Ask Dave-Letting him down gently online

So many guys just can’t read the signs—how can I gently but firmly discourage unwanted advances?

By Dave Singleton

ear Dave,
I am a single, 34-year-old man and haven’t been in what I’d call a serious relationship in about three years. I meet most of the guys I date through my online profile, which makes it clear I am dating but open to serious LTR possibilities. With most guys, if we don’t end up wanting to date, it’s easy to go our separate ways. But occasionally, I am put in the position of having to spell out to someone I just
You are the type of guy who can take a hint.
met that I am not interested in dating him. It’s so awkward!

If it’s someone I’ve been dating a while and/or intimate with and things don’t work out, that’s always a face-to-face meeting. But my question is about the response after one or two casual dates. If a guy isn’t into me, I am the type who reads signs well, so I avoid strained conversations. But I am learning that not all guys are like that. For example, I got two calls from a man I met once last week for coffee. He’s asked me to call him back. Do I? Without being mean, how can I tell this nice guy that I’m not interested in dating? I know it’s probably painful for him, but it’s painful for me, too.
—Having “The” Talk

Dear Talk,
You are the type of guy who can take a hint. In fact, you prefer to. But not everyone is like you — some people need to get the message “straight up” (irony intended).

Most of us tend to side with the “dumpee,” and typically view the “dumper” as mean and unfeeling. But a study from psychologist Roy Baumeister, Ph.D., at Case Western Reserve University, found that the rejecters suffer heartache, too. According to the study (reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology), rejecting unwanted romance is tougher than it seems. “Many would consider it an enviable position,” says Baumeister, “But, in fact, it turns out to be difficult and upsetting.”

So, the pain you feel is justified — but the guilt you feel is over something that isn’t anyone’s fault. More times than not, dates don’t lead to relationships. Dating is many things: A learning process, a numbers game, and, sometimes, an exciting step closer to Mr. or Ms. Right. For many reasons ranging from attraction to compatibility, it is not a surefire love guarantee.

Don’t beat yourself up when dates don’t ignite into romance. Instead, follow these simple rules of post-date follow up when it comes to stopping a date’s unwanted advances:
  • Be honest. It’s better to be honest than to disappear. “After one date, you don’t have to track someone down to tell him that you’d rather sit at home alone than date him again,” says Washingtonian Kevin, 44. “But if he asks, tell him that you just aren’t experiencing romantic feelings for him.”
  • Act with kindness and respect. If you need to have “the talk,” consider your date’s feelings and act with kindness and respect. “After three dates, the guy I’d started dating called,” says Alex, 35, from San Francisco. “He began the conversation by saying in a very nonpatronizing way, ‘Because I respect you I want to be honest.’ I really appreciated that.” The truth is that an honest but tactful discussion is an act of respect for the other person. You don’t want to leave him hanging. You don’t want to waste his time — and you don’t want him to think you dislike him. Let him know that.
  • Make sure your actions reflect your words. Don’t use an excuse like “I’ve decided to see someone seriously now” as the excuse for not agreeing to a future date with Mr. Not Right. Since you are an online dater, what happens when he sees that you are updating your online profile regularly? It’s even touchier if he finds out from others. Steve, 44, from Washington, notes, “Gay circles can be very small! What if he learns from mutual acquaintances that you are still dating around?”
  • Avoid clichés. Greg Behrendt, author of He's Just Not That Into You, suggests avoiding clichés like “I’m busy” or “It’s not me, it’s you.” As he says, “Busy means I'm the President of the United States. I'm an astronaut and I'm on another planet. I'm in a really successful band. What it means in relationships is, yeah, I'm just not that into you.” Baltimore resident Philip, 29, agrees. “He will get over you much faster if you give him the real reason rather than a fake song and dance.”
If you’ve been on a few progressively more intimate dates, then breaking it off in person
Don’t push an agenda or agree to make a plan.
is the right thing to do. I admire the fact that your policy is a face-to-face meeting to end a burgeoning romance. Too often these days, people break up by email, which can come off as callous.

As for the specific situation you mention in your letter, consider making what I refer to as “The Fade Out” call. Dial your coffee date from last week, make it short, and politely tell him that you are returning his call. Don’t push an agenda or agree to make a plan. The purpose of the call is to let him know that you aren’t rude. If he’s at all aware, he’ll note your general lack of interest in a future date. If he asks you out, explain that you don’t think that will work out, and follow the rules above as you graciously end the call.

“To be sure, making the call isn’t easy or fun while you’re doing it,” Washingtonian William, 33, notes. “But a day or so later, you feel better about yourself. You didn’t just blow the guy off, and you don’t have to dread the awkwardness that is sure to come with future encounters at bars, parties or restaurants.” Who would you rather be: The attractive guy who didn’t go out with him twice, or the rude guy who doesn’t return calls?

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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