How to politely turn down invitations for dates from someone in your social circle?

Dear Atalanta,

I thought you might have some ideas on this time-sensitive topic. For a variety of reasons, I’m not looking for a relationship right now. But having recently joined a couple of new communities and having a somewhat flirtatious personality (something I’ve been trying to curb), I’ve been being asked out. Pretty frequently. Now, when I meet someone in a bar and am asked out, I find it really easy to decline. I’m polite about it but one of the reasons I find it easy is because I’m never going to see this person again anyway and their hopes are about 10 minutes high, so I’m not especially concerned. If they’re out to meet someone, they’ll move onto someone else really quickly.

I have a much harder time with people I know better. These aren’t people I’m friends with yet necessarily, but people who are entrenched parts of communities I’ve just joined (work, worship, neighborhood). Do you have ideas about how to politely but firmly turn them down?

If it helps, I can give you an example. I met Boy at [place of worship]. He invited me to come for [a] dinner tomorrow night at his house with a large group of people and I accepted. (As a point of reference, I went to Boy’s female cousin’s house for dinner last week.) Then in more or less the same breath, he asked me to have coffee with him. I said that I’m particularly busy this month (true) and am not sure I have time at the moment, but thank you. He sent me facebook message with his address for dinner, then said he’d like to take me for that “coffee date” when I’m free.

Now I’m in a sticky situation. I hadn’t realized off the bat that accepting Boy’s dinner invitation would lead to Boy asking me out and am concerned that Boy may regret inviting me if I turn him down. I’m not in the habit of accepting dates because I feel bad for someone, and that’s not a habit I’m looking to pick up. How do I politely say that I’m looking forward to dinner, thank you for including me, but I still don’t want to date you?

Thank you in advance for any and all suggestions.

Now here is a luxury problem! 🙂 A problem it is, nonetheless, for the sensitive and thoughtful, if inadvertent, coquette.

I hope I am not too late and that he did not press the issue at dinner tonight. (or that you can’t get this message in the meantime). If so, this will probably come up again, and you’ll be forearmed.

You have articulated the issue beautifully; I could not do better. You can do the same in this situation. I understand it takes some bravery — as you explain, you don’t want to offend or hurt someone you may want to have a platonic relationship with, or at the very least will see often. But consider this, and let it guide you: As awkward as it will be to be clear and firm from the outset, it will only be worse if you wait. And pity dates? Ugh. All around ugh.

Your “I’m busy, but thank you” was not incorrect. However, it was subtle. An older guy might learn to read that subtext, but a younger man has not yet. (and I’ll allow that not all age is chronological!).

He is also not totally incorrect to be optimistic, after all, your statement could be read as a “ask me again,” aka “persue me” message. He’s doing you a favor by using that word “date” so at least his intentions are clear.

You have to just lay it down, short and simple. You pretty much did it: “I’m looking forward to dinner, thank you for including me, but I don’t want to date you.” No, wait, let’s polish that up a bit, add in some sincere compliments and softer truths: “I’m looking forward to/loved the dinner, thank you so much for including me, you’re such a great host! About the coffee… I appreciate your invitation, you seem like such a good guy, but I am really not in a place where I can be dating anyone. I am really flattered, thank you, so sweet of you, but I have to say no.”

That second part can be put in your back pocket and whipped out in just about any context. You can even shorten it a bit if you want to take out a couple of the nicey-nice redundancies. But not much longer, or it gets squirmy for both of you. Just use your own words to say “thank you, I’m grateful, but no.”

Yes, you have to say NO. Not “busy,” not “later”. You mean no, so say it. Let him give up that hope, 10 minutes old or older, and move on without a question mark.

(If it’s just him you’re not interested in, rather than “not anyone,” then you may have to be extra strong: sub in “I just don’t think we will have a romantic connection” for the “not dating anyone” clause. Pretty hard to misunderstand that.)

Any reasonable dude will understand that sometimes he’s going to stick his neck out and get turned down. And you can’t concern yourself with the responses of unreasonable men.

Best of luck, Asker! Please keep me informed what happens! If appropriate, we can post a follow-up.

To sum up: Please, ladies, as a favor to all those brave guys who risk rejection daily, be sweet, grateful, honest and above all else, clear. Being subtle, oblique, or “too nice” makes women unfathomable and men confused (and eventually angry and frustrated). Worse, playing head games turns nice guys into whiny babies and/or assholes, which is fun for exactly no one.


About amywinns

Semi-snarky, semi-sincere, occasionally ranting, always paying attention. Feminist who can work a skirt and crack a joke. Grammar nerd who is also fun at parties. Mid-career writer/editor with 15 years’ experience in newspapers & magazines who now helps developers at a major media corporation communicate with the suits who write the checks. Pro-women, pro-family, pro-choice, pro-workingclass, pro-entrepreneur, pro-farmer. Like every other bourgeois Brooklynite, I choose local/organic/raw food — mostly vegetables — whenever possible/reasonable/affordable but I’m not a smug asshole about it. Hometown: Atlanta. Weird hobby: lindy hop. No pets, no kids, no thanks.
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One Response to How to politely turn down invitations for dates from someone in your social circle?

  1. amywinn says:

    UPDATE! and a good one! 🙂

    Thank you so much for responding to my question so quickly. The question of coffee was pushed at dinner before I was able to read your advice, and I somewhat reluctantly agreed. [She read the response afterward.]

    Well, we had our coffee date yesterday and I have to say, I was blown away by this person. He was smart and funny and interesting and seemed like just a genuinely good person- coffee wound up lasting close to four hours.

    I still am not in a dating/relationship place, but advice in hand, I was able to honestly tell him that I think he’s a great guy but this was an exception to the rule that I’m really not dating right now. I said if he was comfortable with it, I would like to continue getting to know each other as friends since he seems really cool, and he seemed amenable to that. I don’t know if this is someone I would actually be interested in down the road when I have my shit together more, but I think given that I’ve been straight with him (as suggested), either way, hopefully we’ll be able to maintain a comfortable friendship. Thank you so much for (yet more) fabulous advice!

    YAY! Forthrightness wins again! Expectations shall be managed. Sounds like you will sail through this successfully with everyone’s dignity intact.

    And I am glad that a “reluctant” agreement turned out so nicely. Not a pity date at all! Good lesson here for those among us who are not always willing to give someone a chance if the first impression isn’t awesome. (me=guilty!)

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