wilted purple flowers

—Jaime S.*, University of Waterloo, Ontario

Having someone—especially if it’s a friend—have romantic feelings for you when you don’t feel the same way about them can be extremely tough! On the one hand, you don’t want to hurt their feelings and ruin what you do have, but on the other, you don’t want to lead them on, which can definitely ruin a friendship. So what do you do?

Tell the truth

We know it’s not easy, but the best way to go about rejection is to avoid leading the person on; being direct about your feelings can help make sure that the person isn’t reading anything into your actions or words.

Here’s how

Be as direct and transparent as possible.

Tell them straightforwardly that you’re not interested in them romantically or physically. You can say, “You’re a great friend, but I’m not interested in you as a romantic partner.”

If this is an acquaintance or someone you don’t know too well, rather than a close friend, you can try something like, “I’m flattered that you like me, but I’m not interested in you in that way.”

Set (and keep) the boundary.

After you tell them how you feel, flirting or romantic expressions could lead the person to think that you like them or that they have a chance. Avoid it if you can. Mixed signals are confusing for all of us and could lead to more hurt feelings, difficult conversations, and potentially an irreparable friendship.

Chances are, after letting the person know that you’re not interested, they’ll leave you alone or you’ll go back to being just friends. But if the person continues to pursue you, isn’t listening to you or respecting your wishes, or is making you uncomfortable, reach out to your Title IX office or another student support service for help. In rare cases, the situation could escalate to stalking or unwanted or obsessive attention from this person. Your safety is your top priority.

*Name changed