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Just say no -- nicely!
Matthew Schneeberger
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June 14, 2007

After 13 years of close friendship, Rajiv Mehta* dropped a bomb on his friend, Janki Sen*.

"Janki, I don't know how to say this, but I think I'm in love with you. Would you consider upgrading to boyfriend/ girlfriend?"

Janki had no idea what to say, or how to react. She had grown up with Rajiv in Mumbai, and the two had been inseparable buddies. Now they were both 23 years old, facing adult life and adult problems. In a move she continues to regret, Janki burst out, "What are you saying, yaar? You're like my brother! I could never date you in a million years! That's just gross."

Before she had time to realise the impact of her words, Rajiv left her flat and slammed the door. Two weeks later, he still hadn't called and wasn't picking up his cell phone.

"I felt so bad," Janki said. "It's as if 13 years of our relationship meant nothing after I rejected him so coldly. We managed to talk a few times over the course of the next few months, but it wasn't the same. Then, he left for New York to do his MBA. We barely speak any more, though I'm pretty sure he's back in India."

One of the most difficult aspects of dating, undoubtedly, is rejecting an unwanted advance -- particularly when you don't wnat to hurt the other person.

What if he/ she is a good friend; how can you preserve the friendship?

What if he/ she a stranger; how can you say no without hurting the person?

What if he/ she makes you uncomfortable; how do you handle it?

What if you find him/ her boring, but really like his/ her sister/ brother?

How can you avoid hurting someone's ego?

"It's too late now," Janki laments, "but I would be ecstatic if I could go back and change everything. First, I would tell him how important his friendship is to me. Second, I would let him know that dating could change the dynamics of our relationship, potentially for the worst. Third, I would make sure he knew he was the most special guy in my life, even if we weren't 'boyfriend/ girlfriend'. That'd be my advice to girls in a similar situation. Don't be so quick to react; remember how powerful your words can be."

According to Chanda Bakshi*, 23, from Mumbai, the best way to handle a stranger is to kill him with kindness. She always makes sure she compliments the person before politely closing the door.

"I always say the same thing: 'I think it's so flattering; you're a great guy! Unfortunately, I just left a tough relationship, and I'm trying to focus on my career.' Never tell them 'some other time', and never give them your number, no matter what!"

But what if someone doesn't take the hint? What if they're a little too forceful?

Nandini Patel*, 25, who lives in New Delhi, says:

"It's possible to be polite, even if he's a total jerk. If the guy isn't taking a hint, just tell him it's sweet of him to be so persistent, but that he really isn't your type. Don't blush and be nervous; just tell it plainly. It always works for me!"

And then there's Rohit Vajhe*, who relates an amusing story from his teenage years:

"I had a classmate who was very interested in me. Problem is; she was so boring and clingy, while her older sister was an absolute bombshell. I did the dumbest thing imaginable. I started going to her flat and leading her on, in the hope of meeting her older sister. It all blew up in my face when word got around school that I was bragging about my plan to get the hottie through her sister. Everyone thought I was a creep for the longest time!"

Shifali Bhatt*, originally from Chennai but now living in Mumbai, says it's important to remember the other person's ego:

"Don't be cruel, that's how the Elvis song goes. If a man is genuinely interested in you, nothing will hurt him more than to be rudely dismissed. I always assure him that the 'problem' is mine, and that many girls would be interested in dating him. I've read that a bad rejection can utterly destroy someone's confidence. It's really unnecessary to be mean."

Obviously, different situations call for different strategies. What's important, however, is to use common sense. When you're rejecting someone, it's not 'all about you'. Try and think of the other person and, like Shifali says, "Don't be cruel."

*Names changed on request

Part II -- When someone breaks your heart...

Have you had such an incident in your life?

Did you have to face rejection? How did you deal with it? How has it affected you? What advice would you give others in a similar situation?

Alternately, did you reject someone? Do you think you handled the situation well? Or do you think you could have been more tactful? Do you regret what happened? Is there a way to say no gently? Is there advice you would like to share with people facing a similar scenario?

Write in and share your experiences with other Get Ahead readers.

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