Gently telling him you want to be friends

A DG reader sent this question:

Any ideas on how to gently let a good man go? I had several dates with a kind, intelligent, respectful man. We had much in common but by the third date it occurred to me that what we had was friendship, not a romantic attraction. He had different feelings that I was unaware of. I decided it was best to let go rather than lead him to believe I was interested in developing a relationship. I feel badly about this and if it should happen again, any tips?

This is always a difficult question for anyone who dates with sensitivity and caring for the feelings of the other person. Here are a few ideas I’ve found effective when I’ve delivered this communication, and I’m sure other readers will share their ideas.

  • If you’ve only had a few dates, as you have with this gentleman, you can have this conversation on the phone or even in email. I’ve often sent an email after a first or even second encounter when I realized the guy wasn’t a match. I’ve said something like, “You are an intelligent, interesting, fun guy. However, I didn’t feel the spark I know I need to explore a romantic relationship. But I’d like to have you in my network of friends. Would that be OK with you?” Most often the response is “Sure.” Occasionally I’ve received, “I have enough friends,” which is fine, too.
  • If you’ve seen each other more than a few times, work to talk to him in person, assuming you live within a comfortable distance. If you are dating long distance, then have a live phone conversation, don’t leave it on voice mail. And never do it via email or worse, text or IM. And if you live a distance apart, don’t wait until he visits to tell him, as he will have gone to considerable trouble and expense to see you expecting to be pursuing you romantically. If you want to deliver the message in person, you should travel to him.
  • When you are with him, don’t do anything physically that would make him think you feel differently. So don’t initiate hand holding, lingering hugs, or passionate kisses. If he tries to kiss you passionately, break it off quickly and turn your cheek.
  • Arrange a meeting like coffee or a drink, not dinner. If the expectation is a longer outing, you will be worried about when and how to deliver the “let’s be friends” statement and will be on edge. A shorter encounter also allows him to leave quickly if he is upset at your decision.
  • Think carefully how you want to express yourself. Avoid the clichéd “It’s not you, it’s me.” Some people think telling him what a great guy he is will only confuse him when you tell him you want to be friends, as he may think, “If I’m so great, why doesn’t she want more?”
  • When I’ve delivered the “let’s be friends” talk, I didn’t say, “I’m not sexually attracted to you,” but instead said, “While I have grown fond of you, I realize that fondness is as a friend, not a sweetheart.” If he responds as one man did, “Well, good relationships always start with friendships,” escalate your language to be even clearer. “I am not The One for you, so it would be unfair to continue as if we are going to be romantic.” If he insists that he does indeed think you are The One for him, you have to be blunt, as he’s not getting the gentler wording. “As good of a guy as you are, I’m clear you aren’t The One for me. But you have many qualities I enjoy, which is why I’m wondering if we could be friends.” Or “I just don’t think we are a match. But I’d love to stay connected as friends, if that would work for you.”
  • How blunt you have to be will depend on how quickly he gets the message. If he is insistent that you are a good match, you will have to be more explicit, while still trying to be sensitive to his feelings. If he continues to not get it, you may have to just say, “I’m not romantically attracted to you, but I would love to stay your friend, if that is comfortable for you.” One man said, “No, if you can’t be my sweetheart it is too hard to have you in my life knowing I can’t have you.”

What advice do you have on how to deliver the “let’s be friends” talk? What’s worked for you? Or not worked when you’ve been on the receiving end?

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11 Comments on “Gently telling him you want to be friends”

  1. cybergrayghost Says:

    Well, I think that most all of us have been on both sides of this particular issue, I know I have and I’m currently trying to decipher if I’m on the receiving end of one albeit how screwily worded (short version, she needs ‘wide open space’ but wants to stay friends, then has emailed since with some very quiet personal comments). The one thing I’ve noted from being on the ‘giving’ end, it’s never seemed to matter how gently I try to do it, it’s always had the Lady very upset with me. Over the years, I’ve actually only had one that I happened to run into tell me that she treated me poorly and wished that she had tried to stay friends during the intervening years. On the other hand, I’ve actually remained friends with the couple of friends ‘requests’ I’ve been dealt over the years and it’s worked out fairly decently. Later All!!

