In the last episode, Jill Cohen, Stephanie McHugh, and Peter McGraw talked about how many solos are not interested in dating – for now or forever. They discussed the other remarkable things that can be done instead of dating and how to navigate a world that expects you to be dating. There was to be bonus material in that episode, where they spoke about how to turn down a date. They talked so much that Peter decided to make a separate episode, and here it is.
Listen to Episode #159 here
How To Turn Down A Date
Welcome back. In the previous episode, I spoke with Jill Cohen and Stephanie McHugh about how many solos are not interested in dating for now or forever. We talked about other remarkable things that could be done instead of dating, and how to navigate a world that expects you to be dating. As part of that taping, we spoke about how to turn down a date. I expected that to be bonus material, but we talked for so long that I decided to make it a separate episode. Here it is. Please welcome back Jill and Stephanie. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.
We’re back to the How to Not Go on a Date episode. Jill is still here. Stephanie is still here. We want to talk a little bit about how to turn down a date. I have a request for the two of you, and that is how to turn down a date with integrity because you could lie.
I got a boyfriend.
That’s the classic one, “I’m seeing someone.” I get it. That’s easy. Sometimes, that doesn’t stop them. I talk about living with integrity. That means being honest, reliable, and so on. That’s my request. It is that it’s with integrity. How do you want to do this? Do you want to roleplay this? Do you want to ask someone out?
Throw that at us. Why don’t you, Peter?
Stephanie, you’re great. Would you like to go out sometime?
I’m making eye contact. I ask some of my friends, “Look them authentically and kindly in the eyes so they see you appreciate them asking. You see them, not dismissing them.” That’s the context behind it.
The advice is about intentionality.
She would say, “Make eye contact.” I’m going with hers because I like it better than mine. I’m like, “I’m seeing seventeen people right now. I’m tired. I’m masturbating too. I am exhausted and chaffed.” She gave me this advice and I love it. She said, “No,” and then she would lean in and touch their arm, “Thank you,” with eye contact. It’s a firm no. I am interested to hear what you have to say because I had another friend tell me that men like firm. Don’t be, “I appreciate it, but I’m not right now looking for that.” It’s like, “No, but thank you. I appreciate that.”
I want yes or no.
My public service announcement is “maybe” means no. If you get a maybe, it’s a no. In general, I love people who have good boundaries. I was talking about this. I was reminiscing about the time I spent in Hollywood. I was going to the Hollywood Equinox. There was this woman who would workout there with a trainer. She was a total badass. She was interesting-looking and had some swagger. I was drawn to her, but it’s a gym, so I was like, “I’m not going to talk to you. It’s not the place for it.”
I then saw her on a dating app. I was like, “Here’s my chance.” I swiped right and we matched. I was like, “Here we go.” We got on the phone. She was a Kiwi. She had this great accent. She had this cool career. We went out to dinner at the Dresden in Los Feliz. It’s this old-school LA institution. We had a lovely time. It was a vivacious conversation. She has this incredible story and so on. I offered to drive her home because we were heading back to the same neighborhood. She had Uber there. She said yes. I drove her to her place. I had a great time. She walked into her house.
Immediately, I got a text message from her. I don’t even know if I had driven away yet. It was this incredibly thoughtful text message. She said, “Thank you so much for the evening. I had a great time. You’re an interesting man, but unfortunately, I don’t think there’s good potential for romance between us,” or something like that. She was like, “I would like to keep in touch with you. I’d like to have you involved in my life in some way.” I wrote back, “Thank you so much for telling me. I also had a great time. I would love to stay in touch.”
We are still friends. She just sent me a text the other day. She said, “You’re all over my Google newsfeed,” because there was an article about my work that had come out. I was like, “Google knows we’re friends.” We were like, “I was thinking about those days in Hollywood before the pandemic, etc.” She set a firm boundary. She was complimentary. I was like, “Perfect.” I never had to ask her again where she’d be like, “I’m busy,” or whatever and all this stuff. It was very clear.
Jill, you’re great. Would you like to go out sometime?
I didn’t come up with an answer for this situation.
What situation did you come up with?
The answer I came up with for this question is it depends on the scenario. Is this someone who you’ve gone out with once or twice? Have you slept with them? Is this someone from work? Is this someone you’re in a relationship with that you want to end? Are we breaking up?
I thought this is turning down a date. We’re trying to get things rolling.
For it to have integrity, the answer is it does depend on the situation. The true and correct answer might be different depending on the situation that you’re in. I think about it in terms of let’s say it’s someone you’ve gone on a date with once. This happens a lot. You go out on a date with somebody, like with your Kiwi friend. Something that I’ve fallen back on that is true so it feels like a very authentic answer for that situation is that it’s not a match.
