“No” can be nice: How to let a guy down gently

As I walked through the art supply room, I heard a familiar voice.

“There she is!”

I turned around to face three of my best friends. “Kell, we need to go to your locker.”

“Why?” I asked.

“We just do,” one of them said. “It’s really important.”

Moments later, we were standing by my locker. I spun the numbers in the combination, lifted the latch, and opened it.

A folded piece of notebook paper stuck out from beneath my calendar. Surprised, excited, and shocked, I opened opened it and read the neatly printed letters: 

Dear Kelly,

Roses are red,

Twizzlers are too.

Though I don’t have any.

But I’d love to go to Prom with you.

*John Bryant

(Translated from cursive.)

The fateful note, tucked in my diary for all these years.

I tucked the note in my diary, and I found it after all these years.

I wasn’t sure what “Translated from cursive meant.” Maybe he had written it that way, and it had been too messy. But the rest, I understood perfectly. All at once, I felt exhilarated and disappointed. 

There was a note in my locker! From a boy! Asking me to the Prom! But of all the boys in the school, did it really have to be HIM?

He wasn’t a bad guy – far from it. He was pretty nice, really. I didn’t know him too well, but we had drama class together, and we had a lot of scenes together in the school play. But there was just something about him that I wasn’t completely comfortable with. There was nothing wrong with him – but it just didn’t feel right. 

My family had plans that weekend, so I had an easy out. But even if we hadn’t made plans already, I still wouldn’t have wanted to go with him.

I had to say no. But how was I going to say it without being hurtful? After all, it must have taken a lot of courage to write the note. And on top of that, he had to work up the courage to ask one of my friends where my locker was, so he would slip the note into the right one!

I needed to let him down gently. I got my chance later that day, before drama class.

“John – can I talk to you for a sec? I saw this,” I held up the note. “And I’m very flattered. Thank you very much.” I kept talking, nervous. “But I can’t go. My family is going out of town that weekend. We’re going away for Easter. Sorry . . . and thanks.”

I don’t remember what he said, but I do remember that he looked sad. Really sad.

Of course, I told my mom all about it after school. She helped me find a way to soften the blow. We bought two packs of Twizzlers – one twists, one Pull ‘n’ Peels – and typed a note:


Twizzlers are red,

My eyes are blue.

Thanks for asking me.

It was really sweet of you.

Kellie (with an “ie”)

I gave it to him the next day, and that was that. I’d said “no” without hurting his feelings or damaging his courage.

But it wasn’t over yet.

A month later, I was hanging a magnet in my locker when another piece of paper caught my eye. I opened it.

This time, he was asking me on a date.

How sweet is that?! I thought. There’s nothing like a tender little note to make a girl feel flattered!

But, on the other hand, something in me just couldn’t bring myself to say “yes.”

He’s a fine friend and all, but I just don’t want to date him! I don’t like him that way. What am I supposed to do?

I let him down gently and honestly, but firmly, as a friend.

*  *  *

No matter who’s doing the asking, there’s always something special about being asked on a date.

But sometimes, even though the guy is super nice, you’re just not interested. Sometimes, there’s a clear reason for the disinterest: a big difference of opinion, or the way he eats, or simply not feeling attracted to him.

Other times, it’s harder to figure out. It’s nothing tangible or explainable. It’s just there, and there’s no getting around it. He’s a really nice guy, but, well, he’s just not for you.

At first, you try to drop hints that you’re not interested. Every time he asks, you’ve got something to do.

“I’m meeting with my friends.”

“I have dance practice.”

“I have a lot of homework.”

“I just can’t.”

But soon, you run out of excuses. And besides that, it’s exhausting trying to avoid him! It also takes a lot of emotional energy – energy you’d rather spend on something else.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Listen close, and take this to heart: There’s nothing wrong with saying, “No.”

In fact, there can be a lot that’s right about it.

You are never under any obligation to say, “Yes.”

You are never under any obligation to sit with him at lunch or in class, to talk after school, or to give out your phone number. It’s your life, your time, your number, no matter how persistent and nice he is about it.

You don’t have to give excuses, or find excuses, or avoid him.

You might be thinking, but what if I hurt him?

Rejection hurts, and there’s no escaping it. But rejection doesn’t have to be mean or dramatic. You can say a calm “no” to those good, well-meaning guys while still being your sweet, kind self.

It’s better to give a guy an honest “no” than to lead him on with excuses in the false hope of a “yes.” 

And though it might feel awkward in the moment, it will be a lot less awkward in the long run.

Here are some things you might consider saying:

  • “Thank you so much for asking. It really means a lot, but I’m going to have to say no thank-you.”
  • “You are such a great/nice/thoughtful guy, but I would rather just be friends. Thanks for asking, though!”
  • “Thank you so much, but I’m not interested in dating anybody right now.” (Only use this if you truly don’t want to date for a while. It would be unfair if you said this to him, but then said yes to your crush the very next week!)
  • “I’m really flattered, but I need to be honest and say no thanks. But someone else will be lucky to have you!”

Whatever you say, make sure it’s true, but thoughtful. Be honest, but kind.

You’ll show him respect by being honest. And you’ll show respect to yourself for doing what’s right for you.

(*The name of the high school note-writer has been changed for privacy.)

3 thoughts on ““No” can be nice: How to let a guy down gently

  1. RAnn says:

    You are right, you are’t obligated to go out with anyone. However, as a girl who spent her teenaged years as an outsider looking in, as a young adult I decided that unless I had a really good reason not to say yes (the guy you know will never go away if you say yes once, or a guy you don’t feel safe around), I’d go out with anyone once. I got into a (for me) long-term relationship with a guy I only went out with because of that “rule”. He turned out to be a lot of fun and a really nice guy, even though out life goals were incompatible. Most of the guys I went out with because of this “rule” never asked me out again–they must not have had a much better time than I did–though I never had an awful time with any of those guys.

    • Kellie B. Moore says:

      Thanks so much for reading, and for taking the time to comment and share your story. I’m glad you found something that works for you. Ultimately, I think every girl/woman needs to do what she is comfortable with–if that’s saying “yes” once to give it a try, as you did, then great! But I also don’t think people should feel like they have to say “yes,” or that saying “no” isn’t an option. We need to be comfortable and confident enough to do what works for us, whatever that may be.

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