  2. walt Says:

    Hey DG – do you think the rules are any different when it’s a friend of a friend, rather than someone you’re unlikely to ever run into again? I had a date this week with a friend of a friend, and am not interested in anything further, but she seemed to be. Do I need to call her, or will email suffice? The objective obviously is to make sure my friend thinks I handled things appropriately. If it was me on the other end of it, I’d rather get the email, so I don’t have to deal with the rejection directly.

  3. Greg Says:

    I think that asking to stay friends, with no expectation of more than that, is a good approach, but only if you really mean it. If not, then when the friend offers to buy a coffee or drink to chat and catch up, it could be awkward. And for those on the recieving end of “lets just be friends,” if you think there could be more, accept it. Perceptions change, and if a friendship is allowed to continue, something more could come of it (IF you are sincere in accepting friendship only. “When Harry Met Sally” is a rare situation). At worst, you have another friend.

  4. PreviouslyQueenofE Says:

    Fellow mid life daters, I have to share my most recent escapade (read: escape-apade) with you. I have had four dates with a man who seemed genuine, respectful, sincere, a litte naive, sweet. Nice, was the word I kept using to friends. He’s a nice guy. Attractive, great smile. But it was apparent to me on date 3 that the chemistry really wasn’t there, there had been some but a really big part of me was saying “nope”. We had already scheduled date 4, a supper at my house, so I let it lie. After the supper at my house, I logged on and found this post, and also had already drafted my “have a nice life” email (only much more classy and tender), but decided I would actually ask him how HE felt. Maybe he was shy? Maybe he didn’t want to offend me by actually laying a hand on me beyond a guiding gesture in the small of my back? So I did it, I asked him how he felt about us, and he said, ‘the dating?’ and I said yes, and he said “awkward.” He told me it felt awkward, he was respectful, he had seen the way his single friends treated the women they were dating and didn’t want to do that too. He even made a joke. He had another call on his land line then, I could hear him as he took it, people were coming in to spend the weekend and were on his street trying to find his house. He came back on and asked could he call me later. He said I had guts bringing up this conversation. Whatever. That was Thursday. No call back.

    So tonight, I go to a local restaurant with a girlfriend where there is an art show and a wine tasting. I saw his truck in the parking lot, it’s very recognizable. The gf and I are prepared to meet him. I was looking particularly good tonight, in a very good frame of mind and that is more important than any amount of makeup. So we’re walking toward the part of the restaurant that is hosting the art show and there he is! Kissing a woman! We had to walk past them to get to the other part of the restaurant, so as we excused ourselves around them, I smiled and said hello and nice to see you again, and he kind of smiled back and said hi nice to see you too and I walked on with my friend. (A very bad part of me wishes that the girl he was kissing is one of those incredibly suspiscious types who will now badger and grill him about the slim brunette who greeted him and make his life hell, but I doubt that will happen…)

    I went on to have a fabulous evening, and am still laughing about it, but I am even more convinced about listening to my gut feeling early on (chemistry either is or it isn’t, no matter how old we are) and also I am a little more suspiscious of the “genuine, sincere” guy. I have always given people the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the last few I’ve been through are definitely toughening me up.

    I have someone else interested, who met me and asked a coworker for my number, so it’s not like I don’t have someone else in the pipeline, and I was already writing this one off….NEXT!!!!

