How to Say “Not Interested” Nicely?

I’m often asked “What do I do if someone wants more of a friendship with me than I want with them?” Or, “How can I tell someone, without hurting their feelings, that I’m not interested in spending more time with them?”

Most of us need more community in our lives, but some of usShasta Quote need to say no to some people in order to say yes to others.

I’m not gonna act like this is an easy question to answer… I still struggle with it and sometimes find myself sitting on a coffee date simply because I found myself agreeing before I could figure out how to decline the invitation.

In romance, we tend to eventually find a way to say, “Thanks, but no,” but rarely do we give that gift to other women.Most of us just play nice or just go MIA.  There has to be another way.

Simply ignoring women or continuing to act interested even when we’re not isn’t being honest with them, isn’t leaving us feeling aligned, and it’s contributing to our collective fear that if someone isn’t reaching out to us that it means they don’t like us, which isn’t always the case.

Principles for Saying No to Others

Our goal in life is to live as aligned as possible: having our insides (feelings) match our outsides (situation/circumstance). Which leaves us with the options of either saying yes and truly being open to it, or saying no instead of just ignoring someone.

Here are my guidelines to practice saying no:

  1. Always affirm.  Affirm how much it means that they invited us; acknowledge how much you admire them.
  2. Then say no. Then check in with yourself so you can clarify your no. “Is it not now?” Or “Not as often?” Or “Not ever.”
  3. End with thanks.  Thank them for having thought of us, for reaching out, and encourage them in any way that feels kind.

In most areas of life I encourage women to simply practice saying “no” more often as a complete sentence without needing to explain or justify. But because in these situations it feels like we’re often saying “no” to a specific person and because everyone’s greatest fear is rejection, I think we can err on the side of showing as much value to the other person as possible, while also gifting them with our honesty so they aren’t left wondering in uncertainty.

Sample Scenarios

Of course this is a hard question to answer because there are so many levels of friendships and varied reasons why we’re saying no, but hopefully if I can give a couple of examples of how I’d say it, that might help get the ball rolling…..

  • To someone we don’t know well, but we don’t feel like we have time for more friends.  “That is so sweet of you to ask me and typically I’d be quick to say yes as you are definitely someone I’d love to get to know; but unfortunately I feel like I am barely making the time to give to my current friends so I’ve been having to say no to other fun people in order to love those people well. But tell me what kinds of relationships you’re trying to build and maybe I can help introduce you to people?”
  • To someone we’d consider a casual friend but we’re not convinced we want to invest more time than we already are making.  “I’m always so impressed with you for reaching out and inviting me to things– I know that’s hard to do and I really respect that gift you’ve given.  And I feel like I’ve had to say no a bit, and while I don’t see that changing anytime soon, I wanted to make sure you knew that I appreciate the friendship we do have when we see each other at x (church, work, MOPS). I used to think every friendship was supposed to become a best friend as though it had to be all or nothing, but I’m learning to really value that while I can’t be close and intimate with everyone I like, I can still be happy they’re in my life. Thanks for being such a positive person when we do see each other.”
  • To someone we’d consider a casual/close friend but we don’t really want to connect with much anymore. Basically if you’re thinking about “breaking up” then I invite you to read these posts about The Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship, this post about how we can decrease the frientimacy in a friendship by decreasing consistency and vulnerability without having to break up, or this post helping identify if this is a friendship rift or a drift might help, too.  Because ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: is this a relationship I want to completely end (in which case I am a strong believer that we owe it to them to explain why) or is this simply a relationship I don’t want to keep investing in a ton but am more than happy to still see her at parties or at the places we both frequent and keep up with her here and there? Knowing our desired outcome will help us shape that conversation where we can communicate the value of what we have shared and hopefully help establish expectations for both parties.

I often compare these conversations to going to the gym.  We don’t get physically healthier by avoiding sweat, exertion, and stretching; and neither do we practice being our best selves (which includes honest communication and expressing value to others) without it feeling awkward, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable.

