Dealing with unreciprocated feelings can be awkward. And when you’re the person on the receiving end of those feelings, you might be wondering how to handle the situation delicately. If someone likes you and you don’t like them back, is there a way to address this without making them feel bad? You obviously don’t want to lie about how you feel, but you also don’t want to hurt anyone by rejecting them. What’s the proper course of action here?
First of all, it depends on how much this person has already told you. Relationship expert Dr. Darcy Sterling notes that it can be difficult to ascertain with certainty whether someone is into you — that is, unless they’ve said it to you directly. “You’re relying on a vibe or on subtle behavioral changes that you’ve noticed, or that you think you’ve noticed,” she tells Elite Daily. In cases like this, you’re unlikely to want to tell them straight up, “Hey, I’m not interested in you romantically.” Because then if they deny it, you’re stuck in an extremely awkward assumption.
Sterling says that if you’re trying to go for indirect communication, you can try one of several strategies. You could casually talk with this person about how you’re loving single life, or bring up someone you are interested in dating to see if they get the hint. Additionally, Sterling recommends that you try to avoid spending time with this person alone, just to make it very clear that there’s no romantic interest.
That said, the best and clearest way to communicate your feelings is by stating them outright. I always suggest direct communication,” Sterling says. “And I don’t think you have to put yourself in a position where you verbalize an assumption.” Instead, wait for a moment when they do something that clearly signals their interest. Maybe they make a flirty comment or text you at an odd hour of the night. Then, Sterling says, you can ask about that moment directly. “The next time the person does it, pause, and ask for clarification: ‘What was that?,’” she suggests. “You’re opening the door to the conversation. And regardless of whether the person walks through it or not, you can clarify your feelings.”
If they 'fess up to their real intentions, you can make your own feelings clear. Here’s how Sterling recommends responding: “Thank you for clarifying that. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it. I really appreciate having you as a [friend, co-worker, insert role here] and I don’t want that to change.”
If they act like nothing happened, or say something like, “What are you talking about?,” you can still use this as an opportunity to clear the air. Sterling suggests using this formula: “No worries. I’m just not used to [friends, co-workers, insert person’s role here] texting me in the middle of the night. But I’m glad to hear that there’s nothing deeper happening because I like our relationship.” or “All good. I’m glad we’re on the same page.”
Dating coach Erika Ettin echoes this up-front communication strategy. "The best — and only — thing to do is to be honest and tactful," she says. "We can't control whether someone's feelings are hurt. All we can control is what we put out there." This person will likely be bummed that you don’t feel the same way about them, but that shouldn’t stop you from speaking up honestly. Sterling warns that it’s all too easy to “paralyze” yourself over fear of what someone else will think. “As long as you’re not insensitive (remember, you will [likely] be seeing this person again), you’re not responsible for how the other person feels,” she says. And if you’re worried about losing the friendship, just remember that you weren’t the one who prompted this rift. “If your friend’s ego can’t maintain the friendship after being rejected, that’s on them — not you,” she says. “What’s the alternative? To hook up with someone you’re not into, just to keep the friendship?”
Unfortunately, situations like this can’t always be resolved without a bit of discomfort. But as long as you state your feelings with sincerity, you’re doing the best you can. It’s better to have an honest conversation now, so there’s no confusion later about whether you led this person on. You can’t change the way someone reacts to a situation — but you can control your own response.