Welcome to the very first installment of Ask Gayle, our new Wednesday column where New York Times bestselling author Gayle Forman answers fan questions about life, love, and everything in between! (Submit a question anonymously via our Ask box.) This week’s question is:
What’s the kindest way to tell someone you don’t have romantic feelings for him?
This may be one of the least comfortable conversations in human history. It sucks for all parties: the rejecter and the rejectee. Somehow, I think it was all more civilized in first grade when we did it like this:
Before I tell you what to do, come with me into my time machine. It’s 1987. Billy Idol is on the radio, and one of my best friends is a guy we’ll call Alex. Alex and I hang out all the time. He helps me with math. We talk about going to senior prom together, me in a flapper dress, him in gangster duds. But it’s clearly platonic. We are buds.
Before I leave for winter break, Alex gives me an envelope, marked Do Not Open Until On Plane. Ignoring his instructions, I open the letter as soon as he leaves my house. It’s a declaration of love. A really nice, really graphic, really sappy one. It turns my stomach—and not in the good way.
Two weeks later, back at school, it all gets very awkward. I ask Alex if we can just stay friends. Apparently not. Pretty soon, he turns cold and sort of mean. Needless to say, there is no prom.
I wish Alex was an anomaly here, but I suspect that’s not the case. But this is an advice column and we have no time for suspicion. We need hard fact. We need experts! Like men. Who once were boys in high school. Because I work hard for you, I found these Men. And then I asked them this:
Back in high school, if you told a girl you were friends with that you had romantic feelings for her, and she told you she wasn’t that into you, what would you do?
Behold, the results. In pie chart. (I made you guys a pie, of sorts!)
So 50 percent said they’d stay your friend, which is encouraging! About 37 percent said they’d do what Alex did. And 17 percent said they’d try harder.
So maybe it all comes down to the guy. Maybe Alex just was a 37 percenter.
Or maybe I might’ve handled it better, by not taking advantage of that two-week vacation to hide from Alex and in doing so let us both stew in hopes and fears. Instead, I might’ve immediately told him that I didn’t return his feelings.
Because really, the answer to this question lies in the asking. What’s the kindest way to tell someone…? Be kind, for one. And tell, in person, not via email or text (unless, of course, you get a do-you-like-me? note). Try to be succinct. This is going to hurt no matter how you couch it so avoid accessorizing your rejection with excuses: I like someone else, I don’t want to get involved with anyone right now. Nope, keep it simple: “I’m really flattered that you feel that way about me, but I don’t feel that way about you.”
Just be clear. And be kind. Actually, if you are clear and kind no matter who you’re dealing with, you’ll pretty much always come out okay.
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