$hole. Which is what you were trying to avoid in the first place.

The moral of the story: you need to declare your intentions (or lack thereof) upfront. By saying no — gracefully, of course — you might inflict the temporary wounds that inevitably accompany rejection, but you’ll also allow the other person to move forward in their search for undying love (OK, maybe getting a little presumptuous there).

Still not sure what to say? Fear not: Modern Man gives us these four strategies for turning down the advances of four different types of suitors you are likely to encounter, which we’ve summarized below.

1. A co-worker

Invite him/her for a coffee break on some idle afternoon. Say you’ve been thinking a lot about that paper-airplane inscribed with hearts and xoxos that crash-landed in your cubicle the other day. Then explain that you simply can’t fathom the idea of dating a co-worker. Make up a story about a former workplace romance gone wrong if necessary.

2. A friend of a friend

Step 1: Let the friend who set you up handle the rejection. If the friend’s attempts fail, proceed to Step 2.

Step 2: Unabashedly indulge in white lies. Honesty could work to your detriment here because you’ll probably have to see this person again — via mutual friend — and you want to minimize the awkwardness of future run-ins. Try this one: “Oh, you know, I’d love to, BUT … I’m kind of seeing someone right now.”

3. A fellow member of a dating site

Ignore. I know, sounds patronizing, but the alternative is to go out of your way to more or less explain to your “match” that you think you think you’re too good for her/him. God forbid you become involved with someone who knows that person and catches wind of what a merciless and cruel human being you are.

Related: Online Dating 101: You Don’t Have to Respond to Everyone

4. A close friend

I don’t envy those of you who encounter this predicament. The best way to avoid this is to have a little foresight and intervene preemptively. But should you be blindsided by a good friend with a long-suppressed (and perhaps drunken) profession of love, honesty is the only option. Offer him/her time and space to recover, and the obligatory “I don’t want this to ruin our friendship” deserves mention (cliche: yes; usually the truth: also, yes). Then you wait. If love and friendship were always going to be mutually inclusive for your (former?) friend, well, so it goes. They say time heals all wounds.