Gently telling him you want to be friends

A DG reader sent this question:

Any ideas on how to gently let a good man go? I had several dates with a kind, intelligent, respectful man. We had much in common but by the third date it occurred to me that what we had was friendship, not a romantic attraction. He had different feelings that I was unaware of. I decided it was best to let go rather than lead him to believe I was interested in developing a relationship. I feel badly about this and if it should happen again, any tips?

This is always a difficult question for anyone who dates with sensitivity and caring for the feelings of the other person. Here are a few ideas I’ve found effective when I’ve delivered this communication, and I’m sure other readers will share their ideas.

  • If you’ve only had a few dates, as you have with this gentleman, you can have this conversation on the phone or even in email. I’ve often sent an email after a first or even second encounter when I realized the guy wasn’t a match. I’ve said something like, “You are an intelligent, interesting, fun guy. However, I didn’t feel the spark I know I need to explore a romantic relationship. But I’d like to have you in my network of friends. Would that be OK with you?” Most often the response is “Sure.” Occasionally I’ve received, “I have enough friends,” which is fine, too.
  • If you’ve seen each other more than a few times, work to talk to him in person, assuming you live within a comfortable distance. If you are dating long distance, then have a live phone conversation, don’t leave it on voice mail. And never do it via email or worse, text or IM. And if you live a distance apart, don’t wait until he visits to tell him, as he will have gone to considerable trouble and expense to see you expecting to be pursuing you romantically. If you want to deliver the message in person, you should travel to him.
  • When you are with him, don’t do anything physically that would make him think you feel differently. So don’t initiate hand holding, lingering hugs, or passionate kisses. If he tries to kiss you passionately, break it off quickly and turn your cheek.
  • Arrange a meeting like coffee or a drink, not dinner. If the expectation is a longer outing, you will be worried about when and how to deliver the “let’s be friends” statement and will be on edge. A shorter encounter also allows him to leave quickly if he is upset at your decision.
  • Think carefully how you want to express yourself. Avoid the clichéd “It’s not you, it’s me.” Some people think telling him what a great guy he is will only confuse him when you tell him you want to be friends, as he may think, “If I’m so great, why doesn’t she want more?”
  • When I’ve delivered the “let’s be friends” talk, I didn’t say, “I’m not sexually attracted to you,” but instead said, “While I have grown fond of you, I realize that fondness is as a friend, not a sweetheart.” If he responds as one man did, “Well, good relationships always start with friendships,” escalate your language to be even clearer. “I am not The One for you, so it would be unfair to continue as if we are going to be romantic.” If he insists that he does indeed think you are The One for him, you have to be blunt, as he’s not getting the gentler wording. “As good of a guy as you are, I’m clear you aren’t The One for me. But you have many qualities I enjoy, which is why I’m wondering if we could be friends.” Or “I just don’t think we are a match. But I’d love to stay connected as friends, if that would work for you.”
  • How blunt you have to be will depend on how quickly he gets the message. If he is insistent that you are a good match, you will have to be more explicit, while still trying to be sensitive to his feelings. If he continues to not get it, you may have to just say, “I’m not romantically attracted to you, but I would love to stay your friend, if that is comfortable for you.” One man said, “No, if you can’t be my sweetheart it is too hard to have you in my life knowing I can’t have you.”

What advice do you have on how to deliver the “let’s be friends” talk? What’s worked for you? Or not worked when you’ve been on the receiving end?

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5 responses to “Gently telling him you want to be friends”

  1. cybergrayghost Avatar

    Well, I think that most all of us have been on both sides of this particular issue, I know I have and I’m currently trying to decipher if I’m on the receiving end of one albeit how screwily worded (short version, she needs ‘wide open space’ but wants to stay friends, then has emailed since with some very quiet personal comments). The one thing I’ve noted from being on the ‘giving’ end, it’s never seemed to matter how gently I try to do it, it’s always had the Lady very upset with me. Over the years, I’ve actually only had one that I happened to run into tell me that she treated me poorly and wished that she had tried to stay friends during the intervening years. On the other hand, I’ve actually remained friends with the couple of friends ‘requests’ I’ve been dealt over the years and it’s worked out fairly decently. Later All!!

  2. walt Avatar

    Hey DG – do you think the rules are any different when it’s a friend of a friend, rather than someone you’re unlikely to ever run into again? I had a date this week with a friend of a friend, and am not interested in anything further, but she seemed to be. Do I need to call her, or will email suffice? The objective obviously is to make sure my friend thinks I handled things appropriately. If it was me on the other end of it, I’d rather get the email, so I don’t have to deal with the rejection directly.

  3. Greg Avatar

    I think that asking to stay friends, with no expectation of more than that, is a good approach, but only if you really mean it. If not, then when the friend offers to buy a coffee or drink to chat and catch up, it could be awkward. And for those on the recieving end of “lets just be friends,” if you think there could be more, accept it. Perceptions change, and if a friendship is allowed to continue, something more could come of it (IF you are sincere in accepting friendship only. “When Harry Met Sally” is a rare situation). At worst, you have another friend.

  4. PreviouslyQueenofE Avatar

    Fellow mid life daters, I have to share my most recent escapade (read: escape-apade) with you. I have had four dates with a man who seemed genuine, respectful, sincere, a litte naive, sweet. Nice, was the word I kept using to friends. He’s a nice guy. Attractive, great smile. But it was apparent to me on date 3 that the chemistry really wasn’t there, there had been some but a really big part of me was saying “nope”. We had already scheduled date 4, a supper at my house, so I let it lie. After the supper at my house, I logged on and found this post, and also had already drafted my “have a nice life” email (only much more classy and tender), but decided I would actually ask him how HE felt. Maybe he was shy? Maybe he didn’t want to offend me by actually laying a hand on me beyond a guiding gesture in the small of my back? So I did it, I asked him how he felt about us, and he said, ‘the dating?’ and I said yes, and he said “awkward.” He told me it felt awkward, he was respectful, he had seen the way his single friends treated the women they were dating and didn’t want to do that too. He even made a joke. He had another call on his land line then, I could hear him as he took it, people were coming in to spend the weekend and were on his street trying to find his house. He came back on and asked could he call me later. He said I had guts bringing up this conversation. Whatever. That was Thursday. No call back.

    So tonight, I go to a local restaurant with a girlfriend where there is an art show and a wine tasting. I saw his truck in the parking lot, it’s very recognizable. The gf and I are prepared to meet him. I was looking particularly good tonight, in a very good frame of mind and that is more important than any amount of makeup. So we’re walking toward the part of the restaurant that is hosting the art show and there he is! Kissing a woman! We had to walk past them to get to the other part of the restaurant, so as we excused ourselves around them, I smiled and said hello and nice to see you again, and he kind of smiled back and said hi nice to see you too and I walked on with my friend. (A very bad part of me wishes that the girl he was kissing is one of those incredibly suspiscious types who will now badger and grill him about the slim brunette who greeted him and make his life hell, but I doubt that will happen…)

    I went on to have a fabulous evening, and am still laughing about it, but I am even more convinced about listening to my gut feeling early on (chemistry either is or it isn’t, no matter how old we are) and also I am a little more suspiscious of the “genuine, sincere” guy. I have always given people the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the last few I’ve been through are definitely toughening me up.

    I have someone else interested, who met me and asked a coworker for my number, so it’s not like I don’t have someone else in the pipeline, and I was already writing this one off….NEXT!!!!

  5. hunter Avatar

    to previously Q,

    I like your, “Next.!!!”……