How do I tell someone nicely that I’m not interested?

by Dr. Neil Clark Warren, Clinical Psychologist and eHarmony Founder

How do I tell someone nicely that I'm not interested?

Dear Dr. Warren, I’m very new to eHarmony and have gone on two dates with one of my first matches. She is a great woman but not right for me. What’s the best way to handle the situation? I don’t want to hurt her but I don’t want to waste her time either. What should I say?

- Ted, MI

Thank you for your question, Ted. I applaud you for writing in about a dating scenario that is all too often mishandled. In my opinion, this one is pretty simple; all it takes is just a bit of maturity combined with honesty and sensitivity.

Be an adult. When two people begin to date, they put so much on the line. They put themselves out there – their emotions, their hearts, their hopes. Typically sane individuals can become a jumble of nerves, anxiety and expectations. So when one person decides he/she isn’t interested in pursuing the relationship further, it can be tempting to want to avoid confrontation or hurt feelings. Normally considerate people will justify completely disappearing by saying they don’t want to hurt the other person. They convince themselves it is better to just fade away. They reason that vanishing without a trace is better than rejecting someone out right…right?

Wrong. By not addressing the situation, you will often succeed at exactly the thing you want to avoid: hurting someone. No one deserves to be left hanging without explanation. It is inconsiderate and unnecessary. Show your match the same respect you would want if the tables were turned. Make every effort to handle the situation with an appropriate level of consideration and maturity.

Honesty is the best policy. I like to say that there is seldom a better time than now to tell someone what is true for you, especially if that truth has consequences for the other person. Yes, delivering the "I’m not interested" message to any feeling person will be a bit uncomfortable. But it’s almost certain to create more discomfort or even pain if you wait. It is much better to give closure to something that has been started. Otherwise, people can be left destabilized, questioning themselves and more guarded for the next relationship. While the truth definitely needs to be told, the more you can embed this truth in a dignified context, the easier it will be understood and received.

It’s what you say and how you say it. Use your knowledge of the person and your interactions to guide what you say. Sometimes it is better to give him/her a brief thanks, but no thanks. No long winded explanation needed. Other people will appreciate and need more detailed reasons. Always keep in mind that it’s not just what you say but it’s also how you say it. So keep your tone in mind. Be calm, assured and gentle. Don’t be defensive or dismissive. If you need some help with the actual words you use, here’s a good place to start: "This is not easy for me to say, and perhaps it won’t be easy for you to hear. But in spite of the good times/conversations we’ve shared, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best not to continue dating. You’re a wonderful person with many great qualities. But I am looking for someone who matches with my unique interests, goals and personality in a different way. I certainly hope you can understand because I enjoyed meeting you and wish you the best. I just know I am not the right person for you and want you to find the one that is."

Also stop to consider the medium you use to communicate your decision. An email may suffice in some situations. In others, closing the match with a reason is a better tactic. But if you are further along than a couple of dates, you may want to pick up the phone and actually have a conversation.

Final Note If you are the person on the receiving end of this message, I want to remind you that finding the right person always comes with some degree of trial and error. Try to keep perspective and not look at this as a rejection of who you are. This simply wasn’t the right relationship for you. Remember, if you are being yourself, you are not doing anything wrong.

A match not working out does not change who you are and all the great things about you. Keep moving forward. Be patient with yourself and others. You will make the perfect match for the right person. Ultimately, by closing one door, you bring yourself one step closer to the person and the relationship that is completely right for you.

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