How to tell someone you’re not ready for a relationship

Have you ever met the right person at the wrong time?

I have, and it’s no fun at all.

Not only do you have to let go of your desire for them, you also have to let this person down by telling them you’re just not ready for a relationship.

How do you do that in such a way that you avoid hurting them deeply and also, possibly, leave the door open someday in the future when you are ready?

These are my thoughts on the subject.

Find an appropriate time and place

I have made the mistake of blurting out that I’m not ready for a relationship randomly and it’s hurtful and awful.

You end up realizing that you have behaved impulsively and made the other person feel extremely rejected.

If you know that you’re not ready to date seriously, don’t just “wing it” and tell this person randomly while you’re in line at a restaurant or just after sleeping together.

It’s going to lead to a fight and all sorts of elevated drama.

Instead, choose an appropriate time and place to talk with someone about where things are going.

Be clear, but don’t be cruel.

For example, you could go out for lunch at a quiet place and tell them you’ve been wanting to talk about where things are going and the two of you.

Try not to be overly official or formal, just say you’ve been thinking a lot about the two of you and wanted to talk to him or her.

Alternatives include going for a quiet walk, inviting them over for tea, or speaking in some other kind of fairly low-key and semi-private environment.

If you’re talking about the subject because he or she has brought it up, pause before answering.

If you feel the time or place is likely to lead to a fight or be difficult to communicate, say that you have been thinking about it but maybe you could talk a bit later or in another place and revisit the subject.

Be clear that you’re not avoiding talking about it but just aren’t sure right now in this place is the best situation to get into a talk about your future as a couple.

Be honest

The best way to tell someone you’re not ready for a relationship is to be honest.

If you simply aren’t ready for a relationship in general despite having met someone you care for, it is important to let them know this directly and respectfully.

Telling someone you’re not into something more serious can be difficult, especially if you know they have strong feelings for you.

It’s hard to just be direct and let them know that a relationship is not in the cards for you right now.

But it is like ripping the bandaid off. The more you delay and the slower you go, the more it’s going to hurt and leave a nasty, mangy plasticky mess behind.

If you really just aren’t ready for something serious, the sooner you let them know, the better.

Now, you may not be quite sure how you feel for some time and be seeing how things go or how you react to dating someone more seriously.

But if and when you know that you’re just not ready to get into a relationship, you owe it to the person you’ve been going out with to let them know.

As I said, I’ve made the mistake of having this discussion randomly, including once in the middle of a weekend camping trip with a girl I’d been dating.

That didn’t go well, especially after it started raining really hard and we still had to stay together with her and another friend in a small apartment, with me hoping she wouldn’t murder me over the rude way I’d rejected her.

If you want to avoid this kind of situation and make sure you express yourself clearly but not hurtfully, I really recommend the resource Relationship Hero.

It’s a site with trained love coaches who can walk you through and support you in the right way to tell someone you’re not ready to get serious.

They will make sure you’re connecting with your true self and communicating well with the other person.

It’s really quick to link up with a relationship advisor online and get some really useful advice.

Say what you really mean

This seems obvious, but it’s not.

First off, it’s hard to have a conversation about budding relationships in two main situations:

  • When you love someone and are not sure if they feel the same
  • When you don’t love someone (or even like them very much romantically) and are sure they at least have strong feelings for you

Not wanting a relationship, in general, is one thing.

But not feeling it with a specific person is something else.

The tempting thing to do here can be to tell a white lie and reject someone by just saying you don’t want a relationship in general when really it’s them specifically where you’re not feeling a strong connection.

However, I advise against this.

If you want respect and the truth from others, you owe it to them to give the same.

You should ensure that you are saying what you actually mean.

Far too many people will lie and say they aren’t ready for a relationship when they really just mean they are not very interested in a relationship with this specific person.

Alternatively, some people may claim that they’re “potentially” open to a relationship with that person as a way to soften the blow.

Unless you actually are potentially open to dating them, don’t say you are.

Unless you actually aren’t ready for a relationship, don’t use it as a line to avoid rejecting someone.

Go in with an open mindset

Another great idea is to go in with an open mindset.

This is easier said than done because you have already decided for sure that you don’t want a relationship, at least not yet.

