How Do I Say No to All The Guys Who Write to Me Online?

Top view of young woman chatting on laptop at home

I seem to have the opposite problem of most of the women in your blog when it comes to online dating – too much of a good thing! I get a fair number of interesting replies and first messages and there are two things I’m struggling with. First, is there an acceptable way to say, “My dance card is pretty full right now, but I’ll get back to you in a few weeks if none of those dates go further?” I can’t think of a good way to phrase this that doesn’t sound like the guy is “second choice” or a backup option – and usually he is a perfectly interesting and attractive person, not a second choice at all, but I don’t want to be in the situation of having three different dates every week and having to draw up a spreadsheet to keep track of them all! At the same time, changing my profile status to “seeing someone” every time I go on a second date seems like overkill.

My second question is about saying no/rejecting people. I hate it, and I’m terrible at it! I know what I am supposed to do – spit it out, be direct – but I really, really wish there was a less uncomfortable way to do it (men have it easy, all they have to do is not call). I feel like I need some formal practice – I would totally sign up for a workshop that was nothing but 2 hours straight of saying, “no, thank you, it was nice to meet you, I know we had a great chat about X, but the chemistry isn’t there for me and I don’t want a second date,” over and over until the cringy awkwardness was washed out of it. Do such workshops exist? (Yes, I’ve looked – no luck so far.) If not, any suggestions on overcoming my extreme internal resistance to being so blunt?

Thanks for any suggestions you can offer! —Erin

High-class problems, Erin. High-class problems.

And you totally came to the right guy to answer them.

Really, I hate to toot my own horn about my embarrassingly vast online dating experience, but, well, TOOT TOOT!

So your cup runneth over, eh?

There’s no dating without heartbreak, any more than there’s swimming without getting wet.

You want to act with integrity and be nice, but not hurt anybody’s feelings.

Join the crowd. Most people, men and women, have no interest in hurting anyone passively or actively. The problem is that there’s usually going to be one person who is more invested than the other person. And this power imbalance means that broken hearts are par for the course. Thus, there’s no dating without heartbreak, any more than there’s swimming without getting wet.

So for the first question, you have three things you can do more effectively.

First, you can curb the flow of incoming responses by either deleting your photos or hiding your profile. That way, you can deal with only the existing guys in a timely and fair manner. If you’re communicating with 7-10 decent guys in your inbox, that will usually result in about 2 dates. If one of the dates doesn’t pan out, you can either promote guys from the minor leagues, or reactivate your photos/profile to get more incoming traffic.

Second, you need to be better at screening. Finding the One Online has an entire CD that describes how to flirt with men in a way that keeps their attention and slows them down to a pace you’re comfortable with. If you find that online dating has overtaken your life and you have no control of your own schedule, you’re doing it wrong. Really. Learn to screen guys better and make email and phone into a fun challenge for them and you can have as many or as few dates a week as you want.

If you find that online dating has overtaken your life and you have no control of your own schedule, you’re doing it wrong. Really.

Finally, if you’re excited about two guys who you’ve gone on two dates with, and you want to tell the other 10 what’s up, your approach is actually the right one. You can probably finesse the wording a little bit:

Dear Adam,

It’s been really great getting to know you, but I have to tell you the truth: I started to see a guy and things are getting a little more serious. So I’m going to hide my profile on for now and see where things go. If they don’t work out — which is always a possibility — I hope I can contact you again. In the meantime, best of luck with your search.

Warmest wishes,


Men are so unaccustomed to getting treated with this level of honesty and respect, they will love you for it, and you will absolutely be able to go back to them in the future — even if they were, technically, your “second choice”

As for your second query, you’re making it much more complicated than it needs to be.

The night after a boring date that doesn’t inspire you to go out again, you just fire off an email. You may notice that it sounds very similar to the one you read ten seconds ago.

Dear Adam,

I had a nice time last night and really appreciate you treating me to Applebees, followed by the Disney On Ice; it was extremely generous of you.

