What to Tell a Guy When You're Not Interested

This whole dating thing takes courage on both sides, so let him down easy.
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This whole dating thing takes courage on both sides, so let him down easy.

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Art Credit: Nima Salimi

What is the best way to turn a guy down? This was the question up for debate among my friends this past month. The consensus, at least according to a quick Google search, seems to be pulling the old “I have a boyfriend” card, for various reasons. But to be honest, I think they all come up short.

TIME's Eliana Dockterman argues that when you want to ditch a man’s advances at a bar, efficiency rules. The best thing to do is lie and tell him you're in a relationship. According to her, this is the most practical way to wrap up any awkwardness and cut to the chase when you’re not interested.

Dockterman’s “How To” was written to defend the move against feminist Alecia Lynn Eberhardt's critique. According to Eberhardt, using the boyfriend excuse is anti-woman. “Male privilege is ‘I have a boyfriend’ being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest,” she writes. Eberhardt says this move disempowers women and asserts men should respect a woman’s “no” on its own accord.

Sure, some men are stubborn in their pursuit. Some men might be clueless at reading signs. But Eberhardt and Dockterman both miss the mark here. They fail to see the opportunity such a situation provides to showcase feminine grace and virtue, neither of which require efficiency or misguided anger.

In Eberhardt’s case, one might read a man’s retreat from a woman who has a boyfriend (even a fictitious one) as a demonstration of respect for monogamy. Isn’t that something to be celebrated? He could, in fact, simply be treating a woman well.

With regard to Dockterman, one has to wonder whether or not she is being short-sighted. First of all, it takes courage for a man to initiate conversation with a woman. We live in a society in which many people retreat from conversing with neighbors or strangers, preferring to wear headphones or scroll through their smartphones. It takes more effort than ever to look people in the eye and strike up a conversation. What used to be considered normal is now quite a big risk. Unlike starting a conversation with someone on a dating website, which gives a man a leg up in knowing whether or not a woman is interested in him, in-person conversation requires some show of bravery. This is something that women should commend. For all of the times women chastise men for failing to make a move, it would makes sense to support them when they do.

Even if a man does not pick up on subtle clues that a woman isn’t interested, it’s not immediately necessary to tell him a lie as an escape tactic. Why not take the opportunity to affirm his courage before declining? Perhaps a man might be able to receive rejection if he encounters a show of graciousness for his invitation in the first place. Why not say something like, “Thank you so much for introducing yourself. I love meeting new people, but I’m not able to accept your invitation at this time.” There’s no need to rush into deceit when common decency will do.

Dockterman's statement that a man who does try to engage her poses a threat to an otherwise fun evening means that she’s already closed off to meeting new people in the first place. Likewise, Eberhardt’s position that a man must be misogynistic if he backs off upon hearing that she is in a relationship sets men up to fail when they might be attempting to be virtuous.

If a woman is not interested in a man’s pursuits, it’s best that she starts from a place of grace and kindness. After all, deceit and quickness to doubt are not exactly tools that are helpful in future dating or relationships. If you don't start a relationship with honesty and trust, it can be hard to find them when you need them later.

Photo by Nima Salimi