Have you ever had a friend whose feelings toward you were, without a doubt, not 100% platonic? Someone who tests the waters with flirty touches and too-long hugs, or who's always eager to invite you out or buy you gifts? Maybe they'll straight-up joke about you two dating or hooking up. If you feel like it's only a matter of time before they confess that they like you (and the feeling's not mutual), you're probably wondering just what to do if you don’t like someone back. Granted, this can be a little awkward to deal with, but there is a way to do it gracefully.
First and foremost, it's important to remember that just because someone likes you doesn't mean you have to reciprocate. Second, you can be 100% honest about that, while also being kind. Faced with this situation, Dr. Jessica Smedley, a clinical psychologist tells Elite Daily, "I would offer thanks and appreciation, followed by a firm response of disinterest."
By being firm about it, you keep them from feeling like they're being "led on" or that there's still a chance of a romance. "The more firm you are from [the] jump, the better you are able to maintain boundaries," Smedley explains. "Sometimes, it's easy to blame someone who is persistent for becoming a pest, when really, we weren’t clear and firm from the beginning."
I've never actually told someone that I don't like them back. Unfortunately, I'll usually go (uncomfortably) along with their numerous attempts to woo me, dip out when I get the chance, and keep my distance until further notice. Or I'll panic and hit the block button. So, I know first-hand that letting someone down gently can be easier said than done.
On the flip side, I've also been the one confessing unrequited feelings. The first time, my crush laughed and pretended I hadn't said anything. We finished hanging out for the rest of the night, but I could already feel the awkwardness swallowing up our friendship. Instead of addressing it, she quietly stopped texting me. When we'd hang out with the crew, she just acted like I wasn't there. Ultimately, she ghosted me. The second time, I shot my shot via text. My crush called me to let me know she was flattered, but didn't feel the same way. Still, she told me she was fine with remaining friends as long as I was cool with it, too.
If you're letting someone down but genuinely want to be friends, folding friendship into your rejection can be helpful. "I find that instead of saying what you don't feel for them, you make it clear what you do feel for them and the level of relationship that you are interested in maintaining," Julie Wadley, certified matchmaker and owner of Eli Simone Matchmaking and Coaching, tells Elite Daily. "If it's only friendship, mention how much you value their friendship and how you would like to keep it there at this time."
Even if you're not super close, you can say you'd like to get to know them better, platonically. "It's all about tact when caring for someone else's feelings," Wadley says. Both times I was rejected, I would have been OK with any outcome. Whether we were BFFs, girlfriends, or none of the above wasn't the point for me. What mattered was how each of my crushes communicated what they were feeling. I appreciated my crush being direct the second time, because it let me know that she respected me, at the very least.
When it comes to whether you two will be successful at remaining friends, how the other person responds to you drawing boundaries will be telling. If they're mature and the friendship is worth saving, Smedley says, "You will be able to have a meaningful conversation, discuss the elephant that may be in the room, and move on." But if they persist and continue to pursue you romantically? That might not bode well for your friendship.
There are multiple ways to address the situation if this person continues flirting with you. "If they continue to pursue you or display overt signs of wanting more after you have let them down, you may want to create some distance until they stop," Wadley says. You can also tell them you don't want to be friends anymore, the same way you told them you don't like them back: "Respectfully, but firmly," Smedley explains. "Let them know what makes you uncomfortable and why the friendship isn’t working."
And because rejections may sometimes have the potential to turn into dangerous situations, Wadley adds, "If you feel pressured to enter into a relationship or any situation for fear of retaliation or punishment, seek help immediately."
They also might do the work for you and break your friendship off themselves. "Sometimes a person’s feelings are too strong to maintain a friendship and it will be important for the other to respect that," Smedley says. "It would be selfish to expect otherwise."
All relationships — platonic, romantic, and in-between — can be difficult to navigate. But in an awkward situation like this one, all you can do is be kind, direct, and honest about how you feel.