However, I don’t feel the necessary “click” to continue to move things forward with our relationship. You’re a great guy and I’m glad I had the chance to get to know you. I’m sure you’re going to make some girl really happy one day. Best of luck and warmest wishes,



It’s not a negotiation; it’s a declaration.

You don’t have to explain why you don’t like him. You don’t have to promise to stay in touch as friends. You don’t have to do anything, except give him a slightly diluted version of the truth, so you don’t hurt his feelings when you reject him.

Sure, he can press you on WHY you didn’t feel it for him. Sure, he can write you a note that says that he thinks you’re a bitch and that you’ll die old alone. But that has nothing to do with you. You can rest easy, knowing that you did the classy thing, and that there’s nothing else that you can do to make it go down any easier.

After you do this a few dozen times, it becomes pretty natural, I assure you.

Join our conversation (39 Comments).
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  1. 1

    When I was actively online, I had the same situation.   I would keep my profile active though because I didn’t want the guys I was getting to know, to think I was getting to serious.   But any new interest would get a response that I am getting to know someone and if it didn’t work out, I would drop them an email and if they were still available and interested, we could go from there.   So many guys did respect that because they said a lot of women don’t even respond.   

    When I was getting to know a few guys and narrowed it down to one, boy sometimes when I told a guy I was going to date the other and see where it goes, some had gotten so mad!   I knew then that I wasn’t going to bother with them again because they obviously had a quick temper!

    I do agree with Evan, especially when it comes to the email after the date.   It is much safer than trying to be nice about in person.   I’ve had some guys get very angry.   Some just don’t take rejection well. I think it is because they are so lonely and want it to work with someone.  

    I have also made some friends because they were nice guys, but the “chemistry” wasn’t there.   It’s just the way it goes.   Not everyone likes everyone and it doesn’t mean the person is a loser, just didn’t work out and you get back out there!   

    Happy Dating!  

  2. 2

    Thanks, Evan! You just made my day easier!

  3. 3

    One way to soften the “2nd choice / runner up” blow is to throw in that the guy you are focused on contacted you earlier / before — that way, a guy just feels HE could have been that guy — he’s not less than, — he got in a few more dates, more time with you, etc.

    And to leave the door open doesn’t seem so bad esp. if you guys legitimately hit it off and are cool….

    And the guy whop reacts badly to Evan’s first e-mail -the-timings-off-but-lets-stay-in-touch — well, clearly you made the right choice….  

  4. 4

    Evan, heartfelt thanks from one man who uses dating sites. Your woman readers have no idea of the dilemma men face when follow-up messages are met with silence or positive feedback that only has politeness behind it.
    Hiding the profile once the dance card is full is something I do all the time. It is easy to do and undo. (Women take note: hiding or deleting a profile is easy to undo and should not be taken as a message he is into you unless you hear that from him. Ask.)
    A direct “I enjoyed your company, but I don’t believe romance is in the cards for us” is painless to hear for any but the most insecure person. If someone gives you a hard time after that, block them. That is what blocking is for. Silence or the polite “I had fun” with no information to discourage is one recipe for him to send more messages. If you don’t want more contact with him, don’t do these things. Be direct. He is thinking “Did she see my last message?” or “She still has not written back. Is she really busy this week, so should I remind her?” The additional unwanted messages make her uncomfortable until he figures out she isn’t just busy but actually is uninterested. This is a waste of energy for both people.
    Evan, post your write up at every major dating site.   This will be a service to both genders and will get some free advertising.

  5. 5

    After a date, some communicaton of disinterest is of course  required. But I don’t think any response is required after a man’s  first email, and  I think that is what the original question was about. As a guy on Match, I have found that  no response  is the rule not the exception, I actually find it slightly annoying when I get a ‘not interested now’  written  or  programed response, because I have to log in to read it.    
    Match should have some ‘mail box full’ option that would communicate to new contacts that the mail box of that profile is full and is not accepting new contacts at this time, but it would still allow the woman to continue communicating with her existing contacts. But then Men on Match would learn that a good percentage of the online profiles of the  more desirable   women are perpetually ‘mailbox full’, so that is probably not going to happen.

