Don’t Let Me Down Gently


I’m just a girl who can’t say no. So it was all rather awkward when a friend of a friend called to ask me out because I absolutely didn’t fancy the guy; I didn’t even like him.

His call took me by surprise as our mutual friend hadn’t told me he’d asked for my number. I’ve always been unfailingly polite – to the point of lunacy – and I wanted to turn him down nicely. Unfortunately, I was already on the back foot and I didn’t handle the conversation well.

Him: “Would you like to go on a date with me?”*

My brain stopped working. I should have just said thank you, but no. Instead, I panicked and made an excuse. A crappy excuse at that.

Me: “No, I can’t, I’m busy”.

You don’t have to give a reason when you turn someone down; indeed it’s often better not to. When you give a reason, you open a door, as the other person then has something to negotiate with.

So, he didn’t hear “No, I don’t want to go out with you”. He heard, “Yes, I’d love to go out with you! Just not on that night”.

He started suggesting different dates, at which point my brain short-circuited. Whatever date he suggested, I replied with my new mantra: “I can’t! I’m busy!”. He’d suggest another date, “I can’t! I’m busy!”.

We were stuck. He couldn’t stop offering dates, and I couldn’t tell him I didn’t want to go out with him. He just wasn’t getting the hint.

Eventually I managed to squeak out some other words, and I told him I had to go, because I was busy. Yes, I’m the master of improvisation.

He emailed a week later to see if I was less busy, and if I wanted to go for dinner with him. (The same mutual acquaintance had given him ALL my contact details. THANKS A BUNCH). I’d had a whole week to think about how to turn him down gently but firmly, and failed to come up with anything better.

So, unable to deviate from what was already a spectacularly unsuccessful track, I said that I couldn’t go out for dinner with him, because I was busy for the next month or so (hoping against hope that he’d get the hint this time).

He wrote back, asking when I was free.

It was September. It was no time for subtlety, so I told him I was busy right through until the end of April. Surely, I reasoned, if I tell him I’m too busy to date him for the next seven months, surely he’ll get the message.

Instead, an email pinged up instantly, to say he was looking forward to seeing me on the 1st May next year, and that he’d pick me up at 7pm.

I finally – FINALLY – realised I had to be straight with the guy. I wrote and explained that I wasn’t going to meet him on any night, as I wasn’t interested in dating him.

I never heard from him again. I still feel rotten about the whole thing.

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