Let’s become women who value each other so much that we’ll line up our words to match our actions rather than just keep saying no or avoiding phone calls….

Have you been on the receiving end?  Do you prefer them just neglecting you or do you prefer their honesty? Have you had a conversation with someone you consider a success?  Share with us!

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8 Responses to How to Say “Not Interested” Nicely?

  1. Jackie S says:

    Absolutely I would much rather know where I stood in the other persons world rather than having to guess. It would hurt less. This is why I expect some degree of reciprocity in a relationship. If the other person never reaches out then I just have to assume they are not interested.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      This is the problem that we tend to correlate their no’s with a lack of desire which isn’t always the case! But… it would be nice if people who were saying no but still wanted to stay connected could clarify “I’m sorry I seem to always be saying no… I really do want to get together with you… thank you for not giving up on me!” And I’d encourage you not to judge by initiation (as so many women simply don’t do that well AT ALL even if they value the friendship, but rather assume that if they say yes and make an effort to connect that they appreciate you reaching out. And if they don’t– it’s on them to let you know, but assume the best until then? Hard, I know!

  2. DJ says:

    I agree with you Jackie if someone doesn’t reciprocate and says no to my invitations I assume they aren’t interested. But to avoid awkwardness when we come face to face as well as to keep the door I say something such as “It sounds like you’re pretty busy at the moment so I won’t issues any more invitations but in the future if you would like to meet up please let me know.”
    Harder for the person to be honest if they don’t like you or want to do anything with you. Then they do need to continue saying no (and not offering an explanation). But if they do want to keep the friendship/acquaintanceship at a certain level then being honest about this, e.g. I want to keep it to working hours such as our work lunches, I invite you to group things as I like seeing you but don’t have time to do individual catch ups. Also like the linking people in with interested others.
    I have to admit I’ve been so often the person who extends invitations to be told no that I’ve given up as it’s very discouraging. usually I get the I’m too busy and have to keep my response light (e.g. perhaps another time, sounds like you’re going through a busy patch please contact me when you’ve got time to catch up) as if I look disappointed I get the lecture of I’m busier than you as I have kids (and you don’t). So I feel when I need support or help I can’t ask as I feel I’m imposing. Because my partner doesn’t come to things with me and I don’t have kids a lot of people have an issue with this and I’m continually hassled why my partner doesn’t come to which I advise he doesn’t come to things as he’s not social but I’m more than happy to come on my own. I’ve been to therapy to see if there’s something wrong with me or I’m doing something wrong but not so, they couldn’t find anything (and they really did try, excellent service).
    So Shasta perhaps an article on how to deal with the constant rejections when trying to initiate or deepen friendships. And balancing this with the resentment that comes with feeling one’s doing the lions share of the work e.g. driving hours to meet up with a person for an hour’s coffee to try to establish the friendship so balancing this with setting and keeping one’s own boundaries.

  3. Jackie says:

    What I have experienced is the equivalent of bring led on in friendships like in romantic situations. Where a person’s actions were misleading in where I stood. This has been a frequent experience in California compared to the East Coast. It’s a big reason behind my decision to move back East.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Jackie– Thanks for chiming in! Did you feel like people on the East Coast were more honest? In actions only? Or in words too? What specifically could we “west-coasters” practice saying/doing that would create more safety?

  4. Mari says:

    Great tips interesting post. I think sometimes no matter how “nice” we try to be there will always be those who just don’t get it. I have learned to accept that as long as I stand in my truth and am as clear as possible how others feel is really not my concern. We as women and especially moms get caught up too much on pleasing others. Juggling too many things so say “Not Interested” is really a great start. Thanks again.

    • ShastaGFC says:

      Mari– I agree– we can only do it with as much love and honesty as possible, but we can’t take on other people’s feelings. Some people will take everything personally and we can’t be responsible for that. Learning to do our part and letting go of theirs is one of the hardest lessons of life, huh? 🙂