Ladies: be gracious in your refusal

A week ago I recorded an episode for a new podcast the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese is about to launch. It’s called “This Catholic Life” and I’ll post about it once it goes live. My recording will be episode 3 so watch this space for that.

Anyway, the conversation surrounded the issues I raised in my Catholic Weekly article, with each marital demographic represented: a single Catholic woman (me), a single Catholic man (another guest), a married Catholic woman and a married Catholic man (the hosts).

It was a really good chat, largely because each view was appropriately and accurately represented. However, many of the things my single male interlocutor said made me really sad. The poor guy has had some truly brutal encounters with women, including a few awful rejections, and I thought this would be a good subject for a blog post.

I’ve also been accused of directing most of my critical advice towards men, so hopefully this can be considered as at least somewhat evening the playing field.

So ladies, every now and then you will be asked out by someone you have absolutely no attraction to, or interest in. Sometimes the guy asking may even be a bit of a creep. However, no matter how creepy the guy, or how little you have conversed or even interacted with the asker, or how unexpected the question, nothing warrants rudeness or unkindness in response, and especially not personal comments or attacks on the guy asking.

The man I spoke with on the podcast told us of some of his less pleasant encounters. For example, he’d been told by a few women that they didn’t care to date him because he was “too short”. He’d also been told by several women how much they’d love to be with someone “like him”.

Ouch.

Admittedly, I don’t know any of the circumstances of these interactions. From our recording he seemed like a nice, approachable, normal dude. It’s possible he just hasn’t met the right girl yet, or hasn’t been given enough of a chance by some of those he has asked out. I don’t really know, and it’s not necessarily relevant to this post, either.

The point is, none of these comments were gracious or kind. Commenting on someone’s personal appearance in this way is not only extremely rude, it can be really hurtful – especially when accompanied by an already-hurtful rejection. Even if you’re not attracted to men who are shorter than you, for example, there is no need to tell the man in question this. No doubt he’s already keenly aware of his height and, since he is absolutely unable to do anything about it, it’s unnecessary and unkind to tell him so.

Personally, I think both men and women should be more open to giving a chance to members of the opposite sex who might not fit what they’re looking for. In fact one of the hosts, Peter, told us that when he was dating his wife, he nearly broke up with her because she didn’t exactly fit his image of what he wanted in a Christian spouse. Six months earlier, she almost broke up with him for the same reason!

I’m not going to be naive and tell women they should say yes to every man who asks them out, or that men should ask out women even when they’re not attracted to them. Sometimes, you really do just know whether there’s a chance or not. It might take a couple of encounters to know for sure, but when you know, you know.

However, simply being open to going on dates with people who might not appear to fulfil every last thing you want in a spouse is an attitude I believe more people should adopt. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard men and women say this about the person they ended up marrying. But I digress..

It can be easy to forget just how hard it is for some guys to ask a girl out. Given that they’ve made themselves vulnerable, there can be nothing worse than to take that open wound and shove salt in it by making personal attacks or comments (I can personally attest to how awful this feels).

Ladies, please be gracious to the men who’ve asked you out, even if they’ve asked you in an ungracious or insulting manner. We are all called to be Christ-like, after all.

So, here are some tips for how to graciously let a fella down:

