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Already many months ago, "Bob" joined my circle of friends. He has a plethora of good character traits and it is really great to hang out with him. In addition, he is a bit shy and also introverted.

Through the last several weeks, I got the strong impression, that Bob has a crush on me. This was also independently verified by other friends (without me asking them about it). So it is a pretty safe bet. He didn't make a move yet, but it already got me wondering what to say to him.

Now, I really like Bob as a friend, but just as a friend. I don't want a romantic relationship with him.

So my question is the following: If he opens up to me, how do I reject his advance in the most gentle and least hurting way?

My goals are

  • to make clear, that we will just be friends, so that he can look for another girlfriend.
  • make clear, that I really want us to stay friends. That's not just a set phrase to put an end to an awkward situation.

So unlike previous questions like here and here, I'm not talking about a(n) (almost) stranger. I hope that we can stay friends and he won't feel like he lost face (that he made a fool out of himself), or feeling too uncomfortable around me.

Do you have any suggestions, what to say (or what not)? E. g. from what you said yourself or maybe would have wanted to hear in a similar situation (so both sides of the coin)?

Additional information, that may be helpful:

  • I'm currently not in a relationship, and neither is Bob.
  • No additional complicating issues like differing cultural/religious background or the like.
  • I don't fear a violent reaction or the like. This is of no concern to me.
  • From its description, I didn't feel like the romance tag was fitting here. I may be wrong about that, though. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Aug 27 '17 at 7:40
  • Have you ever indicated anything to him previously (i.e. flirting or teasing) or has it always been straight up platonic? – Bradley Wilson Aug 27 '17 at 8:04
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    Here's a strategy that has a good chance of resolving benignly almost all social problems you might encounter that can be resolved benignly: be honest, kind, and unapologetic. In cases like this, that could translate to something like "I'm flattered (if you are), but I don't see you that way. I hope you find someone who feels the same about you." – G. Bach Aug 27 '17 at 8:15
  • @BradleyWilson No flirting. Just the usual banter as with others of our group. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Aug 27 '17 at 8:16
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    Not an answer and undoubtedly not universally applicable, but some people would do well to re-evaluate whether they'd be open to a more involved relationship with someone who is "just a friend" - after all, they've already qualified (and proved their worth) for a place in your life - though on the other hand, see "foog's" excellent rebuttal in the comments. The OP's relationship here sounds fairly casual, but others may find happiness in checking their friend zone instead of the latest dating app. – brichins Oct 10 '17 at 20:50
31

I would like to counterbalance other answers. I think the previously said

Put the situation in a position to avoid him opening up to you in the first place.

is a dangerous approach.

If you prevent him from opening to you, it could be harder from him to move on. Some people need indeed a clear refusal.

What could happen if you deny him this "no" ?

  • He could resent you, and develop in some case hateful feelings towards you, especially if he understands that you were oblivious on purpose, for example. He could think that you weren't really honest with him.

  • He could be very, very frustrated because he'd feel that he hadn't the courage to confess. This is something that can be important for men, and he could see himself as a coward if he don't take this action.

What if you let him come to you and give him a clear refusal ?

  • Chances are that he'll see you as, at least, honest. After the initial shock, things are easier this way, because there is nothing to reproach to anyone.

  • Chances are too that he'll be proud of himself. Taking a "no" is a hard experience, but gathering the courage to ask is valorized in western culture and society, and he shouldn't have any regret after this. It should be easier to move on, again.

What about the confession itself ?

I think other answers handled this well.

  • Be honest
  • Don't try to come up with excuses
  • Let him some space after it, but show him that you're here if needed.
  • I think you've slightly oversold the second option. There are negatives here too, e.g. having built up expectations. – Flater Apr 17 '18 at 11:36
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Just tell the person.

I was 20. We were camping in a pretty place with a group of 10–15 youths aged 12–25. I had a romantic interest in someone. One day we were talking. At one point, when other people weren't in audible distance, she asked: I think I have noticed you have a crush on me, is that right? I nodded. Then she said, I'm sorry, but I don't have a romantic interest. After a some moments of silence we continued the previous conversation.

It was all spoken gently and friendly. It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but it was far friendlier than the other rejections I'd faced as a teenager. I don't resent her at all.