  6. 6

    I agree with AllenB #4. And as a guy, I appreciate your posting this woman’s question, EMK, because it gives us some insight as to what goes on in the minds of women and why (to be blunt) many of them seem to act so rude.
    Ladies, you have no idea how disrespectful you come across to us when you decide to just not get back to us at all–after we have gone through all the effort (time AND money) for the date and for your sake. Yes, it is viewed as our role as men to reach out to you first, to ask you out, and to plan AND pay for the first date, but I feel that it is YOUR role to courteously get back to the guy if you met up with him and you weren’t feeling it. After all we did, you could at least do THAT, don’t you agree. I appreciate Erin’s letter which says that you don’t get back to the guy in these situations because you really don’t know how, but I don’t think that’s an acceptable excuse.  
    If you’re not interested, send the email after the date and be done with it.
    I also agree with Lance #5 that you don’t owe a response to every “first email” that you get. If you aren’t interested, I would rather just not hear back from you than get some white lie about how you’re “seeing someone and wants to see where it goes”, or (!) how you’d want someone taller, better-looking, whatever. If you could be interested but you aren’t in a position to pursue, an email a few weeks later if and when your schedule clears and just explain that you were really busy when you got his email.

  7. 7


    I think this is great advice from Evan.   I just wanted to add a quick additional note.   I have a friend in your situation who feels bad about not wanting to go out with someone a second time.

    She was using the “You seem great, but I think we’d be better as friends” line for a while, and was shocked when the guys reached out to hang out again.   She thought she had rejected them!   This is my opinion, but any positive feedback that men see, they will usually take, especially if they were interested in continuing dating. (no offense, men)

    Whatever you do, be clear in your intentions.   You just said you have limited time, so just do what Evan said.   That is the kindest thing you can do!   

  8. 8

    @ angie — “She was using the “You seem great, but I think we’d be better as friends” line for a while, and was shocked when the guys reached out to hang out again. ”

    Your friend (and others) should only use that if they mean it — don’t use it as a rejection salve

  9. 9

    When i was dating, I found men didn’t like a rejection letter, a lot of them got angry, so I just stopped sending them — polite ones, no less. Men on this blog seem to prefer them, but I think in this day and age, Angie, first of all, if you get too many letters, just don’t respond till your ready! I think that’s better than saying you’ll let someone know when you’re done with your first choice.

  10. 10

    amy #9–
    It depends what the rejection letter is for.
    If a guy takes you on a first date and asks for a second, then even if you aren’t interested, I feel that you owe him a response.
    If a guy sends you a “first email” and you’re not interested, then no response required IMO. I don’t need to hear a white lie about how you’re focusing on someone else, and I definitely don’t need to hear that you think I’m too short or whatever. If you could be but you are too busy, then save the email and respond if/when you are free. Just put a sentence saying that you were really busy, but you remembered his email, and that now is the first chance you have to get back to him.

  11. 11

    If I was really and truly too busy, and if a guy’s first email seemed really nice, or if we’d already exchanged a number of emails, but hadn’t gotten to that first date yet, then I used to write something along the lines of, “It just so happened that I am already seeing an X number of people, whom I met before I first heard from you. You sound like a great guy and it wouldn’t be fair to you if I tried to cram you into my schedule along with all those other people. Can we take a rain check?” Everyone seemed pretty cool with that.
    As for the “let’s be friends”, call me old-fashioned, but to me it sounds a lot like an offer to be friends. If I didn’t want to see the person again, and he contacted me after the first date wanting to meet again, I used to tell him something like “sorry, it isn’t going to work”. Only backfired a couple of times.

  12. 12

    @david 8
    AGREED!   That’s what I told her!