  • If you’ve never dated him: smile and thank him for being kind enough to ask, and tell him politely, but firmly, that you’re not interested.
    E.g. “that’s really sweet of you to ask, but I’d rather just remain friends” or “I think you’re an awesome guy but I just don’t feel that way [about our relationship]. Thank you for asking, though. It’s a real compliment and I appreciate it”.
    Obviously it doesn’t have to be worded exactly like this, as long as the sentiment is there: I’m just not interested. But rather than lead you down the garden path, I’m going to treat you with respect by being honest with you here and now, while appreciating the fact that it took guts to ask.
  • If you’ve dated him but you can see it’s going nowhere: you need to tell him how you feel honestly and gently, and as soon as possible!
    E.g. “I’ve had a lot of fun with you but I don’t think I’m the right person for you” or “you’ve been an amazing date and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you but I’m just not feeling it” or “I’ve enjoyed our time together, but I don’t think this relationship is right and I’d prefer to continue getting to know each other as friends”. Don’t lie, obviously. Perhaps it’s been crap. But you can generally find something nice to say about the guy. And if you can, you should (unless he’s been a total jerk or two-timed you, etc, in which case you should tell him honestly why you don’t think this relationship has a future, and leave).
  • If a guy won’t take no for an answer, or is stalking you or just being generally creepy: you need to take a polite but firm stance. Don’t be unkind, but also don’t let your concerns about hurting his feelings prevent you from making your point clear. (Think Lizzie when she turned down Mr Collins’s repeated proposals.)
    E.g. “I appreciate that it probably wasn’t easy to ask me out, but I’m just not interested in you in that way. If you really care about me, I’d ask that you please respect my wishes”. If things get serious, or if there’s a history with the guy, it might be best to ask a close male relative or friend to politely but firmly tell the guy to leave you alone. Or, if it’s really bad, you can actually ask the police to call the guy and tell him.

One of the biggest blunders we women can make is not being clear in our refusal or lack of interest, often from a misplaced fear of hurting the guy’s feelings. But it’s far more insulting to string a guy along because you’re too scared to break up with him, rather than telling him at the outset, or once you know, that you’re not interested. A deliberate failure to do this is not only disrespectful, it’s a form of emotional manipulation, not to mention a waste of his time (and yours). The important point here is to break up or say no with graciousness and charity.

Of course, there are some men who will continue to pursue you in the face of rejection. Occasionally this can be flattering, but often it’s just downright creepy. See the last dot point.

For those women who have further additions to make, or who even disagree with what I’ve said, I’d love to hear from you. For the men, I hope I haven’t enraged any of you, and I ask you to see this post for what it is: advice to women in what we all know can be an uncomfortable and tricky situation.

Update: some feedback from men on my tips

This is exactly right:

– tell him politely, but firmly, that you’re not interested

– I’m just not interested

– I’m just not feeling it

This is horribly wrong:

– that’s really sweet of you

– I’d rather just remain friends

– I’d prefer to continue getting to know each other as friends

The key points are :

– Tell him no

– Do not emasculate him

And another:

Beyond such concerns, however, his point about soft letdowns holds. They’re deeply insulting and painful and emasculating. Not only does she not want to date us, she doesn’t even believe we’re an equal—instead, she’s speaking to us like a child.

“Oh, I’m so sorry dear, but…” and

“Oh, aren’t you the sweetest thing! But…”

“Oh, you’re adorable for asking! But…”

feels almost identical to

“Oh how pitifully naive you are, innocent and clueless to even think I’d say yes. Let me explain to you the truth of things here…”

I’ve commented under Anna’s previous posts that men need to have the courage and inner strength to go clearly after what they’d like and propose a date, clearly and congenially. Now I say the same to women—have the courage and inner strength to respond in kind. Yes, with kindness—but kindness evidenced in facial expressions and eye contact and clarity, not kindness evidenced in lots of extra words of the sort that you might give to children asking if you know any leprechauns.

“I’m sorry, and thank you—but no.”

“I’m flattered—but no.”

“Points for asking me—but no.”

So, apparently saying it’s “sweet of you to ask” is a no-no (according to these men, anyway)… Point taken. I’ll reserve my “sweet” compliments for my girlfriends 😉

17 thoughts on “Ladies: be gracious in your refusal

  1. Advice to men: women will let you know if they are interested.
    Advice to women: don’t forget to let men know you are interested.
    Of course this is general advice, some people are just really clumsy and it is OK to cut each other some slack.
    A lot of nice men are invisible to women because they lack confidence so they just sort of hang around as friends while they try to work up the courage to ask her out. In all the TV shows and movies eventually the girl gets burned by a jerk and realizes who her true love is but in reality that rarely happens; women want a man, not another girlfriend.

