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Relationships • Breaking Up & Heartbreak

How to Reject Someone Kindly

It is never easy to be rejected but it’s arguably a great deal worse to have to reject; the pains of unrequited love are as nothing next to the agonies of a dismissal. Someone is willing to offer you everything; concretely, their body, but more metaphysically, their soul, and your answer is in essence a plain ‘no thank you’.

But that isn’t to say that there aren’t far better (and worse) ways to get the message across. Here’s how an ideal note or conversation might go:

Forgive me for bringing this up…

It’s profoundly tempting to say nothing, to sidestep the interest while the pursuer convinces themselves that you perhaps haven’t yet fully noticed or are just profoundly ‘shy’. But such ambiguity merely prolongs the torture. You have the agency, maturity and responsibility to bring this to an end.

I so love spending time with you…

The overwhelming priority is to help the rejected candidate preserve their dignity. They aren’t a bad or shameful person, they have a huge range of qualities (which is why this is so hard); it’s just that sex won’t be possible. Be unembarrassed, for embarrassment is catching; if you’re not ashamed, they’ll have a chance not to be so either. You didn’t will your lack of desire, no more than you willed your sexual orientation.

But I feel if we go further…

Frame the decision as somehow mutual. It isn’t simply they who want it and you who conclusively shudders. We are looking at this together. Both of you are in theory rather tempted to go forward, you just happen to have noticed a problem from where you’re standing.

If we let things develop, you won’t get the best out of me…

It isn’t, and can’t be, their fault. It’s a basic act of kindness to assume responsibility. But, so you must suggest, this has nothing to do with a lack of attraction; it arises from a sincere wish to protect them from your many trickier sides.

If this became something else, I’d hate to damage what we have…

The traditional assumption is that going out with someone gives us access to their best selves: their truest, most authentic and most kindly aspects. But this is plainly false. Most relationships are a calamity of ugliness; we are almost always far better friends than we are lovers. Friendship isn’t some kind of consolation prize, it’s the truly valuable state besides which the average relationship looks like the squalid alternative.

I need your advice, your support and your unique way of looking at the world. Might you be free this Monday to see a show and maybe pick up some sushi?

Make the ongoing offer of friendship concrete. You aren’t ‘rejecting’ them as a whole; you’re offering them something far more valuable than your sexuality: a chance to enjoy the best sides of you, right now. Friendship is the real gift and privilege.

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