Maybe you are saying that you want to take things more slowly…

That you’re only interested in something casual…

Or that you just aren’t interested in dating at all right now, with anybody.

But even though you have made up your mind about where you stand, doesn’t mean you should close yourself off to what happens when you talk to this person.

Allow the situation to be a little bit fluid. Allow it to morph or go in directions you might not have expected.

This relates directly to the next point, which is to:

Listen to what they have to say

When you tell somebody that you’re not ready for a relationship, listen to what they have to say in response.

They may be very disappointed and not say much at all except “I understand,” or “OK.”

Or they may take it in good cheer and talk to you more deeply about how they feel and what they think could happen between the two of you in the future.

Let them talk to you or not talk to you as they wish.

By the same token, don’t feel a need to speak a lot if you don’t want to. You can play more the role of a listener.

Another good idea is to speak your mind and then ask them what they think.

This is a way to still keep an open mind and relate more to what this other individual wants and how they feel.

How can you know if you don’t ask?

And if they say that they have feelings or expectations for you that just aren’t something you’re comfortable with right now, let them know in as nice a way as possible that it’s just not a place you’re currently in.

That’s fair, that’s mature and that’s a reasonable answer.

If, however, talking with them makes you genuinely think that there is potential to take things more slowly or “see where things go,” then be potentially open to that.

Not being ready for a relationship does not necessarily mean you have to cut off all contact or stop dating altogether.

Show them appreciation and respect

On a related note to the previous point, ensure that you show appreciation and respect.

Even if this is the end of any romantic or sexual involvement between the two of you, who’s to say that a friendship might not develop?

And even if friendship isn’t going to happen, who’s to say you can’t part on good terms?

Show respect and value them by listening to what they say, appreciating their perspective and thanking this person for hearing you out and understanding where you’re coming from.

Even if they react quite badly or say unkind things to you, do your best not to react in a negative way or take it personally.

The best you can do here is be honest with somebody that you’re not in relationship mode while respecting them and communicating honestly.

luis cash TUQ2yKgJpAk unsplash 2 How to tell someone you're not ready for a relationship

The best you can do is speak respectfully and nicely to them about what’s on your mind in a way that’s both forthright and firm while also being empathetic.

Maybe they also don’t really feel ready for a relationship. Maybe they’re deeply in love with you.

Wherever they are with you on the feeling spectrum, a difficult reaction to what you say is not something you can control.

If they don’t accept that or blame you for it, that’s their problem.

Keep it simple

Earlier I recommended Relationship Hero as a great site where relationship coaches can help you with things like telling someone you’re not ready to get serious.

They gave me some really insightful and practical advice about this subject, and one thing that really stuck with me is to keep it simple.

If you’re not ready, you’re not ready.

Remember that this doesn’t have to be some kind of highly personal rejection, nor some complex psychological situation.

You may simply be too busy for a relationship…

Or you may not yet be over your ex…

Or you may want to take it slow and not talk yet about a potential relationship…

Whatever it is that is your focus, try to keep it simple. There’s no need to go on tangents.

You can basically just speak your mind and communicate the main thrust of why you’re not ready.

That’s your experience and your emotions, and it’s valid.

Leave them space

Following a difficult conversation like this, you may be eager for an “after-action report” or to check in with the person and see if they’re OK or what they think about your discussion.

Try not to do this. Leave them space and let the conversation simmer a bit.

If you’ve agreed to date casually, take it slow, or remain friends, let that develop naturally and don’t push the timeline on it.

Remember that there’s always the chance that the person you spoke to said he or she was fine with not having a relationship but was not being entirely truthful.

Whether they are actually OK with what you discussed and want to remain in any sort of contact will become clear in the weeks following your talk.

So don’t pressure to reinitiate contact and apart from a few basic messages, allow this person to contact you at their own speed.

What about other types of related awkward situations?

Telling someone you’re not ready for a relationship is only one of many situations that can come up in dating which is confusing and difficult.

There are other related situations which may come up that have you confounded and I’ve addressed them below.

Earlier I mentioned not to tell someone you don’t want a relationship when you actually just mean you don’t want one with them.

This seems overly strict:

After all, why not just tell a harmless white lie to spare their feelings and avoid an awkward, hurtful conversation?

