Hey Clay

Letter No. 12: A Love Story Not in the Making

Hey Clay, 

Mine is an issue that has plagued women for years: how do you gently let down a man who fights the “letting down” process with every fiber of his being? 

A little over a year ago, I became friends with a really great guy. Although I was never interested in him romantically and hence never showed such interest, we had a lot in common and I enjoyed his company in group settings. Shortly after our friendship began, it became apparent to me that he was interested in more than the football-watching, beer-drinking times we were sharing with friends. He began inviting me to dinner and a movie (not Netflix and chill, mind you) and making a point to tell me how much his friends’ wives liked me.

Because I did not share those feelings, I made an effort to only hang out in group settings and avoid making any jokes or comments that could possibly be interpreted as flirtatious.  Despite my best efforts, this was not working and I began to back away from the friendship. It seemed that for every step back I took, he took two giant steps in my direction. He was smothering me. He grew to be overbearing in person, in text and on social media.  He responded to my cold shoulder by expressing deep concern for my well-being – a reaction that only irritated me more. Over a period of months, I went from being his buddy to being uncomfortable, withdrawn, and eventually avoiding him at all cost.

It is not in my nature to be indirect. For some reason, perhaps because emotions are involved, this is different. I recognize that by putting his feelings above my own, I have contributed to a situation that is painfully uncomfortable for me.

Because we are affiliated with many of the same people, we see each other from time to time.  I am afraid that by being direct with him, I will feel guilty and create an awkward, uncomfortable situation. Is it at all possible to let this guy know I’m not comfortable with his advances, without hurting his feelings and still being able to look him in the eye?


Hey Not-That-Girl,

To be the recipient of unwanted would-be romantic advances is an unfortunate situation indeed, but under no circumstance is it one that should be endured.

From the sound of things, you’ve done nothing to encourage Mr. Wonderful’s advances. And even if you did, you always have the right to say that you’re no longer interested. People can be a lot like vehicles on a car lot. They can appear great from a distance; but a quick test drive and a look under the hood can reveal that a once promising option is a spark plug short of hitting all cylinders.

So what do you do? You put the hood down, beat feet to the nearest exit, and get off the lot lickety-split. No one can force you to take ownership a lemon or one knocking on your door.

It sounds like you and Mr. Wonderful met in social circles and during outings with friends, he mistook gestures of platonic friendship for the lifelong mating calls of the swan. Most people are socially astute enough to read signals that the object of their affection is not interested in a romantic relationship. These signals may include, but are not limited to—

• lethargy
• ennui
• overt yawning
• unreturned phone calls
• unanswered text messages
• spontaneous ghosting
• the occasional side eye
• and monosyllabic responses

The problem with relying on these types of subtle signals is twofold—

  1. They’re passive-aggressive and don’t deal directly with the issue at hand.
  2. Because they’re subtle, they’re highly subject to misinterpretation.

To Mr. Wonderful or someone unfamiliar with the basics of interpersonal communication, any combination of the above signals could be construed as the result of their own bungled attempt at getting the message across (fumbled pass) or the intended simply not getting the message (dropping the ball). Either way, those like Mr. Wonderful feel the need to try harder next time.

NTG, your strategy of taking one step away from Mr. Wonderful while he’s taking two steps toward you is not working. If things continue the way they currently are, at some point he’s going to walk over you, if he hasn’t already.

I think we both know what you need to do.

You recognize you’ve been putting his feelings above your own and in doing so, you’ve contributed to the situation. There’s no need for you to be a martyr in this situation or feel guilty about defining your boundaries and clearly telling anyone what type of interactions you will and will not participate in.

In response to you question: yes, it’s very possible to let this guy know you’re not comfortable with his advances. Without hurting his feelings? You have no control over his feelings. The only thing you can control are your own actions. How he reacts is solely his responsibility.

I suggest you deliver the following message with care and respect—

  1. You think he’s a nice guy (if you want to say that, it’s always good to start with a gentle opening)
  2. You get the impression that he has feelings for you, but …
  3. You don’t have the same feelings for him
  4. Despite your best efforts to subtly convey that to him, he’s neither caught on or relented in his advances.
  5. And that you’d like him to stop.

You owe this to yourself. To allow the situation to continue in its current state would only do greater damage to yourself. And I’m certain you’re not that girl.

All the best,

If you have a situation that you’re currently dealing with that you’d like me to address, send an email (with a clever pen name instead of your real name) to me at heyclay@clayrivers.com, and tell me all about it. I’ll read through the submissions, pick one, and on Thursdays I’ll post the chosen letter along with my response here on my blog, my Facebook author page, and my Twitter account. Rest assured, I will not publish email addresses. Ever.

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One thought on “Letter No. 12: A Love Story Not in the Making”

  1. Erik Deckers says:

    Reblogged this on Erik Deckers and commented:
    Great Valentine’s Day advice from Clay about how to let someone know you’re not interested in them romantically.

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