"Letting Him Down Easily" Requires Honesty

I am a single, professional woman in my mid-thirties who needs some advice handling a difficult dating situation. A couple of months ago I met a nice guy at a friend's party and we seemed to hit it off. After spending a long time talking that first night, I gave him my number and he called and asked me out. I was really looking forward to spending time with him and getting to know him, and might have blown the whole thing up in my mind beforehand. When he came to pick me up, he seemed different. In fact, we related differently this time from that first meeting. Even though I was disappointed, I decided to give it a chance and see if things got better as the evening wore on. They didn't and I found myself glancing at the clock and trying to find ways to cut the evening short. At the end of the night, he asked me if he could call me and suggested some things we could do together. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I said something like; " I have a lot going on at work over the next month and will be very tied up most of the time." He suggested that we discuss our options when he calls and I reluctantly agreed. I made a point of avoiding a goodnight kiss and tried to be nicely distant when we parted.

I need some advice on how to let guys down easily. I usually drop hints by telling them I am very busy, unavailable and/or by not responding to emails or phone calls. I have even said that I am not interested in dating anyone at this time or that I am looking for a very specific age, profession, or religion in the men I date. One would think that guys would be able to read between the lines and get the message, but I have not found this to be the case most of the time. How can I be heard without being cruel? --Sending Smoke Signals

Dear Sending Smoke Signals--

Maybe we should begin with what you mean when you say, "let guys down easily." If your definition includes being less than honest or stringing them along as you hint about your lack of interest, you need to think about whose feelings you are protecting here, theirs or yours. I would also advise you to mentally switch places with this guy for a minute. Would you want to be told the truth or be led to believe that there is hope for something happening when his schedule finally allows it?

Women are socialized to be sensitive and nurturing. Therefore, they are often indirect in their expressions of feelings that are negative or have the potential to be hurtful. Consequently, in trying to be considerate of the feelings of others, women can inadvertently make the situation more difficult for themselves and the person they are trying to protect. Because subtly allows for hope, you should take the direct approach and be honest and clear. Of course, it is not necessary to be unkind or insensitive, just honest. They really are not the same thing.

Once you have responded in a fair and direct way, it is up to the man to deal with the truth. If he has difficulty with this, it is his problem, not yours. At the very least, you will know that you have handled the situation maturely and honestly, which is the best way to let anyone down.

(from February 2006)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"The Reluctant Boyfriend"
List of more
"Problems with communication"

"A Problem With Technology or a Mixed Message?"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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