Two reasons:

Firstly, if you still follow each other, live close by or have any friends or acquaintances in common, it’s quite possible and even likely that they’ll see you in the future dating someone new and know you were lying and condescending them.

Secondly, when you tell these kinds of lies and shy away from rejecting someone, you make the world a worse place. Indirect communication and soft rejection is a plague and it leaves people grasping for hope and love that they think might still be available when it’s not even in the cards.

If you don’t like someone, tell them!


Let’s get right to it:

How to tell someone you’re not attracted to them

Telling someone you’re not attracted to them sexually or romantically is very hard.

Most people understandably avoid the subject or even outright lie and claim they are but just aren’t ready for something serious…

Or are busy…

Or are focused on something else.

Wouldn’t it be better to know how to just come right out and make it clear you don’t see someone in a romantic or sexual way?

The best way to do it is to highlight the other ways in which you appreciate this person and speak of your connection to them in a way that couldn’t be sexual.

For example:

“I see you almost as a brother, you’re so special to me. But something different like dating you just isn’t how I feel to be honest.”


“Our talks are always so amazing. I love the way you look at things and spending time together. But I don’t see you in a sexual or dating way.”

There you go. That’s it.

The things to avoid are being mean about it or laughing a lot as if it’s a totally trivial subject.

If you’re telling someone who’s possibly into you that you’re not attracted to them, it’s not a trivial subject at least not for them.

Even nervous laughter on your part can come across as kind of cruel, so try to take it at least a bit seriously.

And you also need to respect that telling someone you’re not attracted to them who is attracted to you could be the end of their desire to spend time with you.

You can’t stop them from interpreting it as a rejection.

But you can be sure that you spoke your mind and didn’t lead them on, which is better than what a lot of people do these days.

Now let’s take a look at the reverse situation when you’re in love with someone, sure how you feel and want to see if they feel the same…

How to tell someone you’re interested in a relationship

The subject of relationships is often tricky.

The reason is simple:

Making a relationship official can put a lot of pressure on someone and, in some cases, it can kill the spontaneous romance that is occurring.

I know that in my own experiences I had two situations which were the exact opposite but ironically linked by the same song.

In one case I had to let a girl I’d been dating for a couple of months in Brazil that I wasn’t interested in a relationship with her.

After some hemming and hawing, I told her outright that I didn’t feel the same as she did.

She initially refused to accept that, saying I just had to be more patient.

She encouraged me to listen to a Brazilian song called “Let It Happen” (Deixa Acontecer).

The song encourages the idea of letting love happen slowly and naturally without putting expectations on it or trying to make yourself feel it.

Well, I tried. I still didn’t feel it.

Then I began dating someone new and fell for her, but I was in the reverse position: I wanted a relationship with her but she was less sure and had come out of something long-term and difficult.

She encouraged me to listen to Deixa Acontecer as well.

How ironic. At first, I’d been told to listen to this song in order to try to fall in love with someone, then I’d been told to listen to this song in order to slow down in falling in love with someone.

But the point is that in the second case I went about it wrong, jumping too quickly to ask if she thought we were headed to a relationship. I put too much pressure on the situation and was too needy, and it ruined it.

Being overly eager to define a relationship or ask for one is insecure and can ruin what you do have.

That’s why the first piece of advice is to be sure you’re both in that frame of falling for each other and that you’re not bringing this up as a way to seek validation or assure yourself.

If you’re sure that you’re ready, the best way to ask is to be direct. Say that you have strong feelings for this person and ask if they would like to be your girlfriend or boyfriend. Make it clear that there’s no pressure but you wanted to bring up the subject with them because you think they might feel the same way.

How to tell someone you’re not ready to say I love you

Now, if you are in a relationship but find it’s also moving a bit fast and intensely for you, you might run into this situation as well:

Your partner is saying he or she loves you and you either don’t feel the same (yet) or are not comfortable saying the three words.

Well, don’t.

Just explain to them that you like them a lot or are really happy when they say that but you don’t feel ready to say it.

If they pressure you to say you love them or get upset at you, it’s important to express that you don’t like to feel pressured into saying I love you.

If they really do love you they will be extremely patient and understanding of your reluctance to commit right away or state a strong commitment before you’re sure.

Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on and visit his website at

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.