You’re looking for a match when you date somebody. They don’t have to have saved the world, cured cancer, be the most perfect ten, a bodybuilder, a comedian, and all that. Do they match you? That’s a bit rare. You don’t have to go into a super amount of detail. It’s nothing wrong with that person. You’re not pointing out any deficiencies. You’re pointing out how you feel about the potential for the two of you to hit it off. I loved that because there’s no arguing with it. At its core, it’s not insulting. Something I’ve said many times is, “Thank you so much for asking. It was great to meet you. I had a great time, but I don’t see us as a match.”
I use the C word.
I do that too.
That’s a good one.
I’ve had it used on me too. It’s true.
Chemistry is a big umbrella term for lots of things.
Everybody knows they want it
You need it. It’s hard to manufacture.
Je ne sais quoi.
They’re like, “It’s not the right chemistry.” How do you argue against that?
Can I provide a tip about the rare case when you say, “I had a good time with you, but I don’t feel like there’s the right chemistry?” We should be talking about how a lot of the time, this is happening via text. Texting has changed the game a lot. The good thing about texting is it gives you time to get it right. The bad thing is it doesn’t get toned very well in a way that’s like a call or a face-to-face, making eye contact, being warm, and so on.
I could think of two situations where I said, “I don’t want to see you again,” or “No, thank you.” I was like, “I don’t think it’s the right match or right chemistry, but thank you.” I get, “Help me understand why.” In both cases, the reason underlying the chemistry was going to be a difficult conversation. These are cases I recall that I decided to do it. I said, “Can we talk on the phone?”
That’s smart. That’s good.
The first one is a long time ago. This was many years ago. I still remember it. I still remember where I was when I had this conversation because it was incredibly intimidating. I said, “You’re attractive. You’re incredibly sexy, smart, and fun, but you lack a gentleness that I find appealing in someone I date.” This person was aggressive. Some people would love this kind of personality, but it didn’t fit me. I said, “I’m hesitant to say that to you because I don’t want to hurt your feelings about it.”
“I don’t want you to think that you need to change.”
That’s right. It’s something that I need a little more softness in my relationship. What was incredible about her was despite her lack of softness, she was wonderful about it. She was appreciative that I was honest with her about this. It was clear to her that we weren’t going to be a good match. She thanked me for telling her this. It de-escalated a situation that was starting to get combative, in a sense.
My perception, whether it’s right or wrong, is men appreciate that clear cut and women might not. They might want to make a case for, “Why can’t we be?” to continue going. It didn’t. It sounds like it worked out nicely then.
It ended up being a good thing. If I recall correctly, she ended up sending me an email six weeks later thanking me again for it. It caused her to reflect, think, and so on. That was intimidating. It was a scary thing to do because I want to be kind to people. Do you want to hear the other one or do you have a response?
I have a somewhat similar situation. Here’s what I think about that. I have been in many situations on both ends of that where I’ve wanted to know what it was because maybe I thought the chemistry was there. It’s not that there was something wrong with me, but that was missing for them that it didn’t add up for them or it didn’t add up to chemistry.
It has also been asked of me when someone else felt it. I feel like depending on how long you’ve invested and how many dates you’ve invested with this person, you never have to explain yourself. That’s a big thing. You can make your choice and you don’t have to explain. I felt more compelled to when it’s someone I’ve spent more time with.
I do feel like even though we say, “It’s chemistry. It’s this feeling,” if we all dig deep enough and look enough, we can figure out why. We can figure out what it is. There’s a reason behind the chemistry. It’s like what you said about this woman. It was a gentleness that you crave, enjoy, and appreciate in somebody. That’s why even though you like this person, you didn’t feel that extra feeling.
If I was living in a new way as a person back then, I might have had a different type of relationship with her. Since you’re sizing someone up to be a girlfriend, she wasn’t right for the full job description. I could have imagined where I’m like, “I like spending time with you,” and we go out on a date every so often. The gentleness mattered less because we were in New York City having fun doing all this stuff.
I will say I had a lot more energy for this twenty years ago. If someone asked me, I’d be more willing to give a response because I’m a little more tired of it at this point. I feel refreshingly less obligated to explain it if it’s someone who has invested some time in me and I’ve invested some time in them. Back when I did have more energy for it, I remember saying to myself, “I knew exactly why I didn’t want to date this guy.” It all adds up to it’s not a match, but there were some very specific reasons behind it. He asked for it.
You were like, “Before I begin, I want to say you asked for this.”
