How To Politely Reject Someone Who Keeps Asking You Out

Experts share their best tips.

by Laken Howard and Lexi Inks
Originally Published: 
How to turn someone down without being mean.
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There are plenty of things in adult life that get easier with time and practice — like filing your taxes or going to the doctor all by yourself — but trying to figure out how to turn someone down when they ask you out is one of those things that just doesn't seem to get any easier, no matter how much practice you have. And as if it's not hard enough to reject someone once, it gets even more frustrating and complicated if someone "won't take no for an answer" (or simply can't take a hint), putting you in a situation where you have to reject the same person many times over.

"Being asked out repeatedly after already expressing a lack of interest is a clear sign that this person doesn't respect your boundaries," Dr. Tanisha M. Ranger, licensed psychologist at Insight to Action, tells Bustle. "As human beings, the natural response to boundary violations is anger. Depending on the setting, it can be even more stressful. For example, is this someone you have to see regularly? Knowing that you are going to, essentially, be harassed while you try to go about your life activities can definitely take a toll on you."

In theory, the idea of someone liking you so much that they just can’t stop trying to ask you out might sound flattering; in reality, it's disconcerting and stressful to feel like you aren't being heard and your boundaries aren't being respected. As a woman, this kind of scenario is something I've experienced countless times, and I've always had trouble saying 'no' in a firm way — but is it just me, or do other women find it particularly difficult to reject someone romantically?

"I do think it's particularly difficult for women [to reject someone] because of the socialization we've all gone through that says we should be careful to protect men's feelings, we should always be polite, we should take it as a compliment whenever a man shows interest in us, and we should always try to be accommodating," Ranger says. "These messages leave women feeling guilty when they have to say no. And the men are also socialized: [they're] taught that persistence is a virtue, taught that performing appropriately (doing things for a woman, or obtaining the desirables of a job, a home, a car, etc.) entitles them to the woman that they want. The combination can be toxic."

Although this is a gendered issue in many ways, it's important to note that being in a scenario where you have to reject a persistent suitor is something that can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. So the next time you need to turn down someone who seemingly can't take a hint, here are expert tips for delivering a firm, clear rejection — without being unnecessarily rude.


Make Eye Contact


The first step to delivering a firm rejection that sticks? Be sure to make eye contact (even though it might feel easier to look at anything but the other person).

"This shows that what you say is direct and you have no qualms about stating it," Laura MacLeod, a licensed master social worker, tells Bustle. "You can soften it with 'I'm sorry’ but then state clearly, 'I can't accept your invitation' or 'This isn't going to happen' (use this if person has been pestering you). Keep it short and direct."


Don't Make Excuses

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As someone who has defaulted to saying "sorry, but I'm taken" one too many times, I know all too well how excuses like that — ones that are meant to soften the blow of rejection — can wind up backfiring.

"Be very careful about excuses," MacLeod says. "Be aware of loopholes and possible ways to get around your excuse. This prolongs the interaction and gives the person hope [which creates] more stress and anxiety for you."


Be Direct & Firm

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If you're usually a people-pleaser, the idea of being firm in your rejection of someone can seem mean or harsh. But when it comes to saying no, being firm is always best — so come up with a few short, to-the-point lines, and practice saying them to yourself in the mirror.

"There’s always a way to speak your truth in a firm, direct, and respectful way but that doesn’t mean that the other person is going to *like* your truth," Eliza Boquin, MA, LMFT, owner of The Relationship & Sexual Wellness Center, tells Bustle. "You can say something to the effect of: 'You've asked me out several times now and maybe I haven’t been clear, so I’m hoping this will leave no confusion. I am not interested in going out. My answer will not change and I expect that you will now respect that moving forward.'"


Be Consistent In Your Rejection

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There's always the chance that the first time you do a "hard rejection" of someone who's been bugging you to date them for a while, it won't stick, either. So if they do reach out again, make sure you're consistent and don't waver in your rejection.

"The most important thing to remember is the importance of consistency in what you say and how you say it — and any follow-up action or interaction with this person later on," Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, a psychotherapist, relationship coach, and divorce mediator, tells Bustle. "In other words, be mindful of not sending any mixed messages which could lead the person to believe that you really don’t mean what you are saying, and/or are ambivalent and with persistence will say yes. They need to know that no is no."


Don't Feel Obligated To Take Responsibility For Their Feelings

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Even if someone is driving you up the wall, there's still the possibility that you'll feel bad or guilty after rejecting them — but it's key to remember that you're not responsible for managing their hurt feelings; you're only responsible for your own feelings.

"You are dealing with adults and adults should be able to manage their own disappointment," Christine Carpenter, PsyD, dating and relationship consultant at Evolve Dating, tells Bustle. "You are not responsible for that. So don’t get drawn into lengthy explanations or justifications about how you arrived at your position. You are informing the other person about a decision. You are not entering a dialogue or negotiation. They don’t have to understand why or see if the way you see it."


Don't Be Afraid To *Not* Be Polite


The most important thing to remember? If someone is disrespecting your boundaries, verbally abusing, or threatening you after you reject them, you are not obligated to be polite to them — period.

"Some people tend to be more on the agreeable side of the spectrum, which means that they may experience difficulties in letting people down and disappointing others," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "Despite this fact, you need to know when your agreeableness is to your detriment. You may want to do it politely, but if someone is invading your personal space, or causing you actual discomfort or harm, it is on you to end it, harshly if necessary."


Give Them An Action Item


If the person asking you out refuses to stop and you aren’t interested in being rude or aggressive in response, sexologist and licensed marriage and family therapist Nicoletta Heidegger suggests warning them about the consequences of crossing the boundary you’ve set. “In general, we cannot control someone crossing our boundaries, but we can control how we respond or what we do if someone does,” Heidegger tells Bustle. “For this, make sure you share an action item — or at least agree to one with yourself if it's not safe to share — of what you will do if and when the boundary is crossed.”

Heidegger recommends telling them something along the lines of, “If you don’t stop [behavior], then I will [action item].” For example, you could say, “If you don’t stop asking me out, then I will block you.” Being firm and consistent in your boundaries can help ward off the behavior, and keep it from happening again.


Practice Boundary Setting For The Future


Beyond just the instance of turning down someone who won’t stop asking you out, if it’s something you struggle with, Heidegger recommends working on the practice of boundary-setting in therapy. “Even though someone crossing a boundary says more about the person crossing the boundary than it does about you, it is important to continue your own boundary work in therapy and explore why it may be hard to set and maintain boundaries,” she says. This can help you remain confident and firm in your boundaries going forward, possibly making these tricky or uncomfortable situations a little easier to deal with.

Despite the resources available to help, it’s also a good idea to be gentle with yourself while you work up to this practice. “Sometimes it is a trauma response known as freeze and appease; sometimes it is because folks have not respected our boundaries in the past,” says Heidegger. “Other times it is because of ‘good girl’ conditioning where we have trouble tolerating others' disappointment.” Ultimately, it’s important to remember that you have every right to say “no” — and that it’s always a complete sentence.


Dr. Tanisha M. Ranger, licensed psychologist

Laura MacLeod, licensed master social worker

Eliza Boquin, licensed marriage and family therapist

Toni Coleman, LCSW, psychotherapist and relationship coach

Christine Carpenter, Psy.D, dating and relationship consultant at Evolve Dating

Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics

Nicoletta Heidegger, sexologist and licensed marriage and family therapist

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