It could be a coworker who’s been particularly flirty as of late. Or, it could be someone who’s been eagerly chatting you up on a dating app. Maybe it’s someone you care for dearly but has been very firmly designated to the friend zone. Regardless of the circumstances, rejecting a date offer is never easy. We all know it takes a lot of nerve to ask someone out, and how much of an ego blow it can be when you get turned down. Wondering how to respectfully turn down a date? According to Dr. Susan Edelman, board-certified psychiatrist, and Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, there’s a right way to do it. The key is to respond in a way that’s clear, compassionate, and gracious all at the same time.
“It is very important to turn down a date respectfully,” says Dr. Edelman. “Ideally, you want to treat others the way you want to be treated. It's one way we can all make the world a better place.”
Dr. Edelman advises starting off by thanking them for the offer. Hopefully, you’re at least a little bit flattered that they’re interested, and this shows your appreciation for their bold move.
But both Edelman and Trombetti emphasize that it’s crucial to be very clear you’re saying “no,” and not to leave any room for a misunderstanding. Don’t expect someone will “take a hint.” If they’re really interested, they can always ask again sometime down the line.
“We hate hurting people’s feelings, so a lot of times we try to avoid or be vague,” explains Trombetti. “It's just not the way to go. You need to close that door so you don't string them along. For example, if you say, ‘I have other plans,’ they might ask again. While it seems caring, it's just delaying the inevitable and making them feel like a fool which will cause more hurt feelings.”
It may feel uncomfortable to be so direct, but in fact, it’s the caring thing to do. Additionally, it can prevent you from potentially having to have the same awkward conversation over and over. Rejection may be painful, but holding on to false hope can end up being even more painful in the long run.
My mother always told me, “the less said, the better.” And apparently, that guidance is very applicable in this situation. Edelman says it’s best to avoid over explaining why you don’t want to go out with this person. They may ask for a reason, in which case you can certainly elaborate. For example, if it’s a coworker asking you out on a date, you can be honest and say, “You seem great, but I’d rather not compromise our working relationship.” Or, if it’s a friend’s ex, you can say something like, “As much as I like you as a person, I’m not willing to risk my friendship."
But what if you’re simply not into this person? In that case, Edelman suggests saying something along the lines of, "I just don't feel a spark" or "I don't think we're a match.” It may feel harsh, but it’s the truth — and by honestly sharing how you feel, you’re doing both of you a favor. After all, why would the person asking you out want to be with someone who doesn’t feel the same way?
“If you can include some kind of compliment, it can soften the blow,” she adds. “For example, ‘You seem like a nice guy, but I just don't feel a connection.’”
No one said that turning down a date would be easy — but there is a way to do it with grace, empathy, and kindness. Trombetti recommends imagining that you’re in their shoes and then considering how you’d want to be turned down.
“Rejection is tough and it can impact your self-esteem and confidence,” she adds. “You don't want to do that. We all know rejection is part of the game, but self-esteem and confidence shouldn't take a hard hit when you turn someone down.”
Remember: Say “thank you” for the offer. Provide a simple, short, response that makes it clear you’re not interested, and if necessary, offer your reason why. And always make an effort to squeeze in a compliment somewhere for good measure. If you can keep these guidelines in mind, you can easily turn down a date in a way that leaves your dignity — and theirs — firmly intact.