I did. I laid some ground rules. I said, “First of all, the only reason I’m telling is that you’re asking. This is not an invitation to debate it. This is not a negotiation. You’re asking for some information about why I feel the way I feel and I’m going to give it to you.” I also said to him, “I also realized I’m not right in this situation and you’re wrong. This is just how I feel. This is all Jill. There are a million people out there and I’m just one person in a sea of all these people. Please don’t take this as any indication that you need to do anything differently.” I laid some ground rules before I told him.
I’m dying to know what it was.
In a nutshell, if I could explain it, he was a lot more woo-woo. I don’t want to say this in a judgmental way because it’s perfectly fine, but the best way I can explain it is he was a guy who was super into yoga, Burning Man, manifesting, crystals, and that kind of stuff. That’s great.
Kym Terribile would love this dude.
On the dating site, it said something like, “What do you enjoy?” He said, “I enjoy being in my body.” My response is, “Of course, where else are you going to be?” I’m super both-feet-on-the-ground, practical, and pragmatic. I remember saying that to him in my explanation. I said, “I bristled at your answer to that question because my response is, ‘Where else are you going to be but in your body?’ I don’t think we would align that way. I would wind up feeling irritated in some of our conversations because your way of looking at the world doesn’t line up with mine. There would be more discord than harmony.”
What a great phrase. That was a good turn of phrase.
When you were both being authentic too.
There would be more discord than harmony. I said, “In my relationships, I want more harmony than discord.” That was the main gist of it.
I want to ask how he took it because what we’re assuming is a high-integrity person receiving. We had an episode on ghosting, which explored this sadly pervasive phenomenon. There is a member of the SOLO community who is also someone who has participated in the show a lot, Amy Gahran. She has been a tremendous resource for me in terms of providing me with language and perspective by which to understand this. I have a great appreciation for her. She sent me a note about some things that we missed about why people ghost. One of them was fear.
Especially in a heteronormative situation, if you’re a woman and you turn a man down, especially via text, even if you do it kindly, he may explode in rage and be vile. You have that happen enough, and then it becomes not worth it to do this so you disengage. It’s normative enough that you can justify it and so on. I’m curious. How did that land with him?
He took it well. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he thanked me. We simply parted ways and didn’t see each other again. I wasn’t afraid, so I don’t think he said anything terrible or exploded. It went well. Amy’s point is a good one that somewhere in between ghosting and going into a huge explanation, there’s a nice middle ground that you would hope that everyone could come to terms with because, in dating, people are trying to find matches. If you do it with integrity and kindness and remember, “There’s a real human being on the other end of this telephone,” then hopefully, that would inform the way you deliver the news and the way you receive it.
I’ve had that. I was going to bring it up. I have gone on a date where I met someone online and then we met. Five minutes in, I thought, “This is a no. He makes me uncomfortable.” The people-pleaser in me would’ve maybe tried to make it work a little bit or try to be authentic. I’m like, “Maybe I’ll say it in person.” I tried to end it after the first drink like, “I had a great time.” He’s like, “Let’s keep hanging out. Why do you have to go?”
I thought, “He’s not even picking up on social cues, so I’m going with whatever he wants until I can physically get away from him, and then I’ll send him a text.”
You maintained your sense of safety.
I’m like, “Physically, I’m getting a vibe that we’ll just ride this out until I can get away, and then I’ll send him the text.” I did say, “Let’s go out again,” but I did not feel comfortable.
It’s about reading the situation.
That’s where an integrity breach is perfectly okay to do. It’s when you’re using it to maintain it for your safety.
I want to do a little PSA here. This came up in the community discussion. I’m preparing an episode on platonic friendships. One of the things that come up for heterosexuals is having opposite-sex friends, how you navigate that, and so on. One of the community members mentioned that she has a male friend. He has three times expressed an interest. I don’t remember if it was dating, sex, or whatever it is. He was making it romantic or intimate in some way. I want to say that’s too many times.
It’s fine if you have a friend and you’re attracted to the person to say, “Have you ever thought about this in another way? Would you be interested in friends with benefits or going out on a date?” Probably, you’re caveating it like, “If you say no, just know that’s not going to affect things in any way. I’m having some feelings and I would regret not saying something.”
If the person says, “You’re great, but I don’t think we have that kind of chemistry,” that’s it. There’s no like, “Let me try it again later. Maybe she changes her mind,” or, “Maybe he changes his mind.” If they change their mind, they’ll tell you. This is especially the case with men who receive the wrong message, which is to convince, cajole, court, and that kind of thing. That rarely works. It’s mostly the person who is into you or they’re not into you. You can only make it worse and you can rarely make it better. If you ask someone out and they say no, then you never ask them out again unless they open the door again.