  13. 13

    Online Dating Etiquette   –
    1.   No response required to an initial email.
    2.   If you don’t get a response to an initial email, it’s a sign!   Wait a few months before trying again.  
    3.   If you get a “thanks but no thanks” response, no further response required or desired.
    4.   If you have corresponded/chatted/talked several times and the person disappears, it’s most likely a sign!   Follow-up once.   No more.   The reason doesn’t matter.
    5.   Guys – if not interested in a second date then no kissing at the end of the first date.   A simple “It was nice to meet you, hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend” or something similar should get the message across.   Then don’t call.   If she contacts you the next day then a polite “no chemistry” response is appreciated.
    6.   Ladies – Same rules as for the guys.   Since the guys are more likely than women to follow-up with a request for a second date and men tend to be more persistent, be ready with a “no chemistry” response.   No response at all is likely to lead to numerous texts and voice mail messages from some guys.   Nip it in the bud 🙂

    It all boils down to being polite and not sending mixed messages.   


  14. 14

    I definitely appreciate a clear “no thanks” email if she’s chosen someone else – no explanation required, I just like to know where I stand so I can close the door emotionally on it.
    As for having a full dance card – my last relationship, I sent a first email and I heard nothing from her for the next three months, when out of the blue she wrote back asking to know more; I guess she figured (correctly) that since my profile was still active, I was still seeking.    It worked pretty well for me because it showed me that she’d remembered me and been interested enough to get back, and to keep me on the backburner for that long.     I couldn’t say how most guys would respond to that, but I think it’s a tactic worth considering if there’s some “late arrivals” who are just too good to ignore completely.     (Although, of course, if they’re that good they may be off the market by the time you get around to them.)

  15. 15

    1. Although there is no time frame for responding to online dating emails, you can wait a few days or a week to do so.  A lot do people just don’t respond at all. Jerky, yes, but you are under no obligation.

    2. Not   “feeling chemistry” is seriously immature. Chemistry takes time to build. What you are looking for is infatuation. That’s not a predicatable indicator for a  relationship. There are times I have  (reluctantly )gone on a second date  and actually liked the guy more  the second time out. All of the social awkwardness was out of the way. We were more relaxed.

    3. Don’t worry – all guys say they would like to see you  again. Most of the time they never call again. Don’t worry about your frank  analysis.        

  16. 16

    Please give me your problem.

  17. 17

    I’ve been on both sides.

    This man who I’m still in love with him just sent me many mixed signals (after I already was in love with him) as “you are a great woman but i’m not ready for a serious relationship right now”, “i can suggest you only my friendship right now”, “it’s me not you”, “i have to fix myself, you are an amazing girl but i doubt women now because of my bad ex girlfriend”, “you’ll see we’ll meet at some point in future” and so on.

    And when I told him that I’m obviously such a fool and he has only played with me all the time, he wrote to me a defensive email and of course he suggested me his friendship then. And I have to tell you men – this is so meanly, so foully.

    As for me, I do not send signals to men as this man did to me – “you are very attractive”, “i like you very much”, “we have to travel somewhere with my car”, “i really need to write you every day”, “you are something special to me” and many other beautiful lies…

    when I’m not interested in some man.

    I just write/tell him that I do not feel this way. And he maybe becomes angry with me then but this honesty saves us the time, lies, broken heart.

  18. 18

    @ Still Looking #13, love your list!
    Can I add one more: at the end of first date, if you do NOT want to do it again, don’t say “let’s do it again”.

  19. 19

    @Tina 17.
    He likes you.   He finds you attractive.   He can see how you are the kind of woman he might love if he was not still processing his last relationship.   He would like to keep you in his life at some level in case he figures himself out. He is a little attached to you but can’t fully invest in a love relationship with you or anyone until he fixes himself. That is what his words say.   These are not mixed signals.   These are clear signals from a mixed up man who wants to move on from his last but hasn’t yet.
    If you keep him in your life, and pin hopes on your friendship developing into something more someday, that is your choice. If you are kind to him and put energy into him that is your choice. If he receives these gifts graciously and reciprocates because he likes you even though he can’t invest in you, he is being human, not sending signals.
    Move on to a man who can give you what you want. Or wait. He might let go of his past someday if you give him the space to do so. It could be next week, three years from now, or never.

  20. 20

    @ Em  #16:

    Yeah, this is a problem we should all have, right? 😉

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