Just Say No: Dating Advice for Young Women


Sometimes you have to declare where you stand. This might not be easy for you. Saying unambiguously what you do or don’t want requires being open. Saying yes or no to anything leaves you vulnerable. If you can’t get comfortable with that, things are going to be tougher for you than necessary.

This is particularly true in the arena of dating and relationships. Imagine some guy asks you for a date. He’s done his part. He approached you, and asked for what he wanted. If he’s particularly on top of things, he may even have made a plan.

By asking, he puts you on the spot. You have to accept or decline. If he strikes you as good enough to spend an evening with, saying yes is easy. If he’s got some problems and, let’s face it, most guys who ask are going to have some problems, you may have to say no. If you have a healthy self-respect, you’re going to have to say no at least once in a while.

Too many women shirk this responsibility. They hem and haw. They say yes and then flake. Sometimes they want to say no, but agree to the date anyway. They go out with the guy and punish him for asking in the first place by passive-aggressively showing their resentment.

Part of the appeal of the hang-out and hook-up culture now in place is that it lets everybody off the hook. He doesn’t have to ask. You don’t have to give a clear answer. Things just kind of happen.

If we are going to have the revival of dating we need, single people, including you, are going to have to accept responsibility for their roles in the system. For you, that means learning to decline a date well.

Women whose “no’s” aren’t clear often say they prefer being ambiguous to hurting a guy’s feelings. That may be true, but behind it lurks another more self-centered concern: you don’t want to think of yourself as the kind of person who judges whether men are good enough for you. You don’t want to become aware of your own standards. You don’t want him to be mad at you.

Let’s take these two impulses, not wanting to see yourself as judging him and not wanting to hurt his feelings, one at a time.

First, accept that you are the kind of person who makes judgments about men. You do it every day, all day long. It’s part of your nature. The emphasis on non-judgementalism in our society has messed you up, set you at war with yourself. You have to make judgments about the people you invest in, it’s part of being an adult.

The objective is not to forswear all judgments, but to judge with wisdom and with mercy. Base your judgments on his character rather than on passing qualities. You are looking for a rock, not some beautiful but inwardly frail edifice ready to give way with the slightest wind.

When you decide a guy doesn’t measure up to your standards, be merciful. Understand that everyone is in a growth process. Just because he falls below whatever line you’ve drawn doesn’t mean he’s worthless or inadequate. It just means he isn’t right for you. Temper your judgments with humility.

As far as not wanting to hurt his feelings and not wanting him to be mad at you, well, that’s his problem. A guy whose feelings are inordinately hurt by your declining a date has some issues to work out. A healthy, together guy might be disappointed, but here’s what he will do instead of moping: ask some other girl out. A guy who’s going to go back to his room and wet his Xbox controller with tears of grief is just confirming that you were right to turn him down.

What matters here it that you understand that you have every right to say no for whatever reason you choose, though some reasons are better than others. Because you have the freedom to say no, you have the responsibility to do so directly, wisely and mercifully.

So, given these three necessary values, directness, wisdom and mercy, how do you decline a date well?

However you do it, it needs to contain the word “no.” That may sound obvious, but it’s not to a lot of women. If you mean “no”, men are not going to hear it unless you say it.

You don’t have to be blunt. You can say, “Thank you for the invitation, but no.” You can say, “No, that’s not right for me. Thank you.” Any construction that makes your refusal of the invitation crystal clear while also showing gratitude and appreciation is good. Don’t soften the rejection by implying you might change your mind in the future or that you could otherwise be persuaded to alter your decision.

If he asks why, you are not required to offer an explanation. And you are free to say as much using a phrase like, “I am not required to offer an explanation.” If he asks again, walk away. If you are inclined to give an explanation, then offer him your assessment in a way that, again, emphasizes the values of directness, wisdom and mercy.

The goal here is for you to establish a happy family. Whether that happens or not depends on whether the people involved submit to the process of building their characters. When you avoid giving direct answers to direct questions, you are rebelling against that process. When you muster the courage to be honest enough to give a direct “no” even if doing so reveals something about yourself you don’t like, even if it hurts somebody’s feelings, you lay another brick in the foundation of your character, the foundation of a happy home. In this way, every unequivocal “no” you offer, becomes a “yes” to something better and more lasting down the road.


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7 responses

  1. So much of what you say here is very sound and good in my opinion. A couple of side thoughts. A family with an overbearing authority structure does not encourage a young girl to say no. It is a delicate balance, but children need to be able to express negative feelings, even a little rebellion without being excessively rebuked or punished. Also, girls (or children of both genders) who have been sexually abused have been robbed of their power to say no. It is very hard for them to reclaim it in a healthy way.

  2. Something else to explore: by what standards do girls judge guys these days? Part of the standstill in the dating market is due to inflated expectations on the women’s side. All college girls expect to find a guy who is more successful and probably more educated than they are. Its part of nature.

    But with college attendance reaching 60/40 in favor of women, there will be fewer of these rare men left.

    Women have to consider the idea of “dating down” in order to make things happen. But that goes against all female programming/evolution. It won’t be easy.

    Restoring the balance of college students back to a more equal 50/50 split will only alleviate, not cure this problem.

    I don’t know the answer to the rest.

    • “Women have to consider the idea of “dating down” in order to make things happen. But that goes against all female programming/evolution. It won’t be easy.”

      Bull. Women have always chosen beneath their station and that is why hypergamy had to be instituted in the form of the arranged marriage. Look up the origin of the word if you don’t believe me.

  3. Reasonable advice. But to this day, as a woman, I still have trouble making definitive statements about feelings in the moment. Some of us need time to process decisions. Yes, we may be trying to be nice, but there can be more to it. For example, when I was in high school, a boy I didn’t like asked me to prom. Caught off guard, I said (on the phone) that I’d think about it and get back to him. I was very shy and introverted and I required time to think (and maybe run this by friends). My mother overheard and yelled at me; I couldn’t give such an answer to a boy, it would be hurtful to lead him on then go with someone else later. I was given an ultimatum: call him back and say yes, or stay home and miss the prom altogether. So I agree with Mary Lou — not every young woman is given the confidence or freedom by her family to make her own choices. My mother basically bullied me into accepting a date, rather than trust me to learn the ropes on my own. Obviously I still think about it and the message it sent a 17 year-old about whose happiness was more important. (And yup, I went on the date and was resentful.)

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