  5. hunter Says:

    to previously Q,

    I like your, “Next.!!!”……

  6. Pat Says:

    Problems arise with the friend line when the woman has been leading the guy on for long periods of time or led him on to gain his interest in the first place. I have had women lead me on for months all the while enjoying everything I had brought to the table just to hear the “friendship” line. Some advice to women who don’t want to make enemies is this; don’t lead the guy on to begin with to get his attention, if you need to dangle the carrot in front of his face he’s not interested in friendship with you. If you end up hanging out with him don’t kiss him on the mouth when he meets you or when you depart company, that’s leading him on. Don’t let him foot the bill for everything every time you go out and do something, if you only want friendship don’t be a freeloader, only girlfriends are entitled to the free-bee perks, friends pay their own way.
    Don’t lie about whomever else you might be seeing romantically that is deception and deception is hostile by nature. If you are in a physical relationship he needs to know that, don’t go out to dinner & drinks with the “friend” guy and then after parting go over to your real boyfriend’s home to sleep with him the same night without being honest. Most importantly don’t wait to lay the “friendship” line on him you should know after 2 or 3 dates not weeks or months. If you lead a guy on so you get him to date you and then you suck up everything he has to offer while not giving anything back (sex) and this goes on for weeks or months the, ” I just want to be friends” line sounds a lot like “fuck you, you aren’t good enough.” Honesty straight from the beginning is the only way to make friends, subterfuge always makes enemies. Do this and you will make friends, do it not and you will make enemies, simple.

  7. player1 Says:

    best way to say it is…. firstly tell them if you’re interested in someone then tell them that how busy your life is and you haven’t got to time for a relationship and it’s best to be single then crack a joke at them by explaining the funny side of being in a relationship, thats basically it… no matter how you end up doing it they are going to be sad whatever you say… so this is how i’ll do it and remember to take your time and have a smile in your face at all times but not a fake one if you know what i mean, just a sort of witty smile.


  8. player1 Says:

    what pat said the comment above mine made me think, never ever… keep your eyes on one girl always have somewhere around seven i mean i think flirting is fine flirting is always good no matter who your doing it to the troble is guys and girls alike sometimes tend to just go for one at a time and at the end if it’s not what the girl or guy is looking for will just go into D-mode when turned down lol.


  9. عبداللطيف Says:

    (To God but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of God )

    110] Say: “I am but a man like yourselves, (but) the inspiration has come to me, that your God is one God: whoever expects to meet his Lord, let him work righteousness, and, in the worship of his Lord, admit no one as partner.

    Koran the Word of God Almighty and the Almighty


    In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

    [1] Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

    [2] Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;

    [3] He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;

    [4] And there is none like unto Him.

    Koran the Word of God Almighty and the Almighty)


    Because I love you

    I invite you to Aslam

    Quran: The Word of God Almighty

    Islam: religion is God the Almighty

    Muhammad peace be upon him is: is the seal of the prophets of God Almighty

    Muslims: they are followers of God’s prophets and the apostles wholes in the sense

    They are the followers of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ismail and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and Moses and Jesus

    Briefly, the religion of Islam and calls for the good and forbid evil and calls for virtue and forbid vice and resolves the good things and evil deprives

    Rushed my brother to go to this religion

    لااله إلا الله محمد رسول الله


    لأني أحبك

    أدعوك للأسلام

    القران الكريم :هو كلام الله عز و جل

    الاسلام :هو الدين عند الله سبحانه و تعالى

    محمد صلى الله عليه ةو سلم :هو خاتم أنبياء الله سبحانه و تعالى

    المسلمون : هم أتباع أنبياء الله و رسله أجمعين بمعنى

    أنهم أتباع ادم و نوح و ابراهيم و اسماعيل و اسحاق و يعقوب و الاسباط و موسى و عيسى

    والاسلام بأختصار دين يدعو الى الخير و ينهى عن الشر و يدعو الى الفضيله وينهى عن الرذيلة و يحل الطيبات و يحرم الخبائث

    فسارع يا أخي الى الدخول الى هذا الدين

  10. Curtis Says:

    From someone on the receiving end of this let me just say there is no gentle way. The whole you’re a great guy blah blah blah comes off at the very least confusing and possibly insincere. The I’m not the one for you card is also completely insincere as the reality is obviously the reverse so don’t pull that one either.Confront them face to face if you have already experienced a face to face date with them; this is a sign of respect and it’s cowardly otherwise. Be straight forward and say I’m simply not attracted to you or something like that. You don’t need a good explanation because there usually isn’t one.

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