Building Up and Turning Down

This was never not going to be an awkward conversation girls. As a rule, I don’t really talk about dating and relationships but I was thinking back to a conversation with a friend in which we were joking about methods of shutdown that girls use and it made me realise that among all the myriad of dating and relationship advice (good and bad) that my Christian friends have given, there is one significant aspect which just doesn’t occur to people. Turn to this channel for radio static and tumbleweed.

Which, of course, made me wonder whether any of these relationship blogs and resources have anything to say.

I consulted my good friend Mr Google:

How to let a *Christian* guy down gently.

There was a whole heap of stuff out there from secular sites, everything from get your ex to rough him up to the classic I need to powder my nose, *please be gone when I get back.* But when it came to Christian resources, there were only two results from sources I’d never heard of, one of which was practically secular anyway (so if you know any good articles, blogs, or whatever, please do leave a link in the comments for the benefit of your struggling sisters).

I wondered if it’s something we just don’t talk about (or maybe I’m just clueless as to where the discussion is at) because we don’t want to sound vain in saying that we turned a guy down – as if you were spoilt for options. Or maybe it’s because we have such a high view of relationships in Christian circles in the UK that it is inconceivable why a nice Christian girl would turn down a nice Christian guy.

Who knows.

All I know is that it happens more often than you think. I’ve had conversations with multiple young ladies where they have confided (often with embarrassment) that they have had to let a guy down. I don’t know any of them that didn’t feel just a little heartless doing so but all of them had legitimate reasons and none of them had led the guys on.

Girls, it is perfectly ok to turn a guy away if you have a real reason (it is not ok to lead him on or give him false hope though). Legitimate reasons can be as simple as having no desire to be anything but friends to something as difficult as irreconcilable theological differences.

Yes, you will feel bad about it and he will be hurt but never ever date someone out of guilt or pity because it’s not going to work, it only prolongs and increases the heartbreak the longer you drag it out. It is going to be an awkward situation however well it is handled and he’ll be stung however graciously he accepts your decision but there are a few things you need to consider to make the whole thing as positive as possible.

These are five things that I’ve learned to keep in mind when turning down a godly guy:

Be kind.

If you don’t have many male friends, it may surprise you the anxiety levels and sometimes sleepless nights that go into that clumsy admission of their feelings. Sure, they can laugh it off in hindsight but right here and right now, it can be crippling.

This young man has summoned inordinate amounts of courage to hold his heart in his hand to you. Don’t stab it.

In your dreams is a response that should be reserved only for the most crude and inappropriate chancers that this world has to offer and only if they won’t be frozen out.

It is important to build up your brothers even in the most delicate situations so whatever you do, don’t make fun of him and do not belittle him.

There are two reasons for this, the first being that it can make him feel like a fool for even thinking that he liked someone so mean, and secondly it will be damaging in the future when he finds someone else.

No matter how surprised you are or how crazy the idea sounds to you, for the sake of your brother in Christ, for the sake of the next girl along, and for the sake of gospel witness, do not be unkind.

Be gentle.

A lot of us don’t like change. And so for a guy to admit his feelings can be distressing for us. I’ve been in the situation where it was hard not to be mad at the guy because (I thought) we were doing just fine as friends and it was really hard not to be mad at him for going and ruining it.

Thankfully a significant chunk of my emotions don’t make it to the surface and so it wasn’t a problem but trust me that staying calm is one of the most important steps in being gentle. If you are annoyed, you are more likely to growl.

Again, let me remind you that this young man has just made himself very vulnerable. You need to treat him with great care and compassion. Be firm, yes, you don’t want to give him false hope, but be gentle. Whether or not he becomes your boyfriend, he remains your brother in Christ and so treat him how you’d want any other girl to treat your brothers.

Be truthful.

Don’t talk pants. He has been painfully honest with you. The least you can do is to recognise that and return the favour (kindly and gently). If your reason is genuine but clichéd, elaborate a little.

A bit under a year ago, I had to tell a lovely young man that it just wasn’t a good time. That might sound like it was pulled from The Christian Girl’s Pocketbook of Semi-Spiritual Shutdowns but it was true and I told him some of the reasons why, which I’d like to think made it sound a little less like panicked excuses.

Don’t lie. And if your reason sounds awkwardly clichéd then elaborate a little. It is easier to accept rejection when you understand at least a little of the reasoning behind it.

It’s perfectly ok to say that you are happy just being friends. It’s also fine to admit to him that you didn’t see this coming but I know very few (if any) girls who have been in this situation. I think the finest I’ve ever cut it was half an hour before the conversation came but it had been clear that something was up for a good few weeks beforehand.

Anyway, be graciously truthful. It’s best not to say ‘no but my best friend is head over heels for you.’ Be truthful but don’t be an idiot.

Be encouraging.

Unrequited love is one of the saddest things in the world. There’s an excellent poem by Alexander Pushkin that you should read (you can find it here, I recommend the translation by Babette Deutsch ). It’s so discouraging and if you’ve never experienced that, good.

Try and make it a positive thing. Your friend’s confidence will be knocked by your refusal, even if he is a humble guy. He will be disappointed and it will cross his mind that maybe it is something to do with him.

It’s important that if he goes away feeling like a loser, it’s not your fault. Hopefully he’ll beat himself up less if he knows that you think well, just platonically of him. As an aside, now is probably not the best time to suggest that you have a friend he might get on well with.

You can still build up a guy while turning him down.

Make it a clear no, but don’t make it a harsh one.

Be consistent.

Alright, so you’ve said no and been really good about it. Now be consistent.

There’s no need to act weird around him or avoid him completely, as tempting as that may be, but with his feelings for you out in the open, your relationship has changed whether you like it or not.

Time is one of the most effective aids to recovery so take good care of his feelings because they won’t just disappear overnight. If he needs space, allow him that. That’s probably the healthiest way to go for now. If he wants to remain friends, that’s great but be sensitive and cautious. Be prepared to suggest that it’s not working if you can see that he finds it difficult to be around you. You may have to initiate the distancing.

However things play out, be kind and consistent. There is no need to tell everyone what happened. I usually tell my parents pretty soon afterwards and sometimes a close friend but generally it takes weeks or even months to mention it an even then it’s only to close friends. It is good for at least one family member or close friend to be aware though, it helps with accountability.

Don’t play games, it’s cruel.

So that’s my tuppenceworth…

I think that’s probably all that I want to say. For the most part, it’s just courtesy and common sense.

You’re going to feel bad about it. He’s going to feel bad about it. Just be kind, be gentle, be truthful, be encouraging, and be consistent. It will be hard and it will be awkward. It will change your friendship whether you like it or not but in it all, remember that he is your brother in Christ and treat him as such.

By the way, remember to tell him that you respect the sheer guts he has to even have this conversation with you. Because you really, really should.

We don’t talk about this enough in Christian circles and because of that it can feel wrong to not want to go out with any nice Christian guy that asks. But it’s not. It’s ok.

We need to have this conversation because I don’t want you to find yourself in this (surprisingly common) situation and have no clue what to do. It’s almost as if the church doesn’t believe that it ever happens.

Don’t worry. You aren’t being pig-headed or ungrateful and you aren’t declaring that you want to die a spinster, all you are saying is that right now, you just aren’t interested in a relationship with this particular guy. This advice isn’t exhaustive, it’s just a few thoughts picked up through my experience and mistakes and through the experience and mistakes of those I love (guys and girls).

Graciously embrace the awkward and ride out the difficult emotions that both of you will go through. It will be ok, trust me.

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