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  2. This is exactly right:

    – tell him politely, but firmly, that you’re not interested

    – I’m just not interested

    – I’m just not feeling it

    This is horribly wrong:

    – that’s really sweet of you

    – I’d rather just remain friends

    – I’d prefer to continue getting to know each other as friends

    The key points are :

    – Tell him no

    – Do not emasculate him

    We men feel that we are in a battle for the woman. There is no second place to getting the girl. We expect to be bloodied if we lose. That is fine. We go on.

    We do not want to be told that we are “sweet.” We do not consider ourselves to be sweet. We do not want to be sweet. For your own physical safety never tell a guy who has asked you out that he is sweet, since he may not be able to contain his rage.

    And once we decide we want to be your boyfriend, we have zero interest in being your friend. Once you reject us, we’re gone; circumstances may require us to see you around and be civil, but you are dead to us. Saying that you want to be our friend is saying, “You came to me as a male proposing a romantic relationship; that would be great, just I don’t need the male part, I’ll get that elsewhere, you can be my little neutered, asexual pet.” That’s horribly emasculating. Do not offer to be a friend when you reject a guy. Just reject him and then do all you can to disappear from his life.

    As much as women want to kindly reject a guy, there is no way to do that. You can be direct, or you can be (perhaps unintentionally) emasculating. The latter makes it harder for the guy to recover his confidence and go on to the next girl.

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    1. “For your own physical safety never tell a guy who has asked you out that he is sweet” – Goodness me! To the woman who has turned this man down, regardless of her choice of words, I’d say good decision!

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      1. I am very much hoping that the person above was using an inartful and very poorly placed figure of speech, i.e. “For your own physical safety, I encourage you not put pepperoni on my pizza!”
        Even if so, it was very inartful and poorly placed indeed, given context.
        Beyond such concerns, however, his point about soft letdowns holds. They’re deeply insulting and painful and emasculating. Not only does she not want to date us, she doesn’t even believe we’re an equal—instead, she’s speaking to us like a child.
        “Oh, I’m so sorry dear, but…” and
        “Oh, aren’t you the sweetest thing! But…”
        “Oh, you’re adorable for asking! But…”
        feels almost identical to
        “Oh how pitifully naive you are, innocent and clueless to even think I’d say yes. Let me explain to you the truth of things here…”
        I’ve commented under Anna’s previous posts that men need to have the courage and inner strength to go clearly after what they’d like and propose a date, clearly and congenially. Now I say the same to women—have the courage and inner strength to respond in kind. Yes, with kindness—but kindness evidenced in facial expressions and eye contact and clarity, not kindness evidenced in lots of extra words of the sort that you might give to children asking if you know any leprechauns.
        “I’m sorry, and thank you—but no.”
        “I’m flattered—but no.”
        “Points for asking me—but no.”
        Or even, if you’re particularly good at showing kindness with your eyes and facial expressions and feeling genuine kindness as you say such things, you could simply go with:
        “No.”
        One of the reasons that men “go creepy” from the women’s perspective is that they are often loathe to simply decline. Instead, they try to drop hints.
        “Oh, I’d love to—but I have to help a friend move that day.”
        “Oh, if only I didn’t have finals that day.”
        “Oh dear… Maybe some other time?”
        I do believe that women many women believe this sort of response to be more kind, but in fact these responses are dishonest. She isn’t “unable to meet that day” or interested in “another time.” But she’s implied these things to be the case. What’s the obvious strategy if you’re a guy? Propose a different time! Try to make the calendar work! If he’s really interested, he may be interested in trying to make the calendar work indefinitely. Yes, you can read that as creepy, but you can also read it is a very high level of interest.
        If you simply say, “Thanks—but no.” clearly, firmly, and kindly, I’d bet 99% of men will sigh, follow with something like, “It was worth a shot! Have a great day!” or “Here’s my business card, just in case you change your mind. Call me anytime!” and then move on.

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  3. From what I’ve heard many women are obsessed with a man’s height. Even many short women want a tall guy.
    On two occasions I tried to become friends with girls in whom I had had some interest. One of them had found someone else. And the other, umm, had too many serious issues for me. I still wanted to talk with these girls, though. I got shot down both times
    in my quest to become friends.
    As for the creepsters, being creepy and not respecting a woman is a bootable offense (at least in Australia, I’m told).

