Are you friends with the people that are part of your romantic history? Or do they all hate you and you don't even know why? If you belong in the second category, you probably don't know how to reject a person without hurting them.
Stories about people who marry their first love or their high school sweetheart are rare. With the help of technology, it's now very common for us to go through a series of relationships before settling down. We might be polyamorous, serial monogamists, while some of us don't mind being single for a long time, enjoying our sexuality through one-night-stands or other friendly agreements. Regardless of the path we choose, all of us will experience rejection at some point in our lives. We fear it, we have nightmares about it, and the anxiety around it stops us from taking necessary risks in our love life.
Sometimes that fear is baseless, but a lot of times it comes from a terrible experience we've had in the past. You know the type: the asshole that doesn't know how to deal with another person's feeling and does a poor job when it's time to end the relationship. We've all had that asshole in our lives, but what we sometimes forget is the fact that we've been that asshole to someone. Think about it: Are you friends with the people that are part of your romantic history? Or do they all hate you, and you don't even know why? If you belong in the second category, you probably don't know how to reject a person without hurting them, or you've done one or more of the next examples. This list is meant to provide alternatives to the problematic ways of rejecting someone.
1. Don't wait until you find someone new
Dating someone you don't like that much while you wait for a better option is just cruel. Assess your feelings and tell them you're not interested as soon as you realize you don't feel strongly about them, not after you've found a person you like more.
2. Break up with them instead of ghosting
I don't have to explain this one. The alternative to ghosting is pretty straightforward: Talk to them. Do it in a clear, direct way. Ghosting is particularly offensive because the "ghost" rejects us and disrespects us at the same time. We might think it's easier to just disappear from someone's life because we think they won't be able to handle the rejection and that they'll react badly. But, in most cases, we're rejecting a mature adult. So just tell them the truth, and the other person will deal with it without having to guess what the hell happened.
3. You don't have to be mean to make them reject you first
Just don't do that to anybody. Why be extra shitty? In what way is it better to pretend to be a horrible date than to face the brief discomfort of the rejection?
4. Don't wait for them to break up with you
Answering their texts, saying yes to their invitations, or being nice yet indifferent as you wait for them to get tired of a relationship that goes on and on but is not truly alive is worse than rejection. you're wasting their time, letting them grow attached and invested when you don't care at all. The best thing to do is to reject them before that happens.
5. Be consistent with what you say online and in person
If you're going to make excuses to stop seeing a person, at least be consistent with what you say. For instance, if you tell someone an excuse to avoid meeting them, then send a tweet about wanting to have a partner or someone to make you company might hurt the other person. It's not a crime, but we should try harder, or even better, tell the truth.
6. Accept your responsibility
One of the worst things you can do is to blame the other person. Saying "It's not you, it's me" is a cliché, but it comes from the right place: the fact that the person is not right for us because of our personality and history, not because that person isn't "right" in general. Don't point out their flaws or what they did wrong. Don't give them a negative review. Feedback is okay after a job interview, not after a date.
7. Be realistic
Don't make a big deal out of a breakup or rejecting someone. I'm sure you're great, but don't flatter yourself. Rejection doesn't ruin lives. People can move on. They probably don't even care that much. It's nice to show that you care, but don't act like you're expecting them to cry for hours or have a breakdown.
8. Don't be cynical
Have you ever met a mean and inconsiderate person that justifies their shitty attitude by saying, "That's just the way I am and you have to accept it"? Don't be that person. Nobody has to accept your nonsense. Just be nice to the other.
9. Stick to your decision
Rejecting someone and then wanting them back when you're feeling lonely, going back and forth, being indecisive and thinking they'll always be there is most likely to send confusing signals. Don't treat people like toys. Don't take advantage of their affection for you and end things for good. That will help you both move on.
10. Don't blame others outside the relationship
You might use your family, your work, your ex, your friends, your situation, but just don't do it. Others can't control your life and your decisions. Accept the responsibility because the other person will know that you're lying anyway.
Relationships are messy, especially when they're ending. That's why, when we think about our romantic history, we always find mistakes and things we could have done better. The truth is that every relationship is practice for the next one. The best thing we can do is take our experiences, use what we've learned, and try to be better next time.
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Illustrations by Mr. Tokki