If you’ve ever been in a situation where your best friend liked you and you didn’t like him or her back, you know how awkward things can get. There are a lot of ways turning down your friend could go wrong, especially if you consider him or her a close companion. You don’t want to ruin the friendship, but can you really turn down a friend and stay close? It’s a tricky situation, but these tips can help!
Dr. Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of The Buddy System, weighs in on how to maintain your friendship.
1. Give hints
If you’re worried about having “the talk” you can first try dropping hints. “Don’t respond too quickly to phone calls, emails, and tweets,” says Greif. “This way there is no confusion about whether or not you’re leading your friend on.” You don’t want him or her thinking you are eagerly waiting to talk to them 24/7.
“I first tried to get the message across by giving him some not-so-subtle hints that I'm glad he is such a good friend to me,” says Taylor Augustin, a junior at University of San Diego. “Try saying things like, ‘I'm glad you have never tried anything on me,’ and hopefully he’ll pick up on your hints and not act on his feelings.” If you’re nervous about telling him up front that you’re not romantically interested, try giving him more subtle verbal cues first to see if he catches on.
2. Avoid clichés
Saying, “It’s not you, it’s me,” probably isn’t the best idea in this particular situation. When you’re trying to be sensitive to a friend’s feelings you should speak from a more personal level. “You should do it in a private place as opposed to during a class break (but not too private if you have any concerns about his reaction),” says Greif. You shouldn’t make a big scene at a party, but instead go to a coffee shop or your dorm room, somewhere you can have a real conversation.
“I tried to tell him I wasn’t interested but struggled to find the right way,” says Kristen Williams, a sophomore at Florida State University. “Once I really opened up and told him why I didn’t return the feeling, I felt like he really understood better. If you’re close friends you should be able to have a deeper conversation out of respect for one another.” Don’t approach the situation based on what you’ve seen in movies or TV and instead, speak from the heart—they’ll appreciate it.
3. Be honest
The most important thing to consider when turning down a friend is his or her feelings—especially since they probably spent forever trying to figure out exactly how to tell you (and whether or not to tell you at all). “A certain amount of honesty is always necessary, if not is it really a friendship? But being specific—I don’t find you sexually attractive/you aren’t smart enough for me is being too honest,” says Greif. “Find that balance that will maintain the friendship.” Being honest is the best way to break the news while also showing that you care.
“When my best friend confessed his feelings for me I was flattered, but I didn’t feel the same way,” says Kelly Lawler, a senior at Kentucky State University. “Since we were so close I felt comfortable enough and decided it was best to tell him up front that I didn’t feel the same way. He was hurt, but happy that I didn’t try to play any games.” You don’t want to lead your friend on or give him or her the wrong idea. If the situation were reversed, you’d want someone to be honest with you.
4. Give your friend some space
No one likes being rejected, especially if you have to be around the person who rejected you all the time. After explaining that you don’t share the same feelings, your friend might need some space to process everything.
“It’s important to give a friend space, such as not inviting them to hang out every day,” says Greif. “But keep checking in with them once in awhile to see how they are until they are ready to be around you normally again.” It may seem like your friend is giving you the cold shoulder, but remember that he or she just got turned down and their feelings might be hurt.
“After I told him I didn’t have romantic feelings for him, he needed some time away from me,” says Lawler. “It’s hard not to take it personally, but you have to understand their side of things as well.” It might be hard to suppress the urge to invite your friend out to a party or send him or her a funny video you find, but it’s important to give him or her time and let them come to you.
If you’ve ever been rejected, you know how tough it is. Keep that in mind when turning someone else down. Just remember to be honest and understanding. Sure, things will be weird for a while, but if you care about one another enough, you can bounce back to the friendship you had once before!