How to Tell Someone You Just Want to Be Friends

Man and woman having discussion at table.Man and woman having discussion at table.

In most interactions with other people, it’s best to be polite, open-hearted, and positive. We’re taught to be nice to others, says Glamour Magazine advice columnist John Ortved, but when it comes to setting boundaries in relationships, honesty and clarity are most important. Straight talk will be uncomfortable for a minute, but it’s always better than the prolonged discomfort of mixed signals and unrequited love in a relationship. Tell someone you just want to be friends by looking her in the eye and saying just that, whether she's a new acquaintance, an old friend, or an ex-girlfriend.

If You've Only Just Met

If you meet someone new and he asks you out on a date, but you’re not interested, it’s best to decline. Ortved says it’s important to be clear and up front about your intentions. Decline the date politely, but firmly. Saying something like, “Thank you, but no, I’m not interested,” lets him know immediately that your relationship will not be romantic. If you do like this person platonically and want to get to know him as a friend, tell him so clearly, and invite him to do something with a group of people “as friends.”

If You've Always Been Friends

If you have a platonic friend who begins to show a romantic interest in you, and you don’t share that romantic interest, it’s time to re-evaluate your behavior toward her. Have you been unconsciously flirting? Have you been spending almost all of your time with her? Have you been crossing physical boundaries and touching more often? All of these can signal the movement of a platonic friendship into romantic territory, says wellness writer Joan Moran. To maintain a platonic relationship with your friend, stop flirting. Tell her honestly that you don’t have romantic feelings for her, but that you value your friendship and want to continue being friends.

If You're Breaking Up

If you’ve gone on just a few dates and feel that you’re both better off as friends, use the strategy you have for acquaintances. Tell the person clearly that you’re not romantically interested, but that you would like to be friends, and then invite him to do something with a group. If you’re ending a longer relationship, be prepared for a lengthy transition. Tell him that the romantic relationship no longer works for you, but that you value him as a person and hope you can remain friends. Then give him some time, advises Huffington Post editor Brittany Wong. You can’t transition immediately from romantic love to friendship; you have to sort out your feelings first. After at least a couple of months, try hanging out in a platonic situation.

Keeping The Relationship Platonic

According to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, people have six core reasons for choosing to make a relationship platonic: you might not be attracted to that person anymore, your family might disapprove, you might be taking a short break to get space, safeguarding another romantic relationship, pursuing a different romantic interest, or avoiding a problematic romance with this person. Whatever your reasons, once you have clearly communicated your true feelings, it’s important to stay consistent in your behavior toward your friend. If you’re flirting or touching her often, she’s likely to get confused. If you say “I love you” too soon after a breakup, your words might get misconstrued. Maintain clear boundaries, cautions Moran, and steer clear of conversations about sex. If you really want to be friends with someone, you need to treat her like a friend and not a romantic partner.

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About the Author

Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.

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