Q: There’s a guy I’m friends with, and I know he likes me, but I don’t like him in that way. He’s a really nice guy, and I don’t want to hurt him. How can I let him know I’m not interested in a relationship without hurting his feelings?
Ah, unrequited love. As Charlie Brown so eloquently pointed out, not all love will be returned. In other words, all love involves risk. That cosmic reality trickles down to the world of crushes too. Any time a guy or girl has feelings for someone else, they automatically risk rejection, loss, jealousy, misunderstanding, hurt feelings and the eventual end of that relationship. As if that isn’t bad enough, all love also involves pain. From mild discomfort to heart-wrenching devastation, loving opens our hearts, and when they’re open, they’re vulnerable to possible hurt. We know this. We’ve experienced this. We don’t wish this kind of pain on our worst enemy, let alone the nice guy who actually thinks we’re amazing.
[Sidenote: Um…WHY IN THE WORLD do we humans torture ourselves like this? Valid question. It’s quite possible we’re crazy, but I suspect there are other reasons. Other Reason #1: God made us with a capacity and desire for love. Other Reason #2: The sheer delight of true love (usually) outweighs the dismal downsides of opening your heart to someone.]
So here’s the short (unfortunate) answer to your question: There’s no way to let a guy know you don’t return his feelings without causing him pain. There just isn’t. He likes you, and knowing that you don’t like him back—even if you are the picture of sweetness when you let him know—is going to feel like lemon juice in a paper cut. Or a piano being dropped on his head, depending on how long he has been crushing on you. (Just like it would hurt you or me, if the Ugg were on the other foot.) The good news is that there are ways to make the pain less dramatic for this nice guy, and as God’s girl you have the opportunity (and responsibility) to be as graceful and kind as you can (see Romans 12:18, Philippians 2:3-4, and Ephesians 4:32).
So let’s talk about how to be kind, ’cause it’s not how most of us girls think. First when turning a guy down, here are three things not to do:
- Don’t ignore he ever said anything and pretend he and his big feelings for you will magically go away.
- Don’t be so gentle that you leave room for his heart to cling to hope that you actually do like him, or would if he tried harder to be what you want.
- Don’t tell him you’re not into him “that way” but then treat him extra nice to sooth his wounded feelings. (Can you say mixed signals?)
On the other hand:
- Do make sure you’re information is accurate. If you heard it from so-and-so who heard it from her brother, then wait until you actually have to address it (like when he tells you his feelings, or it becomes too awkward to ignore).
- Do let him know that you’re flattered that he thinks so highly of you.
- Do respect him enough to tell him the truth. I know it sounds crazy, but shooting straight with him preserves his dignity. If he has gathered up the courage to tell you his feelings (that takes guts!), he deserves a straightforward response from you.
- If he’s a close friend, do let him know that you’d still like to be friends, but that you understand if he needs some time or distance to move on. This is one of the suckiest parts of guy/girl friendships, sis, but unfortunately, it’s rare to be able to go back to being “just friends” once the “like” line is crossed. Be understanding if he needs space.
Whether he’s a good friend or casual acquaintance, when he hears that you don’t return his feelings, his peanut butter may resemble Vegemite for a while. But if you tell the truth in a firm, kind way, he’ll recover much more quickly than if you string him on for fear of hurting him. Ironically, telling him straight up is the kindest thing you can do.