It doesn’t have to be awkward.
No matter how much you like someone, a committed relationship might not be what you want right now. And that's OK! Maybe you want to keep your options open or continue vetting other romantic prospects. You might be focused on exploring your sexuality, simply having fun, or riding solo for a bit to work on yourself. If you're currently seeing someone who's hinted at wanting to put a label on things, you might be mentally trying to figure out how to tell someone you don't want a relationship. But is there any version of doing so that doesn't stomp on their feelings?
When it comes to sticky situations like this one, Megan Murphy, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Elite Daily, "I’m a believer in speaking honestly from the heart. While this isn’t always easy, it’s the action that will create the best outcome for all parties, and you can go to sleep knowing you were your highest self."
Of course, that’s easier said than done for a lot of people, because figuring out what to actually say, as well as how to deal with the other person’s reaction, is the tricky part. For all you need to know about telling someone you’re not looking for an official relationship, here’s what the experts have to say about being in this situation.
How To Tell Someone You Don’t Want A Relationship
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to treat people how you would like to be treated. If you like this person and enjoy their company, you’ll want to tell them how you feel in an honest and polite way that lets them know you still want to keep seeing them — without serious labels, that is. In this scenario, Murphy suggests saying something along the lines of, "I've loved spending time together, but I need some time to decide if this relationship is something I want to dive into. How would you feel about not using labels for now?"
Dating coach Clara Artschwager says there are no perfect, magic words you can say to make this talk easier. But, similar to Murphy's approach, she says the most compassionate thing you can do is lead with empathy and directness. "The less kind thing to do is to leave the person scratching their head and saying, 'Wait, what are you really trying to say?'" Artschwager tells Elite Daily.
Artschwager recommends leading by acknowledging that it’s a tricky situation. "I always start with, 'This is really hard to say,' which acts as a heads-up to the other person that whatever is about to come out of my mouth might be a little messy," she explains. "I then continue with something along the lines of, 'I've really enjoyed spending time with you but — and it bums me out to say this — a relationship doesn't feel right for me.'"
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is be clear in your wants, needs, and intentions. For all you know, they may actually be on the same page. Saying something is far better than letting things linger and go unaddressed. "[The person you’re seeing] is a different person, so unless you clarify what you want and don’t want ... they may have no clue," licensed marriage and family therapist Anita Chlipala previously told Elite Daily.
What To Do After The Conversation
After breaking this news to the other person, Artschwager recommends pausing and resisting the temptation to either lavish them with compliments or insist there's something wrong with you. Instead, hold space for how the other person is feeling and don't gloss over their experiences. "They're allowed to be hurt," she says. "They're allowed to be disappointed. Give the conversation some space, let them process, and let them ask questions."
Even if you are just in a casual relationship or friends with benefits situation, there still needs to be mutual respect and communication between you two. “Every relationship is real — even if it’s not romantically focused,” Jess O'Reilly, a sex expert and host of the Sex With Dr. Jess Podcast, previously told Elite Daily. “FWB may be casual in that you’re not committed to monogamy for the long run, but it’s not casual in terms of how you treat one another.”
With the exception of what she calls “cruel or offensive behavior,” Artschwager says everyone has a right to their emotions. If the other person reacts negatively, it's OK to give them time to be angry, upset, confused, or even silent. "It becomes a different scenario if they start slinging insults or saying nasty things to you," she says. "When someone behaves in an immature or childish way, know that behavior is a reflection of their own internal dialogue and experience."
In that instance, setting some boundaries will be key. Acknowledge their feelings, be firm with them, and communicate that their behavior isn't OK with you. "You may need to repeat this multiple times and ultimately walk away from the situation if it becomes extreme," Artschwager says.
If, on the other hand, they take your feelings in stride and you both decide you don't want to go your separate ways, keep the dialogue going about what staying together might look like. "Talk about ways you can both get your core needs met,” Murphy says. “If they want to say you are a 'couple,' ask them what that means to them, and then investigate what you can willingly give.”
There’s also the scenario in which this is a dealbreaker for them — and that’s OK. If you both want different things (i.e. they’re looking for something more serious, but you simply aren’t), that can be a genuine reason to call it quits. Respecting their feelings, as well as yours, means not being forced into something neither person wants.
Whether you two continue to date in some capacity, dial back your interactions, or walk away from the situation altogether, know this difficult discussion is worth it if the end result is peace of mind. As Murphy says, "Honesty, spoken directly from the heart, is life-altering and for the good of all."
Clara Artschwager, dating coach and speaker
Megan Murphy, LMHC, co-founder of LGBTQ-inclusive firm Expansive Therapy
Anita Chlipala, LMFT, owner and founder of Relationship Reality 312
Jess O'Reilly, a sex expert and host of the Sex With Dr. Jess Podcast
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