  • 6
    There's no need to ask "is that right?". Just tell "…if that's the case then I'm sorry but I don't…". In that case they don't have to confirm if they find it too stressful. Otherwise, it's a good thing to tell beforehand and not wait until they have courage to ask by themselves and get hurt more. – Sarge Borsch Sep 16 '17 at 5:03
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    @SargeBorsch I suppose so. I'm just reporting how it happened (actually paraphrasing / translating, because the conversation happened in Dutch) – gerrit Sep 25 '17 at 19:36
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I would absolutely just look to the golden rule on this one. If your positions were reversed, how would you want to be notified of your misplaced hopes?

Without knowing this person very well I can make a few assumptions I find likely.

to make clear, that we will just be friends, so that he can look for another girlfriend.

Just a bit of male perspective: he already is looking. It is definitely my experience that very few adult men are fully preoccupied with a single romantic prospect before even confirming mutual interest. He is more likely just lonely than hung up on you. It's like placing a good meal in front of a hungry person. However, if he is younger or has little to no dating or relationship experience, he may be more prone to suffer from a highly idealized understanding of you, that may make it harder for him to accept the reality of the situation.

I see a lot of people suggesting you ignore it if possible or wait for some dramatic confession, and I have to say I completely disagree. If it were me I would prefer to be informed as soon as possible. If it's awkward to do in person, then via text or email, or even tell your friends who informed you of this crush in the first place. You don't need to be detailed. Just a simple, "I heard a rumor that you might be interested in being more than friends, but I wanted to let you know before it could get awkward or painful that I just don't feel that way about you."

If you know there's an issue, then trying to wait on it will only make things harder for both of you in the long run. Intentionally acting oblivious is not a form of communication, and is, with apologies to other posters, terrible advice. Men do not expect a dishonest or fake response in these situations. They will not take the hint. It's pretty well documented that people interpret ambiguous social cues in whatever way is closest to what they want, doubly so when it comes to men interacting with someone they find attractive. Here's an article about this referencing some actual studies and experts.

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    > "It is definitely my experience that very few adult men are fully preoccupied with a single romantic prospect before even confirming mutual interest" — not all men are adults. Even if they are biologically older. – Sarge Borsch Sep 16 '17 at 5:00
  • @SargeBorsch Thanks. It is an over-broad generalization in the first place, but is merely a counter to the explicit assumption I quoted from the question. I made note of the likely exceptions, and what that may look like. If anything doesn't align with your own observations please share. – Stephen Lujan Sep 20 '17 at 20:13
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I don't have much to add. I agree with Bradley's:

Put the situation in a position to avoid him opening up to you in the first place.

By doing that you avoid making things awkward between you and "Bob".

You mentioned that you are not seeing anyone at the moment and I assume there isn't anyone else from your circle of friends that you are interested in. In this case, you could

  • Ask for your friends to help you. Keep emphasizing to your other friends that you are not romantically interested in "Bob" (not in his presence) so when and if he mentions you to them, they should try to discourage him by insisting that you only see him as a friend and there is no chance. I do feel this is something your friends could help you with, unless they all secretly want you to hook up with him.

Because you seem to enjoy his company, I won't suggest for you to avoid him.

If he ended up opening up to you no matter what then there isn't much you can do so not to hurt his feelings. Chances are he will be heart-broken temporarily. If that happens, you can say that you are flattered but that at the moment you are not looking to get romantically involved with anyone from this circle of friends but that you still want to stay friends with him if that's something he wants, too. If he does, then bravo to him! Keep in mind, however, that he might gradually stop showing up. In this case, it's best to respect his wish and not pressure him to stay friends if he honestly can't.

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    Making up a story is dishonest and unnecessary. – gerrit Sep 1 '17 at 17:53
  • @gerrit I appreciate your comment. I removed it as I thought about it again. – Tycho's Nose Sep 1 '17 at 18:10
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Put the situation in a position to avoid him opening up to you in the first place.

Fortunately for you, you have some pretty good information. You know he likes you before he's opened up to you. So there's a good way to do this in "the most gentle and least hurting way" without directly saying it to him.

Some helpful tips

NewLoveTimes has written an article named How To Friendzone A Guy Without Hurting Him. They offer 8 tips on how to subtly let a guy down gently. TheHealthSite offer pretty similar tips.

I've added strikethrough formatting to some of them because from the information you've provided you seem to be already doing them or can't do them currently.