You’re saying, “People, stop giving us a reason to need to have this conversation that we’re having right now.”
That stuff turns people into stalkers. It makes people uncomfortable. They’re like, “Why are you sending flowers to my house?”
I would say as a way of trying to change their mind, it goes the opposite. I’m surprised she’s still friends with him.
There are a bunch of reasons, but if I could give him a friendly note. It would be, “Stop asking.”
It’s not going to work.
I have to tell you the other story.
That one didn’t go quite as well. I met a woman on an app. We had not yet met, but we were texting and planning. She sent me a picture. There’s a whole class of people who are into sending pictures to each other. I’m not a big-picture sender. I do it on occasion, but it’s not my go-to thing. I’m not a big selfie guy or anything. I don’t mind receiving photos. I rarely solicit them. This is any type of photo, not just the naughty ones. She sent me a photo and said, “This is me at work today,” and that was a lie. I know it wasn’t true because I had seen the photo before as part of her profile.
She didn’t keep her story straight. That’s interesting.
It’s a white lie. It’s a modest lie, but it was a lie because we had not matched that day. She had not put together her profile that day. I subsequently said, “I don’t think we should see each other,” and she wanted to know why. I had never talked to her before. I was like, “Here we go.” I said, “Do you mind if we talk on the phone?”
I called her and said, “I’m sure this was innocuous in your eyes, but I have a standard by which I expect the people in my life to be honest with me. When you said that, it didn’t make me feel good. I thought we’re probably not the right match.” She was worried that she wasn’t pretty enough in the photo. I was like, “You’re attractive.” It didn’t quite click that it was the principle of it all. She had thought I didn’t find her attractive in the picture and that’s why I was turning the date down.
That didn’t matter to you at all.
Not at all. I still felt like it was the right thing to do.
Did she take it okay?
She was fine. She misunderstood it, so I had to reinforce it, and then it ended. I have a couple of these. Are you ready?
“Thanks so much, Jill. That’s very kind of you. I rarely get asked out, but I’m not currently dating. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of other interests.” This is like, “I’m flattered but I’m not dating at the moment,” or “That sounds fun. I’m not dating right now, but if my circumstance changes, I’ll reach out.” This is an interesting one. It would be something like, “I’m not dating right now, but you seem interesting. I’d love to get to know you outside of a romantic context. Could we hang out for coffee sometime?”
I like that.
You should want to.
That’s if you really want to.
A lot of people will be like, “No, thanks,” because they want romance. They want intimacy. They’re not looking to expand their friendship.
I’ve done a version of that. I’ve said something to the effect of When I thought it would be nice to have this person in my life as a friend. I’ve said something to the effect of, “Thank you so much. I had a great time. I don’t see us as having romantic potential. I don’t see us as a match, but I would like to be friends with you. However, I realize we met on a dating website. I realize that might not be what you’re looking for. I’ll leave it up to you. If you’d like to hang out, go skiing or have coffee, I would love to do that, but I understand if you don’t.”
That’s great. That’s well done. What you’re saying is, “I’m not using this as a nice way to let you down.”
It’s the fact that you say, “I know we met on a dating app, so if you don’t want to, it’s okay.” It was good.
Do you have more stuff?
No, but thank you.
You’re a quick learner.
I draw the line at seventeen people. I can’t do eighteen.
To recap, what I hear us saying is having this personal connection matters. Tone, warmth, kindness, being appreciative, and recognizing all matter. Also, it’s hard to ask someone out. It’s a vulnerable thing to do. It’s keeping that in mind to say, “That’s very kind of you. Thank you for thinking of me. I’m flattered.” Language like that matters, but also being firm.
You’re clear and you let them down, but you let them down easy.
It’s like, “No, thank you. This is not the right fit for me. I’m not interested in dating.” The beautiful thing is there are an infinite number of ways to be honest. You can pick the right one for that situation.
You can disclose as much or as little as you feel right at that moment.
The last thing I would say is to the degree that you can trust your instincts and rely on your instincts with regard to the integrity of the other person and your own personal safety physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Do what you need to navigate that situation if you feel like a no is going to be a threatening situation.
Part of me is thinking, “Don’t make that a cop-out for not having an uncomfortable conversation. Don’t ignore that little spidey sense that says, “I don’t feel comfortable physically in this, but if I don’t feel comfortable saying the words, then take a deep breath, still look them in the eye, and say it.”
That was fun.
Stephanie and Jill, as always, thank you so much.
Thank you, Peter
- episode – Ghosting and Breakups
About Jill Cohen
A travelling ER and tele nurse, Jill Cohen grew up in Miami, attended Emory University, received a Masters in English from the University of Colorado and currently resides in Boulder.