How to Tell Someone You Don't Like Them

Wondering how to deal with nosy neighbors, obnoxious airplane passengers, and people with no boundaries? What do you do if you accidentally poop during sex? How to make it clear to someone you don't like them?

Lifehacker's Adam Dachis and co-author Erica Elson will help you traverse the awkward in The Awkward Human Survival Guide, out today. In this excerpt, Dachis and Elson explain the best ways to tell someone you don't like that you don't like them.

The world contains Republicans, Democrats, hipsters, gun-rights crusaders, members of PETA, motorcyclists, reality TV stars, other drivers, writers, and many more distinct groups filled with opinionated people. Even if you manage to get along with a diverse crowd, you probably don't want to date them. That's okay, so long as you learn to break the news clearly and respectfully.

You Can't Deny Necessary Confrontation

Our friend Ember worked the night shift at a local sock warehouse, cataloguing the daily surplus of foot apparel. She developed a work friendship with her coworker Jo-Beth, who loved to tell bizarre stories about boating adventures and a variety of odd jobs. It helped pass the dull hours at work. One night, while packing hosiery, Jo-Beth worked up the courage to ask Ember out on a date. Ember, however, wasn't romantically interested because Jo-Beth had an unpleasantly oily complexion and lived in a tent. Also, Ember wasn't a lesbian.

Nevertheless, Jo-Beth convinced her to go out just one time on a day cruise. Although Ember didn't like boats or sex with women, she found herself enjoying her time on the water. Jo-Beth figured that Ember's newfound appreciation of boats might have opened her up to other new possibilities and went in for a kiss. Ember didn't want to be rude, so she let the kiss happen.

This gave Jo-Beth an excess of false hope, and she continued to pursue Ember to no avail. Ember would politely deny each time, never getting to the root of the problem. Eventually, Ember quit her job at the sock warehouse to get away from Jo-Beth when she could have simply confronted the situation.

Honestly, Ember was a bit of a wimp. But like a lot of people, she sucks at confrontation. Not every situation requires a candid approach, but when you need to tell someone you don't like them things get much more awkward if you avoid it.

Be Honest, But Don't Be a Dick

If you don't like someone romantically (or otherwise), you have to tell them clearly or they'll find any and all glimmers of hope in your wishy-washy wording. Although such statements may seem harsh at times, you can communicate clearly without turning into an asshole.

DO THIS: I'm not interested in you romantically.
DON'T DO THIS: I don't think we should date OR I can't go out with you.

When you say, "I don't think we can" or "I can't" you give a passive message with an unclear motivation. This leaves open the possibility that a fixable problem exists that your romantic suitor can solve. When you say you're not interested (romantically), however, you make your feelings clear. They can still ask why, but so long as you continue to make definitive statements they can't do much to change the reality you present. Of course, simply stating, "I don't want a relationship with you" or "I'm not interested in you romantically" comes off a little harsh. You can soften the blow with the tone of your voice and a little extra explanation:

I still like you, but I just don't want a romantic relationship with you.

When you say this, you will hurt the former friend. You can't get around this uncomfortable reality. That said, the pain will heal faster if you don't leave any room for interpretation and let them know they need to move on. When you're vague, people struggle to find that elusive thing we all want in our failed relationships: closure. Be kind, but be direct. In the end, it's better for everyone.


You can find more awkward advice from Adam Dachis and Erica Elson in their book, the Awkward Human Survival Guide, on their blog, and their podcast.