  1. Be oblivious

    The most commonly used form of friendzoning, this one is as obvious as it gets without having to make it ‘verbatim obvious!’ Dodge those romantic comments, flirtatious remarks or anything that inches even close to the lover’s lobby. Either use your humor to keep knockin’ off those attempts out the window or be plain ignorant. Whatever you do, never play along with the idea of you two being in any romantic relationship whatsoever, especially when you know the equation is using imaginary/hypothetical elements that will never be true!

  2. Do not send out mixed signals

  3. Stress on how much you value your friendship

    If you aren’t (wo)man enough to tell him outright that you aren’t interested in him romantically, then just try and focus on how important he is to you as a friend and how you’d never do anything to jeopardize this friendship. Let him know that you cherish the bond you share and that you’d never want to lose it. Once he realizes that pushing matters up the lovers’ lane might result in cutting your friendly trip short, he might understand the risk associated with pressing the matter further and change his mind about pursuing you. However, if he can’t stand the thought of being ‘just friends,’ you should allow him his ache and let him be.

    (emphasis mine)

  4. Refer to him with safe terms/terms of non-endearment

  5. Limit the ‘talk-time'

  6. Switch off the romantic

  7. Talk about other guys

  8. Offer to set him up

    This is a tricky one. You’ve got to do it right without crushing his heart. Make sure you approach the process vis-à-vis gradation. Hang out in a group (which includes the girl you’d like to set him up with), give them a chance to hit it off, follow-up post the meeting, start the teasing, and gauge the responses. Then, pop the offer. You never know what might happen!

It's a difficult (and awkward for yourself, as you know and he doesn't know you know) situation for both parties involved, so the best way to avoid him "opening up" is to defuse it. (I wasn't too sure on even leaving Tip #8 on there. You're a sentient being, so I'll leave it down to you to choose whether that's a viable option or not.)


What If I do that and he still opens up?

Well, in the same article they have a pretty stern bottom line.

However, if he refuses to take the hints and the friendship flares too quickly into a stronger and dangerous territory, it is a good idea to sit them down and tell them, ‘I like you – as a friend. I’m sorry but it would not be anything more!’ be truthful

Being direct and honest is the best approach.


But, there are also a few things to not only consider throughout the conversation but the aftermath too.

During the conversation

Obviously, when the time comes you can't choose where it'll take place. But if you feel the conversation will steer that way, make sure you're somewhere private away from friends, or anywhere he'd feel really embarrassed. This can lead to resentment.

Based on some of the things said to me during my teen years and to my friends. When you're having the conversation avoid saying things like (some of these are for future readers, too):

  • "I don't want to be in a relationship" when you do.
  • "Maybe someday in the future" - no need for any false hope.
  • "You mean too much to me as a friend for us to date" - This is a big no no, he'll take that as a cheap tactic to use your friendship to get out of it (when the time came)
  • "It's not you, it's me!" - This is an outdated classic and simply doesn't work.

The Aftermath

Naturally, he'll be emotionally hurt. There's no light-hearted way. It'd be not only a metaphorical stab to the heart for him, if you've known him for "already many months" but it'll also be a stab to his ego/pride. Here's a couple of things to do after having the dreaded conversation to run your friendship a little smoother.

  • Give him some space to heal (but don't completely avoid him). Strange I know, but things will be awkward and you'll have to make the first step into ensuring that everything is cool regardless of the conversation you've just had
  • Try and avoid discussing it amongst your friends, literally the worst thing for a dude to hear is that it's the centre of conversation amongst the group of friends you're both apart of, if it's "introverted and shy" he might feel a disconnection to the group because of it.

Just remember, he'll get over it in time. Aslong as you help him through and stick to being friends with him, you're the one who has to steer this situation the way you want it to go in order for you to remain friends. Don't avoid that playful banter you have with the other guys than you do with him, but also don't put too much attention onto not doing it? crazy. I know. It should be fine. I got rejected a few times throughout school and I'm okay (i think?!) now.

  • Did you mean "be obvious" instead of "oblivious"? – HorusKol Aug 28 '17 at 3:10
  • @HorusKol No, be oblivious. Make sure you read the blockquote. – Bradley Wilson Aug 28 '17 at 3:21
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    Not sure I agree with just ignoring it.. – HorusKol Aug 28 '17 at 3:58
  • @HorusKol Then I'm sure one of the other 7 tips might help. – Bradley Wilson Aug 28 '17 at 4:38
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    Downvoting: the article linked is insane. This journalist writes page upon page of "be a clever manipulative bitch and he'll still be your friend after he finds out!" Won't work. – peufeu Sep 28 '17 at 19:38

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