What do you say to someone you’ve been on one or two casual dates with but no longer want to see? As anyone who has been in that situation knows, it’s hard to find the words. It’s too early to really call it a “breakup”; yet no matter how kindly you frame it, it’s likely to be taken as a rejection.
Some people will assemble a committee of friends to compose the perfect kiss-off text. Others pad their message with so many compliments that the other person doesn’t realize they’ve been dumped.
But the worst response, dating coaches and psychologists agree, is also probably the most common: Ghosting. Just dropping the thread of the conversation, and not responding to texts or calls, is a jerk move, no matter how uncomfortable you feel letting someone down.
“If you want to do the right thing, just be clear that you’re not interested,” says Jennifer Rhodes, a psychologist who specializes in relationships. “That whole fear of saying the wrong thing is not helpful to other people.”
How you say it exactly will depend on you and your date’s personalities, how close you’ve gotten in the time you’ve spent together, and the tone you’ve set for this relationship. But there are a few basic guidelines according to Carmelia Ray, a dating coach and host of Mom vs. Matchmaker, a competitive dating show on Myx TV.
“You want to be concise and clear, to the point that the person who receives the message is like ‘okay, she’s not interested,’” Ray says. “Sometimes people try to pad reality, but people need to understand that if you’re dating, you’re going to be let down. You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.”
If someone just isn’t getting the message, dating coach Rachel DeAlto adds, it’s okay to use the occasional white lie—for example, that you’ve started seeing someone else exclusively. “One thing I’ve seen, especially with women, is that when they say they’re not interested, guys can get aggressive,” DeAlto says. “I don’t encourage lying, but if someone’s getting aggressive or hurt or defensive, it can save you.”
So before you ghost again, practice applying the experts’ advice by dumping our Bad Date Bot. Don’t worry—if you say the wrong thing, you won’t hurt its feelings. And there’s more advice from our panel of experts built into each scenario.
It’s Breakup Week at Quartz! Here are more stories on breakups, breaking up, and heartbreak:
Breakups suck, but the word “breakup” is wonderful
Love, breakups, and the language of postmodern relationships
A definitive guide to the best breakup movies since 1970