Saying "I'm Sorry" After Rejecting Someone Can Make Them Feel Worse, Study Finds, So Here's What To Do Instead
Getting rejected by someone you like can feel terrible. Because of that, it's not uncommon to feel the need to soften the blow when you're in the position to let someone down. I mean, how many times have you started or even ended a rejection with an, "I'm sorry"? But according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, your good natured attempts at trying to make someone feel better during rejection might actually make them feel worse.
"When someone apologizes for rejecting another person it's like a one-two punch," NYC-based Relationship and Wellness Coach, Shula Melamed, MA, MPH tells Bustle. "First, you're getting rejected. Then, the person rejecting you is offering you some pity through an apology? Ouch."
In fact, researchers from Dartmouth College recently conducted a study on social rejection. Unlike previous studies that put focus on the person being rejected, lead author, Dr. Gili Freedman was more interested in examining the rejector. "Most people have had the experience of wanting to minimize the hurt of the person they are rejecting," Freedman said in a press release. "But how exactly do you do that?"
For one part of the study, Freedman and colleagues surveyed over a thousand people and found that 39 percent of people said attaching an apology to a social rejection, like going on a second date, was a "good way of saying no." However, when asked to put themselves in the rejected position, those same people reported to having higher levels of hurt feelings. So despite thinking it's helpful when you're the one rejecting someone, they don't actually believe it's helpful when the tables are turned. Researchers conducted two follow-up experiments and found that not only do rejected people feel worse after being given a "pity" apology, they're also likely to feel like they have to forgive the rejector before they're ready. One experiment even found that hidden feelings of resentment may even cause the rejected to seek out subtle forms of revenge.
So apparently saying, "I'm sorry" after letting someone down isn't really going to do anything for anyone. Unless, of course, you have other motivations for your apology. "When people apologize after they reject someone it is more likely designed to make the rejector feel better about potentially hurting someone rather than caring for the rejected," Melamed says.
When it comes to your love life, if you are going to turn down a date or someone who likes you it's important to be civil, direct, and respectful. Since apologizing isn't the way to go, here are better ways to turn down someone who likes you.
1. Show Flattery And Gratitude
Even if you're not interested, it always feels nice when someone likes who you are as a person. So as marriage and couples therapist, Erin Wiley, MA, LPCC tells Bustle, it's totally OK to say, Thank you. "It's great to express your appreciation that they had the guts to ask you out in the first place," Wiley says. "That's really risky emotionally for people. Letting them know you are flattered they asked is also a nice way to soften the blow of rejection."
2. Emphasize Your Platonic Feelings For Them
If a friend asks you out but you're not interested in taking it to that level, that can definitely make things awkward. But as Wiley says, "Letting someone know that you don't see them as potential dating material, but just more of a friend let's them know you have a friendship that isn't ruined by them asking you out."
3. Practice The "Golden Rule"
"Ask yourself how you would like to be left down gently, and craft a response along those lines," NYC-based matchmaker, Shlomo Zalman Bregman tells Bustle. If you don't want someone to keep you hanging, ghost you, or to lie to you, then don't do that to someone else. Nobody wants to get rejected. But if you're going to be in that position, you'd want someone to do it in a kind, clear, and honest way. So be sure to do that with the person you're rejecting.
4. Do The "Build-Break-Build" Method
Jess McCann, Relationship Coach and author of Was It Something I Said: The Answer to All Your Dating Dilemmas designed a simple "Build-Break-Build" method to let someone down, which goes like this: "I had a nice time with you tonight. You are a very interesting person (the Build-up). I don't feel like there was a romantic connection between us, and I'm sure you felt the same way (the Break). But I did enjoy dinner! Thank you for making me laugh and feel comfortable with you (the final Build-up)."
So you ease into the conversation with a build-up like a compliment, you break it to them gently, and you end the conversation with another build-up. That way you're honest, polite, and don't leave them feeling pitied in any way.
5. Don't Be Afraid To Be Direct And Honest
You're not responsible for anyone else's feelings but your own. You can't control what other people are going to think or how they're going to react to what you tell them. "No matter what you do or say, some people are going to be overly invested in the outcome," Dating Expert and Advice Columnist, Deborrah Cooper tells Bustle. "People do not have the power to 'make' anyone not feel hurt. It puts too much responsibility on a person to protect another's ego and feelings at the expense of their own."
Instead, Cooper advises to acknowledge the request, express gratitude, and decline the invitation clearly and firmly. "People have to learn that they are not obligated to go out with anyone just because they ask," Cooper says. "If the rejected party decides that his or her feelings are hurt, that is their choice."
When it comes to rejecting someone, there's really no need to make excuses, put it off, or feel bad about it. Rejecting someone isn't fun, but as long as you're honest and clear, you've done your part.