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    1. I’ll say that, frustratingly, your first point lines up with a handful of my own experiences. I was once party to a conversation with a female friend from church (a good friend but not somebody I’ve ever had any romantic interest in,) who expressed it as an axiom that women were almost never attracted to a guy shorter than them. As a guy who is swimming upstream against many of the trends Anna has talked about in this space (i.e., trying to find a woman who is churchgoing, single, and worldly-wise in this culture,) and who also describes himself as “5’4″ on a good day,” (that’s about 162.5 cm. to our gracious Australian hostess,) you can imagine that this was more than a bit disheartening!

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      1. It isn’t universal. My sisters hated being the tallest girls in their class so they were always drawn to shorter men. 2 out of the 3 married men who were shorter than they.

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      2. Fortunately there are many girls who are on the short side. As for me, dating an extremely short girl might be awkward, as I’m over 6’.

        At any rate, it’s often difficult for a guy to make himself vulnerable to rejection. I’ve asked out an extremely small number of girls. It’s not something that I enjoy doing. To be fair, more than a few girls probably have dropped hints to me. Sad to say but in the past I was often oblivious to what was going on.

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      3. I’ve been married for 20 years, and I’ve just about become “fluent” in deciphering hints from my dear bride 😊. I agree that many of us dudes can be a little dense when it comes to hints/signals from you ladies. If he doesn’t “get” your hints, either (a) he isn’t interested, (b) is too oblivious, or (c) is too nervous about rejection. There’s nothing you can do about (a) in the short term. For (b) & (c), you can either ask HIM out or see if a trusted friend can communicate a little more concretely with him about your desire to get to know him.

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  4. If women want to date men they are attracted to, then they need to be more proactive in pursuing them. Ruth didn’t sit at home waiting for a new husband to show up.
    Yes, it requires some vulnerability to let someone know you are interested in them. It is far easier to sit back and hope they notice the micro-clues that you give.
    But waiting for a guy to hit all the boxes and cause the tingle is a long wait indeed. Plus, he is likely going to be snagged by a more obvious clue giver. Most men will be with those who make it easier on them.
    Of course, most women describe men they “want” far differently than the ones they actually “date”. The guys that make the heart leap are often ones that miss all the checklist, as reality and ideals rarely meet.

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    1. It’s worth pointing out that in this era of #metoo, you may need to send *some* sort of a signal (at the very least, a clear, friendly smile and eye contact ought to do it) before expecting a guy to take the big social and legal risk to approach you.
      Suffering the emotional consequences is one thing, but when there are also additional legal and social consequences to weight, the calculation often falls on the side of, “Things are not going absolutely horribly in my life right now… Am I so infatuated with this person that I’d put everything at risk just to approach her?”
      In most cases, the answer is “No… probably not.”

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      1. I usually don’t look at girls for fear of the legal consequences. It’s best to look down and ask in a very monotone voice whether she is willing to accept communication from your lawyer. Legal counsel is also necessary during any potential date. So you’re talking several hundred $ of billable hours for a potential date just in legal fees.

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  5. This comment is for any young women who may be reading.
    If you listened to the “Fishers of Men” podcast, or have been reading this site, you know the experience of women who turned down dates all through their twenties. Before a first date, they rejected man after man as insufficient or unacceptable as a potential spouse: to accept a date with such a man would be a “pity date” not even worth the time or bother.
    And now in their thirties. they are convinced that that “there are no men,” or “only get attracted to a man every 3-4 years,” and have friends who claim that they’ve never ever been asked on a date.
    Young ladies, I ask you: is that the example you want to follow?
    Here’s my advice: be open to first dates. With anyone. Yes, anyone. A first date is not a romantic commitment. A first date is not a potential spouse. Yes, you may need to gently decline a second date. Or maybe not.
    By being open to first dates, you’ll expand your social circle. And perhaps that man will go on to ask out one of your dateless friends. There is really nothing to lose.

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