There it is: another text.
It’s the fifth one in a row, and you’ve yet to respond. You know he’s probably noticed that your read receipts are on and that you’ve totally read the latest update on his life. You ask yourself, “We’ve only hung out one time, so why does he think we’re closer than we are? Why do these texts keep coming?!” But you don’t know how to tell him that the reason that you’re not responding to his texts is because you just don’t feel the same way about him.
For some reason, that statement never comes out right. You don’t want to hurt his feelings, but you also want to make it clear that while you had a great time bonding over your mutual obsession with The Walking Dead, he needs to move along to someone else. Try these tried-and-true tricks from dating experts and collegiettes to detach the stage-five clinger in your life without being a heartbreaker.
1. Get “Busy”
You’re super involved: you’re the vice president of your sorority, you’re a Spanish tutor and you have to attempt consistent communication with family back home and friends abroad. You have a ton on your plate as a functional single collegiette, and guys may not fit into the picture right now. Tell him that!
“Some guys take hints better than others,” says Professor Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the author of Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships. He advises to “not be available as much.”
If you find yourself in this situation, try telling your clinger, “Hey, I’m sorry if I haven’t been responding as much lately. I’ve just been really busy with [insert time-consuming club here]. And [insert difficult class] is really giving me a run for my money. So, this semester has been pretty crazy for me… I’ve barely had time to respond to my friends’ texts.”
Even the clinger from the bar—that one, singular night—can understand that you simply have other preexisting commitments and priorities in your life, and, in the nicest way possible, he cannot be one of them.
2. Give Him the Cold Shoulder
A favorite of collegiettes, the cold shoulder requires persistent unresponsiveness in communication. When your reasonable excuse of being busy isn’t halting his horses, many collegiettes find that one-word answers or not responding to his texts at all can be effective in conveying their feelings in a subtle way.
Veronica, a junior at the University of Missouri––Columbia, has used this strategy. She dealt with a guy who seemingly jokingly said, “I’ll probably text you in three seconds” after having dinner with her. And he did text her three seconds later.
“He texted me things like, ‘Hope you had a good time!’ ‘Good morning!’ ‘Hope you had a good day!’ without me saying anything in response to his texts,” she said. “Eventually, I just didn’t say anything back. And then he just never said anything.”
If you’re afraid to tell him the truth out of fear of hurting his feelings, try this indirect approach. While your silence may take a while to sink in, eventually the one-sided conversation will grow old.
3. Drop the “Friend” Bomb
If you still feel as if the clinging needs to be controlled, try dropping the “friend” bomb. In your everyday, casual conversations, mention that you’re glad you’re friends.
If you’re concerned that he is indeed falling hard for you, Greif advises you to say something along the lines of, “I sometimes worry I send mixed messages. I hope that is not happening with you. I’m glad to have you as a friend.” This not-so-subtle maneuver allows you to avoid the awkwardness of a full-on confrontation about his feelings while also telling him where you stand… which is at arm’s length away from him.
You can define the friend zone by addressing him as part of a group. “Talk about the guy as a friend along with a bunch of other friends,” says Greif.
For example, say, “It was fun going out with you, Joe and Rachel last night.” Because you’re grouping him with a bunch of friends, that too will deliver the just-friends message.
4. Mention Other Guys
Since the two of you are just friends, he shouldn’t mind if you talk to him occasionally about the other males in your life. While full disclosure of your fun night with another guy isn’t necessary, try mentioning another guy you’re talking to.
If you happen to be talking about your plans for the evening, Greif says to “talk about how you’re going on a date with another guy.” Obviously, only say this if it’s true. But if it is the truth, preach it! Hearing that he’s not the object of your affections could end his advances.
Maria, a senior at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, used this method on one clinger. “I could tell this guy was really starting to like me, and I definitely did not feel the same way, especially since I was already kind of talking to this other guy,” she says. “So when we were studying together one night, I made it a point to indirectly bring up how I had to leave a little sooner than expected to meet up with someone else. The rejected look on his face when I apparently crushed his crush was rough, but I guess it had to happen.”
5. The Last Ditch Effort: Be Direct
If all else fails, be blunt. That’s one thing relationship experts and boys agree on! Rather than beating around the bush and tiptoeing around his feelings, remember that he is wasting his own time on a girl who doesn’t like him back. Wouldn’t you want to free him up for someone who actually likes him?
“Sometimes you just have to be straight with them,” says Michelle, a junior at the University of Arkansas. “If a guy likes me and I don’t feel the same way, I nip it in the bud before things ever get too far.”
The guys even want you to be honest with them. Jack, a junior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, says, “If you’re not going to be blunt about it, he’s not going to get it.”
Jeffrey Sumber, a psychotherapist at the Creative Counseling of Chicago, advises the direct approach. “The best approach is good, solid, direct but kind communication,” he says. “The worst thing a girl can do is leave the door open for, ‘You never know, it might change down the road.’”
This stage-five clinger situation sadly often results in a lose-lose outcome. The guy can feel ridiculous for pursuing you in the first place, and you can feel guilty for breaking the news to him. But remember: there are more fish in the sea, and you were just not his fish. Whether you ignore his texts or actively put him in the friend zone, you just helped toss him back into the swirling, twirling sea of love.