The Etiquette of Saying No

A Lady’s Guide to The Etiquette of Saying No

Aleks Trkulja

Recently social media was made aware of the issues behind a "polite rejection" in Alecia Lynn Eberhardt’s article, ‘Stop Saying “I have a Boyfriend.”’ She observed the female struggle for male respect in the dating world, and pointed out their inadvertent weakness of resorting to the hypothetical boyfriend excuse.

A follow-up article by Clementine Ford, ‘The only effective way to reject men.’ explained this phenomenon by suggesting that men who really respect women will respect a woman’s decision. It suggest that persistence in asking or “hitting on” stems from a man’s lack of self-esteem, until the presence of male competitor arises, in which case they respect the other male’s presence more than the woman’s decision.

Disregarding gender, when we are rejected it hurts. Previous articles suggest that men have a tendency to persist after rejection, and that this is due to an ingrained social interaction that seems to allow men to "persuade" women. So women are resorting to hypothetical boyfriends because they lack effective strategies to say no and have it respected.

For both men and women, understanding a social situation is different to managing it. Feeling empowered and respected is important, but maintaining this requires a graceful execution.

Irrespective of drunken pick up attempts, let’s focus on attempts that occur earlier in the night, or in any other (sober) context. It’s important to consider the person’s reaction when a legitimate excuse for rejection is required.

Four important aspects that all guys and girls need to adopt when letting someone down easy:

1.     Remain Respectful.

If someone is genuinely interested in you, remind yourself they’re coming from a place of vulnerability and bravery. Being rejected hurts, so being nice (without being condescending) will assist in the acceptance of the rejection. It’s hard to respect someone who doesn’t respect you.

2.     Being Assertive

It is understandable that kindness can often be confused with flirtation.  Take care not to become hostile, defensive or rude as the feelings of rejection can turn into aggression.

Setting clear boundaries to make your lack of interest apparent is essential in avoiding this miscommunication. Men will persist if you give them even the slightest hint of hope. Using words that are confident, kind and clear in your rejection will help avoid the situation turning from harmless flirtation, to your admirer walking away calling you a “frigid bitch”.

3.     Be Empathetic

Respect where this person is coming from, they obviously find you attractive, and even if you’re not interested you can still have a friendly conversation.   Remind yourself that if you were the pursuer, how would you like to be let down? Most likely not by the person making a scene, or butchering your self esteem by laughing or being mean.

4.     Learn how to take a compliment.

Take their interest as a compliment and thank them.  Don’t cower and immediately resort to excuses. Soak up that attention , its good for your self-esteem, and it allows you to thank your admirer for the gift of good intention.


If you remain respectful, empathetic and good-humoured, you can enforce boundaries by saying:

“It was really nice to meet you, but now I am going back to the friends that I came with tonight."

Pursuer: “Well can I at least buy you a drink?”

“No thank you, I’m all set, my friends are buying the next round! And I really want to catch up with them.”


If you can successfully remain positive and respectful toward someone you’re not interested in, they might walk away respecting your decision, rather than your hypothetical boyfriend. And it keeps their dignity in tact when they are treated with respect. You may feel vulnerable put on the spot, but remember the other person is in a far more vulnerable position.