Disappointing someone is tough. Most of us will do somersaults to avoid the uncomfortable interaction of telling someone the opposite of what they want to hear, particularly when it involves romantic feelings.
When you really care about someone, it’s also equally hard to be on the receiving end of “I’m not looking for a relationship right now.” Keeping the following tips in mind will help you deliver the news in a way that’s as healthy and painless as possible, for everyone involved.
Define the dynamic upfront
The best way to approach this topic is early on. Whether you’re looking for something casual and want to keep it that way, or whether you’re not interested in anything at all, clarifying this from the beginning helps avoid confusion and awkward conversations later on.
Sure, over time your feelings may change—and so might this other person’s—but starting out the discussion from an honest place grounded by how you feel in the present is a must.
Express The Situation In Terms Of Your Feelings And Needs
Forget personal insults, apologies, or blame; instead be honest and direct with how you feel, what you need, and how that isn’t aligned with being in a relationship. For instance, maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with classes and you need to focus on your schoolwork; or maybe you’re feeling excited and curious about being newly single and you need some time to explore and figure out what you really want without making any commitments.
Whatever the situation, focusing on feelings and needs will help prevent it from escalating into an argument. It may be that this other person’s feelings and needs are in direct opposition to yours, and that’s perfectly okay. As long as they’re stating these in a non-accusatory way that doesn’t minimize your needs, hear them out while staying true to what’s right for you.
Explain Your Perspective—To A Point
Choosing not to be in a relationship is a personal choice—a freedom that you shouldn’t have to defend or over-explain. You could leave it at that or you could go into more detail, helping the other person understand your perspective.
In some cases, taking time to explain how you feel can help them better accept your decision and move on. It can also communicate a degree of respect and care for their feelings. However, talking through your perspective is only helpful to a point—as long as you’re comfortable and the conversation is healthy. If it shifts into unhealthy territory where the other person is trying to change your mind or make you feel bad, for example blaming or guilting you for your decision, end the conversation.
Be Kind And Unapologetic
Deciding you don’t want to be in a relationship—whether with a specific person or in general—doesn’t mean you have to turn into a cold, unfeeling person when you express how you feel. Part of being mature is having conversations you don’t want to have in a way that respects yourself and the other person involved.
If the other person tells you in a healthy way that they’re bummed at your ‘no’, you could express understanding for their reaction and regret at their hurt feelings. But be careful to draw the line at taking the blame; for example, if they say “I can’t believe you would do this to me. You knew how much it would hurt me, and you did it anyway” or something to this effect that blames you for not getting what they want. Your needs are always valid and taking care of yourself is something you should never have to apologize for or be made to feel bad about.
We’re all used to movies showing us that ‘no’ is simply an opening for an unwanted yet persistent suitor to make their case and change your mind. Even though it’s portrayed as heart-thumpingly romantic, this behavior actually signals that someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, and therefore is not something you want to encourage or accept if you want to have a healthy relationship.
Maybe you will eventually want a relationship with this person, and you’ll end up together. Or maybe you’ll realize it too late after they’ve already moved on with someone else. Or maybe you won’t ever give them a second thought. You can’t predict what you’re going to want in the future and with whom. All you have to go on is how you feel and what you need today. If you focus on doing what’s right for you at this moment, your decision—and how to express it—will reveal itself clearly.